I was moving into a new apartment late last spring when I realized something was missing.
Every time I’ve changed homes over the past five-ish years, the multitude of impossibly heavy boxes marked "FRAGILE: BEAUTY STUFF" has been as much of a given as drinking wine on the floor while assembling overcomplicated furniture. Bottles of fragrance lived in a box tripled up in bubble wrap; I carefully placed makeup in grocery bags that made the journey from old apartment to new in the passenger seat of my car. But nothing could quite compare to the two or three giant plastic bins devoted specifically to skincare—so precious, that I’d wince every time the U-Haul traversed a mild bump in the road.
So, no one was more disconcerted than I to realize after a particularly exhausting move across L.A. that my usual pile of beauty "essentials" had been replaced with just a couple of small boxes. It wasn’t necessarily surprising—I had, after all, left my job as a beauty editor a few months prior. But as my seemingly bottomless stash of samples, new products, and cult favorites had finally dwindled to its dregs, why, on the other hand, did I also feel kind of relieved?
The answer, I think, is best illustrated by a famous study on choice. In 1995, Columbia professor Sheena Iyengar and her team set up a booth at an upscale food market with samples of jam. Every few hours, the team would swap out 24 samples for six, and then back again. But here’s the kicker: 30 percent of the customers that sampled from the smaller selection ultimately purchased a jar. For those faced with 24 options, that purchase rate dropped to just 3 percent.
My complexion was feeling the burnout of product roulette.
The point, of course, is that having so many options can ultimately be paralyzing. Which brings me back to my treasured but flawed skincare lineup: While I had certainly developed a few favorites over the years, I played fast and loose with all the several-dozen others, most of which ultimately sat forgotten in the bottom drawer of my bathroom vanity or the back of my closet. I told myself that my perpetually dry skin was just finicky, but in reality, my complexion was feeling the burnout of product roulette.
So while my rapidly shrinking beauty supply has forced me to be more intentional by default, it’s also been an amazing exercise in understanding what actually works for my skin and what I’m unwilling to spend money on. I’ve learned that while my taste in skincare is—ahem—on the expensive side, that aspect is balanced out by my rather minimal routine. And overall, a lot of my guiding principles remain the same, like my personal premium on botanically-driven ingredients, as well as clean formulation and sustainability.
As I've honed in on the essentials I’ve deemed worthy of both my complexion and my wallet, my product completion rate now stands at 100 percent. And it turns out product consistency is great for consistent skin: By decluttering my routine, it’s been way easier to nail down my ultimate uniform when it comes to hydration and texture. (Come to think of it, I also can’t remember the last time I broke out.)
Keep reading to see the products that have earned permanent spots on my skincare roster.
One of my favorite techniques I’ve picked up is to only really wash my face at night, since cleansing twice a day dries my skin out. Instead, the mornings are reserved for a quick wipe down with toner and a cotton pad. An alcohol-free formula is a non-negotiable, but I think it’s the moisturizing omegas in this formula that give it the edge—well, that and the fact that it looks oh-so-pretty on my bathroom counter.
When I realized I was out of cleanser three days after moving, this bottle caught my eye at my local Bluemercury—partially because I’m already a big fan of this botanical-focused brand, and partially because it has some very strong curb appeal. That said, my skin is very finicky when it comes to cleansers, so I’ll admit that I had some doubts when it came to my decidedly unscientific selection.
So I was pleasantly surprised when this formula consistently left my skin plump and luminous, the perfect canvas for either the rest of my skincare routine or a full face of makeup. The strawberry seed oil also gives it an eau de scratch-and-sniff—in the best way, of course. It quickly earned a permanent spot in my routine, and I’ve even turned a couple of editor friends onto it as well.
I frankly can’t be bothered with a dozen-step skincare routine, so this two-in-one exfoliator by my very talented friend Gloria Noto is a godsend. It brings natural AHAs and walnut powder together, so that you get both your physical and your chemical exfoliation in one gentle formula. I use it twice a week after cleansing to slough away dead cells and uncover brighter, fresher skin.
Serums and Face Oil
True story: When I got a text from my boyfriend breaking the news that our dog had knocked my beloved Kypris Beauty Elixir off the bathroom counter into a shattered mess on the floor, I may have shed a tear (or several). It’s not just about the price tag, but the lovely effect this floral-infused formula has on my complexion: The combo of bioidentical CoQ10 (a high-powered antioxidant), vitamin C, and Bulgarian rose extract does the absolute most for dry, dull skin.
The good news, however, is that I had another product on deck that’s so good, it can hardly be classified as “backup.” Vintner’s Daughter Active Botanical Serum has earned its cult status in the beauty community (and within my heart) for several years running, thanks to a brew of 22 nutrients that moisturizes, corrects inconsistencies, and staves off breakouts. So while I still can’t unsee the remnants of my Kypris in the garbage can, at least I have another MVP to get me through this difficult time.
Remember when I mentioned earlier that I had a couple of longstanding favorites that managed to weather my polyamorous skincare phase? This is one of them—I’ve used it diligently since it first crossed my radar a few years ago. And maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that one of Hollywood’s most beloved facialists could create such an unbelievably effective formula, but the instantaneous glow this retinol provides still kind of blows my mind.
If you’ve been to L.A., you’ll understand when I say that the air here sucks the moisture out of your skin like some kind of sadistic vacuum. This is one of the few formulas I’ve tried that keeps my complexion smooth and supple but doesn’t also cost $400—and when I use it to lock in a layer of serum or retinol, that dewiness sticks around for hours on end. (For the record, I’ve never met a Darphin product that my skin doesn’t like.)
I have gone through an unbelievable amount of skincare tools and devices only to land on two or three that I still have in rotation. My dermaplaning tool is the one I use—by far—most consistently, because there’s nothing like scraping away dead skin to see my complexion come to life. It’s oddly satisfying, and it makes my top-notch product lineup work even harder.
Iyengar SS, Lepper MR. When choice is demotivating: can one desire too much of a good thing? J Pers Soc Psychol. 2000;79(6):995–1006. doi:10.1037/0022-3518.104.22.1685