Holy Grail Skincare Products
Most of my friends know I’ve been skincare obsessed since my grandma bought me my first Aveeno cleanser/moisturizer set in the 6th grade. By early high school, I was trying every snail cream I could get my hands on and filling my Christmas lists with AHA/BHA peels and retinol.
Working in the beauty industry was the most incredible experience — I met friends who I now consider family, learned from the most intelligent, passionate leaders, and gained an entirely new perspective on the complex process of bringing a product to market.
When I say “holy grail,” these are products I spent money on while working in the industry, and products I use daily or weekly to this day. This list changes occasionally – I’m aways open to trying new things – but these are the products I consistently use and recommend to those I love.
Disclaimer: I am not a dermatologist — what works for me might break you out. Sephora’s return policy is fantastic if you ever try something you don’t love!
My skin type: Normal/combination, not sensitive. I prefer minimal fragrance but do love the occasional fresh/light floral scent.
Step 1: Cleanse
Im my opinion, this is the most important step of an effective skincare routine. When a friend asks for recommendations to treat acne/breakouts, I ask about his/her cleanser first. If you’re leaving makeup or dirt on your face unintentionally or using a drugstore cleanser, this may be a great substitution to try. I love this specific product; it deep cleans without stripping the skin and smells amazing.
I haven’t purchased or used makeup remover in years — I find step 1 and 2 successfully remove any makeup, dirt, SPF, etc. from my face.
Step 2: Cleanse Again
The Korean-Beauty 10 Step touts the double cleanse as the fundamental foundation for beautiful, clear skin, and most dermatologists/aestheticians agree. Use a cotton pad (you can buy in bulk here) and apply generously.
My Cleanser Picks:
Step 3: Exfoliate
There are two types of exfoliation in the world of skincare — physical (i.e a sugar scrub) and chemical (i.e Alpha-hydroxy and beta-hydroxy acids). Both are critical to dead skin cell removal. For those ages 20-40, skin cells are believed to renew every 24 to 35 day. As we age, this time increases, and as skin cell renewal slows, dead skin builds and skin looks dull. Proper exfoliation also helps skin absorb other products efficiently and effectively. I tend to find a strong chemical peel does the job for my skin, but I’ll link my favorite chemical and physical exfoliators below.
A note on Drunk Elephant Sukari Baby Facial: I’ve been using this product for years, and it’s always my first recommendation to friends suffering from breakouts. It’s a potent cocktail of AHA/BHA acids (glycolic, tartaric, lactic, citric, and salicylic) and removes dead skin so effectively. I use once a week consistently — twice if I’m dealing with acne/breakouts or preparing for a big event.
Don’t want to spend $80 on a product? The Ordinary’s version is fantastic and less than $8. I personally would rate it a 7/10 vs. Drunk Elephant a 10/10 , but both are incredible products.
Exfoliation Picks: Chemical | Drunk Elephant, Runner-Up Chemical | The Ordinary, Physical | Paula’s Choice
Step 4: Toner/Essence
I combine the traditional 4th (tone) and 5th (essence) steps of the K-Beauty 10 Step into one — I know my beauty industry girls will be disappointed to read this because there is a major difference between the two. A toner balances PH and moisture levels — an essence hydrates and aids in cell turnover. This is the absolute holy grail of all essences and has been the #1 product in the marketplace for years. I’ve had friends try this as a last resort before Accutane and decide against medication because it’s that effective. Linking essence and mask formats.
Step 5: Treatments/Serums
Serums are ingredient-packed products that target specific skin concerns (i.e. hydration, brightening, anti-aging, etc.). I personally alternate between serums that target brightening and hydration/skin tone. The Ordinary has incredible options for less that are plenty potent!
Step 6: Masks!
This step is optional, although I try to mask 2-3 times a week. Depending on my skin’s needs that day/week, I oscillate between a few favorites that I talk more about here.
Step 7: Eye Cream
I’m not always consistent with this step. I have an eye cream that I like that I’ll tag below, but I’m much more inclined to pop on a set of eye masks (I love keeping them in the fridge!) vs. applying a cream directly.
Step 8: Moisturize
This step encompasses everything and anything from lotions, gels, creams, and sleeping masks. I prefer something lightweight during the day but go heavier at night to give my skin an added boost while I sleep.
Step 9: SPF
This is essential! There are two products I love + use regularly (similar consistency). One thing I learned while working in beauty is to NEVER – regardless of weather + season – skip this step.
Step 10: Oil
Final step! The most important reason oil goes last: It’ll eventually sink into your skin, reinforcing your moisture barrier no matter the order.
The Bare Minimum
What If I don’t have time for 11 steps? You absolutely don’t have to do the 10 steps everyday. If i’m rushed, I always do the bare minimum — cleanse, serum, moisturizer, oil. Here are my picks for days when I can’t do it all:
Lip/Body Products I Love
My two final holy grail products are lip/body specific. I’ve been using this moisturizer for years, and you just can’t beat this lip mask — an Allure Best of Beauty winner for a reason!
That’s all my friends — I really hope you enjoyed and have some ideas for products to try! Please comment your favorites below — I’m always looking to try new things + love getting recommendations!