Skincare FAQ

Hi friends! I got a lot of questions about my skincare routine, so here's a quick FAQ about the products and techniques I use. I have answered the questions to the best of my knowledge and ability. Disclaimer: I am not a dermatologist or scientist. I cannot and guarantee any specific results if you switch to this skincare routine.

Baking Soda, Dr. Bronner's Tea Tree, Dr. Bronner's Baby Mild, Mountain Rose Herbs Certified Organic Jojoba Oil
Baking Soda, Dr. Bronner's Tea Tree, Dr. Bronner's Baby Mild, Mountain Rose Herbs Certified Organic Jojoba Oil


Q: What is Dr. Bronner's?

A: Dr. Bronner's is a castille soap, which means it has a vegetable oil base. The soaps are made of water, saponified vegetable oils, tocopherol (vitamin E), citric acid (I believe this is to adjust the pH of the soap), and essential oils. The soaps are Fair Trade Certified, use certified organic ingredients, and don't test on animals. They don't use synthetic ingredients and the packaging is made from 100% post-consumer recycled material. All-in-all, it's an easily available soap that I feel totally comfortable purchasing.

Q: What type of Dr. Bronner's do you use?

A: I started using the Tea Tree Castille Soap because tea tree is antibacterial and incredibly helpful at controlling the bad bacteria that can perpetuate breakouts. I used a 1:1 dilution when I was having severe breakouts, but as my skin has regulated I've sometimes found it to be drying (especially in the winter). Now I dilute it 1:2 or 1:3 and find it less drying. If you don't have severe acne, I really like the Lavender Castille Soap as well. Lavender is great at calming and soothing the skin. I find that when I'm having a lot of redness the lavender helps to reduce it. When I finish up my current bottle of Tea Tree, I will be switching to their Baby Mild Castille Soap. We bought a gallon of Baby Mild to use in a variety of ways around the house and it just makes sense to streamline. Plus, because Baby Mild is unscented, I can add Tea Tree or Lavender essential oil on my own and mix up little batches depending on what my skin needs.

I recommend starting with the 2 oz. bottle of whichever soap you want to try. The small bottle has a very small hole in the lid, small enough to only use one drop at a time. One drop is more than enough to wash your whole face. If you like it, then you can buy a larger bottle and dilute it. Plus, you'll have the small bottle to take with you when you travel!

Q: Where can I buy Dr. Bronner's?

A: As far as national stores go, the products are available at Target and Whole Foods. Health/Natural Food stores tend to stock them as well. You can also buy the products through their online store or find a store near you with their store locator. And, of course, they're available on Amazon, which I've used in the links above.

Q: Why do you use the liquid instead of the bar soap?

A: I've never actually tried the bar soap on my face. I started with the liquid because I liked the customizability of it. I've been able to use it as strong or diluted as I needed and therefore never saw the need to try the bar soap.


Q: Why jojoba oil?

A: Jojoba oil (pronounced "ho-ho-ba") isn't actually an oil, it is a wax ester. It's structure is very similar to that of skin sebum, so it integrates easily. When you use it as a moisturizer it actually absorbs into the skin, it doesn't sit on top of the skin like other oils do. It not only moisturizes, but also lets the skin breathe. It even helps break down clogged sebum that can contribute to acne! It also helps with skin elasticity and in reducing fine lines and wrinkles. It also is very shelf stable and unlikely to cause skin irritation. 

Q: Where can I buy jojoba oil?

I really like the Certified Organic Jojoba Oil from Mountain Rose Herbs. As a company they strive to offer sustainable, organic products and I feel really good about supporting them. That being said, I realize that buying organic and sustainable is just not in the cards for some people and that's totally okay. I've also used the 100% Pure Jojoba Oil from Trader Joe's, which is more affordable. You can also find it at Whole Foods, GNC, Walgreens, or Amazon.

Q: What about _______ oil?

A lot of you have asked about using other oils on your skin. Now, I haven't tried all of the other oil options on my skin, but the ones I have tried I haven't liked nearly as much as jojoba. I'm assuming this is because jojoba is not actually an oil (as mentioned above) and so it interacts differently with your skin.

When I tried coconut oil (organic, virgin, unrefined) I found it to be drying. In my research I've found a number of people complaining of similar issues, but not good reason for it other than as an oil it sits on top of the skin instead of actually providing moisture, so if your skin is already dry it will trap that dryness. I know some people swear by coconut oil for their skin, so I think it just depends on the person. If you love coconut oil, but are confused about what kind to buy, this post at Food Renegade breaks it down pretty well.

I tried castor oil for a while as well and found that it absolutely did not agree with my skin. My pores were clogged, my skin was excessively oily, and I broke out terribly. Castor oil is an extremely thick oil and I didn't find that it absorbed into my skin well at all.

I've used olive oil in a pinch and also found it to be a little greasy. That being said, if I'm somewhere and I've forgotten my skin oil and the only options are a packaged skin cream or olive oil (or coconut oil or some other more natural oil - not canola or vegetable), I'll absolutely choose the oil 100% of the time.

If you already use an oil on your skin and like the results and want to stick with it, please do. I actually now use a homemade blend of oils on my skin (a jojoba base with additional oils mixed in), which I'll get to in detail in a future post.


Q: What is a toner?

A: According to Wikipedia, a toner is a skincare item used to "cleanse the skin and shrink the appearance of pores." People with oily skin are frequently told to use an astringent toner to help dry up the oil. I've found this to actually be worse for my skin. The more you dry up the oil, the more oil your skin produces, the more oil there is to clog up the pores, so on and so forth. I used a toner diligently for years and finally phased out of it a few years back. I haven't missed it a bit and am happy to have one less packaged item to purchase for my skin care routine.

