There is a quote widely attributed to Coco Chanel (but then again, a lot of quotes are, and not always correctly) that goes something like, "Nature gives you the face you have at twenty. Life shapes the face you have at thirty. But at fifty, you get the face you deserve." I am not thirty or fifty and frankly I think Coco sounds a little ominous, but let's be optimistic, shall we? Let's think about the future. Specifically, how cleansing your face of whatever environmental, social, political, and/or beauty-related gunk it's exposed to, on a daily basis, is essential to preserving your skin.
For me, 'the cleanser' is a skincare staple that mattered very little until recently (feel free to blame New York: pollution, stress, lack of sleep, lack of nutrients, lack of sunlight, etc). I was a Cetaphil-and-go type of gal (and even then, only sporadically) until I wised up. Before you go to sleep without properly cleansing, I want you to lie there and think about all the stuff you're willfully leaving there to be absorbed into your body through the skin on your face. Calm down, Alessandra, you're thinking, I don't even have acne. Well, me either, but guess what? Every makeup artist and dermatologist I’ve ever met has said something to the effect of “Don’t be an idiot—wash your face.” So I elected to take some good advice for once in my life, and you know, stop being an idiot. And, like any good beauty editor, that change of heart meant trying a lot of products so as to best guide you (and to best remove all of the makeup I test out on my face hourly at the office).
Let's go from most technologically advanced to least, beginning with the Clarisonic Aria ($199). I’ve made my feelings for this wünder-gadget known, but my intial response to the Clarisonic? A profound ‘Not interested.’ I still prefer a manual toothbrush, for god’s sake. A vibrating facial brush sounded potentially harsh, kind of lazy, and frankly a little Emperor's New Clothes-y. I was WRONG. The Clarisonic is awesome—just ask Kate Young, Lily Aldridge, Jane Larkworthy, Kerry Diamond, Isabelle Kountoure, and basically anyone who's ever tried one. I use it in the shower a couple times a week with an assortment of cleansing agents: Jurlique Purely Bright Cleanser, Zelens Luminous Facial Cleanser, and Tracie Martyn Amla Purifying Cleanser. It's foolproof. The machine gently beeps to tell you when to move from your T-zone to your cheeks and chin, and the whole process lasts about one minute. You'll want more, since it not only exfoliates like nobody’s business—gently whisking away dead/dry skin—but I feel like I can actually see my pores get cleaner and tighter with each use. (BTW, I am l-o-v-i-n-g the Deep Pore Brush Head.) You feel like you’re really getting in there, not just smoothing some potion on and splashing it off. Plus, the Clarisonic apparently also helps prepare skin for better absorption of creams, serums, and moisturizers, so you’re really optimizing the rest of your routine. Cheers to technological advances!
If the Clarisonic is a helpful futuristic robot, Eve Lom’s Cleanser is dialing it all the way back to the days of herbs and muslin, albeit with a similar aim of cleansing, toning, exfoliating, and worshipfully maintaining your skin for that “I only eat kale and do yoga all day” glow. It's expensive ($80 for a tub) and a cult favorite, both for good reason. Once you slather on the great-smelling balm, you affectionately massage your face (there is an included illustrated 7-step pamphlet that you have to keep turning counter-clockwise to follow, but essentially the idea is to poke around your face with your fingers. This improves lymphatic drainage and circulation). Post rub, you soak the included muslin cloth in hot water and use it to melt the thick, soft ointment into a light oil—which magically doesn't drip—before moving it around and scrubbing it off your face. The final touch is to rinse the cloth in cold water and re-apply to the face to 'close your pores.' All in all, the whole affair probably takes five minutes, but you’ll feel like you were just in a hammam for fifty. It feels luxurious, and the results are dewy, clear-skinned heaven. I dare you to try it and not come away feeling like maybe you deserve to have a nightly skincare ritual.
Then, there are the oxymoronic sounding 'cleansing oils,' which may not quite have the same hands-on feel as far as deep-pore-cleaning, but expediently lift away makeup and nourish the skin (without stripping it of its natural oils and other good stuff). Shu Umeura's version is a classic and a staple in many a medicine cabinet, but no longer available at our local SoHo Sephora, a salesperson at which pointed me toward the store's best-selling Amore Pacific Treatment Cleansing Oil ($50, but it will last) and Josie Maran Argan Cleansing Oil ($32). Maran's entire organic, eco-friendly line is based on the supercharged (and super 'in') argan oil, and this cleanser is a 3-in-1 (that's makeup remover, anti-ager, and moisturizer). It’s a bit thick, so better for those with drier skin. If you’re into the lighter side of life, try the Amore Pacific version, which is silky, milky, and foams (lightly). It takes off all your makeup in one go and leaves skin feeling just so fresh and so clean (clean).
Want to keep your face-washing seriously as simple as possible—or maybe you still aren't satisfied? Earth Tu Face's gentle, foaming Cleanse (enriched with palmarosa and aloe) is good enough to eat—really, you could eat it if you wanted to (it's made by two herbalists who grow all the ingredients themselves). Similarly, Coconut oil will work. Lately, we're feeling VMV Hypoallergenic's Know-It-Oil, which wipes away makeup and soaks right into the skin for some age-fighting, fatty-acid-soaked moisturizing goodness. But no matter what your chosen method, the message remains: don't be silly (or anyways, don't come whining to me about loss of radiance down the road), and please take care of that lovely face of yours. You only get one.
Photographed by Elizabeth Brockway.