Years ago, I started to think about what I was putting in my body—food. Lots of years later, that question morphed into what I was putting on my body. I gave myself a parameter, that once cleaner skin care started showing up at Target, a place I could easily return things if they didn’t work out, I would give it a go. The day has come; it came. And it feels like I’ve tried it all, outside the new line they just launched. You’ll have to let me know what you think because I’m officially, mostly, done with the process of converting to cleaner skin care and makeup. And what a process it’s been.
I really had to own this mantra of clean-er, not clean, in converting my makeup and skin care towards more natural products. After months of trial and error, major breakouts, and itchy cheeks, I’m at a spot where my skin is really happy again, and my products are mostly clean, but not 100% clean. If you find yourself digging down the same rabbit hole, standing in the same aisle at Target, here’s where I landed. Settle into your chair. I’m sharing my tips for converting to cleaner products, the cleaner skin care and makeup I landed on (found mostly at Target), and a recipe for a DIY exfoliant (or as I like to say, exf-oat-liant).
Tips for Switching to Cleaner Skin Care
- It’s hard to get it all right at once. In fact, if you have sensitive skin, like me, you’ll create a bigger problem, rather than solving one, if you do a major overhaul at once. For that reason, take the process of converting your skin care slowly, one thing at a time. Too many variables will make it difficult to parse out what’s working and what’s not.
- Expect to make a tiny investment in this process. Converting to new products, especially ones that aren’t consumed at a mass level yet to bring costs down, is expensive. It’s also a long game of trial and error. When shopping, check the return policy first and save your receipts and packaging. Look for a 60-day return policy, specifically when buying foundation. It took me at least 1 month to really know if something would work or not. I’m also very stubborn. Maybe you’ll know sooner than that.
- Try a sample if you can. Despite many great return policies, I wanted to keep my waste low during this conversion process. I tracked down as many samples as I could before purchasing.
- One size never fits all. What works really well for one person, doesn’t work at all for another person. The product is not necessarily bad, just not a great fit. Keep looking.
- Grab progress over perfection. I’m using some products, which you’ll see below, that fall in the cleaner category, but they aren’t necessarily considered clean. Sometimes the right product isn’t on the market yet or your skin is way too unhappy to proceed. Pause if you have to or look for something that’s a little cleaner than you had before.
- Everything is connected. Your skin belongs to the ecosystem of your body and its external environment. So things like winter, humidity, diet, stress, and hormones are all variables to consider when understanding your skin.
- Adjust your expectations. Cleaner products perform differently. So expect less suds, less whipped lotions, and a shorter life span. You’re trading store-bought applesauce for fresh apples.
- Read Skin Cleanse by Adina Grigore, a nutritionist and the founder of S.W. Basics. Her advice is so reasonable and practical and educational. I’ve been using her simple skin care line for 2 years with great results. When I was in the thick of converting my makeup, I read every single word she wrote or spoke (podcasts). Her book has homemade skin recipes too.
- Don’t forget to laugh. Here’s one: how funny is it that we wake up and paint our face every day? And now we’re looking for organic, natural face paint. It’s kind of funny.
- Check out cosdna.com to better understand the ingredients in your products and to help figure out what might be irritating your skin. Warning: this site looks straight out of the early 2000s, but it’s super legit.
Cleaner Skin Care
Converting to cleaner skin care, which I did first, was a smooth process for me. The first thing I tried worked, and not only did it work, but it worked better than what I was using before. This adjustment was far easier than the makeup transition (see below). Here’s how my regimen goes: remove eye makeup with toilet paper. Remove face makeup with a cotton ball. Rinse face with a washcloth, warm water, and a pinch of exfoliant (see below). Using a cotton ball, rub cleanser over face. Rinse with warm water and washcloth. Using the backside of the cotton ball, rub face with toner and allow to dry before rubbing cream all over face and neck. Use acne treatment only as needed. Note: toilet paper and cotton balls can be composted. I’ve recently switched over to these reusable makeup remover pads with great luck.
SKIN TYPE: My mid-30s fair, sensitive skin tends towards dry. I have hormonal acne (and migraines) that show up around my chin. I also have an awful habit of touching my face, which spreads bacteria.
Physicians Formula Eye Makeup Remover: I’ve been using this product since high school. (It’s so good.) This gentle coconut milk lotion remover recently underwent a reformulation, pulling out the harsh ingredients. Physician’s Formula seems to be cleaning up their products. Note: I’m heavy-handed on mascara. If you’re not, you may not need eye makeup remover.
S.W. Basics Makeup Remover: Even with mixed online reviews, I love this 3-ingredient oil makeup remover. Many don’t like to use oil on their face, but my face is very happy with it. The oil is both a makeup remover and moisturizer.
