It’s that time of year again! The clocks have shifted back an hour, darkness falls before 6pm, Mariah Carey has risen from her slumber to lay claim to her rightful season of power, and the days have begun their inexorable march to that date that basically every brand and retailer in the United States waits for: Black Friday.
The products featured in this post were provided at my request by the brand. This post may contain affiliate links, which enable me to earn a small commission on purchases made by clicking the links. Affiliate links are marked with an asterisk(*).
Deciem*, the “Abnormal Beauty Company,” handles things a little differently. Instead of manufacturing a sense of urgency by running a standard Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale, they declare this entire month “Slowvember.” The Slowvember concept encourages customers to shop slowly and thoughtfully by applying a 23% sitewide discount all month. In theory, this should help skincare lovers avoid filling their carts with unsuitable products in a panic-fueled craze.
Maybe due to my own lingering scars from working mall retail on Black Fridays, I love this idea. So, to help you guys choose some products that stand a good chance of working for you, here are my picks from budget-friendly Deciem brand The Ordinary* and The Ordinary’s higher-end sister brand NIOD*, somewhat in time for Slowvember 2021.
Review: The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution
It’s not that this is a groundbreaking product. There are a number of effectively formulated acid toners on the market: the key components (an appropriate concentration of exfoliating acids at a pH level that enables the acids to do their thing on skin) aren’t a mystery, and the main components aren’t expensive. The thing is, The Ordinary’s Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution is the most useful, versatile, and cost-effective acid toner I’ve ever encountered.
TO Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution is an alpha hydroxy acid product that uses glycolic acid to smooth and refine the surface texture of skin. Personally, I find a 7% concentration to be just right for frequent use. I know many people who get great results using this as a daily treatment after cleansing. While I’m much more restrictive about my acid use as I get older, even I can use it a few times a week without getting overexfoliated. Regular but judicious use keeps my skin looking bright and feeling silky. It also helps to prevent those bumpy closed clogs under the skin.
It doesn’t stop with my face, either. Over the last couple of years, I’ve found several more uses for this product. The best known is as an occasional scalp clarifying treatment, a hack that I learned from my good friend Tracy of Fanserviced-B. Regular use of this product on my scalp keeps it much more healthy and comfortable than it used to be and gives my hair some much-needed volume and swing. The large size and the narrow nozzle tip of the TO glycolic toner bottle make this the perfect product for this trick.
I also occasionally use the Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution on body. I find it wonderfully effective for preventing ingrown hairs anywhere that I remove body hair, for a tiny fraction of the price of similar products sold by waxing and sugaring salons.
In the spirit of Deciem’s Slowvember event, a few cons and cautions before you add to cart:
AHAs are photosensitizing. This means they make skin more susceptible to sun damage. It makes sense when you think about it. An effective AHA product removes the upper layers of dead skin, revealing the fresher, newer skin underneath. That fresher, newer skin hasn’t yet developed much protection against UV radiation. Therefore, if you’re going to use an AHA, make sure you’re prepared to also use sunscreen diligently too.
7% glycolic acid is relatively gentle, which is why I consider it a “daily use” AHA. This does not mean everyone can, or should, use it every day. If your skin is thinner, more sensitive, or if you’re not used to chemical exfoliation, go slow and build up the frequency of your use over time so that you can see how much your skin can tolerate without going overboard.
If you want to try this product, Deciem is selling it for $6.70 for the huge 240 ml bottle* all month long.
Review: The Ordinary AHA + 30% BHA 2% Peeling Solution
Know how I described the Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution as a “daily use” exfoliator just above? The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution is the opposite of that.
For me, the AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution is the nuclear option. I only bring it out when I’ve been very lax on my skincare for an extended period of time and am feeling very rough or congested or looking noticeably dull in the face. 10 minutes of stinging and burning purges out a month of clogs and restores my skin to baby-cheek smoothness.
The peel-strength blend of glycolic, lactic, tartaric, and citric acids also comes in handy below the neck. When I’ve been negligent about body exfoliation and am starting to see ingrown hairs form, I dab on a touch of AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution to purge those out quickly as well. I have a friend who’s even used it to gradually remove skin tags by applying it only to the skin tags once a day, with relatively quick success.
