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My Story & Routine in Detail

My Story & Routine in Detail Part I

Morning Part 1:

  • Cleanser: Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Oil-Reducing Cleanser. It’s employs a few gentle detergents as well as some thickeners and anti-irritants such as sunflower oil and stearic acid, giving it a milky texture that lathers very nicely, without making the skin feel parched. The inclusion of these thickeners allows this to easily remove makeup as the oils will bind to the oils on my face, while the surfactants (detergents) present will sweep them all away. It’s also relatively inexpensive, especially when I buy the large size, and when it is on sale. The only reason why I don’t use an even more inexpensive cleanser from the drugstore is simply because one, I want Paula to continue offering the excellent review site Beautypedia for free as well as continue formulating outstanding, moderately priced, skin care products and two, because I use so many products from the line that it’s just easier to pick up everything from one location. It’s kind of like why many people choose to shop at Sephora or Ulta. The packaging was recently changed, but the formulation itself remains the same, which is a relief.
  • Toner: Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Pore-Reducing TonerThis contains high amounts of niacinamide, which is an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and treats hyperpigmentation. This also contains high amounts of the anti-inflammatory chamomile and the antioxidant burdock root. There are also numerous excellent water-binding agents and humectants such as glycerin, hydrolyzed vegetable proteins, sodium PCA, and numerous ceramides. There are also low amounts of vitamin C. It has quite a viscous texture for a toner and prevents water loss well. As the first line of defense (literally), against the environment, this knocks it out of the park. It’s calming, hydrating, and beautifully smooth. I’m very impressed with all of Paula’s Choice toners because they incorporate ingredients that other brands reserve for their serums and moisturizers. While they may be less effective in liquid form, due to higher chances of oxidation, that fact is unknown and debatable since water sometimes enhances penetration. The packaging was recently changed, but the formulation itself remains the same, which is a relief.
  • Treatment: Paula’s Choice Clear Extra Strength Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution. Since my skin is more oily than dry and of course acne-prone, I tend to favor salicylic acid over glycolic or lactic acid for daily use. I picked this product because it employs a fluid vehicle, which allows for rapid absorption, penetration, and integration into the skin. Since salicylic acid needs a low pH environment to function properly, the more quickly it is distributed throughout skin, the less chance it has of being deactivated by the skin’s natural tendency of returning to its normal pH. Think homeostasis. The Paula’s Choice product, which contains 2% salicylic acid at a pH of 3.2, is reserved for days when I’m staying indoors, since this formulation doesn’t work very well under sunscreen and/or foundation. When I go out, I just don’t apply hydroxy acid product. Please note that this toner/treatment is the exact same product as the Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant. They only differ in terms of packaging.
  • Lip Moisturizer: MAC Lip Conditioner in a Tube. This is reserved for days when I’m indoors, since it doesn’t have SPF in it, and because it has a relatively high amount of retinyl palmitate, although whether or not the amount converted to trans-retinoic acid or tretinoin (brand name = Retin-A) has any meaningful effect on the skin, is debatable. However, it does contain other beneficial ingredients like vitamins C and E, as well as some fantastic emollients like petrolatum, shea butter, squalane, and the sweet almond, avocado, wheat germ, and castor oils. Finally, it has a sizeable amount of the epidermal barrier component cholesterol. Some of the various oils also mimic the lipid contents of the skin, which all translates to this being an excellent treatment for dry, chapped lips. I also love that this has a matte finish, though it never becomes completely dry to the touch. Please note that exfoliation is also necessary for beautiful, smooth lips. However, because there are so few layers of skin on the lips, I don’t use chemical exfoliants on them. I just scrub them a little when I take a shower.


