Sometime in my 23rd year, I started peeling the labels off everything—dish soap, aspirin bottles, tequila, candles, ketchup—but especially beauty products. The stickers that wouldn’t go quietly, I finger-nailed and Goo-Goned into submission. Printed-on words, I manhandled and massaged until the letters slowly fell away, ‘til my serums looked like a refrigerator with those alphabet magnets all jumbled up. I had just read my first Adbusters and thought brand logos were slowly melting my brain, but I also got the sense that all my products looked too much in competition with each other—that my expensive oil blend was sneering at the Whole Foods argan oil next to it, that these advertising stories were shouting at each other, shouting at me, making it harder to write my own.
Once you tear off the labels, products become more like ingredients. They become things you use rather than forces you have to emotionally connect with. You’re free to make your own judgments, your own opinions, your own stories about the thing itself—and mix away to your heart’s content, which is why the mindset behind Skin Inc just makes so much sense to me. They even send you perfect little unadorned bottles that you’re free to label (or not label) to your liking.
The ethos here is that no one knows your skin better than you—with a caveat. Sure, you know its habits, proclivities, faults, and you remember the glory of That One Day When It Was Perfect. But also, let’s be real—your opinion of your skin is pretty much never a reflection of reality, and it’s almost always outdated. Despite all my current research and trials, my idea of my skin is cobbled together from an Allure column I read at 13, a complicated opinion at the beauty counter, and something kind of hurtful a friend observed years later when we were tipsy. I’ve personally been treating my skin like it’s still teenaged, even though no one else would mistake it for that. And when you don’t really know what your actual problems are, you can’t fix them.
That's compounded by the fact that I don’t usually fall in love with a product, I fall in love with the story (if not the label). That’s why, like many of you, I’ve been up on ITG since way back, buying everything Liv Tyler causally mentioned—but just because it works for the story doesn’t mean it works for your skin. Sure, your grandmother found this cream in Côte d’Azur and you wore it that one time you saw David Duchovny at the gym when your rising sign was in your 'moon house' or whatever. That doesn’t keep the cream from breaking you out. Cool story, though. My skin (and yours, too) has more pressing needs than that, like the fact that it’s weirdly oily and dull at the same time with acne sometimes and these emerging lines and splotches.
Clearly, left to my own devices, I can’t always be trusted, so I figured out my skin the same way I figured out “Is Your Crush Into You?” in 8th grade—I took a quiz (shout-out to Seventeen’s prognosis for being dead-on: He wasn’t). It was the Skin Inc My Skin Identity quiz.
As with all quizzes, you can’t take it for the person you want to be (just like when you re-took that BuzzFeed quiz to show that you should really live in Paris when it kept serving you Detroit). If you’re honest about your sleeping, eating, drinking, living, and general skincare patterns, you’ll get a pretty damn helpful diagnostic experience—three problem areas identified and corresponding treatments prescribed.
My own personal quiz revealed that I had some environmental stresses (thanks, NYC subway air) and some line-provoking fatigue stressors (thanks, me, for waiting too long on deadlines). These are skin factors I wasn’t taking into account at all—I’ve been thinking just straight up “oily/acne prone” all these years.
After that's done, here’s the idea: You're recommended three ingredients from a list of many that all come in the form of little mini-bottles. Each has kind of a hero ingredient—vitamin C, chlorella, hyaluronic acid, et al.—the hot buttons. Bits of these ingredients are encapsulated in a seaweed-and-caviar casing to keep its potency alive and kickin’. The word is “hydrolyzed,” which to me sounds like something a Power Ranger would say after vanquishing a foe. Hydrolyzed! Or maybe a kid shouting it along with “fortified” in an old Sunny D commercial (Did we ever find out if that stuff kills you or nah?).
So these little beads are suspended in a humectant jelly, and when the capsules touch your skin, they pop open and release that potent goodness onto your skin. The idea is that if there were no capsules and if the ingredient were all poured together in one big vat and bottled, that might be a killer serum—with the shelf like of about 5 minutes. After that, the ingredients start reacting with each other, changing and morphing until they’re shadows of their former selves. Best to keep them separate ‘til they hit the skin.
It’s recommended you mix all three of your serums into My Daily Dose Custom-Blended Serum to make your routine quicker, but you can also keep them all separate and just mix them on your fingers before applying. The stuff goes on light and absorbs quickly, so your SPF or moisturizer can go on pronto. When you use them at night, be advised: Skin Inc makes a killer sleep-in mask—the Pure Deepsea Hydrating Mask—that works as a sealant for the serum. It’s the ninth wonder of the world. I feel like there’s a lot of contention for the eighth.
Anyway, I was recommended the Vitamin A Serum, the Ceramide Serum, and the Licorice Serum to “Regenerate, Reinforce, and Relieve,” respectively. This is a regimen tailored to my tiredness, dullness, and stress—only without the usual heavy cream that comes with it. It’s light, it’s nutritive, it’s really fun to mix together in a single bottle, and—most importantly—it works. I apply the serum at night, and when I wake up, my skin looks like it’s actually rested and refreshed, not like my usual “overnight at the airport” looking face.
And your skin’s going to keep changing. It would be totally antithetical to get your quiz result and think that’s the diagnosis you’ll live with forever. That’s the problem we’re trying to overcome here. Skin Inc recommends you take the quiz every time you order a new round because any number of things may have changed significantly (weather, work, stress, hormones, the Game of Thrones cast), and you need to treat that skin—your skin, what you’ve got right exactly now, not from the past. Your skincare story shouldn’t be a memoir. It should be more like a present-tense, first-person, choose-your-own-adventure story with a little mystery and humor in there—something you whip up yourself, something that’s just wholly, totally, uniquely yours. No labels.
Find out what your skin needs right now at this exact second: take the quiz.
Photographed by Tom Newton. This piece is in collaboration with Skin Inc.