“Where Do I Start???” – How To Build A Skincare Routine

Oftentimes, I get wrapped up in talking about new beauty or skincare products – wrapped up enough that I’ll forget: some people are still figuring out how to build a basic skincare routine.

No shame in starting from scratch, & no such thing as a dumb question…so, after a few requests, here’s a very simple routine/top shelfie that you can use for guidance. Let’s do it!

First, let me just make it clear: my skin type is dry/sensitive. Products that work really well for my skin type may not work as well for someone with oily or combo skin. It’s hard to accurately determine your skin type online – always best to go to a dermatologist – but if you can’t make it to one, try this skin type quiz by Soko Glam, an online K-Beauty retailer. Remember: online quizzes won’t give you the most accurate results, but they can be a good place to start.

With that in mind, let me outline a simple 3-step routine. If you don’t want to spend a lot of time on your skin, but want to see some improvement, it’s a good place to start.

  1. Cleanse
  2. Tone
  3. Moisturize

At the end of the day (or beginning), it really comes down to these three steps. Cleanse your face to refresh/remove dirt, oil, & other “bad stuff.” Tone to brighten, hydrate, & purify. Moisturize to keep your skin soft & hydrated all day or all night. Remember, even if you have oily skin, you should be moisturizing. Not moisturizing the skin can cause dehydration – dehydrated skin usually leads to micro-abrasions, which can let in bacteria. This leads to breakouts & acne. So – no matter what skin type you have, make sure you’re moisturizing!

Some of you might already know the three step routine, & that’s great – but you might not know when or how to use serums & oils. Here’s how the three step routine would look plus serums & oils. Remember: you don’t have to use serums or oils; they’re a great way to up your skin care game if you’re not completely happy with how your skin is looking or feeling, but they’re not the must-haves (in my opinion).

  1. Cleanse
  2. Tone
  3. Serums – if you’re using several, work your way from most “watery” to most “gel-like.” In my experience, watery serums will sink in faster & easier if you put them right after a toner. Gel-like serums take a little longer to sink in, so they could use a little extra time…after you’ve finished with the watery serum(s)
  4. Oil – just like with serums, work your way from most diluted to most rich. Any oil will have a different texture & consistency than a serum; that’s why they’re categorized differently
  5. Moisturize

So that’s how you “up” your skin care game, if you’re already used to the three step method.

Without further ado, here are some of the products I use most often (as well as a few new ones). Almost all of them are under $30; there are two exceptions. Remember that you can get effective & affordable skin care products – these two qualities are not mutually exclusive!

Cleansers Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser, CLĒ Cosmetics Oxygen Foam Cleanser

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On the left: Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser. On the right: CLĒ Cosmetics Oxygen Foam Cleanser

As you can see by the rather banged-up bottles, these are the two cleansers I reach for most often. Let’s start with Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser, a product I’ve been using (& loving) for almost two years now. I love MJC because it’s such an effective non-foaming cleanser. Most foaming cleansers dry out my skin; Milky Jelly doesn’t lather up, but it does get rid of dirt & oil, just like any other cleanser would. The delicate floral scent is amazing, too. I like to use two pumps of it on dry skin in the morning, making sure to massage my face as I work the cleanser across my skin. It’s like a mini spa treatment – every single morning – & it only takes 2 minutes. I rinse off with luke-warm water, then move on to toner. Read my #MiniReview on Milky Jelly here!

As a bonus, here are some other options for non-foaming cleansers – for those of you who live in countries that Glossier doesn’t ship to, or for those of you who just aren’t interested in Milky Jelly:

Next up: CLĒ Cosmetics Oxygen Foam Cleanser: this is probably (okay, definitely) the only foaming cleanser I can use regularly without worrying about my skin drying out. I like to use this best in the evening – it does an amazing job of getting rid of any leftover makeup that my micellar water might have missed, & it’s admittedly very fun to use. When pushing down on the pump, a goopy substance similar in texture to Milky Jelly comes out (no scent!). Massage that over your face, & it quickly foams up. Leave on for 30-ish seconds, then wipe off with a damp towel, or rinse off with water (I prefer the latter). Most definitely the only foaming cleanser I can use without worrying about drying out my skin, even in the cold dry winter months. This cleanser is magic. Read my review of Oxygen Foam on CLĒ Cosmetic’s blog right here!

Toners

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On the left: Glossier Solution. On the right: Thayer’s Witch Hazel Alcohol-Free Lavender Witch Hazel Toner 

For a few years, I religiously used the Mario Badescu Facial Spray with Aloe, Herbs, & Rosewater – yup, the one that everyone used (& still uses). Although I’ve seen a lot of people complain about it online (not pure, makes them break out) I’ve never had an issue with it – I just eventually encountered options that were more my style. It took me a while to convert to “cotton pad toners,” as I like to call them (as opposed to a spray, like Mario Badescu) but the one that sold me was Thayers Alcohol-Free Lavender Witch Hazel Toner. I got it at Target for $11 in October – & I’m still on my first bottle. The alcohol-free option is really nice if you have sensitive skin, & lavender is especially soothing on my skin, so I was really happy when I saw that this was one of the few options left on the shelf. Witch hazel is a natural astringent, so it clarifies the skin – but it also soothes & reduces any inflammation that might be present. Also in the formula: aloe vera, plain old water, & glycerin – all calming & soothing for the skin. If you’re hyper-sensitive, Thayers has a non-scented version of their toner. If you still prefer spritz toners to cotton pad toners, Thayers now has a lot of their toners in spray bottle packaging – check them out here. Read my #MiniReview of this toner here!

(Side note: When using a cotton pad toner, I use Shiseido cotton pads. I know, I know – fancy…but seriously, they’re worth it. Even better, they’re actually quite affordable if you do it my way: cut them in half! Use one half for your morning routine & the other half for your evening routine. This way, you cut the cost in half, & you still feel all the benefits of using the Shiseido Facial Cotton (these truly are a huge upgrade from drugstore cotton rounds…trust me). If you have sensitive skin & feel like a lot of cotton pads/rounds are scratchy on your skin, these are for you. 