  • Lip Moisturizer with SPF: Jack Black Black Tea and Blackberry Intense Therapy Lip Balm SPF 25. Its primary ingredient is shea butter, which I prefer over petrolatum because not only does it function as an emollient, it’s also a source of antioxidants, some of which are found in green tea, such as epigallocatechin gallate. That may very well be the reason why this product also lists “green tea leaf extract” as one of its ingredients. Thought it is unclear what specific ingredient is present, I am sure that you’re getting additional antioxidant protection, which is never a bad thing! This also contains some moisturizing black currant seed oil and vitamin E. As to how well this product protects against the sun… it performs adequately. With 3% avobenzone and 7.5% oxtinoxate, this provides mediocre protection against the sun since octocrylene isn’t present to stabilize and enhance the efficacy of avobenzone. Furthermore, there has been (limited) research suggesting that oxtinoxate degrades avobenzone and causes it to become increasingly unstable when exposed to sunlight. Fortunately, because lip products are reapplied constantly, at least in my case, I find this product to be satisfactory and definitely fit for “duty.”

About John

The Triple Helixian is an unbiased science and research-based site that attempts to clarify and elucidate questions about skin care, while aspiring to be the most thorough and complete source of information.


22 thoughts on “My Story & Routine in Detail Part I

  1. Hey John! I just discovered your site and I wondered if you’d give me some advice. I’m 21 with acne and acne scars, especially on my cheeks and chin. Recently it’s slacked off with the help of Epiduo (benzoyl peroxide) prescribed by my dermatologist. I also take an antibiotic (minocycline) as well, though I’ve heard their use can lead to a fierce return of acne later, when you go off the drug. For cleanser I just use Cetaphil. I used to use a toner (witch hazel, but I heard mixed things) but stopped because A) I hear witch hazel is controversial in its effectiveness and B) the combination of the toner with the benzoyl peroxide treatment made my skin burning and red. When I cut out the toner my skin got better…I have far less acne than I did 4-5 moths ago. However, it seems to have stabilized, scars aren’t going away, and I have redness on one cheek (seems to be a scarring redness rather than an acne one if that makes sense, is slightly better when I use my benzoyl peroxide, but still present–I only use BP at night). I’m a redhead and extremely fair-skinned. Is there something i can do to better my routine? Right now I feel it’s not very sophisticated! I’d like to try something new and ‘finish off’ my acne so to speak, possibly help with the scarring as well, though I still have acne present. What would you recommend?

    Posted by Kit | July 11, 2014, 2:15 pm
    • Hi there, and welcome!

      I’d be happy to help you out. So there are a couple of questions I have first:

      Is your antibiotic administered topically or orally?
      How are you using the Epiduo? (Spot treat vs all over)
      Which Cetaphil cleanser are you using?
      Are you wearing sunscreen? Which sunscreen?
      What is your everyday morning and evening routines?

      I hope that’s not too much questions haha. Keep me in the loop!

      Posted by John | July 11, 2014, 10:46 pm
      • I thought I commented but either it never went up or it didn’t go through!

        To answer your questions:

        1. Orally.
        2. All over because I have acne all over (though less so now). I concentrate on my cheeks and chin.
        3. The basic Cetaphil daily facial cleanser.
        4. Since posting I started wearing Mario Badescu’s oil free moisturizer spf 35. Still not sure if it works for me but it doesn’t seem to hurt either.
        5. Morning (has changed since posting): cetaphil, Mario Badescu sunscreen. Evening: cetaphil, paula’s choice 2% bha liquid exfoliant (helps a lot!), epiduo. Only problem now is without a good moisturizer my skin dries a little but everything makes me break out or red (not in an allergic reaction way, but I think my skin is just sensitive from the salicylic and benzoyl even though they seem to work well together and my acne has reduced greatly in the past month).

        Posted by Kit | August 21, 2014, 3:56 am
  2. Hi John,

    I have recently started using the PC 2% BHA Liquid to control my acne. It seemed to work well initially and some of my cystic breakouts did become smaller. However, as I continue usage (so far it’s been about a week), I noticed I’m starting to break out again and my skin felt rather tight and it peels too. Do you think the BHA liquid is too strong for me? It’s not my first time using BHA as I’ve used the CLEAR Regular Strength and RESIST Body BHA before.

