Friday, August 25, 2017

The Minimalist(ish) Skincare Routine

I'm now in the sixth month of my experiment with dermatologist treatment. My doctor has tweaked my prescription routine a few times, and in early June, she suggested that I dramatically cut down on the number of non-prescription products in my routine. Being a long-time adherent of an extensive, ten-plus step "KBeauty" or otherwise East Asian market-inspired skincare routine, and having seen a lot of success with that, I was extremely apprehensive. Still, when I decided to commence this rather expensive experiment, I promised myself I would fully commit. Also, if I'm paying well for professional advice, it'd be a foolish thing not to listen to it! So for the last nearly two months, this has been the full extent of my skincare routine:

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1. Cleanse: I use Cerave Foaming Face Wash morning and night. It's an excellent, no-frills facial cleanser that's quite gentle on my sometimes-dry and sometimes-sensitive (thanks to prescription topical products for acne) skin. I've even converted K to using it, instead of the Purpose facial wash he used to use. On the rare days when I wore makeup, I'll soak a cotton pad with the Garnier Skinactive Micellar Water (it's basically as good as Bioderma) and use that to remove my makeup before washing with  Cerave.

2. Prescription Product: In the morning, I alternate between Acanya and a compounded topical spironolactone and clindamycin. In the evening, I use Retin-A Micro 0.1%. The dermatologist actually recommended that I apply the Retin-A Micro after moisturizing, but it balled up and wouldn't absorb into the skin that way, so I've switched to applying it before.  

3. Moisturize: I've always looked to very basic drugstore moisturizers. In the morning, I use Cerave Moisturizing Lotion and in the evening, I use Vanicream

4. Sunscreen (Daytime Only): At the moment, I use the Biore Aqua Rich Watery Essence, though I may end up needing to find a new one soon, as it was reformulated in early 2017. While I've seen mixed reviews about whether the new one is worse or better, it seems clear that the new formula is noticeably different (other blogs compare the old and new here and here). Most of the Amazon sellers have, as late as June of this year, still been shipping the old version, but at some point, they'll run out. I'm open to trying the new version at least once, so I'll keep ordering until I get the new formula, and then try it and see. 

As for how I like my new routine? When I posted in June, I had added the new presriptions and stopped using my CosRx BHA (cheapest on Amazon) and Timeless C + E Vitamin C serum, but was still using the other moisturizing products in my original routine, such as the Hada Labo moisturizing toner (cheapest on Amazon), Josie Maran argan oil light, and the CosRx Snail Mucin Power Essence (cheapest on Amazon). Removing those items was another big change. As with the last time, there are upsides and downsides to the new routine. As is usual for me, alas, perfect skin is still not within reach.

The upsides: Removing all of the other moisturizing products from my routine has definitely made the prescription products more effective. The healing time required for my blemishes and bumps (took several weeks before I started BHA, shortened down to five days to a week on BHA) has become even quicker, usually taking about three days now, for most. They also don't swell up as much or come to a head. The dark spots remaining after blemishes also seem to heal about as quickly as they do when I'm using a vitamin C serum. My skin generally looks fine and is not overly dry despite the minimal moisturizing steps.

The downsides: I still miss my over the counter BHA! Acne-wise, I get painful, inflamed spots significantly more often than when my old routine was at its most effective, about once a week as opposed to once every six. (Most of those bumps go away much more quickly now, and don't get to quite as icky an extent as on my old routine.) The overall appearance of my skin is also less nice, the tone's a bit less even, there's more redness, it looks a little dryer, and I don't have quite the same "glow" I often had with my old routine. Whereas I sometimes didn't think makeup (thanks to my rudimentary skills) improved my skin's appearance on good days on my old routine, I definitely benefit more obviously from makeup now. 

My new job comes with a new insurance plan that doesn't allow me to continue seeing my current dermatologist, so my experiment with dermatologist treatment will end soon. I'll stick to this minimalist skincare routine for a while longer, while I think about which steps I want to add back in. While I miss a lot of my old products, I'm also sure that I don't need every single step in my old routine, and that some of thse were just "fluff" that wasn't bringing much benefit. 

How many steps are in your skincare routine? Have you noticed big differences when you either significantly cut down or added to your routine? Readers made some great suggestions on my last skincare post, including cutting dairy products out of one's diet, which does make a big difference for my acne, but isn't enough to get me to "perfect skin" status. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Selling to ThredUp: An Update

I recently sent in another bag of clothes to ThredUp, and because their policies have changed since I first wrote about the experience in 2015, I thought it was high time for an update. Information on my most recent bag, including total payout, can be found here. (Previous bags in reverse chronological order from January of 2016 and earlier can be found hereherehere, and here.)