Again in the spirit of Slowvember, some cons and cautions:
This product is really strong. If it’s your first time using it, and doubly so if this is your first time using any kind of stronger chemical exfoliation, please for the love of all that is holy follow the instructions. Don’t apply it on wet skin or skin that you just patted dry a second ago. Damp skin is said to be more permeable than dry skin, which is usually a good thing when it comes to topical skincare, but much less a good thing when the topical skincare in question is one that carries a greater risk of irritation. The very acidic pH and high concentration of exfoliating acids in the AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution put it in that category. Wait a few minutes after toweling off and, at least the first time, don’t leave it on for the full 10 minutes.
Don’t use it too often. Definitely not as a daily serum, which I’ve seen and shuddered at on social media. And absolutely definitely be very diligent with your sunscreen for at least the first week after each use (but really, most people should be using sunscreen every day that you leave the house anyway).
Take things slowly and carefully with this product so that you can figure out your skin’s tolerance without having to suffer the consequences of overexfoliation.
If this product sounds like something you might like, Deciem is selling it for $5.54 all through Slowvember*, and if you use it the way I do, this one 30ml bottle will last you pretty much until Slowvember 2022.
Review: The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Masque
By now, you might have noticed a theme. My favorite products from The Ordinary are their chemical exfoliators. While I love fanciness in other parts of my skincare routines, I prefer my acids steps to be no-nonsense: inexpensive yet effective. The Salicylic Acid 2% Masque technically falls under the face mask category rather than the exfoliator category, but for me, it’s the salicylic acid in this product that really makes it special, so I consider it an acid as well.
Some of you may have originally found my blog thanks to my three-step pore clearing routine, which utilizes a BHA, a clay mask, and a cleansing oil to quickly dislodge and pull out those pesky visible plugs of old sebum and dirt from open pores.
After years and years of diligent daily BHA use, I don’t often feel the need to do that whole routine anymore. When I do, I usually cut out the separate BHA and clay mask steps and just use the Salicylic Acid 2% Masque in their place. Periodic use of the Salicylic Acid 2% Masque on its own is generally enough for me these days anyway. The salicylic acid cuts through oil and dislodges clogs, and the kaolin clay and charcoal powder help draw them out. I use this mask once or twice a month. It reliably leaves the visible pores on and around my nose looking smaller, cleaner, and tighter than before. Thanks to the slightly gritty texture, it also exfoliates as I’m rinsing it off.
Like the rest of The Ordinary’s acid products (and like every skincare product ever, really), the Salicylic Acid 2% Masque isn’t for everyone and should be used carefully, especially when you first get it and aren’t sure how well your skin will tolerate it. As with the AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution, the Salicylic Acid 2% Masque can sting, especially if you’ve recently exfoliated or your skin is sensitive in general, so I also wait until my face is fully dry before applying this product. I only use it on the areas with visible pores. I don’t use this after exfoliatio. I don’t exfoliate for at least a couple of days afterwards. Your skin might feel differently. Mine would find that irritating.
If you have dry skin, I suggest extra caution with this mask. Although it does contain glycerin and squalane to mitigate the drying effects, it is still drying. Clay masks are inherently drying, since their ability to suck out oils (and anything else not bolted down) is kind of the point. Use this infrequently, use it for less than the maximum time on the instructions until you’re sure your skin can handle it, and be sure to moisturize well at the end of your skincare routine afterwards.
If you could use a product like this, it’s $9.24 for the 50 ml tube and $17.71 for the 100 ml tube on the Deciem website all month*.
Review: NIOD Copper Amino Isolate Serum 3 1:1 (CAIS3)
My picks from The Ordinary take the direct approach to improving skin’s surface texture and appearance, which makes sense since “Direct Acids” is kind of their thing. The glycolic toner, AHA BHA peel, and salicylic mask address surface issues like roughness and enlarged pores by physically removing excess dead skin cells and/or sebum from the top layers of skin. The first of my two picks from NIOD takes the opposite approach. NIOD’s Copper Amino Isolate Serum 3 1:1 (CAIS3) claims to indirectly address signs of visible skin aging by using copper peptides to signal the skin to produce more collagen and repair existing damage.
