Welcome to Month of Me, where every day in January we’ll be publishing a new fashion, beauty, or wellness article featuring a first-person account of shaking up an old habit, pushing beyond a comfort zone, or simply trying something new. Follow along for 31 days of storytelling, including what it’s like to quit alcohol for 100 days, try Beyoncé’s very strict diet, or completely overhaul your closet.
My friend Shayna Kossove is 42. She is also my colleague at Who What Wear, meaning I see her a lot and have plenty of opportunities to gaze upon her surprisingly, confusingly youthful visage. As two of the company’s veteran employees, we’ve worked together for going on eight years, and I promise I am not exaggerating when I say she looks exactly the same as when I started at the company. It is confounding. There’s a general consensus among the editors that Shayna looks 10-plus years younger than she is. Naturally, I needed to know what beauty witchcraft was going on, so I decided to get her exact anti-aging skincare routine and copy it—and copy it and copy it—until I too had the face of a child-woman. Or at least reversed some of my signs of aging. So I stuck with it for five months, and it worked. Here’s an in-depth look at her fountain-of-youth routine, how testing it all went down, and the compelling before-and-after photos.
I began my monthslong experiment by sitting down with Shayna (pictured above) to learn about the routine that yields frozen-in-time skin. Shayna started off with an amusing anecdote about when she lived in London and got carded for buying scissors at age 30. Across the pond, in some shops, you have to be 18 to buy scissors because they have a sharp blade that could be used as a weapon. Okay, so a British store clerk and I are in agreement: Shayna looks significantly younger than she is. So just what are the hero products that will get you perma-carded status? The rundown is actually refreshingly simple, and I tried every single product.
Note: In the spirit of transparency, Shayna does occasionally get Botox, which she started at age 30, though she steers clear of fillers. Does this contribute to making her look younger? Absolutely. However, I don’t have any Botox, and I saw striking improvements in my skin appearance from her skincare routine alone.
Step 1: Wash face with Tata Harper Regenerating Exfoliating Cleanser.
This cleanser buffs and polishes the skin, in addition to cleansing, of course. The brand recommends massaging it onto a dry face first, which takes a little getting used to, but I love that this cleanser is doing more than just cleaning my face. The gentle exfoliation helps prep the skin so it’s prepared to absorb the ultra-important next step, vitamin C serum.
Step 2 (*crucial*): Apply SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic.
C E Ferulic is an antioxidant cocktail that will 1000% make your skin look better. I will never let it run out, and my fiancé is now hooked, too. The star ingredient is vitamin C, which is known to help with fine lines and wrinkles and brighten the complexion. It is the second most powerful product I’ve ever used on my skin (more about the first below). It has 1832 five-star reviews and is patented for a reason. C E Ferulic is a bit of a splurge, but I justify it like a typical fashion girl by thinking about it in terms of cost per wear. Since I wear my face every day, keeping it looking its best is absolutely worth the investment. There are lower-priced vitamin C serums and others that try to imitate the formula, but I do feel that SkinCeuticals is that effective because of its specific combination of ingredients at powerful percentages and because the formulation keeps the vitamin C stable. (The ingredient can easily become unstable aka ineffective.)
Shayna shares, “I accidentally found SkinCeuticals when I was 30. I was using no moisturizer and no serum at the time. I went into this skin store 12 years ago, the shopkeeper told me about it, and I feel like my face has relatively stayed the same since then.”
To apply the product, you take five to six drops, pat all over your face, and let it dry. I try to give it a few minutes before I follow with my next step to really let it penetrate. You only use C E Ferulic in the morning, as one of its benefits is that it protects against environmental damage you encounter during the day, such as UVA/UVB rays (aka sunlight) and ozone pollution outdoors. Hot tip: Wash your hands after applying, otherwise it will turn the underside of your fingernails yellowish. Shayna urges everyone not to neglect the neck! “I didn’t take care of my neck like I did my face, and now I’m starting to pay attention to it. I wish I had started earlier.” Lastly, be warned that the product smells like hotdogs, but rest assured: Once it dries, the smell evaporates. Plus, I like hotdogs, so…
Step 3: Apply Charlotte Tilbury Magic Cream.