First, some context. If you're a longtime reader, you might not recognize the vast majority of the items, despite how faithfully I've been documenting my fashion purchases since January of 2015. The vast majority of what I sent in predated the start of my monthly budget posts, with only three of the items they accepted having been purchased since (a Loft sweater from last year, a pair of H&M shorts from 2015, and a J.Crew lace bridesmaid dress that was an off-budget purchase last year). Most of the items were, therefore, quite old. That I still had so much to send in from that long ago probably speaks to how difficult it can be to do a serious closet clean-out (and the sheer quantity of items I was buying before I started embracing minimalism and being more careful about shopping). I'd done several rounds of closet cleaning-out before I started this blog, did a bigger round of KonMari-style closet decluttering in early 2015 before sending a bunch of things to the now-defunct Twice and ThredUp, and have done several smaller rounds since. One round of KonMari method was enough for everything else I owned, but not for my closet.

Given the age of the items and that many had been worn more often than things I previously sent in, I wasn't expecting much. I was actually pleasantly surprised by the $22 payout, which would have been $29 without the new per-bag shipping and handling fee. I also have another $40 in possible consignment earnings that I could still receive. As far as I can tell, these are the most noticeable changes  to the ThredUp reselling process since 2015:

  • They now charge a $6.99 shipping and handling fee per bag. They'll deduct this from your payout, rather than charging it upfront, and will waive the fee if they don't accept enough items to cover it. 
  • Processing time takes longer now, approximately seven weeks. They received my bag on June 29th, and only got back to me about my payout last week. Total time between the date I shipped it out to the date I'll actually receive my payout (via Paypal), instead of as store credit, is about ten weeks. 
  • They're more likely to put items on consignment now. That may not be a good thing for sellers of J.Crew or Ann Taylor-type items as a general rule, as the payout for consignment items is, of course, not guaranteed, and the per item payout isn't even much higher than the upfront payouts. Their policy on which items get upfront payouts and which will be put on consignment is not terribly concrete, with items that are "on-trend, in-season, in great condition, and likely to sell quickly" getting upfront payments and items that are "in great condition that may take longer to sell because of the unique nature of the items" going on consignment. Whatever process they use to determine what items go in which box, it seems generally accurate, as most of my "upfront payout" items throughout the years sold quickly. 
  • Selection process and pricing continue to seem a bit arbitrary. While I was generally very happy with my payout, given that many of my items were well-loved and on the older side, as with my previous experiences, I was somewhat surprised by some of what they took and what they rejected. I sent in a rarely worn J.Crew silk blouse (this style, different color), for instance, which they didn't accept, as well as some worn-once Ann Taylor pencil skirts. Those items were, likely, generally in nicer shape or otherwise nicer than many of the things they have accepted from me over the years.

Selling to ThredUp does, naturally, result in significantly lower returns than more high-effort ways of selling, such as Poshmark or Ebay. I definitely wouldn't send ThredUp anything particularly high value, as they can be quite stingy or arbitrary in their acceptance of individual items here and there. For my needs and work schedule, however, and given the fact that I generally don't have particularly "special" items to sell, just fairly generic items from the general price range between H&M and J.Crew, I've been very satisfied. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Resoling my L.L. Bean Boots

At the moment, I'm wrapping things up at my current job, planning some travel, and getting ready for my new, exciting next job. I hope to write more about all of that later, but today's post will be a very quick one, a follow-up post on how my well-loved and well-used L.L. Bean boots have aged, how to get them resoled, and how much that costs. Edit November 18, 2019: I've now had my Bean boots resoled again, and I wrote an additional post with before and after photos. To the extent that you're interested, please follow this link.

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I recently sent in my L.L. Bean boots with Gore-tex/Thinsulate for resoling. I've had them for two years, and I put them to heavy use throughout almost the entire period from November to March each year On weekdays, I generally spend forty minutes plus walking on city sidewalks as part of my commute and while running errands. That alone isn't inherently hard on shoes, but I always grind down the heels of my boots remarkably fast. I end up resoling my go-to Sam Edelman Petty booties twice a year, for instance. I wore my Bean boots through two winters, and even at the end of the first, the rubber sole was seriously worn down at the heels. By the end of the second, I'd worn through the yellow rubber soles at the heel all the way down to the second layer of gray rubber, which made the shoes more prone to slipping. In short, it was long past time for resoling. 

There isn't a streamlined process for getting L.L. Bean boots resoled. I emailed customer service, and it took a few days to get everything set up. L.L. Bean currently charges $39 to resole the non-insulated boots; $42 to resole the Gore-tex/Thinsulate boots; and $43 to resole the Thinsulate boots. They ask you to mail them in to an address they provide, enclosing a note with your contact information and shipping address, as well as a check or your credit card information. I spent about $12 shipping in my boots with the cheapest USPS option, and they sent my boots back for free. There isn't any kind of confirmation email or tracking info for the return shipment. My boots reappeared approximately five or six weeks after I sent them in. The soles look like new now, and I'm very pleased!