    A little background: I’m a 30-year-old male, oily skin, acne-prone (moderate cystic acne, I think), sensitive skin with lots of facial redness, living in hot and humid Singapore. I use only PC products. For day: Skin Balancing Cleanser > Skin Balancing Toner > 2% BHA Liquid > Hydralight SPF. For night: Skin Balancing Cleanser > Skin Balancing Toner > 2% BHA Liquid.


    Posted by Alan | March 14, 2014, 10:28 am
    • Let me know if you still have questions and/or have an updated routine! I’d be happy to help, despite the super long time I’ve been away!

      Posted by John | April 21, 2014, 4:05 pm
      • Hi John,

        Thanks for your reply and offer to help. I have changed my routine since my last post:

        Day: Skin Balancing Cleanser > Skin Balancing Toner > Hydralight SPF
        Night: Skin Balancing Cleanser > Skin Balancing Toner > 2% BHA Liquid (Tue/Thu/Sat only) > RESIST Super Antioxidant Serum

        So far, I think my skin has improved a little bit. I have tried to increase the frequency of the BHA, hoping my skin would improve faster. But it always make my skin “purge” – old breakouts get bigger and inflamed again and new breakouts would occur. I think for sensitive skin like mine, BHA is a double-edged sword.

        I’ve read that you don’t believe in the concept of “purging”, except for certain circumstances. Could you kindly elaborate? What exactly is one to expect from using BHA for acne? If it’s supposed to improve once it’s being used, how does BHA achieve that and how do we know for sure? (Cause I’ve experienced new breakouts forming at the same time as old breakouts shrinking…)

        Anyway, I’m not entirely pleased with my current routine and I’m aiming to change it to the following with my next PC order:
        Day: Earth Sourced Cleanser > CLEAR Regular BHA > Hydralight SPF
        Night: Earth Sourced Cleanser > CLEAR Regular BHA > RESIST Ultra-Light Serum

        Reasons for changing:
        For the cleanser, I replaced SB with Earth Sourced because I thought it’s more suitable for sensitive skin. I’ve tried a bottle of ES cleanser before and I’m quite happy with it. On the other hand, the SB one stings my eyes sometimes. Oh, I will also be ordering a sample of the CLEAR cleanser to see if it works for acne as well as sensitive skin.

        For BHA, before the 2% Liquid, I was using the CLEAR Regular for a pretty long time and I don’t remember encountering as many problems. Back then, I changed it because I thought I needed something stronger. Anyway, I’m thinking with a milder BHA, I can use it more frequently and control the breakouts better?

        For the RESIST Super Serum, never been a fan of the texture – it’s simply not a breeze to spread. I’ve sampled Ultra-Light before and I prefer that.

        So what do you think of my target routine? Mind if I pick your brain on this?


        Posted by Alan Ng | May 13, 2014, 10:54 am
        • Hi Alan,

          I’m sorry to hear that you’ve experienced negative effects with the 2% BHA Liquid. I’m not sure I would attribute all of what you’re experiencing to that one product. But it certainly can be doing more harm than good to your skin. Do try going back to the CLEAR Regular, which is definitely less potent. If you’ve experienced satisfactory results with it, there’s really no need for you to use something stronger. You are correct that you can then use it more often for more gradual, daily exfoliation–something that we all want because the skin never stops producing cells, right?

          Also, you mentioned in your initial post that you experience a lot of facial redness. While the salicylic acid can be a contributing factor (if it’s too strong or if you have a sensitivity issue to it), I actually believe that it’s the the combination of the niacinamide in the Skin Balancing Toner and the salicylic acid that makes your skin red. Because the BHA Liquid has a quite low pH, it can convert some of the niacinamide to niacin, which is known to cause intense facial redness. I would actually recommend that you use a different toner or none at all. And speaking of niacinamide, some people (like myself) do not react well with niacinamide. It may be contributing to certain negative side effects, including your acne.

