In the middle of last week—what some took to calling “December 37th,” for the spillover of chaos unfolding at the Capitol—I managed to peel myself away from the news for two brief respites. One was an episode of How to With John Wilson, the filmmaker’s series on HBO Max, which overlays street footage with narration that meanders toward profound. The episode was called “How to Cover Your Furniture” and opens with shots of his cat-clawed sofa, juxtaposed with the kind of shrink-wrapped upholstery owned by risk-averse retirees. After John Wilson zips a new plastic cover onto his tufted chair, he empties a jar of salsa on the seat—a sterile, short-lived thrill.
Getting dirty, and venturing back toward clean, is part of life, isn’t it? Which led me to the second reprieve of the night: a dollop of Naturopathica’s manuka honey cleansing balm, massaged into thirsty skin. It’s prosaic, the act of washing your face. Day in, day out. But something about the way the formula invites an impromptu temple rub had the effect of stopping time. Or maybe restarting it, given the craving lately for an honest-to-god new beginning.
“Look, it’s a form of self-care, to put yourself first and make sure that you are presenting your best face for the day,” said Corey L. Hartman, M.D., founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama. We were speaking on Wednesday evening, hours after the Capitol siege, which made it a strange time to talk about skin care. “I get it, but—you know, I know—life goes on,” he said, echoing the mantra of past months, “and we’ll do what we need to do.”
“I always tell patients that you’re going to have an armamentarium of products,” the dermatologist continued, describing the handful of cleansers at the ready: “the one when you’re having maybe your most potent breakouts; the one when your having some irritation; the one that’s your workhorse that gets you through most situations.” For Hartman, that last formula has “a little something extra in there”—such as hydroxy acids to brighten and exfoliate the skin, albeit gently. “A cleanser should not feel bad, at any point, when you’re using it. That kind of thing, especially if you have dark skin, leads to inflammation,” he cautioned, “and that’s where you get hyperpigmentation.”
But more than “do no harm,” washing your face should feel good—on a sensory level and an emotional one. “Routines for humans are very important,” said Amy Wechsler, M.D., a dermatologist and psychiatrist in New York, “so a skin-care routine sounds like a little thing, but it’s not.” A rinse in the morning doubles as a wake-up call; the evening wash helps you “take the day off. Well, you might not have left your apartment or your house,” Wechsler said—a very relatable point—but the important thing is to “keep the diurnal pattern going.”
So what goes in that armamentarium? The possibilities are many—so long as the formula doesn’t overdo it and strip the skin of its natural moisture. Wechsler, an advisor to Chanel Skincare, finds herself drawn to gentle milky cleansers but recognizes the oil-fights-oil merits of a balm formula; micellar water is good for sweeping away surface-level dirt, Hartman adds. The 16 here are a starting point to refining your personal arsenal. In the meantime, with John Wilson’s show renewed for a second season, let’s hope he graces us with a primer on “How to Wash Your Face.”