S.W. Basics Cleanser: I started off trying their mini starter kit, with the cleanser, toner, and cream, 2 years ago to make sure it was a good fit. And oh, it was. With only 3 simple, familiar ingredients, this effective cleanser convinced me that we’ve been overcomplicating and over formulating skin care like we’ve been doing to our food. Note: this is a cleanser, not a makeup remover.
S.W. Basics Toner: I clean my floors and my face with vinegar. It’s gentle and effective and the strong scent quickly subsides. The apple cider vinegar works to balance out your skin’s pH levels while killing bacteria. This is the last thing I do before adding moisturizer, and it makes my skin feel so happy.
S.W. Basics Original Cream: From the extra dry winter to the hot, humid summer, this cream is my moisturizer both morning and night, made from only shea butter, olive oil, and coconut oil. I tend to use smaller amounts during the humid months. It’s lush, buttery, and creamy, settling nicely into your skin after a minute or two of absorption. I coat my lips in this at night too. Note: Shea butter is naturally SPF 6. Coconut oil is known to cause acne for sensitive skin, but I don’t experience it with this cream.
TreeActiv Cystic Acne Spot Treatment: I get a monthly hormonal blemish or two, but when I was in the middle of converting my makeup, my face was an unhappy mess. With a quarter-sized pimple on my forehead, not exaggerating, I found this product during a desperate late night Amazon search. This is a miracle clay. Add a dab overnight, repeating as needed for the stubborn ones. Note: I also tried Burt’s Bees Spot Acne Cream with no luck but great online reviews.
It took a whole lot of trial and error to get to these products. From November to April, my poor face was in an itchy, painful state. My friend finally said to me, “Melissa, I’ve always known you to have great skin. It looks so unhealthy.” That was just the nudge I needed to abandon the search for the perfect liquid foundation and go back to old reliable, which wasn’t all that bad to begin with. If you ever need a reminder to pursue better over perfect, now you have mine.
W3ll People Concealer: Though expensive, this super tiny tube goes a long way and covers well without caking or breaking out my skin. Note: I also tried Burt’s Bees Concealer. It offers only light coverage and tends to cake.
Clinique Acne Solutions Foundation: I’ve used this matte, oil-free foundation since college. While it lands in the cleaner category, free of parabens, phthalates, and fragrance, it’s not quite as clean as I’d like. I tried several other liquid foundations for a minimum of 1 month each, to give my face time to adjust. After 5 months of trying, my face was an itchy, swollen, broken out mess. For whatever reason, my face is very happy with this foundation. I’m sticking with it for now. In the process, I tried these foundations, all with great online reviews: Pacifica Alight BB Cream, Tint Skin Foundation from Beauty Counter, and Zuzu Luxe Oil-Free Liquid Foundation (I liked this one best, but still couldn’t shake the breakouts).
Zuzu Luxe Blush: Our co-op sells this brand, as well as Target. I trust them to vet and stock the best products. Though the price point is on the higher side, I really like this brand. I use this blush in Sunset. I also tried the Pacifica Blush, and found it to be messy, flaky, and goes on uneven.
Zuzu Eyebrow Pencil: I use this in Mink, which is a little on the light side for my brown hair, but I don’t want to go too heavy with my brows. The next color up reads more as black.
Zuzu Eyeliner: I use this in Obsidian. While I miss the twist-up plastic eyeliners, made like a wood pencil, this eyeliner is low-waste.
Zuzu Eye Shadow: This switch was an easy one. Previous shadows made my eyelids itch from time to time. I’ve had zero issues and the color goes on so nicely. I also like this Burt’s Bees Eye Shadow, but it’s no longer sold at Target.
Honest Mascara: I don’t wear a lot of makeup, but I wear some mascara. And my some, I mean a lot. I was worried I wouldn’t find what I was looking for in a natural version. It comes with a clear lash primer to use first before applying mascara. It lengths while also adding some volume, and stays put all day. NOTE: I previously used Burt’s Bees Mascara, but it made my eyes water quite a bit.
Exfoliating is great for ushering off those dead skin cells. When I don’t exfoliate nightly, I’m prone to bumpy skin, clogged pores, and extra breakouts. Believe it or not, a really great exfoliant is sitting in your pantry—oats. You read that right. To make, blitz organic oats in a Vitamix or food processor until a coarse meal. Add a pinch to a damp washcloth and gently rub around your cheeks and forehead to exf-oat-liate. When Hal was just beginning to eat food, I fed her oats this way, soaked in hot water and served with either mashed ripe bananas or roasted berries, plus a pinch of cinnamon. Oats are magic. (Note: Opt for organic oats here. Organic food is grown free of toxic, persistent pesticides. Keep those chemicals off that pretty face of yours if you can.)
UPDATE: I’ve switched to using this Dry Face Brush on the daily, and it’s amazing at both exfoliating, creating silky smooth skin, and reducing wrinkles.
And with that, I’m mostly done with this process of converting to cleaner skin care. Have you gone down this rabbit hole too? How did it go? Did you land on a couple things you love? Will you share in the comments, including your skin type?