          So I would recommend that you take out niacinamide out of your routine for the time being. Try this:
          Day: ES Cleanser (You don’t have to use a PC cleanser, but it’s acceptable) > Clear Regular BHA > Sunscreen (I wouldn’t recommend any of the PC sunscreens, but that’s a whole other issue). Make sure to apply about 1/4 teaspoon. See my post about that if you have questions.
          Evening: ES Cleanser > RESIST Super Antioxidant Serum (If you still have some left) > Consider also spot-treating existing breakout with 2.5% benzoyl peroxide.

          It’s difficult to cover all the bases unless I do a formal routine review, but I hope this helps. Please keep me updated with your situation!

          Posted by John | May 16, 2014, 4:05 pm
          • Hi John,

            Thanks for your recommendations.

            I’ve since finished my SB toner and discontinued using it. I’ve also incorporated the Clear Regular BHA back into my regimen for about 2 weeks now. I definitely feel that the Clear Regular BHA is a better fit for me. My pores look smaller, my skin is less red, and I don’t feel any irritation or tightness from applying it twice daily. I still get breakouts but they seem less severe – they’re generally smaller, less inflamed, and higher tendency to come to a head. My skin is by no means cleared but it definitely works better for me than 2% BHA Liquid+SB toner.

            Here’s my current regimen:
            Day: Clear cleanser (just a sample, will be using ES cleanser subsequently) > Clear Regular BHA > Hydralight SPF
            Night: Clear cleanser > Clear Regular BHA > Resist serum

            I’m thinking of adding the SB retinol serum into my regimen (alternate with Resist serum) to control the acne and redness further. I’ve sampled it before and it did reduce my redness and I like the texture and finish. Though subsequently, it broke me out (or so I presumed). But I think it’s because I used it consecutively for a few nights and my skin just can’t tolerate the frequency? Actually, I didn’t expect my skin to react this way because 1) I know the SB serum isn’t that high in retinol to begin with and 2) I have used 0.1% tretinoin and 0.1% adapalene before, although that’s years ago. Anyhow, this time round I’ll start slowly with the SB serum and hope for the best…

            I understand you recommended BP but I’m just not convinced that it’s worth using. I know nothing beats BP when it comes to killing acne bacteria but I read that it also depletes the skin of antioxidants, and according to Seppo Puusa from acneeinstein.com, antioxidants are key to preventing acne in the first place, by preventing the oxidation of sebum. Not to mention, BHA is capable of killing acne bacteria as well. So, are there other anti-acne benefits that BP offers? I’m not sure if you’ll agree with Seppo’s ideas but I’m just gonna save BP as the ultimate last resort, after BHA and retinol.

            Sorry for the long post again…

            Alan 🙂

            Posted by Alan Ng | June 20, 2014, 12:09 am
            • So how are things now? Note that the SB serum contains VERY little retinol, now that Paula has released the % of retinol used (FINALLY!).

              As for your issue with BP, check out the responses I wrote to Anne Marie on this post: https://thetriplehelixian.com/2014/05/17/introduction-to-the-ideal-skin-care-routine-series/ She asks almost the same question!

              Keep me updated! 🙂

              Posted by John | July 11, 2014, 10:28 pm
              • Hi John,

                Things haven’t been good lately. I’ve been slowly getting more breakouts and it’s obvious the lone acne-fighter in my regime, BHA, isn’t enough to control it. Even though I’ve only been using the regular BHA for over a month, I do think I have many many clogged pores. So I thought it’s time to bring out the BIG GUNS (haha)! I went back to my old “dermatologist” and bought a tube of Differin. So glad they still have my records and I realise I have access to all the prescription acne products she had me used before, including Differin, Epiduo, 0.01/0.05/0.1% tretinoin creams, and Clindagel.

