After 20 Years of Looking, I Finally Found a Skin-Care Miracle

But trust me — I kissed a whole lot of frogs along the way.
Publish date:
March 5, 2015
acne, skin, miracle creams, dermalogica

Once upon a time (at a time and place I cannot recall), I read that legendary Lucky magazine beauty director Jean Godfrey-June owed her forever-perfect skin to being a slavish devotee of Dermalogica products. I remember thinking that if I had skin like hers, I'd never tell anyone my secrets! But I'm a jerk, as evidenced by this awesome quote from Godfrey-June:

"People are very generous with each other about beauty. It’s a way people recognize humanity in each other, in a weird way."

I'd always assumed that Dermalogica was something outrageously expensive that only fancy babes could afford, so I spent years making do with an endless parade of drugstore skin-care products. I also spent countless thousands of dollars at fancy dermatologists from Texas to California in an effort to cure my easily troubled, acne-prone skin.

I've sucked down repeated courses of antibiotics that have likely ensured I'll die from a common cold due to becoming completely antibiotic-resistant, and I've almost certainly done permanent damage to my joints as a result of taking Accutane not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES in my lifelong quest for great skin.

And then one day I decided to splurge on a trial set of Dermalogica products. Let me now pause to use a little-known writing device called "giving away the entire plot": THAT SPLURGE CHANGED MY LIFE.

Yes, I'm now one of those idiots spritzing my face with toner twice a day. But my skin feels amazing — and has never looked better. No doctor or beauty product has ever transformed my skin in the utterly complete way that a simple three-step regimen of Dermalogica products has. (Oh, and in case you're wondering: It's cleanse, tone, then moisturize — in that exact order.)

Special Cleansing Gel, $36/8.4 oz. Skin Smoothing Cream, $42/1.7 oz. Multi-Active Toner, $36/8.4 oz.

I'll stop here and tell you what Dermalogica gave me in exchange for this post: exactly nothing. You can't even begin to buy my words with a lousy tube of face cream. I purchased the products a Dermalogica facialist recommended to me as a skin-obsessed civilian, got mad great results, and then decided to research why it worked so well.

I visited the flagship Dermalogica store in Santa Monica, California, for a "Face Mapping." This free skin examination tells you which of their products are best for your specific skin type. If you can't visit a Dermalogica spa in person, don't fret — because you can get the same exact skin analysis I did at any Ulta location that carries their products. (And if all else fails, you can just take the mini Face Mapping quiz on their site.)

I also got a signature Dermalogica facial while I was there, which took place in a crazy pod that was like a mini discothèque — complete with pulsing mood lights.

I totally forgot to ask what those changing lights were meant to represent, but it doesn't really matter — because the Dermalogica products I bought have completely negated the need to ever splash out for a facial from them again.

As it turns out, my skin is probably not acne-prone at all — it had likely just became sensitized to the deluge of crap I'd been constantly slathering on it, hoping for a miracle. But all it really needed was a simple regimen of high-quality products, formulated to work in concert with each other — and without cheap ingredients like mineral oil, lanolin, and SD alcohol. (Dermalogica uses none of these items in its products.)

My skin started to look better within two weeks of using just those three Dermalogica products — and four months later, I still have the very best skin of my entire life. (No, it's not soft as an angel's wing or flawless as a baby's bottom, but it's calm, healed, and always feels hydrated and great. For me, it's total perfection.)

After grilling my assigned facialist at length and reading every single word I could find about Dermalogica's products, I think I've identified the five main reasons my skin has reacted so well to it.

1) We are all dirty-faced slobs.

It seems the 10-second slapdash job I've been doing my entire life wasn't sufficient. Your skin is dirtier than you think — and you should be spending a full minute lathering up! Adding an extra 50 seconds to my face-washing time has to be a big part of the change I've seen.

2) You are probably under-moisturizing.

The main issue that finally made me decide to try something new with my skin care was persistent facial dryness and tightness. My beloved drugstore moisturizer just wasn't cutting it anymore. Then I used the Skin Smoothing Cream, and my prayers were answered.

I always thought that a too-rich moisturizer would cause my skin to break out, but overly dry skin actually causes the skin to produce excess oil, resulting in major flare-ups. Finding the exact right level of moisture for your particular face is quite possibly the whole key to a lifetime of perfect skin. (You'll likely notice this moisturizer doesn't have sunscreen in it, so I mix a little bit of Dermalogica's Solar Defense Booster with it.)

3) Toner does makes a difference.

I only bought this stupid toner because it felt so good when the facialist sprayed it on me. "What even is this doing?" I asked myself, as I languorously spritzed my face like a dame in a classic black-and-white film. But a spritz of toner on clean skin actually re-creates the slightly damp conditions you have right after stepping out of the shower, which then allows moisturizer to penetrate more easily.

And you know what else? It feels GREAT. I keep a travel-size spritzer of it in my purse and use it periodically to "wake up" my tired face.

4) Don't neglect your neck — or your chest.

I can't believe I didn't think of this, but what the facialist said to me made sense: Anything you are doing to your face should be done to your neck and chest too. And so it came to pass that the last two years of broken-out skin on my chest has healed completely.

5) Ingredients matter.

Many lesser skin-care lines use mineral oil as a base for their products, claiming that it has absolutely no documented history of causing skin problems. But the fact is that I had a ton of clogged pores and milia when using lotions containing mineral oil. Since switching over to Dermalogica products (which contain no mineral oil or lanolin), those blocked pores and tiny imperfections have completely disappeared.

Your mileage may vary, as they say, but for my skin, mineral oil was clearly the culprit. It just goes to show that the science of skin care will never trump actual personal experience — and that everyone's skin is different.

If you're like me, deciding to invest in a brand-new skin-care system probably has one giant stumbling block: what to do with the literal avalanche of existing serums, lotions, and potions you've collected over the years. Yo, do I ever feel you.

But I've got a clever way to utilize them: by treating your hands and forearms, a totally overlooked (and very important!) body part. Nothing gives away the years you've lived like your hands — and ever since I've started slathering all that expensive, leftover face goo on my limbs, they look like a million bucks.

I was a bit afraid that the Dermalogica system I'd settled on was rather pricey — but a quick tally of all those products I've bought and tried only once made it clear: I am now actually saving money by not wildly buying everything I see, constantly looking for a miracle. (And the constant cherry-picking of products that were probably canceling each other out likey wasn't doing my face any favors either!)

Have you found YOUR skin-care salvation yet? If so, tell me all about it! But if not, consider giving Dermalogica's products a try. You might just find the miracle you've been looking for.

Alison Freer is the author of 'How to Get Dressed: A Costume Designer's Secrets for Making Your Clothes Look, Fit, and Feel Amazing'.