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The Transformative Power of Skin Care for Overworked, Sleep-Deprived Moms

The 10-step Korean skin care routine can sound daunting, but for one new mom, it’s what helped her reclaim time for herself. Read on for her full regimen.

When most moms hear the term “self-care” their response is a major eye-roll. Taking care of one’s self is a tall order for most people, whether they are parents or not. But, for mothers in particular, taking time for yourself in the midst of a demanding work and caregiving schedule can feel, frankly, impossible.

The guilt you can feel simply by going back to work, or feeling that your career is at risk, is enough to choke you. Going to get a massage or taking two hours to yourself in your room simply to stare at a wall (or your phone) can feel truly criminal. More disturbing is the fact that in this country, with no paid, government-mandated family leave, most mothers have no choice about how much time they get to spend with their babies.

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In the first few months of my son’s life, I was lucky if I had time to take a shower, much less practice any kind of self-care, like eating anything other than chocolate babka (easy to prepare: you just cut a slice off the loaf and stuff it in your mouth while attempting to get your newborn baby to latch to your boob), going to the gym, reading a book, or sleeping. Moisturizing? LOL. THAT’S FUNNY.

Once he was on a sleep schedule, I felt I might survive. Not only were we both sleeping through the night and getting the rest we needed, he was finally napping during the day, giving me a much-needed mental and emotional break from the enormous and constant weight of caregiving.

During my pregnancy I was careful about the kind of stuff I put on my face. Thanks to the hormones, there was a definite, natural glow. It lasted about three months postpartum. One morning I woke up and the glow was gone. The intense sleep deprivation didn’t help, either.

It might seem silly or superficial, but in those weeks of total and utter exhaustion, the incredible emotional highs and lows of new parenthood, being able to settle in on the couch with a sheet mask and a glass of wine and watch The Wire was the definition of luxury. It was vaguely pornographic, definitely NSFNM: Not Safe for New Moms.

A recent discovery of a new moisturizer, Cosrx’s Hyaluronic Acid Intensive Cream, had set me off on a journey through K-Beauty. Soon I was reading about essences, ampoules, and the entire 10-Step Routine. But that kind of regimen seemed insane. Who has time for a ten step skin care routine? Certainly not me, balked a little voice within.

I’ve come to call this voice the “Mom Guilt” voice. And I hear it a lot. Not just from yours truly but from my female friends (moms or not) and even older, wiser, moms.

As I navigated my new reality, something my therapist had said to me once about parenting rattled around in my head. “You have to put your oxygen mask on first.” It makes sense that your brain is telling you to drop everything and put baby first. It’s instinctual. But if you aren’t taking care of yourself, you can’t do a very good job of taking care of anyone else. It is, I think, one of those undeniable truths.

I’m certainly not promoting a 10-step Korean beauty routine to all new moms, or saying that a skin care routine is the equivalent of an oxygen mask. But I’ve found that my skin care routine at the end of the day allows me some much needed time to check-in with myself and my overall health. Maybe you just need to lock yourself in the bathroom for thirty minutes and look at your phone. Or take a bath. Or lock yourself in the bathroom, take a bath wearing a sheet mask (I like Benton’s Snail Bee High Content Mask) while drinking a martini. You do you.

I know that the Mom Guilt voice will drone on. But at least I’ve identified what it sounds like. There’s nothing wrong with taking care of yourself. Sometimes, in order to survive, and to be the best mother you can be, you have to put yourself first. The glow will return. Whether it’s the skin care or the empowering feeling of valuing yourself and your time, who can say for sure?

Here’s the routine that works for me:

Cleanser: La Roche Posay Toleraine Face Wash 

I haven’t mastered the art of the Korean double cleanse yet, but for my money, this face wash by La Roche Posay is the perfect formula. I’ve been using it for nearly a decade. It never breaks me out or dries out my skin.

Toner: Thayers Witch Hazel

For years I resisted using a toner because I thought they were very harsh on skin. Now I know the importance of toning, especially in a ten step routine—you want your skin to be fully clean so that the products can really sink in.

Vitamin C: Timeless Skincare Vitamin C + E Ferulic Acid Serum (AM only)

I was obsessed with SkinCeuticals Vitamin C serum, but it’s so expensive. I’ve found a big difference in brightness and dark spots with this less expensive option from Timeless Skin.

Exfoliator: Cosrx Whitehead Power Liquid (PM only)

Exfoliation is still a mystery to me. It’s too harsh on my skin every night, so I only use this in problem areas two to three times a week at night.

Ampoule: Missha Time Revolution Night Repair Ampoule

I don’t apply ampoules every night – maybe only once or twice a week when I feel like my skin is feeling dry and in problem areas. Since this one is focused on anti-aging, I put it on my neck and forehead.

Serum: TruSkin Naturals Tea Tree Clear Skin Super Serum

This serum really lives up to its name. With vitamin C, niacinamide, retinol, hyaluronic acid and salicylic acid, it’s great for those of us looking for anti-aging with a side of acne control.

Face Mask: Benton Snail Bee High Content Mask

I like a mask that is super hydrating without a major fragrance or irritant. This one from Benton is perfect, and you can buy these in bulk.

Moisturizer: Cosrx Hyaluronic Acid Intensive Cream

Heavy creams usually break me out. But this cream has made me a convert. My skin has never been this soft, and I love the affordability of Cosrx’s products. I only use it at night because I find it a bit too moist for pre-makeup application, but during the day I put it on my neck and décolletage.

Eye cream: Ole Henriksen Banana Bright Eye Creme

I don’t apply eye cream at night because I have very sensitive eyes and the product slips into my eyes while I sleep and is incredibly irritating. But I always apply eye cream during the day time. Not only is this one super hydrating, it also brightens the area.

Lip treatment: Laneige Lip Sleeping Mask

This thing is extraordinary. I suffer from thin lips, and in the morning after application my lips are more supple. I really slather this on because I feel like its hydrating benefits should extend to the skin all around your lips.

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