The Virus Diaries: On Self-Care, Principles, and Extenuating Circumstances

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As you may know, it’s an odd time. We are most of us trying to navigate changing routines along with existential fears, which does not make for stabilest of times for most of us, mentally. I, for one, have certainly found myself drifting among various states of emotion through the last more than two months. And self care is starting to look very different for a lot of us.

For many of us, having family at home perpetually may interfere with the ability to do yoga or watch a relaxing show or any number of standard stress-relieving activities. Even if salons and spas were open, many of us would not feel comfortable going, particularly for something that feels indulgent and non-essential. But self-care, especially in times of perpetual low-level (or high-level) stress, can also mean not-doing — rather than taking a hot bath, perhaps forgiving yourself for not exercising or getting everything done on your to-do list.

And to that end, I have recently found myself struggling with a personal dilemma. Back in March, I was contacted by Florishe, a Korean skin care company that uses Korean green tea in their products. I let them know that, while I was happy to test their serum, I was no longer using sheet masks, due to my own efforts to generate less waste with my beauty routine. Well, when my box arrived, they had included the sheet masks as well as the serum (and a lovely canvas tote bag). And I had to decide 1.) if I was going to use the masks or gift them, and then 2.) if I would promote them.

But then I had a particularly stressful week. You have probably seen some allusions to as much on my Instagram stories, or perhaps gathered from my recent video where I sat and drank tea laced with bourbon rather than baking. But I’ve found things just a bit difficult lately. And I think what I really needed to cap a particularly rough week was to just relax with a lovely sheet mask and feel glowy and beautiful, even for just an hour.

Alright, the specifics: Florishe is proud to be a “non-toxic” and EWG-verified company, though that is not something that is particularly important to me. More importantly, however, is how they source their ingredients, particularly their teas. They source from small, sustainably-maintained farms and ensure ethical labor practices at their tea farms. This appeals to me as both a beauty-lover and a tea-drinker (and if they ever decided to offer tea as well as skin care, a la Sulwhasoo, I’d be intrigued!). Another thing that I found fascinating was that, when I got the masks, all of the packaging is marked with recycling symbols, so I could recycle basically everything except the mask sheet itself. Which at least soothes a little of that guilt (of course, releasing guilt is part of the self-care, so…).

The mask itself is very juicy, with a large amount of extra essence, which I like to apply to my skin before putting the mask sheet on, to help it be sealed in by the sheet. I do really like that the packaging itself specifically states that you shouldn’t save the essence to use later, which is something that worries me when I see people doing it, since sheet masks are intended to be one-shot products, and are preserved accordingly. The scent is lightly floral and bergamot-y, in a way that reminds me of nice Earl Grey tea. As a migraine sufferer, I found the scent non-cloying and unlikely to trigger a migraine for me (although that will obviously depend on your personal triggers).

The sheet material is a thicker, opaque, papery material, which is not my preference, and lacks the stretchiness of some of the Taiwanese silk sheet masks I used to love before giving them up, but a few strategic snips around the eyes helped it fit my rather large face. I put the mask on after cleansing and using a hydrating toner and oil, and left it on for about 20 minutes, at which point it felt like it was drying a bit around the edges, so I removed, massaged in the extra essence, and found my skin was calmed, plumped, and hydrated, with that typical sheet-mask glow.

And, perhaps most importantly, I felt relaxed. I cannot do much while sheet masking. I had finished working for the day. And my toddler turns out to be an adorable combination of intrigued and a bit frightened of me in a mask, so running after him wasn’t an issue. So I got to sit, mask, and unwind with a cup of green tea (gyokuro from Teaism, since I don’t have any Korean green tea in my stash right now).

The mask makes me curious to try their serum, which is similarly based around their high-quality green tea extract, and which I will write about once I’ve finished a full testing schedule (complete with before and after photos again!).

NB: The mask was sent to me free of charge in exchange for featuring. All thoughts are my own. If you’re interested in collaborating with me, please read my contact and collaboration information.

My Vintage-Inspired Beauty Routines: Revisiting One of My First Post Series

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In the first week of writing this blog, I began a series of posts in which I describe my vintage-inspired beauty routines, discussing how I cared for my facial skin, body, nails, hair, etc. Since then, not only have my philosophy about what ingredients are good in personal care changed, but I’ve gone through some pretty extreme phases in terms of how much or how little I do to my skin. I’ve also gone through some pretty major life events that have affected both how my skin behaves, as well as how much time, energy, and money I have to devote to beauty.  So it seemed like a good time to revisit these posts and talk about my routines in detail again, starting with skin care and talking about all the different routines I mentioned back five years ago.

