By guest blogger Cat of Snow White and the Asian Pear
You know what’s a terrible idea? Copying someone else’s skincare routine step-for-step, especially if they have a different skin type than you, live in a different climate, and have completely different skin goals. Naturally, that meant that when the idea of swapping skincare routines with Fiddy occurred to me, I was all in. Fiddy agreed without wine being involved, which is more than I can say for the kind of reckless decisions that one normally makes with friends that late at night.
In this post:
- Cat hijacks Fiddy’s routine and blog
- Why we did such a foolish thing
- The experiment in action
- Conclusions of our experiment
Predictions: this is going to be a hot mess, and hilarity and possibly hives will ensue.
Cat hijacks Fiddy’s routine and blog
If you’re not familiar with cast of snails from The Snailcast, I’m Cat, blogger at Snow White and the Asian Pear, also known as that blogger who is overly fond of spreadsheets and NSFW jokes about molecules. Although Fiddy and I are close in age, we have very different skin types and needs; I have dehydrated, oily-combination skin that is prone to acne and clogged pores. My skin dislikes oils, heavy products, being overloaded with too many products, and worst of all, it detests 99% of sunscreens. Her skin tends to be dry, and she has an aggressive anti-aging approach with a focus on fine lines, texture, and brightening skin tone. On the spectrum of the snail unit, Fiddy and I are pretty firmly at the opposing ends.
Why we did such a foolish thing
So why swap routines? After seeing a Refinery29 piece where two women with opposing makeup styles swap their cosmetics (their actual cosmetics, because apparently courting infections is also on their list) for three days, I wondered whether it was possible to do something similar with skincare. The twist (or sliver of sanity) is rather than swapping our actual products, just swap routines– exchanging steps rather than germs.
There’s a lot of hoopla (mostly due to marketing and clickbait) over the “[10, 15, 20] Step Korean Beauty Routine” which creates a false expectation that a routine should have a set number of steps. Or a set lineup of products; that each routine must include a first essence, a toner, an essence, a mist, a serum, a facial oil, a cream, a sleeping pack … the list goes on. It extends if it’s a shop-turned-“educator” with a vested interest in moving volumes of product. It’s a myth that you need all those products; a routine should be built around your skin’s needs and it should contain exactly what you need, no more, no less.
K-Beauty is so flexible, though, that you could theoretically create a maximalist routine that wasn’t too heavy for my skin, and a minimalist routine that was nourishing enough for Fiddy’s skin. You’d just have to choose the right products for each step, and thus our experiment was born. So we’re going to swap our routines by step, and then dig into our (admittedly large) skincare stashes to find products that match one another’s routines and match our own skin needs.
At least, that’s the plan; we reacted to one another’s example Instagram routines with equal dismay.
The experiment in action
We made an outline of our typical routines for one another, and here’s what I’ve been given to work with:
- Foaming cleanser
- Spritz of face mist (hydrator)
- Eye serum + eye cream
- Lightweight fast-drying moisturizer
Ok, so far, so good; the only product that I don’t have (or use) out of this list is eye cream. Possible hitch may be the moisturizer, as that’s more product than I would normally use. Here’s a typical AM routine for me:
- Double cleanse, oil + low pH foaming cleanser
- (Optional: BHA if my nose looks a bit porous)
- Hydrating Toner
- Brightening Serum
- Anti-aging/antioxidant Serum
- Snail step
- Sheet mask
- Eye Cream
Double cleansing, check. BHA only on the nose = my pores are going to be partying like it’s graduation weekend and parents are out of town. Damn, AHA every day? My face is going to have the texture of a freshly peeled hardboiled egg. I’m trying to remember if I even have any boosters, first essences, or hydrating toners. Two serums, a snail product, a sheet mask, and a moisturizer. I’m starting to feel dizzy. I haven’t unpacked all my beauty products from my move but clearly I have tomorrow’s work cut out for me.
Day 1 begins
I wake up late, with the handyman hired to help us with our floors arriving any moment. I groggily hover in the kitchen, swigging coffee and wondering if I can sneak in a routine before he gets here, but no such luck. After 9 grueling hours of nonstop work, I’m coated in flooring adhesive and mineral spirits but the first rooms are done. It’s too late for an AM routine, but my face feels so irritated that I’m really going to enjoy a leisurely, pampering routine (a la Fiddy) tonight.
Double cleanse, oil + low pH foaming cleanser: I use my standby Cremorlab Gel Oil + the Sulwhasoo Gentle Foam cleanser. I have grits, no doubt construction debris getting too friendly with my pores. Feels so good to be clean.
