If you’re like me, you’ve struggled with your skin your whole life. Things have definitely calmed down since the middle school and high school days. But over a decade later, acne is far from out of my life. It can be difficult to keep my skin calm and happy, even in the most familiar of situations. But keeping breakouts at bay while traveling? That is a whole ‘nother beast!
But after successfully completing my most-recent long trip with more or less zero breakouts, I think I’ve officially cracked the code for me. Everyone’s skin is different, meaning that so is everyone’s skincare needs. But in this post, I’ll be sharing my current routine and also explaining the “why” behind it, in hopes that it can help you figure out a travel-proof skincare routine of your own.
Please keep in mind that I am not at all educated in or professionally trained in any of this subject matter! This is simply a result of my own online reading, personal trial and error (I still feel bad for all the unfinished sunscreens I have claiming to be “no-white-cast”), and eventual results (or lack thereof).
Also, I make zero money from you clicking on any of the product links. I’ve simply provided them there for your convenience.
Let’s Start with My Skin type: Oily Combination Skin
I’ve always had oily-combination skin. My skin is oily and more break-out-prone in my T-zone (forehead and the middle vertical third of my face). The rest of my face is “normal” skin type. (”Normal” is basically the “all other” skin type for if your skin is neither oily type, dry type, or sensitive type.) I have large, super-visible pores on my nose and the parts of my cheeks surrounding my nose. They very often visibly look clogged.
In the past, I always tackled my oily skin by trying to the “opposite” of oil. I would use products that would dry my skin, thinking that was the logical way to combat over-oiliness. This often meant using super harsh products and/or physically exfoliating twice a day.
What I’ve now learned is that this does the opposite. All of our skin produces oil. This is to keep our skin hydrated. When we strip our skin of moisture and oil, the skin’s reaction is “Oh! I see we don’t have enough moisture! Better produce some more oil.” But when our skin is properly hydrated, the oil glands have less reason to go into overdrive, so to speak.
This understanding of my skin is 1/2 of the foundation of the philosophy of my skin care routine (the second half starts in the following paragraph). If you also have oily skin, you might be able to copy and paste what I’ve learned and apply it to your life. But if you have dry skin you will maybe want to use more moisturizing products than I do. And if you have sensitive skin, you will need to create a routine that is very specific to your skin sensitivities.
What Causes Pimples and Breakouts
The other half of my skin care routine is founded on understanding what causes pimples. Like, what even are they? Why do they appear? Why do they fade?
This article helped give me a quick overview of the four main types of pimples and what causes each of them. I recommend a quick read, but here are the main takeaways:
- A pore is a tiny opening in our skin where a hair comes out.
- Oil glands are connected to these pores.
- These glands in the pore can be blocked by oil and/or dead skin cells. This causes a pimple.
- When pimple-causing bacteria is also present in the blocked gland, the pimple can be larger, redder, and more painful.
So my main takeaway for my own routine from all this was to try to keep my skin as clean as (reasonably and healthily) possible. This is a big one when traveling!
My Skin Care Routine
Next, I’m going to go in chronological order of where my skin care products appear in my 24 hour routine. I will start from the night routine (because it has more products) and end at the morning routine.
Nighttime Skin Care Routine
My nighttime skincare routine can be divided into three steps; cleanse, treat, and moisturize. I skip the middle step if my skin has any openings.
First, I cleanse my face. Keeping my face as clean as I possibly can has been the single biggest key to minimizing painful breakouts for me.
I highly recommend double-cleansing. This is when you first cleanse with an oil-based cleanser and then follow it up with a water-based cleanser. Why? Well it follows the idea of “like attracts like.” The oil in the first cleanser will do a better job at “attracting” (or extracting, breaking up, etc.) the oil on your face from makeup, sunscreen, and even your natural oils. Then you rinse off with water. Next, use the water-based cleanser to not only clean the leftovers of this off, but also to address your particular skin concerns. Then, of course, rinse off with water again.
For me, I’ve found that micellar water works best for my first cleanse. You can think of micellar water like oily water. Just pour some onto a cotton pad and gently glide it along your face and neck. There shouldn’t be need for harsh rubbing.
I’ve tried a few brands and they all work more or less equally well. But I think my favorite has been the “Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water for Oily Skin” (the green-lid one).
