Tanya Akim’s beauty cabinet could rival even the most well-stocked Sephora. The Los Angeles–based beauty writer, whose work has appeared on Byrdie and in Cosmopolitan and L’Officiel, grew up with a chemist father who encouraged her love of science — she’s been known to spend her free time reading medical journals and clinical studies. “There are so many approaches to dermatology and treatment, so I prefer to educate myself before I consult with an M.D.” she says. “My friends always text me or send photos of their skin, and I diagnose them before they see a derm — nine times out of ten, I’m right.”
Her self-education is also partly driven by necessity: Akim is dealing with a bevy of skin conditions, some caused by celiac disease — an immune reaction to gluten that she only realized she had at age 25 — and others caused by her endometriosis treatment. “About seven years ago, I started a fight with perioral dermatitis, which begat a world-war-type battle against malassezia fungus, which is responsible for a lot of systemic diseases like eczema, psoriasis, and fungal acne,” she says. “The conditions just felt like they kept shapeshifting: One day it was eczema, the next it was tinea versicolor (a common fungal infection that looks like white spots from the sun), then I’d wake up with what looked like psoriasis scales. It was fucking crazy.”
It was only after Akim cut gluten and (most) sugar from her diet and tackled her gut’s inflammation that she began to see changes. “The gut is like Rome; all roads lead to it,” she says. Still, an imbalance in the skin’s microbiome has to be addressed topically, too. “If there’s an overgrowth in the skin’s fungus, things will just keep popping up like a game of whack-a-mole!”
Below, take a look at the routine that keeps Akim’s skin in check, including the face mask that’s so good she’d use it even it if smelled like “raw salmon that’s been in hot garbage for four days,” the skin tint that’s like a “built-in Zoom filter for your face,” and the “fool-proof” retinoid serum that won’t give you the retinol uglies.
“First things first: I never splash water directly on my face. Ever. I was getting a facial in Paris when the aesthetician asked me, when was the last time someone splashed water on my face during a treatment? She explained that a washcloth washes skin much better than your hands ever could. Since then, I use a warm, damp muslin cloth or an organic, microfiber baby towel that I clean after every use.
Emma Hardie is like the skin deity of London. I find balm cleansers really take all of my makeup off in one go. I like to massage this balm in upward strokes because I’m convinced it’ll prevent drooping and skin sagging. Also because I heard that’s what J.Lo does.”
“This is an ammonia-oxidizing strain of bacteria called nitrosomonas eutropha. It’s a live probiotic mist; you have to keep it in the fridge. This is the best for my eczema, perioral dermatitis, and fungal breakouts. Fungal acne looks like traditional, bacterial acne, except it’s actually inflammation caused by an overgrowth of skin yeast. Traditional topical antibacterial treatments won’t work on the pesky red bumps. Oftentimes, fungal breakouts are itchy, and bacterial acne isn’t.
Perioral dermatitis and eczema absolutely suck. It feels like an uncontrollable itching and burning around the mouth, chin, and nose. I can’t origin-trace the cause, but I have a feeling it has to do with stress, zinc deficiency, and zinc depletion from birth control for endometriosis management. It’s obscure, and there aren’t treatments besides antibiotics, which can make other fungal issues worse.
The founder of Mother Dirt has a biochem company that studies the microbial strain and how to implement it for health and skin care. It’s been proven to treat cosmetic wrinkles and treat keratosis pilaris (a.k.a. ‘chicken skin’ on the backs of arms). He also reportedly hasn’t showered in close to 20 years. I met him once, and he didn’t smell or look like a caveman — good signs.”
The Face Mask
“I use this mask every day. It’s really drying, so I don’t use it for more than ten to 20 minutes at a time, and I remove it with a fresh, damp muslin cloth. It’s also really ugly and smells terrible, but I couldn’t care less. It could smell like raw salmon that’s been in hot garbage for four days, and I still wouldn’t mind — not if it showed these kinds of results. Topical sulfur is a proven first line of defense for the treatment of perioral dermatitis. It’s an amazing anti-fungal and treats a wide variety of skin conditions, from acne to seborrhoeic dermatitis.”