                Anyway, I chose adapalene eventually because I read that it’s as effective as tretinoin but with lesser side effects. It’s also more chemically stable and can work together with BP, which I have decided to heed your advice and add to my regime as well. But instead of getting Epiduo, I prefer PC’s BP which contain anti-irritants. I’m thinking of adding both of them for night and after my serum, so cleanser+BHA+serum+Differin+BP, is that ok?

                So yup, I will be adding these 2 products to my regime and hopefully attacking my acne on various fronts would work? Let me know if you think I could have made better choices. Do you think I jumped the gun and should have given BHA more time to work?


                Posted by Alan | July 12, 2014, 11:33 am
                • Yes, adapalene will be the a suitable for acne-prone skin. Though, I’d probably recommend adding one new product to your routine at a time, because we don’t want to irritate your skin too badly. Irritation = more inflammation = more severe acne. It’s about finding that balance. So introduce the Differin first, and apply it before your serum. Then after about two weeks, you can add the BP to your last step as a spot treatment.

                  Posted by John | July 12, 2014, 10:43 pm
  3. Do you get any tingling or cooling sensation from the Jack Black balm? I was given the Original (natural mint & shea butter) one and I tried it but I get that cooling sensation (not really tingling)–which is irritation, right?

    Posted by Lisa | March 3, 2012, 10:07 am
    • Hi Lisa,

      Yes I have tried the original version and hated it haha! That’s the reason why I use the blackberry and tea one. Not to mention that the blackberry has some extracts that function as antioxidants, which further protect the skin from UV-induced damage. Right not, Sephora.com says that it’s out of stock… so I’m not sure if it was a limited edition item and whether or not it’s coming back soon. I hope it is. If not, well I have about 5 backups. 🙂

      The original version, which contains the natural mint essential oil, contains anywhere from 40%-90% menthol, depending on the specific species used. Menthol, as you probably know from my routine review for Mia, is one of the most potent irritants. Yes, it does provide a cooling sensation, but it’s detrimental to the skin due to protein denaturation.

      As always, I’m glad to read and respond to your comments!

      Posted by John | March 3, 2012, 7:26 pm
      • Heh that’s what I thought., but I wanted to check the facts with you. I used it once and then wiped it off and put on something else–I cringe a little whenever I see people commenting “Oh, I like the tingle when I put it on” (and there are tons of “plumping” products these days that have that menthol-laced tingle). When you really think about it, what else could it be but a form of irritation? And it isn’t really a comfortable (or, to me, pleasant) sensation either; it’s just novel, and makes you think it’s doing something.

        Posted by Lisa | March 6, 2012, 8:28 am
      • I think I’ll try the blackberry & tea one though. It’s a little sad that it’s probably the only good one, since grapefruit, ginger, lemon, and lavender are all potential irritants.

        Posted by Lisa | March 6, 2012, 8:35 am
  4. i just found your blog through temptalia and i’m hooked! i’ve read everthing so far and i have to say you’re doing an excellent job! thanks for creating this blog!
    i’m also a huge fan of paula’s choice, i’ve been using her products for maybe 2 years now and my skin improved so so much!
    i’m curious with one thing in this post, you say “Please note that the PC toner is the exact same product as the Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant.” so is there any particular reason you use one instead of the other? price? quantity? i use the 2% BHA so i was just wandering…
    thank you again! and keep up the good work, i’ll be following every post!
    (english isn’t my first language so sorry if there are too many mistakes)

    Posted by Ana | November 26, 2011, 8:52 am
    • Hey thanks for commenting!

      Yeah, the only reason why I prefer the CLEAR version is due to the packaging! Since Paula recently changed the packaging on the Skin Perfecting line, I don’t know what the packaging for the line is like. But the ingredients, quantities, and prices are the same for these two products. Make sure to check out my older posts too while you’re waiting for the new ones! xD

      Posted by John | November 26, 2011, 9:59 am

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