Though we've never officially met, I owe a lot to Rio Viera-Newton. Or at least my skin does. In the summer of 2017, I needed some beauty help. It'd be a mistake to refer to what was happening with my skin as a "breakout"—that implies it was an occurrence, not a constant state of being. After yet another lunch break spent returning products that didn't help, I was feeling tearful and tired. Then, I read it. The Google Doc.
Rio Viera-Newton first made the list of her transformative skincare routine for close friends who kept asking how her skin got so clear, so even, so luminous. It was very no frills: a complete rundown of exactly what products she was using. The list mixed inexpensive items—many of them K-beauty—with pricier options, which often came with a sympathetic disclaimer ("my heart breaks every time I look at its price tag") and read like a text from your most knowledgeable bestie. The Doc was a runway hit, eventually finding a permanent home on The Strategist. Viera-Newton also found a home there, where she's been writing, testing, and experimenting with skincare ever since. Now, what she's learned from years of experience can be found in the pages of her new book: Let's Face It: Secrets of a Skincare Obsessive, a gorgeously-illustrated (courtesy of Laura Chautin) and detailed guide to absolutely everything skincare.
To celebrate the release of Let's Face It, I spoke to Viera-Newton about her writing process, the OG Doc, and some new and old favorites.
Much of Her Original Google Doc Still Stands
Though it's been five years since RVW's original Google Doc made its now-legendary rounds on the internet, there are several products she stands by to this day. "There are so many products from my original Google Doc that I still love and use regularly," she tells us, calling out Cosrx's Snail Mucin ($25) and Pimple Patches in particular. "After years of reviewing products, I can still say that those two are some of the best I've ever tried. Also, the Tatcha Indigo Cream I still find to be an excellent, deeply hydrating moisturizer that’s suitable for sensitive, eczema-prone skin."
More Expensive Doesn't Always Mean Better
It's an easy enough trap to fall into: an expensive line comes out with some new, purportedly life-changing product that comes with a steep price point, and you try it only find out there's an even better drug store dupe.
"Skincare is so incredibly advanced these days, you really can find magnificent, elegantly formulated products at your CVS or Target that are totally within your budget," Viera-Newton explains. "You really don’t need to shell out a ton of money in order to create an excellent, effective routine that works for you."
Spend Less Time Trying to Fix Your Skin and More Time Getting to Know It
Viera-Newton knows that it's easy to treat your skin like an adversary. But much of her book is built around the philosophy that your skin is a living, breathing organ—something to be understood first and treated second. The first several sections of Let's Face It focus on assessing your skin's current state and understanding the reasons why it might not look the way you want it to.
For Viera-Newton, it's all in the approach. "I spent so much time trying to fix my skin, when I really should have been focusing on supporting it," she says. "These days, I really just like to deliver layers of hydrating and healing ingredients that soothe and calm my skin, rather than strip it."
Her Testing Process Is Strict
Because testing different products and treatments is quite literally in her job description, Viera-Newton developed a scientific process that spans the course of a month. "When I first started working in beauty, I just wanted to try everything and anything," she tells us. "Now I'm extremely careful with what I test—I seldom ever try new acids or retinoids—and I'll only integrate one new skincare product at a time and use it for a full month before I review it."
That month-long testing method is one anyone can apply, but Viera-Newton warns that it's best to take it even slower. "I’ve found that if you try too many products at once, it can be really hard to gage what is doing what—this can not only mess with your skin, it makes writing a thoughtful review much harder."
And Her Writing Process Is Even More "Intense"
Believe it or not, Viera-Newton didn't take a leave of absence from her day job at The Strategist while writing her book. She worked on it early in the morning and late at night, picking it up on weekends as well. "I’d never had any experience working on a book before, so there was a lot of trial and error and figuring things out as I went," Viera-Newton tells us. "But I’m beyond proud of how it turned out— I can’t help but well up every time I flip through it."
She's describes her process as "intense" and wouldn't necessarily recommend it—but credits daily walks and fresh air with keeping her sane. "When I was going through long stretches of writing or editing, every three hours I’d force myself to take a walk around the block," she says. "Just to stretch my legs, get some fresh air, and stop staring at my computer screen. I think I would have gone a little nuts if I hadn’t been so strict about this policy."
She's Always Ready With a Recommendation
Since offering up skincare suggestions to friends is what started her career, it's no surprise that Viera-Newton is quick with a recommendation no matter what I ask. Skincare articles often focus on true beginners or more advanced users, so I tapped Viera-Newton for how to improve a more intermediate routine. Her response was enthusiastic and, of course, very thorough.
She recommends adding in more moisture, particularly in the form of an essence or toner. "I love the Then I Met You Giving Essence, the Cosrx Propolis Toner, and the Olivarrier Dual Moist Toning Lotion," she explains. "They're all wonderfully reparative and nourishing, and since there are no harsh acids, you don't have to worry too much about the do's and don'ts of application—using them once a day or as needed is totally fine."
Your Routine Is Just That—Yours
There is no one-size-fits-all for skincare. Viera-Newton wants to empower people to tailor their routines to their unique needs, rather than following someone else's rules. In fact, she says it's the one thing everyone takes away from the book: it's your routine, and you make the rules.
"People get so stressed out by skincare, and I totally sympathize. There is a lot of information out there, and it can make figuring out what’s right for you really daunting," she says, "But here's the thing: you’re in total control of your routine. You get to decide how much you want to spend, how long you want it to be, and what products make sense for your lifestyle. And you can take it slow and integrate products one-by-one. Your skincare routine is your journey and no one else's."