But before I start, I thought a little retrospective overview on my beauty philosophy over the last five years might be in order. When I started this blog, I was not only very inspired by Victorian and early-to-mid-20th-century beauty routines, I was also heavily influenced by “clean” beauty marketing. I have since then learned that science and natural products can coexist and have changed my ideas of what types of ingredients my skin likes. I no longer strive to make my routine one that is as much homemade products as possible as I don’t have the formulator chops of actual beauty brands. Of the things that I still blend myself, it’s pretty much just facial oils, though I still love my oils from actual beauty brands. From this phase of my life, I learned that paying attention to ingredients is good for my skin, though not because I ban anything as “dirty,” and more that I now know what I’m putting on my skin so I can notice patterns of either positive or negative reactions.

Since my early days of all-DIY, I went to the opposite extreme. I discovered Korean and Asian beauty brands and started designing my own ten-step routine. I had multiple steps of essence, ampoule, and serum, and spent much of my “me time” lovingly patting each step into my skin. I even wrote about how the new (at the time) Western trend of Asian-inspired skin care tracked with my historically-inspired beauty, as historical beauties have always looked for that new thing that will give them naturally beautiful skin. And at least my sheet masks weren’t made of raw meat, right? The top lessons I took away from my Asian skin care days was that sunscreen is the most important skin care product I use and that sunscreens formulated for the Korean and Japanese markets are often nicer to use, and also that my skin likes some light, hydrating layers over a rich cream.

Eventually, I started trimming my routine back down, mostly out of laziness, but also because sometimes my skin looked a little congested or overloaded. And then, the first time I got pregnant, my skin freaked out. Luckily, my interest in ingredients lists helped me find very simple products that didn’t irritate my skin, but it meant dropping a lot of steps. As my second pregnancy went on, I lacked the energy to do a complicated routine, and after the baby came, I didn’t really see that time or energy come back.

So where I am now is like an amalgamation of where I’ve been, as we all are. In the next several weeks, I hope to revisit each of my “Vintage-Inspired Beauty Routine” posts and talk about where I am now. Come join me at my vanity!

NB: Nothing to declare.

On Self-Care, Skin Care, and the Changes of Motherhood

I like to keep up with Stephen Alain Ko’s Beauty Recap each week (especially now that he has made it easier by posting swipe-up links in his Instagram Stories). And the other day, he linked a great article in Verily Magazine about the distinction between self-care and skin care. I’ve already been thinking a lot about beauty standards, skin care, and how capitalist colonial ideals inform our standards of beauty, but this was a fresh look at the fine line between encouragement and marketing when discussing self/skin care. Of course, skin care can be immensely powerful, as evidenced by my introduction to Korean beauty, Jude Chao’s seminal work on skin care and depression, so I thought a little about how skin care has fit into my ideas of self care and how that is distinct from buying product.

I happen to be undergoing a period of rapid change and, often, stress in my life. I had my first child and have been working to rebuild the shaken foundations of my self image while also existing on not much sleep and even less free time. Oh, and I’m now back at work full-time, too. So it’s been difficult sometimes to find time just for myself. I always have my tea and I’ve been making time for crafts, but both of those things are often things I do while I’m with Elliot and Dan, so beauty has become my true private time during the day.

When we met with our doula, her most important postpartum recovery tip was to have a morning routine and an evening routine that is simple enough that you can do it every day. She wasn’t talking about skin care; she literally meant that you should have something to separate day from night during those first few weeks when you’re awake basically around the clock. Because I’d had a c-section, I was supposed to limit my time walking up and down the stairs, so my main morning and evening routines were transitioning from upstairs to downstairs, and vice versa, but my skin care routine added an important element of reconnecting with myself. Each morning, Dan would give me at least five minutes to wash my face and put on moisturizer, and then in the evening, he would take Elliot for an hour or so, which gave me time to do a full skin care routine and take a nap before he brought Elliot up.

In the early days, when I could barely stand long enough to shower, this often involved a lot of shortcuts, like cleansing water and toner pads, and has evolved nearly back to my full, complicated routine. Contrary to the consumerist ideal of shelfie skin care, I’ve discovered a profound comfort in stripping my skin care routine to its core and using the same products over and over again. It does not make for good Instagram photos, but when I never know what my life will look like on a given day, it’s nice to know that my cleanser is an old standby. I haven’t felt nearly as much need to experiment with products, despite the importance of my skin care routine in maintaining my sense of normalcy postpartum.