Q: What is witch hazel?

Witch hazel is an astringent and antioxidant, which means it can be helpful with acne. When I do use a toner/astringent, I use alcohol-free witch hazel. You have to be very careful reading labels, as a number of witch hazel products have alcohol, which is incredibly drying. I use Thayer's Lavender Witch Hazel because for a long time it was either that or Rose Petal as far as easily-available alcohol-free toners went, and I strongly dislike the smell of roses. Now it appears that Thayer's makes a Fragrance-Free Unscented Witch Hazel, which would be my choice should I need to purchase it again.

Q: Where can I buy Thayer's Witch Hazel?

A: I used to purchase it at Walgreens, but the Thayer's Store Locator isn't showing that as an option anymore. I think Target, Whole Foods, GNC, and other stores like that should carry it. You can also order it from their website or from Amazon.

Q: Why should I exfoliate?

A: This is another thing that skincare companies tell you is absolutely necessary for healthy skin. They want you to think that you should either manually or chemically exfoliate the dead skin cells from your face on a regular basis. Do I think exfoliation is helpful? Yes, in certain circumstances. When my pores were really clogged, exfoliation helped with that. I wouldn't recommend exfoliating if you have active, open breakouts. Exfoliating in that situation can be incredibly irritating to the skin. I exfoliate probably once every 4-6 weeks, unless I feel my skin is unusually clogged. I tend to exfoliate more if I've been wearing makeup or sunscreen, as I feel that those things tend to cause build-up and clogged pores. So, depending on what you put on your face on a daily basis, you may need more regular exfoliation.

Q: Baking soda? Really?

A: Really. Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is naturally-occurring and the powder is very fine, but hard. This makes it a great physical exfoliant. It's better than, say, an apric ot scrub because apricot pieces can have sharp edges that cause microscopic tears in the skin. Those tears can aid the spread of bacteria and breakouts. To exfoliate with baking soda, I usually just pour a little in my hand after washing my face, add a little water, rub it on my face, and then rinse it off. You can also use it anywhere else you may need exfoliating!


Q: When you do wear makeup, what kind do you use? 

A: This is tough. I try to use as few chemicals on my skin as possible, but I also try to limit purchasing things I don't need or won't use all that often. That being said, I was a makeup collector back in the day. I have a traincase full of stuff from MAC and Sephora. Because I rarely (less than 10 times a year) wear makeup, I personally can't justify buying new, eco-friendly, sustainable, chemical-free makeup. When I wear makeup, I use a powdered mineral foundation that is free of bismuth oxychloride. If you wear or are looking into switching to a mineral foundation, watch out for bismuth oxychloride. It wrecked havoc on my skin and took almost two months to recover after one exposure. Edited (6/21) to add: The foundation I use is discontinued. I'd recommend Everyday Minerals. They have a cheap sample kit you can get to try a variety of products/colors before you order the regular size. If you want a pressed mineral foundation, I like Jane Iredale. When I need new foundation, I'll be ordering from Everyday Minerals.

Q: How do you remove your makeup?

A: Easy! I just take some jojoba oil and massage it into my face. It breaks down the makeup and makes it easy to wash off. If I'm wearing a lot of makeup, I'll massage the oil around my eye area and then wipe it off with a baby wipe and/or cotton swab.

Edited (6/21) to add:


Q: What do you use for sun protection?

A: I'm still searching for sun protection that I can happily suggest. At a friend's recommendation, Rachel and I started taking Astaxanthin (we like Nutrex Hawaii BioAstin) as a supplement. It is a strong antioxidant and studies have shown it helps reduce UVA damage internally. It has not been all that sunny in Chicago, but I can say that neither of us has gotten a sunburn, even on days in which the sun has made an appearance. As far as external sunscreen, I heartily recommend checking out the Environmental Working Group's Sunscreen Guide (they also have an app available, which is helpful if you're out shopping for sunscreen and need some info ASAP). We tried the Alba Botanical Natural Very Emollient Sunscreen, which rubbed in well and protected us from the sun, but has some questionable ingredients. We also tried the Badger Kids Sunscreen Cream which was incredibly chunky and difficult to rub in, but Rachel didn't get burnt (and she's pretty pale) and the ingredients are okay across the board. I think I'm more comfortable recommending the Badger, after studying the ingredients in both. Before applying, be sure to squeeze the tube thoroughly with the cap on to make sure the ingredients haven't separated. Both brands are available from Whole Foods and Amazon. Our end goal is to make our own sunscreen, so watch for a post on that sometime this summer (hopefully)!

Edited (7/16)  to add:


Q: What do you do when you breakout? How do you spot treat?

A: Usually if I breakout the pimples are very small and inobtrusive. Occasionally, though, I will get a larger breakout on my jaw area (frequently hormone-related). When that happens, I spot treat with organic tea tree oil. That usually clears it up in a day or two. If I breakout in a larger area than usual, I either add a little tea tree oil to my jojoba oil before moisturizing or I use a topical Chinese herbal formula called Yin Care. Yin Care has many uses, but I really like it as a topical acne medicine because it's relatively gentle (meaning it won't burn or dry your skin), but very effective. To apply it, I get my hands wet (to help dilute the formula) and put a drop on my palm. I rub my hands together and then pat on to my skin and let it dry.

My best advice is to listen to your skin. Pay attention to it. Is it feeling dry? Use a little extra jojoba. Does it feel clogged? Maybe it's time to exfoliate. As with any skincare routine change, your skin may get worse before it gets better. I recommend sticking with it for 4-6 weeks. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask!  

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