“I like to believe that I was patient zero as far as P50 is concerned because I’ve been using it since I was a teenager. I alternate between the 1970 version and PIGM 400, the formula with added brightening, because I get post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. I can remember the days when I’d Google it and there was only one periodical review. Now it’s everywhere you turn. An ex-boyfriend once said P50 smelled like gasoline on my face, but my attitude towards that is: Nothing smells as bad as dull skin feels.
The Biologique headquarters in the Eighth Arrondissement feels like that government lab building in Stranger Things, but not as sinister (except for your wallet). If you like the brand, you should try to find an opportunity to go there at some point in life. It’s like the NASA of skin science.”
“This is a cool new brand where you can get prescription-strength Retin-A online after a derm’s review of your skin issues from a questionnaire. My formula, for example, is a blend of 0.6% tretinoin and hyaluronic acid gel. They teach you how to use the product to avoid the tretinoin mess, and it’s been foolproof for me. I only use this at nighttime because I live in L.A. and I love the sun (and I’m not scared to admit it). I’ve never had tretinoin trigger a fungal flare-up for me, but I never use it if I’m in the middle of one.”
“This terrible-smelling serum is my favorite thing for post-inflammatory erythema, a.k.a. the pesky red spots that take forever to go away after a breakout. It’s great for any redness, for that matter. I have vegan tendencies, but I can’t resist this baby. Speaking of babies, the placenta is from a goat — not a human.”
“Meet my best friend. I always use this before moisturizer. Even though this is technically an oil, it doesn’t feel like an oil. Squalane is produced naturally by the body, and its viscosity and molecular size are the same as sebum, so skin absorbs it seamlessly. It’s my favorite emollient. It’s antibacterial, antifungal, and even blocks UV rays. I make sure to get a plant-based version like this one.”
“I have a love/hate relationship with this moisturizer. 90% love/10% hate. It’s ridiculously expensive, but this cream is just so superior to the thousands of others that I’ve used, and I can’t stop. I almost wish I never found it, because I’ve become so dependent.
It was made by a Nobel laureate who won the prize in the field of chemistry for a proprietary chemical-delivery system. He incorporated that science into every product in the line. I’m the daughter of a chemist, so I really respect beauty brands rooted in heavy-duty science and biochem like this one.
My only annoyance comes from the line’s individual packets, because I’m really eco-conscious. The brand does this to preserve the bioavailability of the product, and they’ve partnered with TerraCycle to recycle empties — but I’m dubious how many people actually do that.”
“Exfoliating is my extreme sport. After experimenting with products, I’ve probably had more chemical burns over the years than an actual chemist working over a Bunsen burner. Before this, I’d baste myself in Aquaphor or a healing ointment like a Thanksgiving turkey. I use this as a second moisturizer during the day if I need added support, or I just glop it in on heavily at nighttime (think Jim Carrey in The Mask). This new cream has healed my raw skin overnight.
It’s almost impossible to work in beauty without hearing the C word (CBD) every day, but this is the only line that incorporates the ingredient that I really use and trust. This medical journal from 2014 asserts CBD’s undeniable topical anti-inflammatory powers on the skin, and I believe it.”
The Lip Balm
“My lips are always dry because I’m unfathomably lazy when it comes to drinking water. It’s a rote criticism that I get from every aesthetician I meet. But forcing myself to drink more water is like wishing for the rapture. I’d just rather use a great lip balm. Most people think it’s hyperbole when I say I’ve tried every lip product, but I actually have. This one is the best as far as packaging, formula, lack of scent, and price are concerned.”
The Skin Tint
“ILIA gave the whole line a facelift earlier this year, and it’s the best thing I’ve ever seen. This skin tint serum is all-in-one. I use it for sunscreen, but it’s also like a built-in Zoom filter.”
“I suffer from moderate to severe endometriosis, which leads to a dark wormhole of hormonal issues. One of those fundamental evils is hormonal breakouts. This hormone-balancing enzyme made from cruciferous vegetables acts like kryptonite for chin and jawline cysts and breakouts. Indole-3-Carbinol is a negative regulator of estrogen, and studies prove that when estrogen levels are too high, the hormone increases sebum production, which leads to acne. When I take this, hormonal breakouts stop coming altogether. I take one in the morning and one at night. If you run out, just steam a bunch of broccoli and eat it.”