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  • Writer's pictureErica Larson

"Clean" skincare explained + my routine

Updated: May 10, 2020

I have used this time in "quarantine" to get serious about my skincare routine and do my research! I have been loving going makeup-free and giving my skin some time to breathe. As I believe to be true for diet and exercise, skincare will vary greatly from person to person as well. Skincare also should change seasonally due to harsh temperatures, humidity, heat, and air conditioning.

'Clean beauty' might mean something different to various people, brands, or stores, but the gist of it is that these products contain high quality, non-toxic, ethical, and mindfully sourced ingredients. These ingredients include certifications such as organic, eco-certified, cruelty-free, and fair trade.

There is a lot of confusion and conflicting terminology in the market as well. If a product is labeled as 'Organic', then that means that at least 70% of the ingredients are certified organic. If the organic ingredients do not hit the 70% mark, then the organic ingredients are just identified individually on packaging. 'Natural' means that the ingredients are pure and derived from nature, such as plants and oils, rather than synthetic. Cruelty free products certify that no products have ever been tested on animals. Sustainable means that the ingredients are biodegradable and grown without harsh chemicals and pesticides.

As a rule of thumb, I try to stick to products free of parabens, phthalates, sulfates, gluten, mineral oil and synthetic fragrances. It is worrisome to think that Europe has banned over 1,300 ingredients in skincare and makeup, while the US is behind with only 30 banned ingredients. Due to the lack of banned ingredients in the United States, the activist group Environmental Working Group (EWG) helps to classify ingredients and products.

These harsh chemicals can impact our skin, body, mind and environment. The toxic ingredients range from irritants or allergens to endocrine disruptors causing hormonal imbalance, and carcinogens that can possibly lead to cancer. The scary thing is that these ingredients are not just in skincare and makeup, they are also in packaging and processed food (but we will save that for another time.)

Once you understand the terminology, it is important to read labels and be mindful of what we are putting on our skin. This transition to non-toxic and clean skincare for me has taken a few months of replacing used up products, adding in new steps, etc. Please remember it is not an "all or nothing" approach - just be mindful and make these changes gradually! Here is a peek into my routine...


First comes first, make sure to always cleanse your face and remove makeup before bed! Cleansing in the morning is equally as important. You can use the same cleanser morning and night, or a stronger one at night, but that is personal preference. For the most part I use the same product morning and night, but that also depends on how my skin is feeling and how much makeup I have to take off. Use warm water, but make sure it is not too hot.

Especially after a photoshoot and on days that I am wearing a lot of makeup, I opt for an oil cleanser. Not only does an oil cleanser help remove makeup, but it is a great way to cleanse the skin without stripping it of natural moisture, so it is ideal for those with dry or sensitive skin.

Some good cleanser options are Osea Ocean Cleansing Milk or One Love Organics Vitamin B Enzyme Cleansing Oil + Makeup Remover.

Exfoliating is an important step to get rid of the dead, dry skin so that your moisturizer is able to work properly and get deep into your skin. When it comes to skin exfoliation, there are two types of acids; AHA's (alpha-hydroxy-acids) and BHA's (beta-hydroxy-acid). AHA's are derived from plant sources such as sugarcane that are water soluble, stimulate collagen, and help the shedding of dead skin cells. BHA's are oil soluble acids that get down into your pores deeper and fight bacteria, which is ideal for anyone with oily skin or breakouts. Depending on your skin type, using a mix of both acids is usually most beneficial. Exfoliation should not be every day, but can range from once a week to every other day.

I like to use Herbivore Botanicals Prism 12% Exfoliating Serum a couple of days a week (masks and other weekly or bi-weekly treatments I have covered in this post!) This exfoliator leaves my skin feeling clean, smooth, and glowing from both AHA's and BHA's. It is made of plant based lactic, glycolic, and malic acids, plus Willow Bark for a gentle exfoliation. It is formulated with Vitamin C to brighten skin, and hyaluronic acid and aloe water to hydrate and soothe the skin. This does not need to be daily, but listen to your skin and rotate it into your routine anywhere from once a week to every other day.


Although toner is a personal preference, I try to listen to my skin and incorporate it into my routine whenever it needs a little extra love. Using a toner will purify the skin and make sure all makeup and dirt is removed after cleansing and before replenishing the skin. Toning helps to shrink the pores, balance your complexion, and it is another way to provide your skin with additional vitamins and antioxidants.

Toners can either be hydrating or exfoliating depending on ingredients and your skin type. Two of my favorite toners, with different purposes include:

Ursa Major 4-in-1 Essential Tonic - the name says it all, but this multipurpose tonic will exfoliate and clean your skin without stripping natural oils or leaving a residue. I love this toner as an option for additional exfoliation with a blend of AHA's and BHA's. This formula is brightening and revitalizing because it exfoliates and assists the skin in shedding dead skin cells, along with probiotics, aloe vera and other nourishing plant based ingredients. It is safe for daily use and all skin types!

Indie Lee CoQ10 Toner is the more hydrating option as it contains hyaluronic acid, cucumber and chamomile - this blend is soothing, balancing and plumping. Of course, given its name, this toner contains the holy grail antioxidant of skincare - Coenzyme Q10! Studies have shown that applying CoQ10 topically can slow down the aging process, reduce free radicals, and increase antioxidants in the skin. I love that it is alcohol free, yet so powerful. Since this formula is so versatile and gentle, it is ideal for dry, combination, sensitive, and mature skin.

