The Very Gentle, Very Light French Moisturizer That Saved My Face

Je t’aime, Avène

I've had the same skin-care regimen for nearly five years. I stuck to it because, prior to discovering it, my cystic acne had been pretty out of control. I'd found an aesthetician I trusted who recommended a salicylic acid-based moisturizer in the morning and an exfoliating lotion with glycolic acid at night, and sticking to them was nothing short of miraculous. For a long time, any time I strayed from these two products, I broke out immediately.

But, of course, as we age, the needs of our skin change. A few months ago, I started waking up with a weird red rash in the shape of a butterfly in the middle of my face. The internet told me it was from red wine, but cutting it out didn't help. I threw out my pillow and got a new one; I tried cortisone cream; I stopped wearing makeup. Still, my skin was red, bumpy, and irritated. Most upsettingly, I was breaking out again.

It reached peak bad on a recent vacation to Paris, becoming dry and cracked. Finally, it occurred to me that maybe—just maybe—the acids I'd been treating it with for years were no longer serving me. They'd even started to sting when I applied them, and I've always felt apprehensive about products that give me any sort of sensation: Even when the directions say light stinging is normal, I don't really buy it. My skin does enough reacting on its own.

I went to a French pharmacy and leaned hard on Google Translate until I found a super-light moisturizer for very sensitive skin, by Avène. I've been told that it's never a good idea to treat a skin-care problem that's a reaction to a product by trying a new product, but I was kind of desperate and jet lag was making me feel a little reckless. I tried it that night and felt... nothing. My irritated skin did not get more irritated. So, that was the first perk.

It soothed my skin almost overnight. After a few days of regular use, the redness was gone altogether, as were the bumps. Thinking I was in the clear, I spent exactly one day going back to my regular routine, only to wake up with the redness back. I've stuck to the Avène lotion since then, and can't remember a time when my skin has looked better. I'm not exfoliating, I'm not using any fancy night cream—just washing my face with Simple's Moisturizing Face Wash and using a pea-size amount of Avène lotion morning and night.

When I started the salicylic-glycolic routine, I was in my mid-20s. It's entirely possible that my skin is just... not as bad as it was, and I'd been treating it as though it hadn't changed, often getting kind of preachy about the dangers of experimenting too much with your skin-care products (sorry, everyone!). And while I still feel like sticking to what works is way safer than using your skin as an ongoing DIY dermatology experiment, it's also important to be flexible. I'm not necessarily recommending you walk into a drugstore in a country where you don't speak the language and pick something that sort of sounds relevant; I got lucky. The key, though, is definitely listening to your skin: If it's doing something weird, chances are, it's trying to tell you something.

Avène, Hydrating Emulsion, $32, available at Amazon.

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