Another “toner” I’ve been incorporating into my routine: the latest from Glossier: Glossier Solution. This is the brand’s first release of 2018, & it’s been getting a lot of attention – it’s one of the first Glossier products that really focuses on clearing & brightening skin, as well as reducing acne/hormonal breakouts. Solution is a chemical exfoliant, meant to be used once a day in replacement of a toner. The AHA/BHA/PHA blend dissolves dead skin cells, brightens, softens, & refreshes skin, as well as reducing redness, acne, & breakouts. Read the full scoop here; first, though, let me say this: if you’re using Solution – or any other chemical exfoliant – wear sunscreen! When using any kind of chemical exfoliant (this one included) your skin is more sensitive to the sun. You should wear sunscreen no matter what, but if you’ve been guiltily ignoring that, it’s time to start protecting yourself – especially if you’re using a chemical exfoliant. I’ll give you some of my favorite options in a moment. Stay tuned.

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Heritage Store Rosewater & Glycerin

Finally – I mentioned that my first toner was a spritzer (by Mario Badescu). Here’s one that I’ve revisited & been really loving lately: the Heritage Store Rosewater & Glycerin. Think of it as the Mario Badescu Facial Spray…but make it purer. There are three ingredients in this: purified water, pure rose oil, & natural vegetable glycerin. If you’re worried about a cloying scent, worry no more. This has a very delicate, floral scent – similar to that of Glossier Milky Jelly. It’s described as “multi-purpose,” because it is. Use it for your hair, use it as a toner, use it as a setting spray, use it as a refresher when 3 pm hits & you still have a few hours to go (but your skin isn’t feeling it) – face, body, hair…go ham. Just don’t drink it. I haven’t used this for a minute, but I’ve been revisiting it – & I’ve appreciated it as a toner, a refresher, & a setting spray this past month. Oh – & it’s only $10. Find it online, in some Whole Foods, some Urban Outfitters, & perhaps even some Targets, if you’re lucky.

Serums 

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From left to right: Glossier Super Pure Serum, The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%, & Valjean Labs Hydrate Serum

Like I mentioned when talking about how to build up your skin care routine to something more complex or “fancy” – serums aren’t necessary, but they can be great ways to really improve the texture, tone, & even the health of your skin. I typically don’t wear more than two serums at once – because too much of anything is a bad thing – & I usually wear different serums at night than I do in the day. I won’t delve into that, because this is just about how to build a simple routine – so here are a few serums that I’ve been enjoying. Some are old favorites, others are new discoveries – but they’re all under $30, which is great. Let me start with the Valjean Hydrate Serum – I have a #MiniReview on this, which I’ll link here. If you’re just looking for a super quick review, though, here are my two cents on it: I liked the texture of Glossier’s Super Bounce Serum (another hyaluronic acid serum), but wasn’t seeing results that made the $28 price tag worth it to me. I tried The Ordinary’s Hyaluronic Acid serum (way cheaper) but like a bunch of their other serums, this one was tacky, dried down oddly, & I didn’t even feel like it was hydrating. Stumped, I kept hunting. I saw “Valjean Labs” pop up across a few photos on Instagram before I asked some friends about the serums, & I heard only good things. I got the Hydrate serum first – followed by Glow & Firm. I like Firm – it’s a hydrating & plumping serum that contains ferulic acid & Vitamin E – but I’m not a fan of Glow (a Vitamin C serum). It just didn’t really seem to do anything. So: Hydrate remains my favorite serum from Valjean. It’s a thin, watery texture, but doesn’t dry down tacky. It’s cooling & soothing – really helps reduce redness – & it feels like a cool drink of water for my skin. I use it morning & night. It layers under other serums/moisturizers really nicely, too. Pick it up for $15 at Urban Outfitters, or keep your eyes peeled at your local TJ Maxx – Valjean serums go for $4.99 at TJ.

Next up: an old favorite; an old friend: Glossier Super Pure Serum. The Glossier Supers hold a special place in my heart; Super Glow was the first serum I ever put on my face when the trio launched in fall of 2016. I’ve hopped back & forth between Super Pure & Super Glow as my favorites, but at this point I can confidently say that Super Pure is my favorite. This is a serum that is, in fact, worth the $28 price tag (for me). It calms redness & inflammation in the short-term; long-term, it reduces breakouts & just clarifies the skin overall. The water-gel consistency is not sticky or tacky; it doesn’t pill; it wears beautifully under makeup/moisturizers…I have no bad things to say. Check out my longer review here

Finally – a brand-new addition to my routine: The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%. It’s so new, in fact, that I’ve only used it twice so far. Before purchasing, I snooped around for some opinions, & immediately got some “NOOOO! IT IS SO SCRATCHY!” comments. Naturally, I was a bit scared when it arrived – but I’m glad I had that “background knowledge” of the texture of the serum before giving it a go myself, because it influenced the way in which I applied it. Obviously, I can’t give that big of a review, because I’ve only used it twice, but here are my first impressions: definitely the “oddest” serum I’ve used yet, mainly because it’s “water-free” – that means that it looks like a cream; maybe a runny moisturizer. The “scratchiness” comes from “dehydrated spheres” of hyaluronic acid, which “offer visible surface smoothing.” I wouldn’t call it scratchy; it doesn’t feel like a sugar/salt scrub; it feels more like someone put sand into a light moisturizer (I know that sounds odd). There’s no denying that it’s a bit abrasive, especially if I were to rub it into my face – but thanks to everyone’s warnings, I was able to avoid that situation. When applying, I put some on my fingertips, then gently press it into my skin. Wait a few minutes, & sure enough – the “dehydrated spheres” melted into my skin. Then, it’s simple: apply moisturizer, & be at peace. There’s no denying that it’s one of the oddest products I’ve tried so far, but I’m intrigued. The Ordinary has great prices, & it’s even more accessible, now that it’s being carried (online) at Sephora. I’ll be sure to keep you all posted.