After cleansing and exfoliating is the optimal time to infuse your skin with nutrients! My routine includes a serum, eye cream, oil and moisturizer. Some key nutrients I look for include Vitamins C + E, hyaluronic acid, retinol, squalene and CoQ10.


Serums should be the first product applied after cleansing and toning. Since serums differ from person to person depending on skin type and time of day, there is a specific concern being addressed and benefit to the skin for each formula.

During the day I use a Vitamin C serum for brightening and firmness. Vitamin C is just as important to put on our body as it is to put in it. This antioxidant will increase skin radiance and brighten with its ability to treat hyperpigmentation. Vitamin C can also increase collagen synthesis which helps to decrease fine lines while supporting our natural cell turnover and protecting against free radicals. Ursa Major Brighten Up Vitamin C Serum is a great light weight serum packed with antioxidants.

At night, I like to incorporate a retinol (Vitamin A) serum, which has been proven to help reduce wrinkles and aid in collagen production of the skin. Retinol can also delay photoaging and decrease UV damage of the skin. Be careful with retinol products if you are pregnant or looking to become pregnant, though. Plant based retinol alternative bakuchiol is another option. This antioxidant is a phytochemical derived from the Babchi Plant that has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for years to treat skin conditions like eczema, but also works to improve skin pigmentation, wrinkles, and firmness.

The Marie Veronique Gentle Retinol Night Serum uses retinol derivative Vitamin A combined with Vitamin C and E to make a perfect anti-aging night serum. If you are looking for a retinol alternative, this Green Cream is a very gentle and hydrating serum with plant based retinols!

This is also when eye creams should be applied. Find a product that focuses on your needs – some formulas are targeted towards fine lines and wrinkles while others are better for dark circles or puffiness. Eye creams will help with skin elasticity, collagen production, and firmness.

Indie Lee I-Waken Eye Serum is a great multitasking eye serum. It contains Witch Hazel for dark circles and puffiness, as well as Chamomile and Spirulina to protect and hydrate the sensitive skin around the eye.


Next is oil! Since oils absorb into the skin, they should be applied before moisturizer. I think natural plant oils and essential oils are great to nourish your skin with additional vitamins, antioxidants, and omegas. I am a huge fan of Herbivore Phoenix Facial Oil because it contains rosehip oil, CoQ10, Vitamin E, and Jojoba oil. There are various oil blends on the market, so make sure it addresses your personal skincare needs.

Now is the time to use skin tools like a Facial Roller and a Gua Sha stone. Gently massaging natural oils can help reduce inflammation and support cellular regeneration by detoxing, depuffing, and distributing the vitamins. The Gua Sha stone is used along the jawline, chin, forehead, and cheek to improve circulation and relax the facial muscles. A facial roller helps to reduce puffiness and fine lines while rolling across the angles of your face in an upward and outward motion. These skincare tools help to eliminate toxic build up and increase blood flow while giving your face a little lymphatic drainage massage.

The facial stones and rollers vary by crystal - I personally have a Jade Facial Roller and a Rose Quartz Gua Sha stone. Rose Quartz is known as the stone to heal the body and the heart, and this crystal helps to ease tension and promote a sense of comfort and self love. Jade Stone is known for purity, serenity, and balance - it has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for purifying properties, skin restoration, and natural healing for centuries.


Be sure to always moisturize daily, especially after you cleanse! Cleansing strips our skin of dirt, but also some natural oils can be lost that we need to replenish. Moisturizers help to lock all of the products and nutrients into your skin.

Our skin needs moisturizers to strengthen the skin’s barrier, otherwise we can experience dry and cracked skin. A humidifier is also a great option because heat, air conditioning, and sun can all impact the balance of our skin.

Your nighttime moisturizer can be thicker than during the day, or you can opt for an overnight mask for deep hydration while you sleep. A Peptide Cream is also a good option since peptides are short chain amino acids that signal and assist the body in collagen production. Some of my favorite moisturizers are the Herbivore Pink Cloud Rosewater Moisture Crème for the morning, or Moonfruit Superfruit Night Treatment.

SPF (daytime)

Finally, in the morning once you have completed all of these steps, you want to be sure your skin is protected! Natural and non-toxic sunscreen brands are ideal because instead of adding harmful chemicals onto your skin you’ll be adding nourishing multipurpose oils, vitamins and minerals. The brand Suntegrity is a favorite of mine because they have a sunscreen for everyone - from tinted face moisturizing sunscreen and primers to full body SPF 30. Multipurpose skincare and makeup is the way to go!

There is no right or wrong answer since everyone's skin is different, and you don't have to cut products out overnight. I slowly began replacing my skincare products with clean alternatives over the past several months as other products ran out. Remember that it is not about being perfect, the idea is to make small choices that are better for your skin and for the environment that eventually add up.

** I am not a dermatologist. This is how I personally take care of my skin after discussing with makeup artists and estheticians. Every body is different, therefore everyone's skincare needs are different, but this is what I have concluded from my own experiences. Be sure to consult a doctor, dermatologist, or esthetician before making any changes to your routine.

#skincare #cleanbeauty #wellness #nontoxic

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