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What I Wish I'd Known About Skincare In College

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A long time ago, on a campus not so far away from where I work now, the name Bioderma Sensibio read as French gibberish to my unlearned eyes, and my favorite Byredo was a flour tortilla wrap of the carne asada variety. There was so much I didn’t know about beauty, as demonstrated by my blasé approach to skincare: prescription tretinoin applied in the morning (?!) when I remembered before class, a mini Pond’s Dry Skin Cream for convenient reapplication and budget purposes, and a bottle of Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Oil on permanent loan from my study bud. That’s as deep as my routine got. Only after I finessed my way into interning at ITG did my crash course into skincare begin. Hellooooo world. And goodbye to the microbead cleansers and three-step acne kits now gathering dust under my mom’s stairs, alongside The Prince and my Spanish IV textbook. Better there than on my face—she deserves more! In fact, here’s what we all deserve to use during our formative years:

A cleansing trio that won’t betray you

I admit, in college, removing my makeup at night was never my strong suit. Maybe my negligence was a way to protect myself from the searing pain of rubbing Neutrogena’s Oil-Free Facial Wash in my eyes. If only I'd known that wiping off makeup with cleansing oil and/or micellar water, followed by a creamy conditioning cleanser, is one of the best ways to coddle my skin and keep it clean. For my acne-prone friends, swap out the creamy cleanser for a non-drying medicated cleanser with saliyclic acid, and thank me later.

A toner that actually does something

Instead of trying to wrap my head around what the heck a toner is, and picking up toners with ambiguous results, I wish I went straight for a toner that works for virtually everyone. Good ol’ P50 is less of an investment if you get the travel-sized version, but worth its weight in gold. Work up your tolerance by diluting it with water first. Even if you don’t, the little guy will still last you.

Targeted serums

When entering the world of serums, look for serums with a clear hero ingredient—you gotta know what you’re getting into. For hydration, try a hyaluronic serum (or really anything) from Hada Labo’s line of moisturizing products. To brighten dull skin and brown spots, try a vitamin C serum from Rohto, Timeless, or Mae-Love. To keep pores clear and to fade post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation spots from earlier breakouts, pop in an OTC retinoid like Differin or A313. Got a skin concern I haven't mentioned? Head over to The Inkey List or The Ordinary, and I promise they'll have something to meet your needs.

A dream cream

As a college student, I used to lug around a teeny tub of moisturizer, so I could reapply it throughout the day. Any other person in their right mind would just...get a better moisturizer. But not I! Don’t succumb to the same fate—choose a reliable moisturizer from either Vichy or Weleda. Anything from there will keep your skin moisturized and soft throughout the day. Moisturized skin is happy skin.

A sunscreen that’s separate from your makeup

Because it’s more effective that way! Whether you choose a reef-safe chemical one, or a mineral one because you have baby-sensitive skin, just make sure you have one. Doesn’t need to cost an arm and leg, either.

Some skin treats

Not necessary, but not not necessary. Think of these as boosts to your skincare routine. CosRx Snail Mucin Essence brightens and hydrates; marula oil keeps skin softer for longer; and manuka honey zaps zits, kills bacteria, and smells amazing while doing it.

—Utibe Mbagwu

Photo via ITG