But the one thing I have added to my routine is a nightly facial massage with my stone gua sha. I use this video tutorial from Sandra Lanshin Chiu to inform my routine. Each night, after I’ve fed Elliot and put him in his crib, I sit at my vanity and perform this nightly ritual. With most of the lights in the bedroom off to allow Elliot to sleep, I often do my massage by the light of a lavender-scented candle. I start with a few sprays of pure rosewater for some hydration, and then press in a generous amount of rose hip oil, but it’s not about product. You can use whatever you fancy and have on hand. I don’t use anything particularly expensive for this because I use a lot and apply it to my face, neck, and shoulders. Then, I begin smoothing my gua sha tool over my skin, feeling the coolness of the stone, and the pressure when it encounters a knot in my muscles. I can feel it help relax my neck, shoulder, and face muscles, relieve mild headaches, relax stress and worry that I’m holding in my face and neck, and stimulate blood flow.

Usually, Elliot is sleeping while I do this, but every once in a while, he doesn’t fall asleep during his feeding, and he will stay awake in his crib, watching me from across the room. I like the idea that he will grow up with memories of his mother caring for herself, although at this point it must be pretty boring because he is usually asleep by the time I finish. Other than an occasional silent observer, I am alone for this ritual while Dan finishes the washing up. There are no demands on my attention other than what I am paying to myself. And when I finish my massage, I apply my moisturizing lotion and get into bed.

I have other forms of self care, but so much has changed since becoming a mother. I can no longer make as much time to go to the gym or do theater. But my skin care routine is still there, even without any shiny new products, and it has helped me maintain a connection to my sense of self, as well as take time to center as I enter motherhood.

Five Things for which I’m Thankful During a Rough Month

So I’ve made some vague, cryptic allusions to having a “tough time” lately. I’m not really ready to talk about it more concretely than that, but suffice to say, I’ve had a bit more than the normal amount of both physical and emotional hardships for the last month or so. As things (I hope!) start to ease up, I’ve been thinking about the things that I’ve really leaned on to help brighten my days, and thought it would be an appropriate post for today.

Multi-functional beauty products: I’ve been having a hard time either working up the motivation to do a skin care routine or finding the physical stamina to take long showers, so I’ve been leaning heavily on my Stratia Liquid Gold and HIF cleansing conditioners the past few weeks. When I don’t feel like doing a full routine, I can ask my husband to bring up the bottle of Liquid Gold (it’s distinctive color makes it easy for him to pick out on my vanity). Then, I just need to make it to the bathroom long enough to brush my teeth and doing at least one cleanse, and I can slather on a few pumps of Liquid Gold right before my head hits the pillow. And now that my hair is a bit shorter, a single wash with the HIF cleansing conditioner is enough to keep my hair happy for a bit. I choose Intensive Detox or Hydration Support based on how long it’s been since my last shower. I really wish they would get their 1-L bottles back in stock.

Trader Joe’s: We don’t shop at TJ’s often because the closest one is still not terribly convenient. But we’ve found ourselves in the neighborhood lately and have stocked up, particularly on their frozen food. It’s nice that for $40 or so, we can have almost a week’s worth of food that is easy to prepare and doesn’t contain the ingredients that tend to give me migraines, which are in a lot of prepared foods. And I’m not spending all our money on Seamless. My particular favorites are the frozen croissants, orange chicken, and tamales.

My 25-oz. Camelbak water bottle: I drink a lot of water throughout the day, and when I’m at home, that means getting up every hour or so to refill my glass. Since I’ve been spending more time resting on the sofa, I just fill up the bottle and save a few trips. I can also bring it with me when I’m going to be out for an unknown amount of time.

Leggings and thick socks: I’m not really a fan of socks usually, but it’s been cold. My standard uniform lately has been an oversize sweatshirt or tunic worn over leggings with a thick pair of socks. Sometimes I swap the top out for a tunic t-shirt and a long cardigan.

Pat McGrath LuxeTrance lipstick in “Beautiful Creature”: I bought this as a bit of a retail therapy back when this whole thing started at the end of October. I haven’t been wearing a lot of makeup lately, but when I feel really crappy, but I have to go out and I want to feel a bit more put-together, a swipe of really nice lipstick can go a long way. And this is really nice lipstick. The color is a deep rose pink that looks neutral enough not to look “dolled up,” but is dark enough to add a bit of contrast to my face. It’s a great autumn color. And the formula is amazing. It’s creamy going on, but sets to an almost-matte finish that does transfer, but also leaves enough color on your lips to not need a touch-up after drinking or light eating. Seriously, I wore this to the doctor’s office and it helped.