Shayna’s moisturizer of choice happens to have a cult following in the fashion community. Everyone from Amal Clooney and Amy Adams to Shanina Shaik and Zendaya is a fan. I’ve used this cream on and off over the years and always pull it out when I need a secret weapon against dry, flaking skin. In the winter, when my nose has about had it with frigid air and too much tissue use, this is the only thing that will save it. It’s definitely on the heavier side, but given one of Shayna’s star skincare ingredients is retinoid, which can be very drying, this cream helps keep the skin balanced.
Step 4: Apply SkinCeuticals Eye Complex.
I used to think eye creams were extra, aka not necessary to a basic anti-aging skincare regimen. I assumed they were a waste of money when I could just as well spread my face cream all the way up to my eyes. But after using this one, I’m now all in on shelling out for eye cream. In the before-and-after pics below, you can see the difference on my eye area, specifically where my lines are less deeply etched, and the skintone under my eyes is more even.
Step 5 (*crucial*): Apply SkinCeuticals sunscreen.
Not wearing sunscreen is categorically the worst thing you can do to your skin. Sorry to be blunt, but this Sagittarius is going to shoot the skincare truth to you straight. Experts have said time and again that if you only do one thing to your skin, forget cleansers, creams, and serums; just go for sunscreen.
Shayna adds, “Your skin naturally heals itself, so while you’re blocking sun, you’re giving your skin a better chance to regenerate.” Part of Shayna’s secret to youthful skin is that her mother was always a sunscreen advocate. “Growing up in the ’80s, she always put sunscreen all over us, and we’d get so annoyed. It wasn’t a thing as much back then, but I’m so glad that she did it,” she says.
I found that Shayna’s SkinCeuticals sunscreen pick is reasonably priced, and it spreads well without leaving any white cast. I also like that it doesn’t have any of the red-flag toxic sunscreen ingredients such as oxybenzone. Lastly, I’m not sure who needs to hear this, but make sure you’re really spreading the sunscreen all the way to the very far edges of your face and on odd places like your eyelids. I’ve been noticing among my peers and myself that age spots have begun forming on the outer edges of the face, near the hairline, and on the cheeks an inch or so from the ears. It’s not too late to start protecting all those places!
Step 1: Cleanse
Sometimes Shayna will use the SkinCeuticals Gentle Cleanser ($35) as an alternative to the Tata Harper cleanser, following with Klorane Micellar Water ($26) if there’s any makeup leftover.
Step 2 (*crucial*): Apply Adapalene Gel 0.3%.
Welcome to the previously promised section on the most powerful product I’ve ever used on my skin: adapalene gel, which is a retinoid. I’ve come to learn that basically everyone in their late 20s and up should be using some form of retinol or retinoid (if you want a results-oriented skincare routine, that is). Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital in NYC, confirms, “I personally feel that topical retinoids, aside from sunscreen, are the absolute most important part of a skincare routine. They stimulate collagen to strengthen the skin foundation, minimize the appearance of lines and wrinkles, and prevent new ones from becoming etched into the skin.”
You’ve probably heard of retinols, so here’s a quick lesson on retinoids versus retinols. They’re both vitamin A derivatives that get converted into retinoic acid, but retinoids are ultimately stronger because they have a higher concentration of the active ingredient. Differin gel is the first over-the-counter retinoid, and it’s only over the counter at 0.1% concentration. I had to haul myself to the dermatologist to get a prescription for Shayna’s preferred stronger 0.3%. The prescription ended up costing around $10 with my HMO insurance plus my copay to see the derm.
Shayna elaborates, “Retinol kicks your skincare up a level, and I like the prescription kind because it’s pure, and I don’t have to wonder if it’s working. It’s the only proven ingredient that actually reverses aging. You’ve got to work up to that strength though. I won’t wear it if I know if I’m going on vacation, and I only wear it to bed.” Shayna doesn’t add anything after the retinoid, and while I love the simplicity of a two-step evening routine of cleansing and using a retinoid, I found that following with a simple moisturizer was necessary to not feeling too dry as I headed to bed.
