I was recently at an appointment without any makeup, and the lady told me that I had really good skin. She said that she sees a lot of skin up close but that my skin was literally sparkling under her magnifying glass (haha ok I have to admit, when she said that I instantly had that scene from Twilight and the whole vampire sparkling skin thing pop into my head.)
Of course, everyone loves compliments but it really got me thinking. Why exactly is my skin so good?
If I'm being completely honest, my diet and water intake could be better. I drink a decent amount of water, but not as much as I should. I rarely eat sugar or really processed foods, but I know I really could eat a lot more veggies. I do exercise, but I'm not always the most consistent (I do have to say I've been on a roll lately though! lol). Sometimes I take vitamins, but I go months without them.
However, the one thing that I am 100% engaged with is my skincare.
Back when I was a junior in high school I suddenly developed really bad acne. So I went on a skin journey to make everything better. I've had other skin struggles too, like melasma, but after getting my cosmetology license, and years of trial & error (on myself) I discovered something...
The magic of quality skincare products.
I used to use Neutrogena soap & Olay Face lotion. My skin was almost always super dry and the texture was always a little crusty. To top it off, the whole acne thing was going on.
I tried Cetaphil in desperation, but that felt like I was washing my face with a cheap conditioner and it did zero for my acne.
Then I came across a professional line, named Mesoestetic. And wow, what a difference that made! I used it for many many years.
Then with all the media attention on parabens being bad (I'm still not sure how I feel about those), combined with the fact that this particular skincare line came from Spain and took months for it to be in stock, I was forced to look at other professional skincare lines.
One of my life-long besties is an esthetician and she had been telling me for years to try Image SkinCare. So I finally did, and holy moly. I love it. My skin looks even better than it did before!
Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that professional products are a cure-all. I still get pimples, and sometimes my skin even gets a little dry (when I haven't exfoliated or drank enough water). But what professional products do do is make a positive & noticeable difference for your skin.
So I wanted to give you the low-down on skincare.
The Different Grades in Skincare
I like to rank or categorize things for a better understanding.
For example, when you think about a "good" meal that could mean something different for each person who thinks it. But if you had to rank and categorize, you may find definitions become a little more clear.
Take ice cream with Oreos for example. It probably wouldn't rank very high if the category was "healthy meals". However, it might rank #1 if the meal category was "tasty meals".
When it comes to skincare there is definitely a difference in quality--enter in grades of skincare.
I know how hard it can be to figure this out. Luckily, you can be cued-in simply by where you are able buy it and how much it costs.
Of course there are always going to be exceptions. The idea is just to get some sort of quality-gage so that you can make better informed decisions.
We'll start at the bottom, and work our way up to quality.
Drugstore Grade Skincare Products
Where You'll Find Them: At any drugstore or pharmacy like CVS, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart. And at grocery stores like Albertsons, Vons, or Wholefoods.
Brands: Aveeno, Biore, Cetaphil, Clean & Clear, e.l.f., Garnier, L'Oreal, Neutrogena, Olay, Pixi, ProActiv, St. Ives, etc.
Yes, I understand the convenience of grabbing face wash while you're out on a Target run (and that $10 price tag doesn't hurt either). But the truth is: you get what you pay for.
These products are cheap because they are watered-down, full of fillers, thickeners, and low-quality ingredients. These cause skin irritation, dryness (which can make your skin produce more oil), and long-term damage.
What's more is that you have to buy cheap products more frequently. So unfortunately any money you think you're saving probably isn't as significant as what you think.
Now, hold on. "What about those "good" ingredients in some drugstore products?"
If you're thinking that your face wash is good & safe because it says "natural" on it, you better take a closer look at the ingredients. Typically, these brands use minuscule amounts of those "good" ingredients just to be able to place that on the label.
Quick side tip: if you take any product label (food, makeup, skincare, etc.) and flip over to the ingredients they are listed in order from most to least.
That's good information to have so you can see where the good ingredients actually are. However, the labels aren't telling you how much of that ingredient is in there. It literally could be a drop. And the problem is you will find any qualify-ably "good" ingredient towards the bottom of that list.
I've also had plenty of acne-prone clients tell me that their dermatologist recommended a drug store brand like Cetaphil.
I'm not telling you to not to listen to your derm but I am asking you to understand why they probably recommended it.
So yes, there are derms who do because the ingredients are non-comedogenic (won't clog pores) & that brand's ingredients are supposed to be non-irritating as well. BUT, and a big but here, just because ingredients don't irritate or clog doesn't mean that they are beneficial or healthy for you and your skin.
