All images: Sidney Fussell

In skincare, as in life, I prefer the dramatic. Instead of taking the time and energy to actually learn what works for my skin, I always dismissed skincare as frivolous or complex, without realizing that I had been callously over-exfoliating. For the past 17-ish years of my life—starting around the time Blu Cantrell was still charting—I’d always used one, and only one, product. My longest skincare companion is Clearasil’s Clear Pore Cleanser Mask. It doubles as both a daily cleanser and reliable mask. I’ve been smearing the chalky glue, which is always uncomfortably cool to the touch no matter the season, on my face for years. Historically, it dried the shit out of my oily skin, leaving it mostly smooth, except for my forehead and chin, which was flaky due to the lack of moisture. Whenever I had acne flare-ups, I overused the mask, practically exsanguinating my skin and turning it gray like I was a plagiarist’s take on an Amy Sherald painting.

But no longer.

Beginning in February, when I decided to join the adult World of Skincare, rather than absentmindedly reaching for the strongest dose of benzoyl peroxide the Consumer Value Store would allow, I’ve taken a much more measured approach to my skin. At first I balked at how much time it would take each day, but now I can’t believe how many years I wasted brutalizing my skin for the sake of laziness. I used a simple three-step a.m., four-step p.m. regimen.

MORNING

I’m up usually around 7, with the goal of caffeinating myself into a lucid state of “who is the president threatening to nuke today?” by 8. I start with a very typical three-step cleanser/toner/moisturizer, though I rotate out my cleansers depending on the day and my mood.

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On Diary Day, my cleanser was the Shea Moisture African Black Facial Wash & Scrub, though I also have the Clearasil Ultra Deep Pore Treatment Scrub as a backup and Ol’ Reliable, the Clear Pore Cleanser Mask. The coworker who recommended me the Shea Moisture scrub has dark, luminous skin and I saw results within days. My original goal was to swap between them regularly, but I’ve been gravitating towards the Shea Moisture scrub for the past two weeks. I love the feeling of the granules on my skin, and as a Darkskinnint American, I feel like I can see much more immediate effects with Shea Moisture than with the more generic scrubs. Melanin is meant to be cherished, after all.

Shea Moisture Scrub is great for dark skin.

For my toner, I use the Ordinary’s Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5. Hyaluronic acid is an excellent moisturizer that the Ordinary, trying to make a buck like the rest of us, says you have to use with other moisturizers. So I follow suit. You basically take a few drops, gently massage them onto your face, then apply a heavier moisturizer. The 30ml glass bottle is kinda cool, though, so I pretend I’m using some medieval potion or some shit on my skin.

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Finally, my follow-up moisturizer is the Intensive Hydrating Rich Cream with Green Tea Seed from Innisfree. Also referred to me by a coworker, this shit slaps. It’s light, melds into my skin instantly, and the green tea smell is both pleasant and, this early in the morning, makes me feel alert. Creams can be very heavy, but the moisturizer is airy. It gives my skin a shine that I never had when I was younger, the one point in my favor as my metabolism bottoms out.

The last step on my skin regiment is very simple Burt’s Bee’s lip balm. It’d be insane to have a well moisturized face and at the same time serving Tyrone Biggums lips. Not today, Satan!

NIGHTTIME

Mother Nature is everyone’s landlord and for six straights months in New York she came to collect. The winter weather assaulted the living hell out of my skin, so for my nighttime regimen, I tripled down on my various tonics and tinctures and added a new step. It’s since warmed up, but for Diary Day I pulled out all the tricks and tonics I’d been using the past few months. Verse one for my nighttime regiment is the same as verse one for the daytime regiment: either the SheaMoisture African Black Facial Wash & Scrub or the Clear Pore Cleanser Mask. I ride the subway about 45 minutes to and from work, so a full hour of having my personal space invaded on uptown trains

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Clumps of glue are essential to good skin.

The one thing I do that’s unique to my PM regimen is step two: the Refining Gommage Mask with Green Barley from Innisfree. For the layfolk in the audience, “gommage” is an exfoliating mask that isn’t washed off, you let it dry then it’s peeled off. So, on my towel dried, post-cleanser skin, I apply the gooey paste all over my skin. Unlike the scrub, where the granules make my face feel massaged, the Gommage mask is much thinner and ugh—is this what green barley smells like? No thanks. Anyway, after applying the gommage mask I rub it in until it dries, then use your fingers in semi-circles until the mask dries and the paste hardens and basically coagulates.

These tiny clumps then peel off, taking the dead skin cells with them. It’s especially useful on my forehead, which, in addition to being huge, is also my biggest problem area. While my fellow fiveheads like Rihanna or Tyra Banks can use bangs to veil their foreheads, I don’t have that luxury. Sometimes, if I feel like I’m in danger of over-exfoliating, I’ll only apply the gommage mask to my forehead. I certainly wouldn’t recommend using it every night, just every day or so. I saw results in about a week and a half.

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Next, my p.m. toner is the Ordinary’s Granactive Retinol 0.5% in Squalane. The nocturnal counterpart to the Hyaluronic Acid with B5, the retinol is dimly yellow-tinted and the bottle’s exterior is dark, which only adds to my weird medieval mental cosplay I use to motivate myself to keep up with a regimen. Granactive Retinol is an anti-aging serum, which freaked me out at first, but the results speak for themselves: after years of painting my face gray, I finally have skin that on my best days is even and smooth, as opposed to smooth and dried-out like old Wendy’s.

Everything feels light and easy, even after using four products before bed.

As a warning, the Retinol is much heavier than the Hyaluronic Acid. The first few times I tried it before bed I applied way too much, leaving my skin slick and heavy. I kept waking up through the night, newly confused about what the fuck is on my face, and I’m sure half of it ended up on my pillows anyway. Using it with discretion is key.

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My final step is to top it all off with another thin layer of the Innisfree cream. Over-moisturizing is also a thing so, based on things like the weather and how my skin’s been tracking overall, I try to be cautious about how much I use and where I apply it. I know lots of people have trouble sleeping, but I’m usually in bed by like 9:30, dreaming of waking up in the morning with skin like melted ganache.