Skin Type Solution? Or Skin Type Confusion?

About six weeks ago, I was watching Good Morning America while I got ready for work, and they had Dr. Leslie Baumann on, touting her new book, The Skin Type Solution. She made the case that most women don’t know their skin type, so they are constantly buying the wrong products, which causes all sorts of problems that women exacerbate by going out and buying more (wrong) skin care products to fix the problems…and so on and so on.

That’s definitely me. I’m pretty sure my skin is dry, and it’s somewhat sensitive. But many years ago, I had a woman at the Clinique counter (I know, I know, everyone says to stay away from the evil that is the 3-Step program–but really, I’ve never had trouble with it…well, except for this one time I’m about to talk about) tell me that even though my skin was dry and flaky, it was really oily underneath all the dryness, and I should be using skin care for oily skin. So of course I threw down the credit card and bought all the stuff for oily skin…and three weeks later I was at the Lancome counter, trying to counteract the effects of the Clinique. Ironically, I ended up with the Clarifiance line, which (correct me if I’m wrong) is for normal to oily skin…not dry. I loved it until I developed a full-blown case of adult acne (it was the hormones, not the Lancome) and had to stop using it. That was many years (and many skin care “systems”) ago.

Stay with me…I’m actually going somewhere with this.

I’m one of those people who buys the whole shebang every time: cleanser, toner, moisturizer, any special treatments, eye cream. My esthetician (otherwise known as the woman who waxes my eyebrows and from whom I get an occasional facial) says you should use all products in the same line. She also says you should change it out every 4-6 months because your skin gets used to it (anyone else heard that one?). Most dermatologists, including Dr. Baumann, will tell you that this is not true. This is exactly what she said on GMA…and I was so impressed with her, I went out that same day and bought her book.

I should probably note here that there’s really nothing wrong with my skin. I’m in my late mid-thirties–yes, that is a real age bracket–and I have very few wrinkles, thanks to sun block and no smoking, and no acne or really bad dry patches. I am just a nut when it comes to skin care. Something out there will transform my skin into Ingrid Bergman’s…I just know it.

Now, the premise of the book is that a) you should not just think of yourself as “dry” or “sensitive” or “oily,” because other factors also play into what you should use, like whether your skin is pigmented or not, or your tendency to wrinkle; and b) you should answer her very detailed questionnaire in order to determine what skin type you are. Once you’ve determined your skin type, you turn to the appropriate chapter, where she has listed both non-prescription and prescription skin care (in all price ranges) for your skin. Genius!

I went through the questionnaire several times, and every time (some of the questions and answers look cut and dried, but they just aren’t) I came out the same: Dry, Sensitive, Pigmented, and Wrinkled. In other words, Irish. And by the way, “wrinkled” doesn’t mean that you are an old wrinkled hag, but that you simply have skin with properties that make it more likely to wrinkle. That’s all.

Here’s why I took the questionnaire several times: After my first time through, I turned to my chapter (“DSPW”) and started to read, but nothing I read sounded anything like me. Apparently, I have an awful time with severe eczema and rosacea…except in reality, I have neither. But every product Dr. Baumann recommended was meant to soothe my extreme redness and sensitivity based on my “conditions.” Hrm. Here I should probably mention that in the first chapters of the book, she says she realizes there are spectrums even within the types, so you could be a more “normal” DSPW–and she promises to address all types. But she doesn’t! No! I’m red! I’m inflamed! I scare children! For the love of god, what am I even doing out in public?! I should be in a bubble! Woman in the Plastic Bubble!

I flipped through and started reading the chapter for OSPW. You can probably guess that “O” means “oily.” It was a little less over the top. Apparently a little oil in your skin can keep you from looking like a circus freak. I went through the questionnaire again and tried to make myself oily, but it didn’t work. Still, I decided (self-medicator, know-it-all, Miss Smartypants) to try the OSPW regimen anyway, so I went out and got everything she recommended, buying only what I could get at the CVS. For a few days, things went smoothly. My skin looked great!

But then…little flakes. Little flakes, and then also a little itching. And then more flakes, which collected in my tinted moisturizer (Stila, thanks) and made me look splotchy. No. Not working. Ugly. Ugly and splotchy. And itchy. And, well, a little red.

IS THIS ROSACEA? HAS SHE CAUSED ME TO DEVELOP ROSACEA? (Yes, I know…it would have been my own fault.)

I took everything back to the store and bought the stuff for DSPW.

“Ha!” you’re thinking. “If she’d just done what Dr. Baumann said in the first place, she would have been fine! Please let this be the end of her excruciatingly long tale!”

Ha! You’re wrong. It’s not over. I bought all the stuff (I’m not mentioning products because I really don’t think the trouble was the brands I was buying…it was mostly tried-and-true stuff) and my skin continued to itch and glow red like a stop light. And the flakes. Is there such a thing as facial dandruff? Can you wash your face with Head & Shoulders?

Honestly, I don’t know why she would recommend putting some of this stuff on to super sensitive skin. She goes on and on about how hyper-sensitive this DSPW type is, but then she’s very cavalier with the recommendations (“Oh, by the way, if this makes you itch and burn and have to stick your head in the freezer, your skin may be too sensitive for it, and you should skip it.”). Thank you Dr. Baumann!

I admit to user error, but in the long run, this book is just as confusing as any beauty advice you pick up anywhere else. I have come to this conclusion: There are no answers. You simply have to try and try and try until you find the stuff you like and that works. One thing I have found that’s true is this, though: you don’t need the whole line, as tempting as it is. Dr. Baumann was right about that. And she was right about a few other things, too. I found a great cleanser, Eucerin’s Redness Relief Soothing Cleanser. She also recommended Aveeno’s Sensitive Skin moisturizer, which I already owned. Although it wasn’t for my skin type, on her recommendation I picked up Neutrogena’s Visibly Firm Eye Cream, which is one of the best I have tried.

And as for the rest…what saved my face from flakiness? Well, a night cream I already owned but had stopped using for reasons I can’t remember: Clarins Multi-Active Nuit. For several weeks, I slathered (the SA at the Clarins counter gasped when I used the word “slather”: “You should never slather any Clarins product!”) this on my skin before going to bed at night, and what a difference! This stuff is the best! I plan to try the lotion when (if) it gets warmer. I’ll be sure to let you know how it works…although perhaps not at such great length, hm?

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