You know those women who expertly use different shades of foundation to contour their features and spend 30 minutes perfecting a smoky eye, complete with subtly faux lashes? Yeah, that’s not me. I’m more of a “I put this makeup on in the five minutes of sitting-at-stoplight time in the car on my way here” kind of girl. There are a few products that have enabled me and my non-exemplary makeup routine, and most of them are about taking care of my skin so that I can still look pretty good without wearing a ton of makeup. Of course I am vigilant about wearing sunscreen every day, but I feel like most people know they should be doing that. So what follows is a list of my favorite but perhaps lesser-known products that you might want to check out.
— Kara Nelson
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1. PCA Skin Pigment Bar
A solid facial cleanser might sound strange, but this is really just a fancy bar of soap that you keep in a jar. The PCA pigment bar is formulated with kojic and azelaic acids to combat inflammation and inhibit other causes of hyper-pigmentation. I love the slightly rough texture of the sponge (for exfoliation) and satisfying foaming action of the bar, which allows me to use it as a kind of mask. I soap up my face, hands, arms and décolleté — it helps reduce spots and discoloration from sun damage anywhere on the body — and then leave the foamy layer on my skin for about five minutes while I soak in an epsom salt bath. (I adore Dr Teal's Pink Himalayan Mineral Epsom Salt Soak . The scent is pure bliss, and absorbing magnesium transdermally can translate into a better night’s sleep. I use the pigment bar at night and a mild cleanser like Cetaphil in the morning.
2. AMP MD Derma-Roller
Besides Retin A (which my derm says is the only anti-aging ingredient that has real, proven results), I’m not devoted to any one anti-aging product. I use various serums — with antioxidants, peptides and miracle oils. But what I do use religiously, about four times per week, is my at-home version of microneedling. It’s a handheld and only slightly painful gizmo billed as a “micro-exfoliator” that essentially pokes tiny holes in the uppermost layer of skin. So basically, it helps boost the performance (by delivering it more deeply via the tiny holes) of whatever serum or retinol product I’m using that night. I’m pretty aggressive with it before bed, but sometimes I’ll do a light pass over my face and neck about an hour before getting ready for a party or a special evening out. It sounds counterintuitive, but it makes my pores appear smaller. I think it’s because technically it provides a micro-dose of surface-level inflammation that kind of mimics more youthful skin — tighter, bouncier and slightly rosy — even if the effect only lasts a few hours. Next, I apply CeraVe PM Moisturizing Lotion (with hyaluronic acid and ceramides) and Bare Minerals Prime Time prime followed by a little light foundation and a glass of Cava.
3. Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
I found this crazy-awesome liquid exfoliator on Instagram. And believe it or not, it works — fast. My pores appeared smaller two minutes after I applied it, and when I use it consistently, it evens out my skin tone and makes it look and feel smoother. Beta hydroxy acid (BHA), also called salicylic acid, mimics the natural exfoliation process of younger skin by helping it shed its extra layers while unclogging and cleaning pores. One caveat: it can make skin feel a bit dry, so I wouldn’t use it more than once a day. And of course, always use a good moisturizer AND sunscreen. During the day I always apply SPF 30 or higher, usually mixed with a tinted BB or CC cream. I amp that up when I’m swimming or exercising outdoors. My kids and I love the smooth and easy application of Neutrogena Wet Skin Kids Beach & Pool Broad Spectrum SPF 70+ Sunscreen stick . Glides on like silk!
4. Hylunia’s Hymed Reconstructive Cream
My best friend from high school introduced me to this fab moisturizer two summers ago when I visited her in New Hampshire. Her skin looks pretty much the same as when we were 18, which is obnoxious. Her parents are both from Korea, so even though her flawless skin might be all genetics, she was kind enough to share some of her beauty secrets. She said her dermatologist sells this old-school Hymed cream — originally formulated to treat burn victims and people undergoing radiation treatment — to all his patients. It’s also prescribed to treat psoriasis, eczema and rosacea. I love it because it provides intense and lasting moisturization, thanks to a high concentration of hyaluronic acid. Also, it’s VERY affordable.
5. L’Oréal Paris Hydrating Lightweight Bronzing Self-Tanning Water Mousse
I feel like a lot of us take for granted the technology of sunless self-tanning products, which has literally changed the face of the beauty industry. I mean, it’s like semipermanent makeup that covers/camouflages spots and skin imperfections, and can also make you instantly appear 10 lbs. slimmer. (A perfect sun-kissed glow sans sun damage? An underrated miracle, in my opinion.) What I don’t love about most sunless tanners I’ve tried in the past is the heavy, goopy feel and sickeningly sweet smell. But this L’Oreal mousse changed all that. It goes on smooth, absorbs quickly and is dry within two minutes. And unlike some tanning lotions I’ve used, this one has a very light scent and doesn’t come out looking streaky. Bonus: it also has coconut water and Vitamin E for smoother more hydrated skin. I do have another (quicker) go-to bronzing product that works in a pinch — when I want to wear shorts or a skirt but don’t have the five hours it takes for self-tanning color to develop. It’s leg makeup: Airbrush Legs by Sally Hansen. Sounds weird, but hear me out. One tablespoon can make your legs look 10 years younger and two beach vacations darker. It really does help hide spots and skin imperfections. But when you first apply it, you might freak out because it looks like a very intense oompa-loompa orange. But just keep rubbing it in vigorously and spreading it over your legs until you get the even color you want. The good news is, if you DO over-apply, you can always go over it with a paper towel and brush some of it off with a little pressure to lighten the color, or get in the shower and use soap and a washcloth to scrub it all off and start over. But don’t worry, it is water- and sweat-resistant. I can take a dip in the pool without losing much of the color, and sometimes it lasts through a bath, as long as I just kind of splash wash (and don’t scrub) my legs.
6. Pixi by Petra Sheer Cheek Gel
Many beauty pros advise against using powder blush for women over 40, but I started using cheek stain when I was still in my 20s. For me, it just lasts longer and looks more natural — and it can double as lip color. I used to be a big Benetint fan, but like many cheek stains, it can be a bit drying. So I was thrilled to find this cheek gel by Pixi. Though moisturizing (with aloe vera), it’s also oil free, fragrance free and hypoallergenic. It comes in three different colors, but I think “Flushed” is the shade everyone should choose. It comes out of the tube looking dark like blood, which is exactly what makes it look natural. When you blush, your cheeks get that rosy look from blood rushing to the surface of your skin. And I’m pretty sure everyone’s blood is the same color, right?
7. Monsieur Big - Volume Mascara by Lancôme
At first this was in impulse purchase — spotted it while waiting in the checkout line at Sephora — but I haven’t looked back since. Skeptical the first time I tried it, I was AMAZED at how crazy-thick it make my spider-web fine eyelashes look. It goes on smooth and creamy, for buildable volume and length. Not sure what makes Monsieur Big so much better than the many disappointing mascaras I’ve used in the past, but it ’s definitely different. According to Lancôme, it contains supple waxes and polymers that adhere to lashes immediately. It pairs really well with my Shu Uemura eyelash curler, which is the absolute best. The only reason I didn’t include it in my top seven is that I’m pretty sure most women with stick-straight lashes like mine have (by now!) heard about its award-winning superiority among lesser lash curlers. As the kids say: it’s turnt!