Oils

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The Ordinary 100% Cold-Pressed Organic Rose Hip Seed Oil – good for all skin types 

I’m a fan of facial oils, but I’m not the biggest fan – basically, creams > oils in my opinion (& keep in mind: everyone’s skin is different). While creams are my priority, I found oils to be way more confusing, especially when first thinking about using one. Won’t it just make my skin greasy? Will I break out more? Why would you put oil on your face…?

The answer to the last question: there are many reasons for putting oil on your face, & if you remember that you’re not putting vegetable oil or bacon grease on your face – you’re putting rosehip oil, tea tree oil, marula oil & so on (all of which have their benefits) – the fear of breaking out or looking greasy will soon fade. Oils won’t make your face greasy – you just have to choose the right one. That depends on your skin type, & since I can’t tell every single one of you what your skin type is, I’d leave the serious oil recommendations to someone more qualified (ask a skin care consultant at Sephora, or go to your dermatologist, or just do some reading after you know a little more about your skin type), but I can tell you one oil that works really well for all skin types: rosehip!

Rosehip oil calms redness, reduces inflammation, & hydrates – of course. It’s lightweight, doesn’t feel heavy, sticky, or greasy, & it wears well under a cream. You can also put a little more on & forget a cream all together. One of the cheapest options out there is The Ordinary’s 100% Cold-Pressed Organic Rose Hip Seed Oil. Described as “a daily support formula for all skin types,” this oil is rich in various vitamins & fatty acids, all of which plumpen, hydrate, & boost skin’s circulation. It smells slightly floral, but I can hardly detect a scent. It’s not the highest-quality oil, but it’s under $10, I wouldn’t call it bad, & it’s a great way to experiment with facial oils without dropping a lot of money. Next on my list of things to try: Pai Skincare’s Rosehip BioRegenerate Oil, which has rave reviews on many platforms. It’s a step up from the $10, but from what I’ve seen, it looks to be worth it.

Moisturizers 

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On the left: Dr Jart+ Cicapair Tiger Grass Cream. On the right: Glossier Priming Moisturizer Rich

Currently, I’m using two moisturizers: a day cream & a night cream. If you use one & your skin is happy – great! My dry/sensitive skin gets a little finicky, especially when it comes to hydration, so my skin most definitely appreciates the two different moisturizers I use.

For daytime, I use the Dr Jart+ Cicapair Tiger Grass CreamI held off for a very long time on buying this, mainly because I looked at the amount of product in the tube & rolled my eyes. I wouldn’t be forking over that amount for this little tube of cream…but then, I got it as a free sample with a Sephora order I made over winter break, & when I tried it out, I finally understood. This is an extremely dense cream; it’s almost like an ointment. This was worrying to me, at first: would it feel greasy? Would it clog my pores? The answer to both of these questions: nope! It most definitely doesn’t feel greasy, it certainly doesn’t clog my pores, & I’m glad I chose this sample, because by the time I ran out of the baby version, I was convinced that the full-size was truly worth it.

You need the tiniest amount – the tube looks like a tube of toothpaste, & that’s just about how much I use for my face: imagine that you’re putting a smear of toothpaste onto your toothbrush, & that should just about cover it for your whole face. I put the ointment between my fingertips to let it warm up a little, then gently press it into my skin. If I have the time, I’ll follow that up with a quick facial massage with my jade roller. If I don’t – I’m still good. The cream has really helped reduce any redness, which is something I struggle with (especially in the winter time). I would constantly complain about the dry area under my nose – not after a week of using this cream, though. January is one of the hardest months on my skin…& this year, I have zero dryness/irritation in my usual dry patches, my skin is relatively redness-free, & I get to use a very cool toothpaste-y product that smells like freshly-mown grass. Worth it? Definitely.

For night time, I use Glossier Priming Moisturizer Rich – a product I’ve been religiously using & refilling since Glossier put it up for sale in January 2017. Basically: I’ll never stop screaming about this (screaming in a good way). I’ve been through a few jars, but I don’t go through it outrageously quickly, because it truly is “rich.” “Rich,” yes. Oily? Not even a little bit. I have dry skin & love it; I know people with oily skin who love it equally. People in the middle? Yup, PMR has your back, too. Red algae reduces redness, lavender makes you feel like you’re in an aromatherapy session, & the cream has this incredible buttercream texture that’s addicting. Every night, I smooth a little spoonful (I use the NIOD Stainless Steel Spoon to keep my creams sanitary) into my skin, I massage my face with my hands &/or my jade roller, & then I sink into my pillows with a sigh of relief. It’s the perfect way for me to end my day.

Sunscreens

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On the left: Glossier Invisible Shield. On the right: Dr. Jart+ Every Sun Day UV Sunscreen 

One of the most important – but one of the most ignored – steps in a skincare routine is protecting your face from the sun. Even if you don’t work outside…even if you’re not going for a long walk…even if you live in a country where you don’t see much sunlight during the winter…you should still be wearing sunscreen. UV rays cause long-term damage, & you might not ever feel a sunburn – but you may still be at risk for skin cancer if you don’t take the proper steps to protect yourself. That sounds like a threat, but it’s just me saying be careful! You can greatly reduce the risk of skin cancer simply by throwing on some sunscreen every single day.

The two I swear by are Glossier Invisible Shield (SPF 35) & Dr. Jart+ Every Sun Day UV Sunscreen Broad Spectrum (SPF 50). These products are quite different from one another, though ultimately, they both do a good job of protecting your skin from harmful sun exposure.

What’s the difference? The Glossier sunscreen is a chemical sunscreen; the Dr. Jart+ sunscreen is a physical sunscreen. “Chemical” sounds scary in most situations, but just as is the case with “chemical exfoliation,” “chemical sunscreen” is not dangerous or harmful for your skin. It just operates in a different way than “physical sunscreen.”

Chemical sunscreens contain organic, carbon-based compounds which create a chemical (hence the name) reaction, changing UV rays into heat, then releasing that heat from the skin. No – you won’t get burned, & no – it doesn’t feel hot upon application. Don’t worry.

Physical sunscreens like the Dr. Jart+ one contain active mineral ingredients, also referred to as physical blockers (again – hence the name). Most commonly, the physical blockers are titanium dioxide or zinc dioxide – that’s what gives physical sunscreen its famous (or, if you’re like me, infamous) scent. These blockers sit on top of the skin, deflecting & scattering UV rays away from the skin.

