From the desk of Highsnobiety Editor-in-Chief Thom Bettridge, The Materialist is an editor’s letter in the form of a shopping spree. This week, Thom navigates the journey toward skin care enlightenment.
At a time when everyone from eternally youthful king Pharrell to socialist queen Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez are open-sourcing their skin care regimen, what more is there to add to the canon? How many steps further can you actually go? And where does the looking better end and the adding more superfluous cream to your face begin?
What most multi-step skin care tutorials leave out is the journey that takes you there. Three years ago, my skin care routine was to splash some water on face like a neanderthal squatting next to a river. Today, I travel with one third of my carry-on stuffed with acids, toners, and oils. How did I get here? And why?
On a philosophical level, my skin care routine is actually three steps repeated eternally: ask people who look nice for a product recommendation, try it, repeat. And along the way, I’ve amassed a regimen that can take 45 minutes if I’m really in the mood to feel myself. Or 10 seconds if times are tough. The key for me is enjoying the journey, learning more about how to make my face buoyant, and most importantly of all, exploring an entire universe of products with all types of materialist wonders.
So without further ado, just some of the many things I regularly put on my face.
The first step in my routine also happens to be the first product in my skincare awakening. For a long time, I actually didn’t wash my face with anything but water because the cleansers I tried dried me out. Gel cleansers, the most common type of cleanser, tend to do this to people with sensitive skin. But cream cleansers like this one tend not to. Learning this from the friendly dude at my local Aesop store was a eureka moment.
Whereas cream cleanser was level one, this enzyme cleanser is a product I got into via a face-to-face encounter with the final boss of skin care: Dr. Barbara Sturm herself. During a press brunch, deep in the blissed-out clutches of the beauty world illuminati, Sturm heralded her enzyme cleanser as an intensely practical item that men should be using more often. And having used it for a year now, I agree. The exfoliator works by pouring a quarter-sized dab of its powder onto your palm, then adding water to turn it into foam that will remove dead skin cells from your face.
I always had an aversion to Malin + Goetz, because it’s the kind of brand I’d see in an exposed brick bathroom belonging to some dude who reads Monocle. But then the designer, HBA co-founder, and actual final boss Raul Lopez told me it was actually a secret weapon, and I got hooked on some of their products. This detoxifying face mask in particular is something I reserve for my level ten spa days. It goes on creamy like a lotion, but then begins to foam, pop, and tingle in a way where you can feel bad things getting sucked out of your face.
I have claustrophobia about certain unusual things, and sheet masks are one of them. It’s difficult to explain why, but something about having a wet piece of paper stuck to my grill is an experience that, to me, feels like being buried alive. And it’s a shame, because the indulgent, spa-mode nature of a mask appeals to me wholeheartedly.
Enter the eye mask, a product that somehow manages to augment the fuck-you bliss of wearing a sheet mask by virtue of simply being smaller. I got turned on to And Wander’s gold Baggage Claim masks by skin care sage and Highsnobiety board member Melissa Goidel. And one of my favorite new past times is to answer Zoom calls with them on and wait to see how long it takes for someone to ask what’s stuck to my face.
Lotion P50 is a product that is as legendary among skin care enthusiasts as it is controversial. If used incorrectly, and not as recommended by a facialist, it can leave your skin red and irritated. If harnessed properly, it can make you look like a marble statue.
P50’s original 1970 version features an ingredient called phenol, an antimicrobial agent that is outlawed in some countries and smells a bit like formaldehyde. This odor, combined with P50’s magical effect on one’s skin texture as a toner and exfoliant, begets a very American Psycho, dead-inside-and-out feeling when you use it. I’ll never forget the day I first saw my partner brandish its pearlescent bottle, with its seductively granny-like packaging. Or the day I started stealing it for myself.
Luckily enough, after about a year flying close to the sun with P50, I had the joy of being treated to an actual Biologique Recherche facial, which is an experience akin to having an ultra-luxe Wicca ritual performed on your face. Afterward, a certified facialist told me that I should never, ever, EVER let a drop of P50 touch the tops of checks, which since childhood has a tendency to become red and flushed. Applying toner would only make them redder and potentially break capillaries. Instead, she recommended this serum, which has since almost completely eradicated this ruddiness.
Hyaluronic acid is another product I began stealing from my partner, a skin care experimentalist and K-beauty early adopter. Its defining property is that it locks moisture into your skin and promotes a dewy, lush skin surface. There are lots of expensive hyaluronics out there, and while they might have benefits I believe but don’t understand, I enjoy this one because it’s relatively inexpensive and good for swathing a ton of it all over your face. Sometimes, while I’m putting it on, I say the lines from the famous Mer-man ad from Zoolander under my breath: “moisture is the essence of water, and water is the essence of moisture.”
Back when I was more of a skin care novice, I rolled with the hypothesis that lotion was literally the creme de la creme of a routine, and something to splurge on. But after some time, I’ve come to believe — with absolute zero scientific proof — that going all out on a cream is a waste if you’re also rocking all kinds of serums in your repertoire. In my mind, I equate it to spending all your money on varnish instead of having good paint under it.
Folk science aside, Nivea Creme is a product that was shown to me through a “dupe” video, which asserted that it was molecularly identical to La Mer’s much more expensive moisturizer. Whether or not this is indeed true, the recommendation led me to buy the 13.5 oz. tin of it that has remained on my bathroom counter as a staple ever since.
The exception to my cream hypothesis is eye cream, which, according to most of the skin care wizards I speak to, is crucial to maintaining a stunning complexion. The skin under your eyes is highly sensitive, prone to puffiness, and easily inflamed when dry.
However, I’ve always found the experience of applying eye cream very unpleasant. Fitting one of my big dumb fingers into a tiny little pot of cream, dabbing it under my eye without putting on too much, and then managing to rub it in without blinding myself is a tight rope walk I’m just not into. So when my friend and Hawthorne founder Phil Wong sent me his new Vitamin C- and caffeine-enriched eye cream that comes in a convenient little pump bottle, I was sold.