Optional BHA, nose only: My harshest BHA, Paula’s Choice Resist Daily Pore-Refining Treatment With 2% BHA
AHA: Paula’s Choice Resist Weekly Resurfacing Treatment With 10% AHA. I need to see if I have any gentler AHAs because this isn’t meant for daily use. My face felt sunburned (despite working indoors all day) due to the chemicals we were using, and so the AHA stings like a mofo. Especially in the areas which have been noncon waxed by me ripping off stray adhesive.
Booster/FTE: Holysnails’ Snowbang to the rescue; it was designed to be a Hanbang extract-heavy first essence with skin soothing … stuffs in it, with a featherweight texture. I use it after leaving the AHA only only a few minutes; if I am going to be doing a strong AHA every day, I need to limit how much alone time it’s getting with my naked skin cells
Hydrating Toner: Acwell Licorice toner. I haven’t used this in ages, as it’s too rich to be a cleansing toner and too cleansing to be a hydrating toner. I pat it onto my face and regret it; it would have been better to use it on a cotton square to wipe down my face after actives, but I have to stick to the routine.
Brightening Serum: Shark Sauce is a niacinamide serum, so I grab my Nightshade and slap it on. My husband thinks he’s making a joke by pointing out that it looks like the texture of [redacted] and I contemplate trying to explain to him that “Nightshade” is a play on The Snailcast’s ongoing 🍆 jokes, and that it’s commonly known as [🍆] sauce and the ‘authentic texture’ is deliberate. Instead, I tell him that it contains snails (his kryptonite) and he drops it like a radioactive potato, with an unmanly shriek of disgust.
Anti-aging/antioxidant Serum: After digging through my sample stash, I find a duo sample set of Sulwhasoo First Care Activating Serum, which is a total score because Fiddy uses exactly this product. This was a GWP with the Sulwhasoo cushion refills I bought via a Boyah Shop order so I’m reasonably confident they aren’t expired. By that, I mean “these chicken leftovers are 3 days old, so I’m probably not gonna die, right?” level of confidence. After I apply it, I realize I’m in trouble. This stuff is expensive, and comes in a gorgeous Limited Edition bottle. I can’t stop sniffing the back of my hand.
Snail step: My snail pick isn’t going to work before a sheet mask, but I realize that I can score two steps in one if I use a snail sheet mask. Huzzah!
Sheet mask: I dig through boxes until I find some of my mask stash and find a Soo Ae Snail mask that was a GWP with a Club Clio order. It’s EGF, which explains why I haven’t used it yet. It’s a cupra mask, so the fit is decent and the essence is fairly thick, but my lips burn a bit at first. I’m dubious. I decide to wear it while watching an episode of Doctor Who, just to be extra Fiddy-esque.
Moisturizer and Eye Cream: I had planned to use Mizon Snail Gel assuming my skin would be drunk on hydration by now, and then use my standby Beauty of Joseon cream as an eye cream. Unfortunately both products were at the opposite end of the house, the Sulwhasoo sample duo box was sitting right next to me, and my leg muscles are on strike. I gingerly pat on some of the Sulwhasoo Essential Firming Cream onto my dry zones and under my eyes, and pray to the skin gods that I don’t wake up with a face full of new product breakouts tomorrow.
Day 1 results: My skin feels much thirstier after all the AHA, and sucks up more product than usual. It feels saturated, but not unpleasantly so.
Day 2 begins
My skin looks brighter than usual due to the AHA, but it’s very dehydrated, with a fine layer of dry skin over my entire face that’s visible when I get close to the mirror. It pulls when I flex my face, a classic sign of overexfoliation. If I didn’t know that, I might just think I need heavier products, and put my skin into a tailspin of clogs-due-to-product-overload => more-exfoliation-to-clear-the-clogs, and so on.
No new breakouts, but the tiny whitehead I had from testing a cleanser is still on my forehead, and normally my all-over BHA would have taken care of it by now.
Foaming cleanser: Sulwhasoo Gentle Foam cleanser, which definitely feels like overkill on my dehydrated skin.
Spritz of face mist (hydrator): Mist Snowbang like mad.
Eye serum + eye cream: I unearth a History of Whoo sample cream for my undereyes, and it turns out to be a … dry balm? Strange. Eye serum is the emollient, rich Skylake “essence” that didn’t work for Tracy of Fanserviced-b, and she passed it along to me at our recent NYC snailmeet. By the time I apply my sunscreen, my undereyes feel stiff and overloaded with product.
