The Best Skin Stuff (According to Me, a Non-Dermatologist)

A lot of people ask me what I use on my skin, and I'm always surprised (though very flattered). I've never considered my complexion all that great—I'm very fair, I had a year-long struggle with adult acne, and I'm starting to get the first lines of a 20-something. I've tried a million different products for everything from dark spots to dry under-eyes, and I've narrowed it down to a few (okay, more than a few) "holy grail" items—a mix of prescription, department store, and drugstore products.

As the title says, I'm not a dermatologist—though I love playing that role for my friends and family—so make sure you check with your doctor before starting a new skin regimen.

For Acne

I never, ever had a zit as a teenager, but I spent a year of my early 20's fighting cystic acne—the painful kind that swells under the skin. I'd often get one right in the middle of my forehead that I lovingly nicknamed "my third eye." I tried just about everything to get rid of those buggers: drugstore topicals, expensive masks, cortisone shots, prescription cream, popping (NEVER POP THESE YOU WILL ONLY REGRET IT), etc. Nothing worked.

After realizing the zits were hormonal (they always sprung up right before my period), my dermotologist started me on 50 mg of spironolactone. I haven't had a cystic zit since, and it's been almost a year.

For occasional whiteheads and smaller surface zits, my dermotologist gave me Epiduo, a gel combination of adapalene (a retinoid) and benzoyl peroxide (an acne fighter). I only use it when I have an active breakout, and for no longer than a couple days. My skin is really sensitive and any longer than a couple of days makes it angry, red, and flaky. I always use a little extra moisturizer when I'm using Epiduo too, or else my skin turns to sandpaper.

Queen Helene Mint Julep Masque helps dry up surface acne, plus it's really refreshing and makes my pores look smaller. I use it once every few weeks, even if I'm not broken out. (Tip: slather this on in the summer and sit in front of your air conditioner. Instant cool-down!) It's one of my drugstore favorites.

My daily cleanser is Purpose Gentle Cleansing Wash, another drugstore buy. I use it once in the morning and once at night—sometimes more in the humidity of summer. When my skin is looking good and isn't broken out, the only two products I use are Purpose and Olay moisturizer (more on that below).

For Dark Spots

Epiduo seems to help with the dark marks zits leave behind (it contains a retinoid, which speeds up the regeneration process). I also like Mario Badescu's Whitening Mask(I use it every other week or so), as well as REN's Resurfacing AHA Concentrate. (I use it every night for a week, every other week. Moisturizer can go right on top of it.) Both of these agree with my sensitive skin, but make sure you do a patch test before using any new products!

I've tried just about everything to lighten up acne scars, even prescription hydroquinones. There's a lot of dispute over hydroquinones and if they're safe, so do your research before trying them. I found they just made my skin red and irritated, and did little for the dark spots.

For Moisture

This winter has dried my skin out worse than ever, from head to toe. I'm a big fan of Olay moisturizers—they're cheap and they work better than any department store brands I've tried. My current favorite is Night of Olay Firming Cream—it's thick, it smells good, and it lasts. I wear it under my makeup (which contains an SPF—if it didn't, I'd switch to an SPF moisturizer) during the day and slather it on thick before bed at night. I even use it under my eyes (the most sensitive part of my face), and it doesn't irritate my skin. I also use a few drops of Peter Thomas Roth's VIZ 1000 mixed in to the Olay when my face feels extra dry.

Mario Badescu's Special Eye Cream V has been a savior this winter. It got rid of the scaley dry spots under my eyes and didn't cause milia (tiny bumps caused by pore-clogging products).

When my skin gets unbearably dry, I break out the Biafine ACT—the most magical cream in all the land. It heals burns and cuts at warp speed, feels great on chapped lips, and moisturizes even the dryest skin in a matter of days. Sometimes I slather it on like a mask and just let it sit. When I rinse it off, my skin feels silky and all the dry spots are gone. The French really know what's up when it comes to skincare.

I've had keratosis pilaris (KP) on the insides of my thighs since childhood, and I've tried evvvveryyythinggg to get rid of it: exfoliating (bad idea), steroid creams (did nothing), expensive lotions (hardly worked). It tends to get worse in the winter, leaving my skin bumpy and uneven. The best thing I've used is Eucerin's Intensive Repair lotion, which you can pick up at any drugstore. It exfoliates and moisturizes, keeping the bumps at bay. Other KP-havers report Amlactin as a lifesaver, but I've yet to try it.

For Weird Allergic Reactions

Sometimes the skin on my face gets inflammed due to dermititis or my immune system acting up. I get small bumps all over my face and the skin around my eyes swells. When this happens (which isn't very often, thank goodness), I use Locoid Lipocream. It's a prescription-only topical steroid, and you shouldn't use it for more than a few days at a time because it can thin your skin. It helps my face calm down in a day or two.

Other Stuff I Like

Vitamins! I take a lot of them: B12, C, folic acid, D3, lysine, and biotin (which is awesome for hair, skin, and nails).

Water. It's true what they say about the stuff. It's good for you (and your skin).

Bare Minerals Original Foundation. I've never, ever been able to figure out how to use liquid foundation (and it makes me break out), so powder is my jam. It's so easy to use, it has SPF built-in, it lasts for a long time, and it doesn't result in zits.

Aquaphor. I love it for chapped lips and dry elbows/hands/feet. I even use it inside my nose when the winter cold makes it crack (ouchie).

Smith's Minted Rose Balm. This stuff has a cult following, and it's no wonder. The tin is pretty, it smells great, and it tingles ever-so-gently on your lips. I even use it on hangnails and as a cuticle cream. (Tip: if you want to tint the color of the balm, scoop the contents into a saucepan on low heat and add a hunk of colored lipstick. Stir the two together until the color is consistent, then pour back into the tin and pop it in the fridge until it sets. Voila!)

Mario Badescu Alpha Grapefruit Cleansing Lotion. This didn't agree with me very well (it made my face a bit red), so I gave it to my boyfriend. His skin has never looked better—he's seriously glowing. I also gave him Epiduo and a daily moisturizer. Huge steps for a guy who used to hardly wash his face.

What are your skincare go-tos? Lemme know in the comments.

Image via Shutterstock.