How New York Changed My Morning Beauty Routine

I’ve prided myself on having nearly problem-free skin since my teens. This wasn’t due to expensive products or a carefully planned beauty routine, either — honestly, I took the opposite approach. Despite spending my early 20s in the Australian seaside town of Bondi Beach, where bare-faced beauty reigned supreme, I was the girl who didn’t leave the house without makeup on. As an online fashion and beauty editor, rarely a day would go by that I wasn’t gifted new makeup to test out. This was a time when I liked my mascara thick, my foundation full-coverage, and my skin marinated in self-tanner. I felt like I'd been gifted a free pass. I could put whatever I wanted on my face without much consequence. However, all that changed when I moved to New York City.
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Illustrated by Alex Marino.
Big Apple-Bound
In 2014, I booked a one-way flight from Sydney to NYC to start a new job — and life — as an editor for a major women's website. As I prepared for the move, I remembered an American dermatologist friend telling me about “New York acne.” Living in a polluted, humid city could trigger breakouts of epic proportions, she warned. She suggested adjusting my skin-care and makeup routines if I intended to live there. I promptly filed her tip away under “things to worry about later.” No way was I going to give up my makeup-bag favorites along with the rest of my former life. As it turns out, I should have listened.

I’d barely signed my first rent check in Manhattan before I began to experience the very condition I was warned about. My once breakout-resistant face exploded in painful cystic bumps across my cheeks. I spent weeks visiting dermatologists, who prescribed various medications and topical creams. I followed their instructions religiously, washing my face with a harsh, sulfur-based cleanser and topping it off with a layer of equally potent prescription gels — and then went about piling on makeup as usual. Nothing worked, and my skin became even more dry, red, and sore.


A Change Of Routine

Fortunately, my career as an editor allowed me to make my quest for better skin part of my day job. New York’s beauty scene is a few steps ahead of Australia's, and around this time all the buzziest brands were "going clean." I was plunged into the progressive world of natural, organic products. Sulfate-free, paraben-free, phthalate-free — the city’s most hyped beauty launches centered around what wasn’t in a product rather than what was in it. As I researched and filled my days writing about natural beauty trends, I found myself questioning my own stash of chemical-laden cosmetics and began ditching my long-time essentials in favor of purer alternatives. My morning beauty routine transformed as I swapped my color-popping lipsticks for 100% natural nude shades by Lük Beautifood, traded my heavy foundation for a bareMinerals tinted moisturizer, and opted to keep my eyes naked save for a subtle swish of vegan Hush + Dotti mascara.

It seemed this simplified morning makeup strategy came at an ideal time. I was overcoming the simple-but-crucial challenges required to turn a foreign city into a home, leaving me with very little free time. As personal goals like securing a lease, navigating an unfamiliar office culture, making new friends, and dealing with homesickness took priority, old habits like spending 30 minutes applying a laundry list of beauty products felt less and less important (despite the need to cover up the outbreak of blemishes on my face). I even lopped off my waist-length hair, as I was tired of the maintenance and keen for a look that reflected my new “I got this” attitude.
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Photos courtesy of Jasmine Garnsworthy; Illustrated by Alex Marino.


Once my makeup routine was whittled down, I shifted my focus to natural skin-care solutions to see if they could keep my newfound acne in check. I tossed my prescribed cleanser and creams after discovering they were not only drying out my skin to the point of flaking and cracking (which was super cute alongside the cystic bumps) but also came with a list of side effects. Many topical acne medications can make your skin more sensitive to even short periods of time spent in the sun. They're also not allowed if you’re pregnant. I found this terrifying, even though I wasn’t trying to conceive.

After some trial and error, I consolidated my skin-care routine to just two products. I started toning my acne with a $2.50 bottle of Bragg Organic Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) mixed with water. I used it each morning, hoping its antibacterial properties would bring my skin back to those Bondi Beach days. In place of an expensive, name-brand moisturizer, I slathered on organic jojoba oil (which is both antibacterial and non-comedogenic) morning and night. After three months spent aggressively treating my skin with medications and prescriptions, my new, all-natural regimen improved my complexion in just a matter of weeks. Within days of using ACV, the lingering cysts on my cheeks began to flatten and the pain subsided. The irritated clumps of pimples around my chin and mouth visibly dried out, and no new breakouts sprung up in their place. The jojoba oil calmed any lingering inflammation and the red acne scars began to fade drastically. My skin had gotten its glow back.
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Illustrated by Alex Marino.

The New Order

The most defining lesson I've learned through all of this is that my time is better spent researching the ingredients in my beauty cabinet than it's used meticulously applying makeup. I now prioritize the health of my skin, and thanks to the right edit of nourishing products, there’s less to cover up anyway. I use only non-comedogenic makeup in the morning and avoid super-drying ingredients like alcohol, sulfates, and benzoyl peroxide — all of which strip your skin of its natural oils, leading to overproduction of sebum. I also personally banned any fragranced cosmetics, phthalates, and silicone after learning that they can be extremely irritating and pore-clogging. With my skin back to its former glory, I now feel self-assured enough to leave the house with less makeup on.

New friends assume that I became a natural-beauty junkie while living Down Under in the land of beaches and beach babes. In reality, it took a move to one of the biggest and busiest cities on the planet for me to appreciate a softer look and touch.

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