For my water based cleanser, I’ve had success with the “CeraVe Foaming Cleanser Normal to Oily Skin” (the teal one). I’ve gotten the best results when I pump at least a dime-sized dollop and take my time to massage the cleanser into my skin. I notice lesser results when I rush or use too little.
Now, this next step in my routine might be a no-no. I’m not sure! But I technically triple cleanse with “PanOxyl 4% Creamy Facial Treatment Wash.” It contains 4% benzoyl peroxide. Benzoyl peroxide helps kill acne-causing bacteria and is often used as a spot treatment.
But benzoyl peroxide is also known to cause stains on pillows and pajamas, so I’ve opted to use this popular cleanser instead. Also, a rinse off treatment is generally less harsh than a leave on product. So by using a cleanser, I’m following my philosophy I mention above of trying to be less harsh where I can in combating my pimples.
They have a 10% version of the product as well, which seems to be more popular. But I’ve really seen a huge improvement in my breakouts (less frequent appearances and quicker disappearances) since adding just the 4% version into my routine.
After my face is now squeaky clean (but not stripped of moisture!!), I use “Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Gel Exfoliant.” The star ingredient in this is 2% salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is a type of chemical exfoliant (as opposed to a physical exfoliant, like a face brush). It is known for essentially penetrating the pores, breaking up the buildup of oils in them, and bringing them to the surface more quickly.
The goal is to leave your pores looking less clogged (and therefore “smaller”) and to prevent the buildup of oil that causes pimples. The instructions say that you can use two pumps of this two times a day, but I (and some others) think that is excessive. (Remember the gentle-with-our-skin philosophy!!)
The more popular version of this is the liquid version. But I’ve tried both and see much better results with the gel. Also, the gel comes in a 100ml bottle, making it carry-on-travel friendly! The liquid version is the same size, but is annoyingly 118ml, so it needs to go in your check-in bag.
I currently like to use one pump a night and then take one or two nights off to use the following product in this list one night and then give my skin a break from exfoliants the next night.
But I recommend you start slow and work your way up with exfoliants. I started this once a week for the first week. Then twice a week for the next week. Then three times a week, which is where I stayed for a while.
On one of the two days a week when I don’t use the above product, I like to use the “Krave Beauty Kale-Lalu-yAHA: 5.25% Glycolic Acid Treatment.” The star ingredient is 5.25% glycolic acid. Glycolic acid is another chemical exfoliant, but it works differently than salicylic acid. Glycolic acid essentially just speeds up your skin cell cycle, to reveal the next layer of skin more quickly. This cycle gets slower and slower as we move from babies to kids to teens to adults to elderly folk. Speeding up the cycle helps to remove acne dark spots more quickly, as well as to smooth out your skin.
There is a cheaper glycolic acid treatment that is also popular, called the “The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution.” A lot of people really like it. But I did see reviews of some users having bad reactions to it, whereas with the Krave Beauty one, I saw people specifically saying they felt it was not harsh on their skin at all.
A Note on Chemical Exfoliants
Chemical exfoliants help bring things up to the surface level of the skin more quickly. So when you first start using them, they might cause was looks like a bunch of breakouts everywhere all at once! It’s almost like all the pimples-in-making that were still not visible yet are being pulled up to the surface all at once. This is called purging. This is fine and to be expected if the breakouts occur in the areas of your face where you normally get breakouts.
But if you get breakouts where you almost never do, or rashes, then it might be an allergic reaction to the product. In that case, you should stop using it.
Also, chemical exfoliation makes your skin more photosensitive i.e. more vulnerable to the sun and its effects. These include but aren’t limited to increasing hyperpigmentation (like from acne scars), wrinkles, and skin damage or cancer.
So if you use any exfoliants (or even the benzoyl peroxide), you really need to be applying sunscreen daily (not just the days you use the products). All of their back label instructions even say to.
After applying any exfoliants, I apply moisturizer. I like to use either the “CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion for Normal to Dry Skin” or the “Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion.” I slightly prefer the feel of the first one, but both feel nice and work well. So I just rotate based on what’s available or on sale.
I don’t use any eye creams, because there seems to be a consensus that they don’t do too much different than a moisturizer does. So I just apply an extra little bit of moisturizer around my upper and lower eye lids. Then, I dab around a teeny little bit of petroleum jelly using my ring finger.
Petroleum jelly is an occlusive, meaning it creates a layer that seals in the moisture underneath it. So it helps to prevent transepidermal water loss (loss of moisture from the skin). You can buy the most popular brand, which is Vaseline. Or, you can just buy a plain generic brand, which is what I do. Just make sure that the only item on the ingredient list on the back label is petroleum jelly.
If I feel like my entire face needs some extra healing or is feeling dry, I will apply the petroleum jelly to my entire face. This is called slugging. But due to my oily skin, I only apply the thinnest layer! I don’t want to clog the pores I’ve worked so hard to keep clean and clear. I take the tiniest little bit of petroleum jelly, rub it around my four longest fingers’ tips, and lightly dab my fingertips all over my face.
I always slug on the nights that I use the glycolic acid. I notice that my skin is really dry the next morning if I don’t. On the other nights, I just play it by ear.
Morning Skin Care Routine
This routine is a lot simpler! It has four steps: cleanse, treat, moisturize, protect. But there are a lot less products involved in total!
First, I cleanse my face with the “CeraVe Foaming Cleanser Normal to Oily Skin.” Again, I take my time to massage it in, especially if I applied petroleum jelly the night before.
Next, I apply “The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%” on my cleansed skin. Niacinamide touts a lot of benefits for many different skin types. But the most important one to me is that it helps regulate oily production.
Immediately after that, I moisturize with the “CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion for Normal to Dry Skin” or the “Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion.”
Then, I ideally wait at least five minutes for the moisturizer to absorb into my skin, to not be so slippy. This is so that not a lot of the moisturizer is sitting loose on top of my sin to mix with with the sunscreen (my next step).
Finally, I apply sunscreen. This was by far and large the most expensive, most frustrating, and most time-taking part of my routine to nail down. I currently like to use the “SCINIC Enjoy Super Mild Sun Essence SPF50+ PA++++,” which I order online from YesStyle.com.
It is lightweight, moisturizing, and non-sticky. It’s waterproof (and sweat-proof). I don’t find that it clogs my pores. It leaves no white cast on me, nor on the two family members I’ve let try it. One has much lighter complexion than I do, and the other has much deeper complexion than I do. And we were all pretty impressed. And best of all, this remains true even when I reapply it two or even three times throughout the day.
Another popular sunscreen is the “Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence.” This was the first sunscreen that ever made me believe that sunscreen didn’t have to suck! It worked well for me if I applied it one time. But I felt like it dried my skin out a bit upon reapplications.
With sunscreen, know that the SPF value on the outside is ONLY true if you are using the sunscreen exactly as the SPF is tested. This means using a certain amount per square unit of skin and reapplying every two hours (or whatever the instructions say, though it’s usually two hours). Many people apply two lines of sunscreen on their pointer and middle fingers to measure out the correct amount of sunscreen to apply each round.
Extra Things I Do
I like to use a clean pillow-sheet every day. On the first night, I use one side. Then on the next night, I flip it over to the other since. The third night, I switch to a new pillow case and repeat. I find that this makes a slight but noticeable different in my breakouts.
I try to wear a hat as much as possible, so long as it semi-fits with my outfit! I trust my SPF, but I like to help it out by providing some shade. I’ve gotten a lot of complements on the below bucket hat. I have one in white and one in black. They have reversible styles too.
Skin Care Routine Summary
That was a lot! I hope it was useful (especially the sunscreen – that one took me forever to settle on!). Now that I’ve explained all my products and the reasoning behind them, here is a quick summary of what my routine typically looks like.
- Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water for Oily Skin
- CeraVe Foaming Cleanser Normal to Oily Skin
- PanOxyl 4% Creamy Facial Treatment Wash
- Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Gel Exfoliant OR Krave Beauty Kale-Lalu-yAHA: 5.25% Glycolic Acid Treatment
- CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion for Normal to Dry Skin OR Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion
- Vaseline (I dab a bit around my eyelids daily, but only sometimes slug my entire face)
But always remember to listen to your skin. Switch up your skin care on that day or week based on what is going on with your skin in that moment.
Thoughts on Skin Care While Traveling?
Do you struggle with your skin while traveling? What products or steps have worked for you? Let me know in the comments below! Feel free to also leave any questions you have on my own travel-proof skincare routine in the comment section below, and I’ll respond.