As for how my Bean boots are holding up otherwise, they're doing great, with no serious signs of wear other than at the soles before the repairs. I don't subject them to much except walking around in the sometimes very slushy, salty NYC streets, but that can be pretty hard on some boots. If I had to go back and do it again, I'm not sure if I would still pick the Gore-tex/Thinsulate boots, as they felt rather heavy and stiff when I first got them, more like serious snow boots than I was expecting, and even now, two years later, they still feel that way a bit. It's not something that fully goes away with the shoes being broken in. (At the same time, the non-insulated ones wouldn't suit either, as I've gotten used to having warm feet without needing to get special socks for winter.)

For the other Bean boot lovers out there, how have yours been holding up? Am I just unusually hard on my boots, needing one resole or reheel per season of hard use, generally, or is that the typical experience?

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sunday Reading: Minimalism as Product

via Pinterest

I feel silly using this months old article decrying minimalism as a product for wealthy people as a vague starting point for today's post. It's deeply flawed. It picks out one narrow type of minimalism - a particularly extreme version of the "minimalism as trendy aesthetic" thing I've sometimes referred to, where the desire for fewer, but much much nicer and perfectly Instagram-able things is the primary goal - and sets it up as straw man representing all minimalism. I've followed so many minimalist blogs in my time, indirectly encountered quite a few more that I don't particularly relate to, and even then, I don't think I've encountered a single self-identified minimalist out there that fully and uncritically espouses the particular snobby and image-centric brand of "minimalism as product" that this article criticizes. 

Nonetheless, I'm always up for another discussion about minimalism and possible criticisms thereof. For instance, I've previously touched on whether all of the general "ground rules" about quality and fast fashion are entirely correct, and whether my own motivations for beginning my minimalism-ish journey were a little too based on a desire to consume nicer things by consuming fewer things. Today's links are a bit broader than that, and ultimately a bit all over the place.

However one practices minimalism, I think it's pretty clear that the varieties that most Americans are familiar with (from Kinfolk, Marie Kondo, etc.) are a concept designed largely to appeal to people with a fair bit of privilege, economic and otherwise. Heck, just living in the USA, or in any wealthy country with democratic freedoms, is an immense privilege. Decluttering wouldn't feel as radical if consumption (and overconsumption) wasn't so easy. It wouldn't appeal if one wasn't initially swamped by an excessive quantity of stuff. It also wouldn't be remotely practical if it wasn't so easy, in practical terms, to replace what was being thrown out at the drop of a hat, if needed. It's also clear that many companies use minimalism, ethical consumption, or other progressive empowerment-type buzzwords in their marketing, without necessarily conforming to those ideals. As usual, r/femalefashionadvice has interesting discussions about these general ideas.

To what extent is my minimalism-ish a product of my privilege? I've mentioned that I'm a devout KonMari fan. K thinks it odd, and I doubt my parents would approve. They'd consider the gleeful wholesale discarding (and donating) spree that the process starts with unspeakably wasteful. I had a privileged middle-class upbringing and I think my parents would say the same about their own childhoods, but they also grew up in somewhat-rural Taiwan, in a time and context where consumer goods were not half as accessible as they were for me in America. Incidentally, my post-KonMari wardrobe was about the same size as K's, even though he only throws out clothes that are entirely worn out by years of use. My oldest items, which are few and far between, are from late college. His were from high school. (That may imply something about the quality of men's clothing versus women's clothing, as he has a very lean wardrobe where most individual items see frequent use.)

I had a distorted relationship with consumption and shopping, not to an extreme extent (no credit card debt, not that crazy an accumulation of items in the end), but plenty of money was wasted, unthinkingly, on things I didn't need and sometimes never wore. I've thought a bit about where that came from (including in my comment to Adina's post a while back, which I hope to spin off into another post someday), and I suppose the long and the short of it is that I kept finding myself in situations, academic and professional, where I felt out of place and rather "less than" despite how hard I worked to get there and how, by most objective measures, I was generally holding my own or outright excelling. Mostly, I was just being neurotic or overthinking things, but part of me always felt like consuming and wearing the right things would help me fit in, make things easier, and quiet those imposter syndrome voices inside. It's complicated. Getting out of NYC for a while during my clerkship has probably a good influence to counterbalance all that, because what's "normal" for my colleagues now is so different from what's "normal" at the firm. The legal community in adjacent areas and states is also... quite different from that in the city.

Alas, I feel like I'm never able to fully get to the bottom of any of these topics, however often I try to write about them or think about them.