So – which do I prefer? Personally, after I tried a chemical sunscreen, I heavily lean towards that side of the spectrum. Most physical sunscreens feel very sticky & heavy on my skin & I’ve broken out from quite a few. Most don’t wear very well under makeup for me, either. I prefer the gel-like texture of a chemical sunscreen. Also – it’s much easier to reapply, since you don’t have to massage it into the face as intensely as you might have to with a physical sunscreen – chemical sunscreens leave no white cast on the skin, which is another bonus.

Still, I really like the Dr. Jart+ one. After I started taking immunosuppressive drugs that make my skin even more sensitive to sun, my mama & I panicked & looked for the most powerful & best sunscreen out there. SPF 50 is pretty much as high as you can get, & this Dr. Jart+ option is probably my favorite physical sunscreen. It’s very lightweight, it lacks that odd scent that so many physical sunscreens have, & it doesn’t feel greasy or sticky – doesn’t break me out, either. If you’re not into chemical sunscreens, this is a physical sunscreen that I truly do like. The price isn’t half bad, either – especially for a Dr. Jart+ product.

As for the Glossier Invisible Shield – like I said, I now prefer chemical sunscreens, after having tried both, & this one is a great choice. Recently, Glossier reduced the price to $25, which I feel is a much fairer price than the original $34. In my opinion, there isn’t enough product in the Invisible Shield bottle to justify spending $34 on it; now, with the adjusted price, I can give Invisible Shield 5 stars without feeling like it’s just a biiiit too expensive to rate so highly. I use about 3-4 pumps, & gently swipe the gel over my face after I’ve finished moisturizing (but before I’ve applied makeup). I let it sit for a few moments; it has a cooling sensation which is really soothing. I like the citrus-y scent, too.

A lot of people ask what the best amount of SPF is. Most dermatologists agree that anything between SPF 30 & SPF 50 is going to give you the same results. SPF 50 isn’t really going to give you more protection than SPF 30 – in fact, some people get less protection even while wearing SPF 50, since they feel like they don’t need to apply as much product. No matter what, be sure to reapply sunscreen if you’re spending periods of time outside, & don’t stress about SPF 50 working better (or worse) than SPF 35 or SPF 40. In the end, as long as it’s over 30, you’re good. Stay protected!!!

Spot Treatments 

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Oh – almost forgot about this very important category. For a while, I was a non-believer. It seemed as though everyone swore by the Mario Badescu Drying Lotion; I’d given it a few goes & hadn’t seen anything special. Overnight results? Sounded unrealistic…& I never got that from the Drying Lotion.

For the past 7-8 months, I’ve been using & loving the Origins Super Spot Remover. It’s a clear gel spot treatment, which is nice – it sinks into the skin instead of rubbing off on your pillowcase (sound familiar?). It can also be worn under makeup, which, again: something the Drying Lotion cannot do.

When I ran out of my second little tube of the Origins treatment, I headed to grab a refill – only to see that it was sold out both online & in store. A Sephora employee redirected me to the Tarte Blemish Bully Acne Spot Treatment – same consistency, same texture, same end results. The formula seems to be essentially the same; I did notice that the Tarte formula contains caffeine, though, which is nice – it aids in depuffing whatever area you’re trying to target. I’ve been using it for about a week now, & have no complaints thus far. It seems to work just as well as the Origins treatment, & you get a little more product for the same amount, too. I’ll see how this one lasts in the long run, but for now…I’m liking it. Side note: the Origins spot treatment is now back in stock on Sephora’s website. 

Sometimes, one product just doesn’t work – if I’m really having a problem blemish (or two) I’ll layer two products: first, a thin layer of the gel spot treatment – in the past, Origins; currently, Tarte. After the gel has dried down, I’ll pat a small amount of Mario Badescu Drying Cream on top. That’s right – cream, not lotion. They are two different products. The Drying Lotion is the one you see most often: the pink sediment at the bottom of a vial of clear liquid. The Drying Cream is a yellow-beige paste that comes in a little jar. Described as “a unique spot treatment featuring sulfur,” the Drying Cream is ideal for under-the-surface bumps as well as good old blemishes. Sulfur & zinc oxide draw out impurities, but ingredients like aloe vera & Vitamin E ensure that you won’t wake up with a painful dry patch of skin where your blemish used to be. This does transfer, so if you wear it overnight, just be aware that some might rub off on your pillowcase. It’s worth it, though – I can’t say that this combo always works overnight, but it comes pretty damn close.

Well – that’s the finale! If you’re new to skincare, I hope I helped you figure things out a little more; maybe you have something to work with now. It can be very overwhelming when starting to be “serious” about skincare or makeup, simply because there are so many products. I can’t say that all of these will work as well for you as they do for me, but I hope I help at least a few of you. What’re some of your holy grail skincare items – whether you’re new or old to the skincare game?

Catch you next time! Let’s talk about face masks next, shall we?

Love,

Sofia ❤

#MiniReview: Thayers Alcohol-Free Lavender Witch Hazel Toner

The name “Thayers” is practically a household name if you regularly browse sites like Byrdie, The File, & Into The Gloss. I’ve known about Thayers’ toners for at least a year – but I kind of just sat back & listened to everyone talk. “It’s so cheap! It’s so good! It lasts so long! So much product! Product cap perfectly dispenses actual product!”

Me, from a few feet away: “Oh, sounds nice!” I said absently, spraying myself with another shower of Mario Badescu Facial Spray With Aloe, Herbs, & Rosewater (okay, that never happened, but essentially that’s how my “ignoring” process went).

Why did I just never get around to buying this very cheap toner that has had a lot of buzz – especially lately?

First of all, the concept of toning with a liquid-soaked cotton pad was not how I had initially interpreted toning. To me, it was only toning if it came in a spritzer bottle (which isn’t at all true, of course). The concept of rubbing cotton pads on my face sounded irritating – much more so than a healthy douse of floral mist.