Lightweight fast-drying moisturizer: Time for me to break out my OG K-Beauty product, the Mizon Snail Gel. As I slather, I notice that “overexfoliated skin prickle” and dread tonight’s AHA.
Sunscreen: I liberally apply a sunscreen that is too moisturizing for some people, and my face sucks it in. While this might seem like a good thing, having sunscreen deep in my pores usually leads to breakouts.
While I was outside taking photos of all of this, my eyes started to water from the bright light, and immediately started burning from whatever unholy concoction of sunscreen + eye product that was liquified by my tears. Thankfully our yard is fenced, because I flashed every bird and squirrel nearby in my haste to yank up my shirt collar to blot my streaming eyes.
Double cleanse, oil + low pH foaming cleanser: As usual, Cremorlab + Sulwhasoo.
Optional BHA, nose only: Please Snesus yes, because my sebacous filaments are going wild with all these unaccustomed emollient products.
AHA: After consulting Fiddy, I placed this later in the routine and buffered it by applying it in between hydrating steps, and avoiding all wait times. I did a quick swipe with a cotton square before sheet masking.
Booster/FTE: Snowbang. I’m like Ahjumma Daesung with this stuff, because my skin is thirstier than the Holy Fan duo at an Exo concert.
Hydrating Toner: I go digging in my stash and find an Hanyul sample set with a toner in it. It has that typical fragrance that many Korean products have, and is otherwise totally unremarkable.
Brightening Serum: 🍆 sauce, lay your ceramides and skin soothers on this tortured epidermis.
Anti-aging/antioxidant Serum: Sulwhasoo First Care Activating Serum sample again. Mmmm. This stuff continues to be dangerous. I want to see how much the full size of this is, but I’m scared. Also, the pretty anniversary bottle is my kind of packaging kink. Can I say that here? Sorry Fiddy!
Snail step: Snail mask from Lovemore found! These are loved by blogger adoredee (who I love) so on it went, and my skin slurped it down like it was happy hour.
Sheet mask: Time to double fist masks tonight and do an Illi Ginseng hydrogel as my “sheet mask step.”
Moisturizer: I try the Whoo balm all over. It’s very occlusive, but not hydrating.
Eye cream: I decided to embrace the the #yolo spirit of this swap, and used an eye patch mask. It was the most ridiculous form of skincaretainment I’ve tried in a while and my husband was uncontrollably sassy while I wore it.
Day 2 results: My skin still feels dehydrated, although not as badly, and it feels like it’s had too much of the wrong thing. I’m getting mini breakouts and clogged pores around my mouth and chin, and the sebaceous filaments on my nose are close to declaring themselves a sovereign nation.
Day 3 Begins:
My skin doesn’t have the same layer of papery skin issue, and feels weirdly dry to the touch thanks to the Whoo balm, I suspect. My cheeks also feel artificially firmed with a layer of something, which is also unpleasant. I long to clean my face with just some Cosrx BHA on a cotton square, because I know the foaming cleanser is going to pull even more hydration out of my face.
Foaming cleanser: I switch to the Sum:37 White Award Powder cleanser because I’m getting low on the Sulwhasoo and I want to see if it tolerates it better.
Spritz of face mist: Snowbang, then more Snowbang.
Eye serum + eye cream: I stick with the Skylake + History of Whoo balm from yesterday.
Lightweight fast-drying moisturizer: Mizon Snail Gel.
Sunscreen: The Experimental sunscreen is very moisturizing, thank goodness, but it’s still like drinking a latte with extra syrup and topped with whipped cream when you’re desperately thirsty and just want a glass of water.
Double cleanse, oil + low pH foaming cleanser: Cremorlab Gel Oil as usual, but I stay with the Sum:37 White Award Powder cleanser from the AM.
Optional BHA, nose only: I don’t dare exfoliate my nose skin any more, but my sebaceous filament clogs are turning into tiny whiteheads in places.
AHA: No more Paula’s choice, please. I dig back into my stash and find a MUAC Mandelic toner, which is an AHA and pH tests at 3.5. I lightly swipe it on my face with a cotton square and immediately move to my next step, hoping to stop the burning.
Booster/FTE: As soon as I can drop the AHA-soaked cotton square and fumble open my mist bottle, I spray down my face like it’s on fire. Which it is.
