Just over a year ago I had a baby. When you get pregnant, you hear a lot about the "glowing" that supposedly occurs. Me, I never really glowed so much as glowered — my usual mode of existence — only heightened by the hormones, continually unimpressed with the many wonders of my fertile, female body. But everyone told me that, at least, I would get to enjoy the pregnancy perks of beautiful skin and thick, lustrous hair.
I've always had pretty decent skin. I didn't really ever get acne or significant breakouts as a teen, and my skin isn't overly sensitive or dry or oily. It's always been just… fine. In pregnancy, though I did see a lot of improvement in my mane (until it immediately started falling out post-birth, of course) and my skin remained much as always: probably better than average, nothing too special but no major complaints.
After the baby was born it was a different story, however. Suddenly, in addition to (or maybe because of) the sleeplessness, the weird eating and living schedules, the stress of trying to keep a mostly uncooperative human specimen alive, I also developed atrocious zits which went away very quickly but left behind lingering marks. My entire face seemed red and irritated, with rough patches and oil slick spots. Though all of it was hide-able with just a little effort and makeup, I was upset enough to head to my dermatologist, who told me it would "probably" even itself out after awhile. He prescribed a sulfury wash that didn't seem to help and didn't smell very good. I slathered on different masks and cleansers. I tried new combos of lotions and night treatments. I spent more money than I'd like to admit, with little visible results.
To make matters worse, the first female roommate I've had in more than a decade — my daughter — has amazing skin. The worst thing anyone over the age of two can do for their self-esteem is to allow themselves to be photographed within five feet of a baby. Though the rest of her skill set is noticeably lacking — she can't walk more than five steps without face-planting, for example — she has an undeniably creamy, alabaster complexion; not a bump or pore in sight. I'm not even sure she HAS pores. I've stared at her up close. A lot.
So, decent skin or (more often these days) not, my baby, who is mysteriously ALWAYS around me these days, makes me look terrible just by proximity. This is a truth you must accept if you are to be a mother.
The worst, most galling aspect of this is that she's not even trying. At all. She puts in zero effort, and uses less than five beauty products on a regular basis. But, though her requirements are so extremely basic, I've still put a real effort into finding the "best" products for her, and, by extension, for me. Because the truth is, in the last two months, my skin — on my face and body — has improved dramatically and I believe it's because I've adopted what I call the "baby routine." I simplified everything. I stopped wearing makeup as much as possible, to give my skin some breathing room. I cut out the scrubs, the serums, the lotions. And I tried out all of the baby products we have amassed over the last year. These are the very few that we — both her and I — stand by.
Baby Oil: The common brands, both brand name and generic, all rely on mineral oil, now fairly out of fashion because they are almost always a derivative of petroleum. Burt's Bees and other newer, more Earth-friendly brands make versions using food-based oils like grapeseed. I have to say, having been gifted a giant generic bottle of baby oil at my daughter's birth, it is the best moisturizer I've used on my body in 20 years, especially during this atrocious winter where the skin on my legs seemed destined to simply erode away. I consider it a must-have, just like my grandma probably did 50 years ago.
Aquaphor Baby: Also known, in another, slightly altered format, as Vaseline. This is not only the absolute best thing I have found for warding off an impending diaper rash, but also, again, it's a great tool for locking in moisture. Petrolatum, its unfortunate main ingredient, is not, alas, a moisturizer, but merely coats you in a thick layer of grease which prevents further moisture loss. It works. Like a motherfucker.
With both of these items — the baby oil and the Aquaphor — you'll find that you go through, oh, less than a tub in a year? Seriously, we both use these things daily and are only halfway through the supply. Both cost less than $15 too, and that's for the giant size. Insane. The combination of using these two products on my entire body (face mostly excluded) daily has brought incredible results. My skin isn't dry any more. It's smooth and soft and as near to radiant as I assume I'll ever get to in life.
California Baby Lavender Drops: I don't know why I haven't been throwing lavender drops in my shower or bath for my entire adult life, but, in the hopes of it magically helping my baby to sleep better, I started using them in her bath when she was just weeks old. A few drops in the water and ahhhh…. relaxation ensues. This version is seriously just pure lavender oil. I've tried the cheaper stuff and have deemed it not as good. It's worth the $25 or $30 per ounce, I swear. We're still on the first bottle of it, too.
Coconut Oil: The kind you use in the kitchen. I first bought some after I'd been guilted into it by another (well-meaning) mother who judged me for my liberal use of Vaseline as a moisturizer on my daughter's entire body. "Coconut oil is better, and natural!" she said. I wasn't about to tell her, "Petroleum is natural too!" Point taken; it's a non-renewable resource after all. "She's right, I should try it," I told myself. It's not better in all situations because it doesn't form quite as thick of a barrier to the elements, but it's amazing for chapped cheeks, which my baby gets from even a few moments outside. And it smells good. I often use this on myself these days. It's not quite as potent as the baby oil/vaseline ritual, but I feel less guilty as I assure myself this is a better alternative.
Earth Mama Baby Angel Vanilla Orange Lotion: I despise the packaging of this, which couldn't be lamer, but it smells exactly like a Creamsicle. Which is to say: really, really good. It's not quite as good of a moisturizer as any of the above, but it's still better than most adult formula lotions and sometimes I just need to smell this smell.
Johnson & Johnson's Head-to-Toe Baby Wash: This is what they gave us, in little bottles, at the hospital after my daughter was born. Anyone who has ever had a baby might understand that when you bring a baby home, for months, you try to just do whatever they told you at the hospital, out of fear. Your goal is to keep this person alive. So, we never thought to even explore other options like what to wash our baby with for a while. This, which as they say is great for "head to toe," (meaning it works as a shampoo and body wash) I took to heart. I even use it to wash my face sometimes, and it seems just fine? Smells good too. Not that classic baby lotion smell; something lighter. They also make a lavender version which is what I use on the baby now. Me, I like this particular stuff still.
California Baby Sunscreen: Babies under the age of six months can't really use most sunscreens. Once they pass that landmark, though, you start slathering it all over any piece of exposed skin before stepping out the door, every single day. It's a good lesson to learn, and I've taken to using her sunscreen more often than not. I figure it's gentler and has fewer ingredients than adult counterparts. This stuff is thick but not like spackle thick. No smell, which is nice.
That's it. That's the whole list. We've tried loads and loads of other things. We've gone through the Mustelas, Aveenos, CeraVes. All of it's fine but the things on this very short list are the things that get the job done for both of us. Her skin doesn't need much help. Mine? Well, it's getting better. And the best part of all is that baby products, comparatively, are extremely cheap. I'm not a dermatologist, so I'm not exactly recommending you use these products — the oil and the Vaseline, for instance, are sure to be pore-cloggers. I don't put those on my face. For that, I still use adult, real moisturizer from a department store. I haven't found the best one, yet, but I'll let you know when I do.
Laura June is a freelance writer and editor.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby.