By the time I step through the doors of the gorgeous Me Hotel, situated on the picture-perfect coastline of Ibiza, Spain, I'm a shell of a human being—and if my dark circles and delirious affect don't give me away, my dull complexion certainly does. To be fair, I've just spent 24 hours journeying from the arid heat of Los Angeles to this balmy Mediterranean clime, and the vast majority of that time was spent in the unforgiving, climate-controlled void of an airplane cabin—read: where all refreshed and bright complexions go to die.
The silver lining of my debilitating exhaustion is that that I'm actually here in the pursuit of perfect skin. For the next three days, I'll embark on a skincare boot camp, graciously hosted by Skin Inc. and the brand's lovable (and highly knowledgeable) founder, Sabrina Tan. Considering that the Japanese skincare label has earned a cult following across the globe for its highly effective, customizable serum blends (not to mention a slew of other amazing products), I know my travel-worn face is in good hands.
Sure enough, 72 hours later, I'm feeling both relatively more well-rested and undeniably confident in all my new skincare knowledge. Now that I have a better understanding of factors like the real culprit behind aging and the ingredients that work best for my skin type, dare I say I even feel prepared for my long journey home?
Keep reading to see the most valuable things I learned at skincare boot camp.
This revelation certainly felt timely, since I had just transitioned my skin through three different climates over an exceedingly short period of time. While those conditions were certainly extreme, if they wreaked that much havoc on my skin in a single day, then can you imagine what years living in a drought-prone, pollution-filled city would do? Smog: It's hardly the elixir of eternal youth.
It's for this reason that I feel good about the preventative measures I do take in the way of my lifestyle, which can at least offset the things I can't help. That means relying on a healthy, plant-based diet, staying out of the sun whenever possible, and taking general care in what I put in and on my body. (And sleep. So much sleep.)
Beyond all this, it's about simply about understanding your own skin: how it reacts to certain elements, ingredients, and environmental changes. This, says Tan, allows you to better craft your routine and make the right adjustments whenever any changes or issues arise.
While it might feel ideal to pile on as many active ingredients as possible, doing so could be rendering your go-to pricey serum completely useless. Certain ingredients neutralize when they openly interact with one another. For example, vitamin C and salicylic acid do not pair well together, and retinol can even be dangerous when it intermingles with acids or sunlight.
This alone was an obstacle for Tan when she first set out to create Skin Inc., since her goal was to combine several skincare steps into one easy formula. So she fought science with technology: Every Skin Inc. serum contains tiny capsules of those active ingredients, only to be released when the formula is applied to skin—"like encrypted files," she says. This way, the ingredients can be bottled together and still remain as potent as possible until the last possible second.
"I never thought I'd belong in beauty," Tan says. "I still don't, and I'll tell you why: I'm really lazy." In a way, this is the bedrock that Skin Inc. was built on: Tan wanted to figure out a way to combine a quality, customized skincare regimen into as few steps as possible.
But while Skin Inc.'s customized serums make doing so a pinch, there are other ways to keep your routine fairly minimal and still reap the benefits. Invest in stellar products that you know do wonders for your skin, and aside from that, stick to the basics: Cleanse, tone, moisturize. Eat well, get enough sleep, and stay out of the sun. It all goes hand in hand, and by maintaining a skin-friendly lifestyle, you won't need to emphasize products as much.
In addition to absorbing tons of valuable advice, the main objective of Skin Inc.'s boot camp was to craft my own custom serum. As a skincare nerd, I was quite excited by the prospect of hand-picking my own ingredients based on my skin's needs—a far cry from generic formulas vaguely categorized for "dryness" or "sensitive" skin. The market is sorely lacking in the "impossibly dry with weird texture on the nose, oh, and stubborn-as-all-get-out blackheads" category, I must say.
But the point of Skin Inc.'s formulas is that they honor and address each of our very specific demands. The first order of business was taking the brand's Skin Identity quiz, in which I graded certain complexion issues and highlighted my goals (brighter, smoother, moisturized skin). Et voilà—my results highlighted three serums that I would mix together for my own, customized super-formula ($90). My final product contains Skin Inc.'s Hyaluronic Acid serum ($45) for intense moisture, the Ceramide serum ($45) to help target dehydration (sensing a theme here?), and Vitamin B3+ ($45), the brand's newest skin-perfecting formula to minimize pores and even out tone.
It's obviously handy to have this custom serum at my disposal, but it was also so valuable to know exactly which ingredients suit me best in general—I know that will dictate my skincare purchases going forward. The takeaway: Do your research and figure out what works for you.
I was excited to hear Tan highlight one of my all-time favorite makeup tips: Use your skincare products with your makeup, rather than before. This means adding a few drops of serum or moisturizer to your foundation to give it an amazingly dewy finish and lasting hydration, and sealing it all in with a face mist. Not only does this strategy make your makeup exponentially better, but your complexion will thank you, too.
What's the most valuable skincare lesson you've ever learned? Call it out in the comments below.