Secondly – this product is easiest to find at Target – & I am one of the few people in America who doesn’t love going to Target. I know…I’m sorry! Big spaces make me anxious, it’s cold inside, & I never know where anything is despite all the signs.

About a month ago, however, I was driving home from somewhere & remembered I ran out of Tylenol; I was just happening to pass a Target & figured that this would be as good a time as any other. Coincidentally, I’d been asking a friend about Thayers earlier – she’d mentioned something about a lavender version, & my ears perked. If you know me, you know that I adore the scent of lavender. Suddenly, Thayers seemed a lot more appealing. I ran in to grab a bottle of Tylenol (success) & walked out with my medication…& a 12 fluid oz. bottle of Thayers Alcohol-Free Lavender Witch Hazel Toner.

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“Retro” packaging 

That’s right – 12 fluid ounces of product. For $10.95. I had never really looked up the price tag on this, but when I got to the aisle at Target, I’m 99% sure I audibly gasped. The bottle was so big; there was so much product, & it was so cheap. Lucky for me, Lavender was the only option left – all of the other choices were gone. I was happy as a clam.

That evening, I skipped my usual Mario Badescu spray & put a few drops of the Thayers Lavender toner onto a cotton square – probably 4-5 drops in total. No need to worry about spilling product; this bottle has some kind of a squeeze cap that ensures that if your bottle does happen to tip over while the cap is open…not much product will be wasted. It’s like a little babyproof gate, except for a toner bottle. This was much appreciated by me; I’m always worried about forget to close a lid on a product & spilling it later if I bump into it by accident (I’m getting better). The product was easy to dispense, had that soothing smell of lavender that I love so dearly. Now: time to talk about what it’s supposed to do, what it did for me, & how I feel about it after about a month’s use.

There are quite a few different versions of Thayers toner: Rose Petal, Lavender, Aloe, Lemon, Mint…& a few more, too. While these versions may differ slightly from one another, they’re all built on the witch hazel base formula, as the name might suggest.

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The witch hazel used in this toner is extracted from the bark of the witch hazel plant. This extract contains natural tannins, which help remove excess oil from the face without stripping it of all its healthy moisture. They reduce inflammation & irritation, which calms breakouts & prevents future ones. They balance the natural pH levels of the skin – again, resulting in calmer, more balanced skin in general. It’s also an antioxidant; it also brightens & tightens the skin because of this.

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The signature red cap

The Thayers witch hazel formula is not distilled. That means that it contains 195% more tannins, according to Thayers’ own website. This, in turn, means that the product works more effectively & does a better job overall. Witch hazel works for oily skin because it removes extra dirt/other impurities; it’s good for combo skin because it keeps the dry patches balanced while (again) removing extra impurities from other areas. As a sensitive/dry skin type, I can assure you it works well for both dry & sensitive skin types, too – even both at once (like me)!

Okay – so what do I think?

Well – I think that it’s incredible. I feel stupid for not having bought this sooner – especially since it is almost infuriatingly good & cheap to beat. My skin looks brighter & clearer, but it’s not any drier than it was when I was using mist toners. The lavender version is incredibly soothing, & I love the scent. It fades within a few moments, but it gives you that calm, essential-oils vibe while gently swiping it all over the face.

Like I said, I use 4-5 drops on a cotton square. That’s right, a square, not a round or a pad. That might sound high-&-mighty – but for me at least, cotton squares are fluffier & lighter in texture than that of a round or a pad. They’re more soothing, they feel more luxurious & they are just as cheap (sometimes chaper) than rounds or pads. I buy mine from the drugstore for about $3 (for 100 or so, I believe) – but if you want to feel super fancy, Shiseido’s cotton is famously good & not ridiculously expensive. It’s a nice little “treat yourself” kind of thing you can pick up in Sephora’s checkout line.

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Clear & concise directions on the back – big plus

All-in-all? An incredible experience. I’m mad I didn’t try this sooner; I’m glad I started using it. I don’t feel the need to return to more expensive products when this big, cheap, effective bottle is right there in my top shelf. No guilt needed, especially when the product is good, is packaged prettily (come on, you know it too!) & smells like lavender (if you’re like me & like lavender).

I’m interested in trying out some of the others – particularly Lemon & Rose Petal – but I don’t think I’ll need to worry about replacing my current Thayers toner any time soon. The 12 ounces of product doesn’t sound that big of a deal – until you pick it up, realize how heavy it is, & realize that using 4-5 drops twice a day will last you essentially an eternity.

I’m not complaining, though. The Lavender toner is just right for me – it’s one of my favorite scents, it exfoliates, brightens, hydrates, balances, & tightens. All for $10.95. 10/10. I’m sorry I didn’t commit sooner, Thayers. Hope you can forgive me.

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My cheap & effective toner snuggling with my cheap & effective extra soft cotton squares

Thayer’s has announced that a spritzer toner (same formula) will be available soon – that’s good news for all of you who prefer to spray to tone as opposed to using a cotton pad. It’ll be out soon – not sure if I’ll try it, because this is doing the job very well. We’ll see!

Are there any others out there who haven’t tried the Thayers line yet? If so, I won’t shame you – but I will encourage you to try it. If you have tried it, I’d love to hear your favorite version if you’ve tried several – especially if you have dry/sensitive skin like me.

Long live the simultaneously incredible & incredibly cheap products like this one!

Love,

Sof ❤

High & Low – My Favorites of Each

We all know that some high-end skin care really isn't all that. At least, I know it…I hope you do. We've all seen beauty gurus doing their "hot or nots" on Youtube, trying out $200 face primers, $100 face masks, & $60 lip balm by La Mer (Jackie Aina says it's not worth the money; I'll trust her).

All that sounds super appealing – I mean, the thought of putting a gold leaf sheet mask on my face just because of the aesthetic concept. But…I know that some of my dirt-cheap, K-Beauty face masks will do more than any gold leaf ever could. I know that oftentimes, I'm just paying for packaging when I buy a higher-end product. However…there are some that are worth the money, just like there are some that are not. I'm going to give two of my top high end skin care products, & two of my top low-end skin care products – & provide reasons as to why they're worth it, or why they're so cheap & still so good. Read on!

Drunk Elephant Babyfacial – $80

 

I've purchased this only once (in early March) & I am not close to being finished with it – even so, I know I will be buying it again. One of the reasons I'll be buying it again is because I'm still not done with it! A high-end product's longevity is a huge concern for me. Yeah…the full-size Caudalie Beauty Elixer is beautiful & wonderful & I adore how cooling it is on my skin – but I cannot drop $50 on a facial spray, no matter how much I love it (I get the $18 travel size when I want to give my skin a special treat). So, since I only need 2-3 pumps of the Babyfacial – not more than two times a week – I can justify the $80 price tag.

Also: the Babyfacial has drastically improved my skin, & continues to do so. It's a powerful, effective detox – I always have softer, clearer skin after using it, & despite my sensitive skin, I've never gotten a bad reaction to it (like a burn or a rash). Plus, Drunk Elephant's super hygienic packaging (Babyfacial comes in an airtight container that doesn't expose it to the light) is just one more reason for my immunosuppressed skin to love it. I'm not ashamed to say I bought the Babyfacial, & I'm not ashamed when I say I will continue to buy it. This stuff lasts, it's effective, &…yes, it has beautiful, pale-pink packaging.

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Saturday Skin Wide Awake Brightening Eye Cream – $46

Eye creams don't really…work on me. I have dark circles constantly – thanks anemia! – which I'm not really bothered about. I think they give dimension & contour to my face & have come to accept, even love them. However, what I do not accept or love about my under-eye area is the puffiness I wake up with in the morning. This is all thanks to late nights – thanks chronic pain! Thanks anxiety! – & even though I tried a couple eye creams before this one, they didn't do anything to help my puffiness. Sure, my skin under my eyes was softer…but that didn't make me look any less sleep-deprived.

Literally the next morning after I used this cream for the first time, I woke up with absolutely zero puffiness. Yes, I was still tired, & grumpy, & wanted to get back in bed – but it didn't look like I felt that way. I was truly shocked. I don't expect most products to work overnight; I understand that sometimes, skin takes a while to get used to/garner full effects of a product…but this one wasted no time. Now, I use the Saturday Skin cream every night, paired with the Milk Makeup Cooling Water Stick (also a great product that I adore – just not truly categorized as "high end") & (eventually) fall asleep, content with the knowlege that no matter how tired I am when I wake up, I sure as hell won't look that way. This will keep being refilled on my top shelf. Thank you x 10 to Saturday Skin for keeping me looking fresh!

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Mario Badescu Facial Spray with Aloe, Herbs, and Rosewater – $8 or $12

Truly ride or die. This isn't just good because it's cheap…it's good because it's good. I have backups of this absolutely everywhere; I use it as a toner, as a light hair fragrance, as a refresher in the middle of the day when I'm feeling parched & dull, & as a setting spray. It's so multipurpose, so effective, works for all skin types – & you can purchase it in the tiniest little 1 oz. bottle (at Ulta's checkout) for your weekend getaway for $5, in the 4 oz. version for $8, or the jumbo 8 oz. bottle for $12. I have it in all three. You'll always catch one in my purse, two on my top shelf (one for a backup, one for use) & probably another tiny one in my bag – just in case. Are you afraid it's going to smell like your grandma's potpourri? Don't be – it's fresh, light, & absolutely not grandma-y. No offense to grandma. Mario has treated me better than any man ever has – & he'll be here with me til the day I die.

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The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% – $6.79

You know the Sunday Riley Good Genes Lactic Acid Treatment? The one that costs $105 for 1 oz.? Try this lactic acid, instead. You get 1 oz. for $6.79. No, it's not as good as the Sunday Riley – but it's nearly as good, & is more than 10 times cheaper for the same amount of product. The 5% version made Into The Gloss'sBeauty Editor's May Favorites article – I initially used the 5%, then worked my way up to 10%. I can't say that the 10% is significantly better than the 5% (10% does tingle more & sometimes I wake up with brighter, clearer skin than when I used the 5%, but it's hard to tell whether it's that product or just chance)…but I can say that they both work beautifully as a chemical exfoliant – even on my poor, dry, sensitive skin. Seriously, it's amazing. Just ignore the smell…some call it "maple syrup," some call it "burnt plastic" (I'm team "burnt plastic") & some say, oh so eloquently, "ass but it still works really well so I don't care" (thanks to one of my followers for giving me that priceless description). Regardless of what you think it smells like, this stuff works. Give it a chance; I don't think you'll be let down. In general, try all of The Ordinary's products – you won't break your bank, & you won't be let down. You might even be let up.

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There you have it! Two things I'm unashamed to say I love (& why) & two things that, even if a higher-end brand has something similar, I'll politely pass on & continue to use my cheap, effective, good products.

Remember – a high price tag does not mean a product will be life-changing! Oftentimes you might just be paying for a name, for packaging, & just because some pricing markups are ridiculous. Don't feel bad about not getting that $60 La Mer lip balm. I'm happy with my $12 Balm Dotcom.

Love,

Sof ❤

Get 20% off any Drunk Elephant purchase here, & get $10 off a $50 purchase from Peach and Lily here!

I’m Authentic Now: I’m Using “Real” Toners

I’ve always known the three crucial steps to taking care of your skin: cleanse, tone, moisturize. Sure, all the other things (like serums, oils, & face masks) are great, fun, & (hopefully!) beneficial – but if I were to take three things only for my face, it would be a cleanser, a toner, & a moisturizer.

For the longest time – actually, ever since I can remember – I’ve been using facial sprays as toners, like Caudalie’s Beauty Elixer, Herbivore Botanical’s Rose Hibiscus, Glossier’s Soothing Face Mist, & my holy grail: Mario Badescu’s Facial Spray With Aloe, Herbs, & Rosewater. I thought that was the default for toning.

I started seeing people on social media, especially Youtube & Instagram, talk about their favorite toners; sometimes even demonstrate them. Yes, I saw a lot of facial sprays! I also saw a lot of “real” toners – you know, the ones you drip onto a cotton pad & swipe all over your face. I also got told by a lot of people that I should try one like that (Thayer’s Witch Hazel, for example), but I balked. I was perfectly happy with my spritzer toners. They worked just fine for me, & I didn’t like the concept of rubbing a fiber on my face – it just sounded irritating. I have sensitive skin, so the idea of such a thing kind of sent some shivers down my back.