Per Shayna’s advice, I did try a slow-burn approach to retinoids by alternating days I used it and working up to nightly use. Zeichner offers a specific timeline: “Start out with the retinoid every other night applying a pea size (and not a drop more). Then, after two weeks, apply two nights on and one night off. After one month, if you are not irritated, then you can start using it every night. At any point, if your skin develops redness, burning, stinging, or peeling, then just skip a night.”
Things were going wonderfully for a couple of months. After a tiny bit of initial peeling and irritation, my skin had never looked better—smoother, more even, and less discoloration and fewer fine lines. I could confidently say that retinol had reversed signs of aging, and I don’t really notice subtle changes in my skin. However, cut to a couple of international flights and a sunny vacation in the south of France, and my skin was peeling for two weeks straight. Not even Magic Cream could fix it. What went wrong? Retinol/retinoids can thin the skin, decreasing the protective capacity the skin naturally has against the sun (even if you are wearing sunscreen, as I was), and the dry air of flights can enhance the already-drying effect of retinol/retinoids. Shayna noted that she adjusts the frequency of her retinoid use depending on the time of year, alternating nights with non-retinol skincare, especially in the summer.
Alt Step 2 (*crucial*): Shani Darden Texture Reform Gentle Resurfacing Serum
I begrudgingly had to quit my new favorite skincare product cold turkey, as I had more flights and summer sun on the horizon. As an alternative, I turned to retinol, which you’ll remember is less intense than a retinoid. I landed on Shani Darden’s Texture Reform Serum. Celebs like Laura Harrier, Chrissy Teigen, and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley are all fans of the product. Turns out the A-list set is on to something, as the product is a godsend for my skin. I can absolutely tell it’s working to make me my skin look younger, though the results are less dramatic and immediate than the retinoid. It’s seen me through more time in the sun and many flights without any issues. I also find it’s way more moisturizing than the prescription retinoid gel.
Perhaps in my 40s, I’ll consider a retinoid again (this time starting at 0.1%!), but for now, retinol is serving my needs as the key component of my anti-aging skincare routine in my 30s. As Zeichner says, “Adjusting to a topical retinoid is a marathon, not a sprint.”
And now we finally arrive at the fun part, the before-and-afters. You can tell I put serious time into this experiment because my hair is a good bit longer!
Ta-da! And that, my friends, is what months of sticking to an effective skincare plan will do. In the after photos, my skin is more even and clearer. It also looks just a bit tighter, and I look more awake with a youthful glow. The girl on the left just got home from a weekend in Vegas, and the girl on the right is about to take her AP exam after a solid eight hours of rest and a well-balanced breakfast. Okay, so maybe I don’t look quite as youthful as a high schooler, but you see the improvement, right?
Here’s a more detailed look at specific improvements. In the first set of photos, you can see in the before picture that my crow’s-feet are a bit more defined at the tail end, and there is a general improvement in overall color tone evenness in the after photo.
In the middle set of photos, I want to call your attention to the line that’s just to the right and above the corner of my lips. See how in the before photo it looks more “etched” into my skin?
In the last grouping, I was impressed with the change in the texture of my skin. Pores are less visible, and color is less red and mottled.
In this comparison, the lines around my eyes look deeper in the before photos. There purple-ish under-eye bags are also less noticeable in the after photo.
Sorry to all of you who read through this giant essay to get here, but the lessons from my monthslong experiment can actually be summed up by this one Destiny’s Child meme. Sunscreen, vitamin C, and retinol are the true skincare dream team for anyone in their late 20s or older. You’ll notice those are the steps I marked as *crucial* throughout the routine. I now know that basing your regimen on those ingredients is pretty much skincare 101, but it’s a great starting point if you don’t have an established routine or aren’t seeing noticeable improvement from what you’re doing now. It’s been a couple of months since we took the after photos, and I’m still seeing results from this combination. I have yet to get carded for scissors, but if these first five months are anything to go by, I’m on the right track.
Up Next: I Stare at a Screen for 12 Hours a Day, so I Finally Tried Blue Light Glasses
This post was originally published at an earlier date and has since been updated.