Sure, you're going to see debate among professionals about which ingredients are actually bad, but most agree that quality skincare is not found in any drugstore products.
(Just give in to one bottle of good skincare and you'll see and feel the difference for yourself.)
Department Store-Grade Skincare Products
Where You'll Find Them: At department and beauty stores like JcPenny's, Macy's, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Sephora, and Ulta.
Brands: Aesop, Chanel, Clinique, Dermologica, Estee Lauder, Fresh, GlamGlow, Julep, Kate Somerville, Kiehl's, Lancome, La Mer, Lush, MAC, Mario Badescu, Origins, Philosophy, Shiseido, Tata Harper etc.
This is a tricky category — well, for consumers that is.
You are typically paying more here, but the question becomes: are you paying for quality or for a name brand?
A lot of these products have fragrances, pretty packaging, and celebrity endorsements to draw you in--but that isn't going to help your skin.
I've personally found that these seem to be a hit or miss.
You really have to do a lot of research on the ingredients, look at reviews, and "risk" it with a test run.
I've found that even the "better" ones among the bunch don't produce as good of results as the comparable professional grade skincare product.
While there may be some products that I admittedly like, and perform ok (like the GlamGlow masks or Fresh face wash), the fact is that if you want to keep your skin looking vibrant, plump, acne-free, or radiant you aren't going to find that in this tier.
I've seen the difference in my client's skin (older & younger) when they've switched.
My grandma for example, has used Origins for years. She didn't have bad skin by any means, but within two weeks of using the professional products I gave her, her skin began to have a glow, smoothness and suppleness that it hadn't had before.
We didn't change her diet or lifestyle either. Just the skincare.
Here see for yourself!
Professional-Grade Skincare Products
Where You'll Find Them: At professional salons, spas, and some dermatologist's offices. (If you find them on sites like Amazon beware of old or fake products. These brands only sell to licensed professionals.)
Brands: Aveda, Bioelements, Eminence Organics, Glymed Plus, Image SkinCare, Lira, Repechage, Sanitas, etc.
I do have to start with a caveat: just because you bought it from a salon/spa doesn't guarantee that it's professional skincare. There are some professionals out there who are completely clueless when it comes to how important quality products actually are, or which ones are actually beneficial, but I do believe that most professionals understand.
So having said that, I think it's safe to say that you will typically find quality products in salons, spas, & even dermatology offices.
Even in this tier, you will find some lines are better than others. But honestly, anything in this category is going to be better than drugstore and most department store products.
What makes professional-grade so much better? They've got better quality ingredients and they've got the "good" ingredients in the right order.
They also have better options based on your skincare needs. If you have acne with dry skin, for example, then you aren't stuck deciding which issue you're going to address—you can take care of both!
You'll also find that they have more options in terms of serums, masks, exfoliants, and peels.
Medical-Grade Skincare Products
Where You'll Find Them: Dermatologist's offices, Medi-spas, or anywhere there is a licensed professional in the business of skincare. Note that some salons may carry the professional version vs. the MD version.
Brands: EltaMD, Mesoestetic, etc. Doctor's may have their own personal line as well.
I typically only recommend you jumping into this tier if you truly have a major skin condition. You will find that these products usually cost a tad more than the professional-grade products. However, if you love it and it works for you, then why not? Sometimes you only have to use them temporarily for results (then you can go back to professional).
Quick side note: I've also seen how professional products combined with a prescription (like Retin A) can solve skin problems. So don't panic if you can't get your hands on medical brands.
This tier is said to contain more concentrated ingredients, in addition to ingredients that only a licensed professional could obtain. Which could be exactly what a skin problem needs.
Just like the professional products, you will have and see results.
Invest In Quality
Where you are able to purchase the product does say a lot. I do realize that there are some gray areas. Take Murad or Dermologica for example. You can find their products in department stores but also in some salons.
You'll even sometimes see the line blurred between medical-grade and professional, such as Mesoestetic (some of their products don't require the MD licensing).
But investing in quality professional-grade skincare products is the way to go. Or as they say "the proof is in the pudding". At the very least, they will be better for your skin in the long-term. And if you are willing to commit & discover the proper routine (aka which products you use when) then you will be on your way to much better looking, feeling, and behaving skin!
stay lovely! xoxo
Have you tried any of the professional brands I mentioned? Which was your favorite?
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I am a professional makeup artist and licensed cosmetologist. I absolutely enjoy sharing hair and makeup tips to help others enhance their natural beauty. (Trust me, you're gorgeous.)