I was quite ambivalent about the whole thing, but as I started to see more & more people talk about “real” toners, I decided to give one a go.

I’d known about the Mario Badescu Cleansing Lotions for a bit, mainly because I saw them at an Ulta, decided to check out the cleansers, picked one up a while back to test…& jumped in surprise when a watery product spilled all over my hand, without a single soapy bubble.

I’d read the label “Cleansing Lotion” & had assumed that it was a cleanser. It was not. I went home, googled “Mario Badescu Cleansing Lotion why?”, & saw a post MB had made on their blog (which I recommend checking out!). According to Mario Badescu, the Cleansing Lotions are absolutely toners – & absolutely not for washing your face or body. “Cleansing lotion” is just the original or classic name for “toner.” Mario Badescu formulated his toners when the term “cleansing lotion” was more commonly used, & the company now wants to “keep the label true to Mario Badescu’s original product names so his legacy remains intact and we remain authentic to the brand’s heritage.” (x)

After finding that answer, I still didn’t feel like trying one out. Laziness? Lack of interest? Already having a toner that worked just fine for me? To be completely honest, it was probably all three. But – I decided to finally give it a whirl, & was futher encouraged by some friends that also had sensitive skin – if they could do it, why couldn’t I? I (tentatively) decided to give it a go. I went to Ulta about 10 days ago, looked for some cotton pads that wouldn’t be too rough on my sensitive skin (these are great: cheap, 100% cotton, unscented, & quilted for extra softness), &, once I’d found those, wandered over to the Mario Badescu shelves.  I figured that since my friend Mario had already given me the best toner of my life, I might as well try one of his “real” toners. Or maybe even two. I ended up with two – if you’re intruiged, keep reading!

Seaweed Cleansing Lotion

This was the first of the two I picked up. I did a little online research on the MB website & blog before making a trip to Ulta, & this one seemed to fit my criteria. It’s labeled as being ideal for dry, sensitive, or combo skin, & is described on MB’s site as being their “most universal toner.” This description, & the fact that it’s alcohol-free (yay! No stinging or burning!) were selling points for me. Alcohol-based toners can be great for oily skin – sometimes even combo skin – but it’s a whole mess for my dry & sensitive skin.

This toner contains witch hazel, which clarifies without being too rough or drying; aloe vera, which soothes & moisturizes; &, of course, the seaweed: bladderwrack extract, which also soothes the skin, & is rich in minerals. It’s a pretty moss-green color, & has a clean, fresh, green scent to it that doesn’t linger for an uncomfortable amount of time.

As I started applying the toner to my face with one of the cotton pads, I felt completely comfortable. I didn’t feel irritated or dry after I’d finished gently swiping the toner-covered cotton pad over my face. I just felt clean. I even noticed that it had removed a tiny bit of makeup which my cleanser had glossed over. I didn’t feel tight or dry – & my face didn’t sting, either (something I was really nervous about). Basically, it was love at first use. I went to sleep, hoping I’d see something the next day. I woke up, looked in the mirror straight away, & saw a brighter, fresher face staring back at me. My pores looked tighter, my skin looked (& felt) clearer & cleaner, but I had no dry patches or sensitive, stinging areas. I kept using it, wondering if I’d break out, or if I’d end up with drier skin over the course of the week; sometimes, products take longer than one night to do something to your skin – good or bad. Nope. My skin only got better. I was truly floored. Yes, my facial spray was (& still is) amazing…but this took my skin up a level or two.

 

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Alpha Grapefruit Cleansing Lotion

After I saw amazing results with the Seaweed Cleansing Lotion, I decided to give the other MB dry/sensitive/combo-targeted toner a go. This product is described as a brightening, energizing toner, enhanced with AHAs. It is also alcohol-free, which, again, is a plus! I was a bit warier of this one, however – I know what AHAs are like, & they work well on my skin…but I’d never tried a toner containing AHAs – just masks or masques.

The AHAs in this product come from grapefruit & lemon extract – hence the product’s name. Once I saw that the other key ingredients were aloe & linden (both have soothing properties), I was less worried about how this toner would feel on the skin. I took it home & gave it a go.

This one does sting a bit, & it is definitely less moisturizing than the Seaweed Cleansing Lotion. I don’t find it to be drying in & of itself – but if I were having a bit of an extra sensitive skin moment, I probably wouldn’t reach for this one; I’d grab its sister, Seaweed, instead. For me, this is most similar to a Vitamin C serum – it brightens, tightens, closes pores, & reduces dark spots.

I wondered whether this toner would be more clarifying than the Seaweed, but I don’t believe so. I do think it’s been helping even out my skin tone a little bit; nothing fancy, but it’s definitely doing something. It’s a super pretty color: a soft, glowy orange. The scent is, surprisingly, not at all citrusy. I just get a slight whiff of herbs. This one doesn’t have a heavy scent, either. I really was surprised that I didn’t detect any citrus-y smell in this product…it does have “grapefruit” in its name, after all. I’m not complaining, though: in my opinion, most skin care products shouldn’t be heavily scented (I have a few exceptions that I enjoy).

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Overall? Both of these are a game-changer. I have fully incorporated them into my skin care routine, & have only seen good results. I will say that I prefer the Seaweed Cleansing Lotion to the Alpha Grapefruit one. Both are good! I think it just comes down to personal preference. If you’re more interested in a soothing toner, & less interested in a brightening one, I’d recommend you give Seaweed a go. If you’re trying to make your dull skin a bit perkier, I’d say go for Alpha Grapefruit! Like I said, I enjoy using both…but I think Seaweed has my heart. I can’t guarantee I’d repurchase Alpha Grapefruit, but Seaweed is definitely going to have a permanent place on my top shelf.