NIOD’s CAIS3 is an updated version of their Copper Amino Isolate Serum 2:1 (CAIS2), which I reviewed ravingly a little over a year ago. Unlike many brands’ reformulations of beloved products, the changes NIOD made to CAIS2 haven’t affected its performance for me at all. The brand found a way to stabilize the formula so that it doesn’t need to be mixed when you first open it, but other than that, it’s basically the same. Same combination of active ingredients in the same order. That’s a great thing.
I’m halfway through my second bottle of CAIS3 and so happy that it works the same on my skin as CAIS2. Its effects are most notable on my neck and upper chest, which are too thin-skinned and sensitive to use actives on and which are consequently more prone to crepiness and loss of elasticity than my face, which gets regular doses of a very strong retinoid as well as those TO exfoliants.
After a few weeks of use, the flappy bit under my chin tightens up and the crepiness begins smoothing out. My upper chest is also prone to showing sun damage due to my psychological allergy to high necklines. Like CAIS2, CAIS3 calms the redness and inflammation that I sometimes see there. The best thing is that CAIS3 does all this without thinning or sensitizing my skin. It also plays well with the rest of my routine due to its water-thin consistency and quick absorption. I apply on face, neck, and upper chest right after cleansing in the morning and move on to hydrator or moisturizer just a minute later.
My cons and cautions for this product are minor quibbles about user experience. That ultra-thin, watery consistency makes it a bit difficult to dispense and apply without losing at least a drop or two each time. And since it’s so thin, if you accidentally knock the bottle over while it’s open, you have no half-second grace period to scoop it back up before any product spills out. So handle carefully. A friend of mine, who runs the hilarious and profane @showmeyourskincareproducts account on Instagram, got the NIOD pump* to reduce the chances of disaster, but because the pump is made for more viscous products, she now has to contend with the CAIS3 spurting wildly from the pump instead. Also, CAIS3 smells a little bit like vinegar (but the smell does fade quickly!).
Slowvember is a great time to try this product if the price normally puts you off. Deciem has the 15 ml bottle on sale for $46.20 (normal price $60) and the 30 ml bottle on sale for $69.30 (normal price $90) this month*.
Review: NIOD Photography Fluid Opacity 12% (PF 12%)
For a change of pace, the last item in my list isn’t a skincare product, but a makeup one. One that exists to improve the appearance of skin, but a makeup product nonetheless.
It’s hard for me to explain the beauty of the Photography Fluid. If I had to put a label on it, it’s a primer-style liquid illuminator, but that makes it sound like every other pearly shimmer liquid on the market. This one is different. This one is better. This one is so good that I actually bother to use it pretty much every day, typically mixed into whatever moisturizer I’m using under my sunscreen.
There’s something about the specific combination of color-correcting and light-manipulating particles in the Photography Fluid that makes my skin glow. It’s like a beauty filter in a bottle, except without the unfortunate and obvious blurring-away-of-the-nose-and-mouth effect that comes with many beauty filters. In real life, it draws compliments from strangers. On camera, it does too. And it does so without ever looking glittery or shimmery or obvious. I’ve also used it undiluted as a highlighter, but my love for it comes from how it looks as an all-over perfector. You can see how it looks in basically every one of my IG videos that shows my face.
I don’t normally wear foundation. When I do, I don’t wear much: just a couple of drops of a sheer foundation, patted on with a damp blending sponge around my nose and mouth. So when you see me in person or on IG, what you see is the effect of skincare (like the skincare I reviewed here) and the PF 12%. I don’t know what your standards are, but by my standards, I’m very happy with the results.
My only real caution regarding this product is that the 12% and 8% options are actually differentiated more by their shade than their opacity. The 12%, which I use, corresponds with a lighter, more pearly tone. The 8% is a more golden tan. So choose accordingly. Also, the droppers are a messy and inconvenient way to dispense the product. Here’s where the pump* comes in handy. I always install one of those on and recycle the dropper cap as soon as I get a new bottle.
Hopefully my picks help you navigate the sometimes confusing Deciem product portfolio this Slowvember. Take your time browsing, and enjoy!