In the summer, my face is an oil slick—or as kinder souls have put it, “so glowy!” Then, one day, fall turns to winter and severe dry patches begin appearing beneath my eyes and around my nose. It happens every year, like clockwork.
In the past, this signaled a mad scramble to find any solution that actually worked. Back before I knew better, I tried the multi-pronged layering approach, sandwiching serums between face mists and ointments and salves while muttering under my breath about the complexities of my skin’s love language. This fixed the problem to some extent, but it also meant going to bed with my face marinating under an inch of greasy product (woe to my pillowcases if I happen to turn over in my sleep). It was also totally out of the question for my morning routine—if a tiny gust of wind blew so much as a stray leaf my way, I was done for.
It took a few years of trial and error, but eventually, I discovered a far easier, smarter option. And I will happily reveal it to you now because it only requires that you make a trip to your nearest Target (where you’re probably already planning to go for snacks, holiday decorations, and more things than you can carry anyway). Once you enter, walk toward the skin care aisle and then keep on moving; what you want isn’t located here. Instead, set your sights on the baby section, where you’ll find a few shelves stocked with my holy grail French skin care brand, Mustela.
Mustela is a line geared toward those between the stages of newborn and toddler; the products are all tested on a patented baby epidermal model (please do not ask me what this means, but I know that no actual baby faces are involved in the process) and evaluated by a third-party toxicologist to ensure safety. I’m not exactly in that target audience, but the products work fine on adults as well—just consider them a great choice for sensitive skin. Everything I’ve tried from them has been incredibly effective, even when my face is at its most dry and inflamed. The Hydra-Stick with Cold Cream is my faithful plane companion—a creamy, comforting block that pulls double duty as lip balm and moisturizer. The Cleansing Wipes never leave my face feeling stripped or overly dry. And the tiniest bit of 1 2 3 Vitamin Barrier Cream under my nose saves me every allergy season, when my skin becomes chapped and red otherwise.
The one I go back to again and again, though, is the giant tube of Stelatopia cream, which I slather on generously. (For $23, I can afford to apply liberally.) I dispense a pea-sized amount in my palm morning and night and pat it into my skin. Sometimes I combine it with a serum if I’m in need of a brightening or firming boost, but often I wear it alone, content to let it work its magic without any extra frills.
While the formula doesn’t feature the kind of plush, rich texture I’m used to from ultra-nourishing creams, it more than makes up for the lack of sensorial experience with its restorative properties. The lotion comes out fluid and light, sinking into my skin almost instantly and leaving no residue behind. As soon as it meets a dry patch, I can almost feel my face sighing in relief. There are formulas that hydrate and formulas that heal—this does both, which makes sense as it’s designed for eczema-prone complexions. This is thanks to avocado perseose (a new-gen biomimetic—essentially, a patented ingredient that mimics the skin’s barrier function) and sunflower oil distillate, the two key actives in the ingredients list.
“They work together to reinforce the skin barrier, maintain moisture, and minimize water loss,” says FAAD Associate Professor of Pediatric Dermatology, Latanya T. Benjamin, MD. To break that down further: Your skin barrier keeps pollutants out and the good stuff in. When it’s compromised (whether by the elements or by other culprits like too much exfoliation), your skin easily becomes dry and irritated. Ceramides are a lipid that form this barrier, so naturally, you want more of them. Similarly, sunflower oil distillate also helps replenish your lipids and reduce inflammation at the same time. Together, they do everything I was looking for in those 8 layers of product I formerly buried myself in. If I could add these two ingredients to everything I use between November and April, I would. Then again, I really only need this single tube.
Mustela Stelatopia Emollient Cream, $23, target.com