Hydrating Toner: Belatedly I realize that I forgot to apply a hydrating toner in my haste to pile soothing things onto my screaming skin, but I’m pretty sure the Hanyul toner I had contains so much alcohol I’m better off without it.
Brightening Serum: I apply this and the next serum in reverse order, as [🍆] sauce is thicker and heavier in texture than the Sulwhasoo serum. People get very concerned with what is an essence vs a serum vs whatever, but just keep in mind “thinnest to thickest, watery to oily” and rearrange things based off their texture and finish.
Anti-aging/antioxidant Serum: Sulwhasoo First Care Activating Serum, liberally thwacked out of the sample jar onto my hand and hastily smeared over my distraught skin. I followed this with [🍆] sauce.
Snail step: I thought I was well and truly out of luck on this, but lo and behold, I had stashed away a My Scheming Snail black mask for the purposes of photographing it for review, as I’d really liked them and planned to review it on my Instagram. I would have claimed this as my snail step, and done another mask for my official sheet mask step, but it’s super late and I’m tired, so I repurpose the extra essence from the mask packet and move on.
Sheet mask: Done!
Moisturizer: This is no time to mess around; I slather my face in a thick layer of Joseon cream and promise my skin that the madness is almost over.
Eye cream: I pat on the History of Whoo balm and resolve to look up the ingredients on the Hwahae app to try to figure out where the perplexing texture comes from.
Day 3 results: My skin feels like it’s been on a 3 day bender in Vegas, and my TEWL* is out of control. My moisture barrier feels nonexistent and I have tiny whiteheads and clogged pores cropping up. I checked with Fiddy to find out more about her daily AHA and how she keeps it from frying her face off, and she confirmed it’s a very gentle AHA (vs the stinging hellwater of skin layer death I had on hand). I assume it’s like the BHA I use 1-2x daily from Cosrx which is uber gentle and moisturizing. I’m going to be hydrating the hell out of my face tomorrow night, and skipping any actives for a few days. Once my moisture barrier has recovered, I need to go in on these clogged pores with BHA and clear these squatters out.
*See below on what TEWL is.
Day 4 AM, the final routine:
My skin is a lot happier after I wore a thick layer of Joseon cream to bed, and the small breakouts have turned into tiny whiteheads instead of just small angry spots. Hydration is an important part of acne care! My skin still feels sensitive, and I’m glad this is almost over. But first, I owe Fiddy one last AM routine. I copy yesterday’s AM routine with no changes.
Conclusions of our experiment
I never expected my skin to feel under-nourished using Fiddy’s routine, as she’s The Snailcast member with arguably the most elaborate and rich routine among us. Granted, the limitations of my stash (not having a separate snail essence, for example) did require some non-ideal choices to meet specific steps. Still, the takeaway from this is that too many steps of the wrong type can’t compensate for just a few steps of the right type of product.
Considering that I’ve been at this for over five years, I’m pretty familiar with my skin and what it needs, and as a result, I had forgotten the reason I don’t do heavy-duty chemical exfoliation. K-Beauty philosophy (as presented by Korean brands) focuses on balance; a balance of water and oil. K-Beauty products are excellent at replenishing what you take away from the skin, making them popular in routines that feature heavy stresses like high pH cleansers (low pH cleansers don’t seem to be A Thing in Korea) or the aggressive chemical exfoliation found in Western routines. I forgot that my skin doesn’t tolerate the volume and richness of products needed to balance out a lot of chemical exfoliation. No matter how much I take away from my skin via chemical exfoliants, there’s a finite amount I can put back without causing problems. Even though my skin felt over-stripped and needed more hydration, emollients, and occlusives, the latter two result in clogged pores and breakouts. Considering that my skin is capable of clogging while frying off the top layers every day is pretty impressive! My skin felt so thirsty using her routine, and the over exfoliation left my skin irritated, oversensitive, and with some nasty TEWL, aka Transepidermal Water Loss, meaning my skin was losing water in larger quanitities than the hydrating steps I did have could replenish it.
It’s so important not to copy a blogger’s routine without understanding what functions their steps provide, and why they are there. For example, I learned that Fiddy only uses a daily AHA if it’s a very, very gentle one. She knows the concentration and the pH, so she can be confident she’s not overdoing it. Most beginners haven’t yet developed that body of knowledge that lets them ride the edge of “controlled abuse of one’s skin” so be cautious when importing elements of other people’s routines! Take the time to learn your skin and reflect carefully on what your skin goals are, what products will help you reach them, and take the experiences and routines of others with a grain of YMMV salt; your patience will be rewarded.