The funniest thing about all of this? Well…I kept excitedly telling everyone about it, like this method of toning was a new discovery. I got “we know,”&  “told you so” a lot. I even got: “Wait…you’ve never used a toner like that?” That’s my personal favorite.

Nope! I hadn’t. I was perfectly happy that way, too – so was my skin. But…now that I’ve finally tried it, this method of toning will now have a permanent place in my routine. The MB facial spray was, is, & always will be amazing – so will the Caudalie Beauty Elixer, & so many others. I’m just experiencing a new feeling with this method of toning…& I’m really enjoying it. So is my skin!

To all the sensitive-skinned people out there who might have worried about how abrasive this kind of toning method may be, let me assure you: it’s not! Just make sure your cotton pads are soft, & that the toner you’re using is for your skin type. You can get a pack of 80 hypoallergenic, unscented, 100% cotton pads for less than $4 at Ulta. You can probably order even more for even less online. Both of these toners cost $15. This isn’t expensive skin care! It’s cheap, it’s effective, & there’s one for everyone. Oh, & don’t worry about spilling product all over your hand, like I did once upon a time. Unless you’re treating it like a gel or a cream, the little flip-up tube that’s built into the product’s cap dispenses the toner just fine. No spillage!

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The tiny tube dispenser in action on the Alpha Grapefruit Cleansing Lotion
So, to all of those new to this toning method: come join the club! It’s pretty big over here. I find it pretty funny that I’ve been taking care of my skin for a good while – & never given this method a thought up until a few weeks ago. But I’m here now! I’m loving it! & I think you will, too. To those who might be rolling their eyes at my “discovery” over here: I hope at least one out of the two toners I mentioned sound appealing to you, if you haven’t already tried them.

I’m always figuring out new things when it comes to skin care! This time, I figured out an old thing – but it was new to me. I’m just glad I finally went for it. Maybe it’s time for you to do the same.

Love,

Sof ❤

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What The Heck Is An Essence?

Until a few months ago, I’d never heard of essences.

Until a few weeks ago, I rolled my eyes at the concept of their effectiveness.

Now, I’m on the essence train.

So, what is an essence? Well, it originates from Korea, the magical land of 7-step hydrating routines (aka, probably perfect for my dry, sensitive skin without even knowing much more). An essence is not a toner. A toner is used directly after cleansing your skin, meant to complete the cleanse, get rid of any remaining impurities, & prepare your skin for additional steps. They’re usually water-based, & they’re usually meant to hydrate & sooth the skin (prime example: my holy grail toner, Mario Badescu Facial Spray With Aloe, Herbs, & Rosewater).

So, okay. An essence isn’t a toner. Is it a serum?

Nope. A serum is much more highly concentrated than an essence. They usually come in smaller sizes, & are meant to be massaged gently into your skin. There are a whole variety of serums: hydrating, clarifying, brightening, soothing, so on & so on (some of my favorites are the Glossier Super Pack–shop here with me!–which, as a trio, hydrate, brighten, & clarify; the Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum, which is meant to brighten & plump the skin, & The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5%, meant to clarify & make skin more transluscent).

So, the conclusion you’ve probably come to at this point is that an essence is something between a toner & a serum. You’d be correct! Kind of. But it’s also its own thing. Just know that I’m really here for it.

Essence is best-suited for dry/sensitive skin types, because it provides the skin with an extra layer of hydration. Essence should be applied with a technique unique (hah) from toners or serums: you’re supposed to pat or press it into your face with your hands, starting at your chin, moving upwards (always apply products in upwards motions, so you don’t drag down your skin). Here’s what SokoGlam, (an online marketplace specializing in Korean beauty products) has to say about applying essence: “Korean women are all about tapping when applying anything on their face. Why? Rubbing your face like you’re windex-ing a window is not the recommended technique. They recommend tapping because it enhances absorption. FYI – it sounds like this, “TOK TOK TOK.” Try it!” (x)

So, when Saturday Skin sent me a PR package (!!!) filled with a bunch of cool things, like their amazing eye cream, lightweight moisturizer, & a small sample of….”Freeze Frame Beauty Essence“….I paused. Finally, essence was in my possession. I had no choice but to give it a go.

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Saturday Skin Freeze Frame Beauty Essence

I researched application tips, & had a go at it. I applied the essence after toner, & before any serums or oils. I used the “tok tok tok” tip provided by SokoGlam. Then, I waited.

Within a few days, I could see my skin looking more moisturized, brighter, plumper, & firmer. My sample was dwindling, so I hurredly placed an order for the same essence by Saturday Skin, while looking for some cheaper (but just as good) alternatives.

I came across an article on Into The Gloss, entitled: Things We Finish: Dr. Jart Ceramidin Liquid. I’d heard of Dr. Jart, & already loved their color correcting Tiger Grass cream, as well as their sunscreen. In short, I was already a fan of Dr. Jart, so it didn’t take much to sell me on this one.

Writer Casey Zhang describes the product as “lightweight…I also like the smell a lot–it has a light herbal fragrance, almost medicinal but in a good way…the main point is that my face feels hydrated, brightened, and sans any flaky cracked patches.”

Well, that sounded good enough for me. Also: $39 for 5 fluid oz.??? I had to double check a few times. Most other essences I had looked at were at least $50. At least.

My ceramidin baby arrived today, & after patting it into the back of my hand after I excitedly opened the package, I saw a difference in about 5 minutes. My skin looked firmer, brighter, more transluscent–very similar to the Saturday Skin one, except a good deal cheaper.

Sorry, Saturday Skin! I love you, I LOVE your eye cream, & I love the bottle of essence I got from you this time around. But when I run out, I think Dr. Jart stole my heart with this one. Welcome home, Ceramidin. Welcome, eternally hydrated skin.

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Ceramidin’s new home on my top shelf. Feat. $11 Jade Roller from Amazon (!) Saturday Skin Freeze Frame Beauty Essence, Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser, (of course) & my holy grail toner, by Mario Badescu. Oh…& a few other things, too. Of course. 

Love,

Sof ❤

Interested in trying out the Saturday Skin Freeze Frame Essence? Here’s $10 off a $50 purchase at Peach & Lily. So your wallet doesn’t cry too loudly.