Click here to have skin like a mathematician’s

Recently, I was at a math conference and someone asked me about what one always asks about at a math conference, namely, skin care. So I wrote down my whole routine for them, demonstrating how serious I am when I say that aesthetician is one of my alternative career paths. So many of you have asked about it that now I am slapping it up here, on the web. In case you are outrageous enough to question my qualifications on this topic, they include a Ph.D. in applied math and a lot of random internet research.

If you have questions/comments about any of this, I have turned on commenting below. Be nice!

Philosophy. Good skincare is a big target. There are many routines that will be effective, and the most important thing is that you to feel good about the results. If you are happy with what you have going on right now, then you are winning. Just stop reading this post and go back to doing something productive. Also, I believe that decent skin care should take no more than a couple of minutes in the morning and a couple more in the evening. If you, like me, are a mathematician, or alternatively, a human being, then you have a lot to do. Who has time for 12 products including 3 different toners or layering products and waiting in between and all that shit? I don’t, that’s for sure. Keep it simple. Even though my post below is long, it’s merely because I am explaining things. Actually DOING the stuff I describe below is super quick. And finally… I believe in a little bit of good skin care science and a generous heaping of self-acceptance. Aging is ok. Having problem skin is ok (I do… though less so now that I’ve applied a few basic, sound principles). Just be ok being who you are and taking reasonable, small steps to make changes if you yourself want those changes.

My basic approach. Cleanse, exfoliate, repair, and protect… and do these things with relatively gentle products. Don’t be harsh on your skin.

Product lines. What matters about a product is if it has proper ingredients and is well-formulated. Price be damned. Cheap vs. expensive has, honestly, not a lot to do with how effective a product will be. There are a number of good lines out there, and I am happy to pass judgment on them. Just ask me. For me, after many years of experimentation, I’ve become pretty devoted to the CeraVe line. It’s very gentle, and many other products I’ve tried have produced ongoing irritation (not just transient irritation during acclimation to a new product). For some of the CeraVe products I mention below, you’ll find generic brands made by Target or CVS that may be cheaper.

Cleanse (http://www.cerave.com/our-products-cleansers-hydrating…). Your cleanser honestly does not matter much. It stays on your face for 30 seconds. This is not enough time for your skin to absorb much, so active ingredients are worthless. You rinse them right off your face. This cleanser is nice and gentle. Cleanse no more than twice a day.

Exfoliate (http://www.cerave.com/Our…/Moisturizers/Renewing-SA-Cream). There are two ways of exfoliating: mechanically (with scrubby stuff) and chemically (with acids). I steer clear of the scrubby stuff. It can feel good, but I have had much poorer results with it, so I stick to chemicals. This CeraVe product has a two downsides, but neither is a big deal to me. One is that it is in a jar, which is not a best practice for a skin care product (pumps/tubes are more sanitary, and better prevent ingredients from oxidizing). Also, the texture is thick. It’s fine for PM use, but for AM use some people might wish to use a smaller amount. Personally, though, I don’t hold back, even in the AM. These two minor downsides are for me outweighed by the upsides. It’s a very effective, gentle exfoliant formulated at the proper pH value, which is around 3 to 4. Many exfoliants on the market may not be formulated at the proper pH. Even if they have awesome marketing and come in cool bottles, which I love, don’t buy them. Anyway, back to this CeraVe product, the main active exfoliant is salicylic acid, which is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA). BHAs penetrate the pore, exfoliate, and also have antibacterial and anti-irritant properties. BHA is the main thing this product advertises. If you read the ingredients, though, you see that it also contains ammonium lactate, which is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) exfoliant. The BHA/AHA combo is unbeatable and this is a very well formulated product.

Repair (http://www.cerave.com/…/Moist…/Skin-Renewing-Cream-Serum). It’s never too early to use a retinol-containing product. Retinol is a form of vitamin A — a potent antioxidant that helps reduce brown spots, reduce the appearance of wrinkles, stimulate collagen, and more. If you haven’t used a retinol product before, it can be irritating at the start, but I have never had irritation with this product. It’s an exceedingly modest amount of retinol, which honestly, is all I want. You won’t wake up seeing a difference overnight. A low-strength retinol such as this one can take 2 – 3 months to produce results. So just be patient.

Protect (http://www.cerave.com/our-products-moisturizers-am-facial…). If you don’t use a sunscreen, you might as well just skip the rest of your skin care routine and stop writing math papers. For realz. This lotion has both chemical and physical (zinc, mostly) sunscreen. For some people chemical sunscreens are irritating. I have pretty sensitive skin but this product doesn’t bother me. It contains other great actives: niacinamide and hyaluronic acid, principally. These are on the very short list of skin care ingredients that are actually proven to do something. (A lot of what you find on the market is bogus.) I do find this product very slightly oily, so I make sure to use enough, but not too much — maybe just one or two pumps.

Routine. I do the same thing AM and PM, except no sunscreen during PM. About 4 minutes a day, total.

Shaving. If any dudes are reading this and have to worry about shaving, that is an entirely separate conversation we need to have. Gurrrrllll. Tons of thoughts to share there.

Starting something new. When you start a new skin care routine, you have to be able to distinguish between purging and irritation/allergies. For instance, if you have never used a chemical exfoliant, during the first few weeks you do start using it, you will shed some nascent comedos that are under your skin right now. They’d come out anyway, but the chemical exfoliant speeds the process. So stick with it for at least a month. This takes willpower. You may think “this isn’t working” and be tempted to quit. But really, it takes time. On the other hand, if your skin gets acutely red, itchy, burning, etc., then you may allergic to the product and should discontinue immediately. Somewhat less severely, you may experience some irritation but have the sense that it is not allergic. In this case, simply reduce the initial frequency of application while your skin acclimates to the product. These CeraVe product are all pretty gentle, but if you were to have some irritation with, for instance, the retinol product, I’d say start out by using it every third day for a week or two, then every other day, then finally, every day.

Now get out there and prove that theorem.

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