Kelly Martin is an associate editor at goop. She covers mindfulness, environmental issues, healing traditions, and psychedelic science. She’s had acne since she was thirteen; despite what her mother told her, she did not grow out of it.
I’m very good at following directions. It’s why I thrived in math classes growing up and in a long-over math career, and why I’m good at baking now: Give me a process, I’ll follow it, and I’ll come back to you with the correct result.
But by twenty-three, I figured out that my skin didn’t work like that—I couldn’t plug in drugstore cleanser for X and dermatologist-prescribed benzoyl peroxide and retinol for Y and arrive at clear skin. I had followed that formula for five years to (very) modest success. My acne wasn’t as bad as it had been pre-prescription, but my skin was deeply unhappy. The cleanser stripped it, and the retinol tore it up to the point that it often hurt to touch. Zits kept popping up anyway. I wasn’t getting the answer I wanted—clear, healthy skin—but I, a champion direction-follower, never questioned the formula.
What finally set me on the right path wasn’t frustration with my breakouts or that the directions clearly weren’t right for me. No, the kicker was that the benzoyl peroxide I was using stained everything orange. I ruined my favorite duvet, along with way too many cute tops, and at last I trashed the prescription. Along the way, I’d gotten interested in clean beauty (it’s hard not to if you work at goop), particularly after I read this story.
What followed was lots of trial and error. But I finally landed on a routine that my finicky skin agrees with. Only the gentlest cleansers will do. Moisturizers must be approached with caution. Avoiding dairy helps, but you also can’t count on me to pass on Cowgirl Creamery’s buttery triple-cream if the occasion arises. And years of intense retinol use have done me one favor: My skin can handle powerful chemical exfoliation, and I take full advantage.
The exfoliating peel
If there’s one magic formula, one secret sauce, one skin-care item I simply can not go without, it’s the GOOPGLOW Overnight Glow Peel. I was a little nervous to try it the first time: It’s intense, and I’m used to my skin overreacting to everything. But I was in luck. My skin loves this. Every other Monday, after cleansing, I swipe one of the glycolic-acid-soaked pads across my face, neck, and décolletage before I tuck in for bed. In the morning, I feel like I’ve emerged from some kind of cocoon. My skin is baby-soft and radiant, with all its imperfections blurred over. It just gets better over the next few days, too.
Conventional cleansers left my skin sensitive, stripped, and peeling immediately after I washed my face. That was especially true for those made to target acne, but it also happened often with the gentle drugstore cleanser I used for ages. Jean and Brianna turned me on to the softening cleanser from Tata Harper’s new Superkind collection, which is made for reactive skin like mine. It activates with water, so I splash my face in the sink before lathering a pea-size pump of cleanser into my skin. It’s gentler than gentle. It feels like I’m giving my skin the hug it deserves. And it smells delightfully herby, as if its plant-based ingredients have just been picked. Since I can’t put oils on my face, this is also where I fit in some face massage; the cleanser has enough slip that my fingers glide along my skin without pulling. When I rinse it off, my skin is left hydrated and soft—and truly happy.
The vitamin C powder
Vitamin C powder is a total lifesaver for evening out skin tone, boosting glow, and quieting the angry red marks left over after a breakout. I use it every morning right after cleansing. I shake a little out into my hand, mix it with a bit of water or serum, and pat it onto my skin. When I get compliments on my skin—a novel event!—I credit the combination of this powder, plus item number four, below.
The featherweight moisturizer
For me, “moisturizer” is the scariest word in skin care. They made hell break loose: clusters of zits on my cheeks, sensitive lumps around my temples, teensy whiteheads along my chin. For a while, I avoided lotion entirely. But I knew that approach wouldn’t work long-term. I want to put off fine lines and wrinkles as long as I can, and a good face cream is a valuable piece of that puzzle. When we released Glow Lotion, I almost didn’t pull the trigger on trying it myself. While it’s made to work for sensitive skin, I assumed, as usual, that my skin was the exception—so sensitive that even sensitive-skin moisturizers are too much for it. I am so happy I was wrong. Glow Lotion is lightweight enough to do right by my skin, and it’s made with the THD version of vitamin C, which leaves my skin dewy and bright. And it smells faintly citrusy—is that the Australian kakadu plum or the vitamin C itself?
The mineral sunscreen
Because I use sun-sensitizing active ingredients—and because I want my skin to look and feel good for a long time—sunscreen is nonnegotiable. I’ve taken Jean’s advice to wear sunscreen every day, rain or shine, whether I’m planning to spend time outside or not. Converting to mineral sunscreen took me a minute: It’s often hard for me to ditch a product even if it’s not right for me, so I hung on to my old chemical sunscreen for longer than I should have. But making the switch was worth it. Chemical sunscreen can contain some of the most irritating chemicals in the beauty industry, which is a big reason why sunscreen has that “causes breakouts” rep in the first place. Mineral sunscreen, by contrast, is made with skin-soothing minerals and without oxybenzone and other ingredients shown to disrupt hormones. And it’s safe for coral reefs, so I don’t have to worry about what happens after I shower my sunscreen off at the end of the day and send it down the drain. The one I like best: Self Reflect from Kinship. It’s incredibly lightweight and nongreasy, and it uses zinc oxide to guard against UVA and UVB rays. (And it comes in this cute-as-can-be set with a gel-cream moisturizer and a resurfacing clay mask, which are incredible in their own rights.)
The spot treatment
I break out much less often now. When I do, it’s usually around my period or a few days after I sneak some bites of my boyfriend’s mac ’n’ cheese. When that happens, this little jar does the trick. It’s a cream mask that’s almost whipped in texture and made with sulfur, zinc oxide, and salicylic acid. The box suggests smearing a layer over clean skin and letting it sit for ten or fifteen minutes, but my favorite way to use it is as a spot treatment. I pat a big ole dab of it on each pimple before I go to bed, rinse it off with warm water in the morning, and watch the magic happen.