Photo: Courtesy of Isabel Sandoval
“Before my gender transition, I had the most rudimentary skin-care routine — pretty much a cleanser and moisturizer,” explains filmmaker Isabel Sandoval, whose feature Lingua Franca made history in 2019 as the first film directed by and starring a trans woman of color at the Venice International Film Festival. “To an extent, I’ve felt ambivalent about the regimen I have now: Why must women subject themselves to such a stringent beauty routine while men don’t? But I came around to realizing that skin care is self-care after observing how makeup and aging were taking their toll on my skin. Makeup damages the skin, and I have to be proactive about both preventing and repairing any adverse effects from it.”
Sandoval built her routine with the help of friend and makeup artist Nathaniel Yordan. “His advice was to never go to bed with my makeup on because it can trap dirt, which clogs the pores, and environmental pollutants, which over time cause signs of premature aging. The few times I left my makeup on overnight, I woke up to blemishes, so now I make it a point to cleanse my face thoroughly before bed,” she says. His most valuable tip, however, was to care for yourself internally just as much as you do externally. “It goes back to the basics of diet, rest, and exercise — the more you look after your health and body, the less work looking after your face and skin becomes. That’s the real long-term investment you need to focus on, and it hardly costs a fortune.”
For her cystic acne, Sandoval sought professional help and underwent two rounds of Accutane. During both rounds, at the age of 22 and 25, her rosacea worsened and her skin flaked before clearing up around the six-week mark. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) during her transition ultimately broke the cycle. “I had just turned 30 when I started HRT under the supervision of my physician, and my cystic acne went away after five or six weeks. I’ve been acne-free since,” she says. “Not only that, my skin felt soft and smooth like a baby’s.”
Sandoval prefers gentle and hypoallergenic products, and says she tends to gravitate toward fruit-based formulas: Her toner of choice includes watermelon extract to prevent water loss, her serum has banana-powder-derived pigments to color correct, and her eye cream contains avocado oil to soften the skin. And while she’s willing to spurge every now and then, the filmmaker calls herself “a practical spender.” When looking for brands that skew on the pricier side, she tries discount chains like Nordstrom Rack.
Read on for her current skin-care rotation, including the best vitamin C serum she’s ever used, the moisturizer that makes her skin glow, and the sunscreen she’s been using for six years.
“This cleanser is like a morning caffeine fix, except that it’s hydrating! It’s deep-cleaning but gentle, and I love the creamy texture and how it makes my skin feel supple and radiant. It has a light citrus scent.”
“Bliss has always been one of my favorite brands, and this toner does a great job cleansing my pores without stripping the oils. A good quality toner can also restore the skin’s pH level, creating a more vibrant and smoother appearance overall. This one is light and refreshing with a slight watermelon scent. I usually apply the toner to a cotton pad and then pat it on my skin.”
“This is the best vitamin C serum I’ve ever used. At 15 percent, it contains the highest concentration of vitamin C (ethyl ascorbic acid) for daily use compared to, say, Olehenriksen’s regular Truth Serum. It smells like oranges and brightens and firms your skin while reducing dark spots. In the one year that I’ve been using it, I could definitely feel the moisture boost compared to other serums, as the hyaluronic acid in the product helps reinforce the skin’s moisture barrier.”
“I liked the Bliss Watermelon Toner [above] so it made me curious about the brand’s other skin-care products. I started using this one when quarantine started in March. I was mostly indoors and thought I’d try a new cream without SPF. It has a velvety texture that absorbs nicely and leaves my skin dewy and glowing. It definitely feels superrich but doesn’t clog your pores.”
“I got a sample of this eye cream from the East Village store and haven’t looked back. It’s very gentle and nourishing, keeps my eyes looking fresh, and protects from eye fatigue from blue light — the hydration it provides markedly improves puffiness and reduces the tactile rough texture under the eyes. Meanwhile, the avocado oil nourishes, moisturizes, and softens the skin. A small (half a pea-size) amount goes a long way.”
“This is probably the cheapest product in my arsenal, but with its combo of shea butter and aloe, it’s a keeper. It’s the perfect finale to my nightly regimen: Its creamy texture feels luxurious without being heavy and keeps your skin deeply moisturized overnight. It also contains natural cocoa butter, retinol, and antioxidant vitamin E, which in tandem promote softer, smoother skin overnight. Using it on a nightly basis has helped my skin look more radiant and healthy.”