Form and function

by Jen Lee

Jen is a skincare-crazy foodie. Herself a longtime acne sufferer, she offers tips on how to get clear skin on her blog, In between bouts of sheet masking and exfoliating, she makes cheesecakes and explores her hometown of San Francisco for new dessert ideas.

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Kate Lee: Give us the low-down on Jen.
Jen Lee: I work in marketing at a tech company in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was born in Portland, Oregon, and grew up in Austin, Texas before landing in San Francisco, which is where I live today. My parents hail from Korea so I consider myself Korean-American. I love sweets (both eating them and making them), and I love skincare! The two are often at odds with one another (my sweets consumption makes my skin pimply) - all the more reason for me to pay attention to what products I put on my face. My other loves are music (my taste is eclectic - everything from Rachmaninoff to Rihanna to Radiohead), travel (studying abroad in Japan was one of the best decisions I've made), DIY food/product photography, and Oxford commas.


Merging two passions:

"If skincare is my "function"-oriented endeavor, baking is my "form"-oriented one."

KL: How would you describe your skincare regimen, and what are your favorite products or ingredients to use?
JL: I call my skincare routine the "lazy girl regimen" because it has a built-in 20-minute period of doing nothing. I consider this my meditative respite for the day, during which I sometimes do a Blogilates workout but more often I watch something on Netflix or just zone out and be truly lazy. A more regimented aspect of my skincare routine is waiting 20 minutes after washing my face before I put on Retin-A. I've found that applying Retin-A too soon after washing makes my skin dry and flaky. I can't skip my daily Retin-A, though - it's the only ingredient that's been scientifically proven to prevent wrinkles, and it's also great for preventing acne (though I can't use it during the day because sun rays make the active ingredients ineffective).

In the morning, I wash with Cerave Hydrating Cleanser or Senka Perfect Whip, and then pat on the following products:

In the evening, I double cleanse with Banila Clean It Zero and either Cerave Hydrating Cleanser or Senka Perfect Whip. Then I pat on the following products:

When I want a boost of hydration, I add a few drops of the essential facial oil that was custom-blended for me at Lemon Laine in Nashville. It has a jojoba oil base and notes of vetiver, tea tree, and tangerine oils, which help with acne and keep my skin hydrated at night. My dermatologist also prescribed me 25 mg of orally-ingested spironolactone per day, which has helped with hormonal acne and oiliness.

KL: How would you describe your beauty philosophy?
JL: Try everything within reason - don't box yourself into a narrow philosophy! Unless you have known allergies or intolerances, e.g., I can't use non-mineral sunscreens, be open to experimentation and trying new skincare products and methods (or get familiar with someone who can be your "guinea pig" - hi!).

KL: Tell us about how you came to start The Jen Project. Skincare and baking is a unique mix. How do the two come together for you?
JL: I love skincare because it's something you can talk about with people from many backgrounds and walks of life - we all have skin, and we all take care of it to some capacity. It's been amazing to bond with skincare aficionados from all over the world and discover new products and methods. The skincare community here in the Bay Area is thriving as well, and I've met some of my closest friends in San Francisco through our skincare hobby.

On a more personal level, though, I suffered from severe acne from when I was a teen and throughout my 20s until I met a fairy-godmother dermatologist who gave me products and methods that cleared me up so I could get on with life. I wanted to share my experience with others who might be going through the same thing. Skincare is more of a "function"-oriented endeavor for me - I want to be a "guinea pig" testing and curating products for others, and I hope my stories will help people figure out what works best for them.

If skincare is my "function"-oriented endeavor, baking is my "form"-oriented one. I love making things and have been doing it for years - from art classes in high school to mechanical engineering workshops in grad school (I got my master's in ME). I also love eating sweets, so making sweets was something I gravitated toward naturally.

Skincare and baking come together for me in this capacity: while I love skincare, I also believe it should never prevent you from enjoying life - and for me, that enjoyment comes from doing something (eating desserts) that is scientifically proven to make your skin bad. So I'm somewhat of an ironic worst-case scenario figure for skincare blogging: if someone who eats this much dessert can still have radiant(ish) skin, anyone can. I hope my situation makes people say, "If she can do it, I can do it, too!"

By blogging about desserts and skincare at, I have a happy balance of form and function in my life, both online and offline.

KL: As a baker with an eye for food styling, what role does the aesthetics of beauty products (packaging, marketing, brand story) play in your skincare decisions?
JL: Great question! The packaging doesn't have to be beautiful for me to want a skincare product, though nice packaging does catch my attention. If I know enough about a product, I'll purchase it and use it no matter what the packaging looks like (for example, Retin-A does not have sleek packaging but it's one of my holy grails). As a grammar nut, I do get peeved if the product descriptions are written poorly. It makes me wonder - if the brand is putting forth such little effort on communicating the value of their product, how much do they believe in the product itself? And will it have any results? Poor descriptions full of grammatical errors and misspellings also make me suspicious that the products may not be safe to use.

KL: What are your biggest skincare or beauty pet peeves?
JL: I try not to have skincare or beauty pet peeves (see my "judgement-free zone" comment), but for the sake of everyone's health, I'm disappointed when people don't wear sunscreen or have some sort of sun protection before going outside. Sun protection is the holy grail of skincare: it reduces the risk of wrinkles, sunspots, and most importantly, skin cancer.

KL: What is your biggest skincare/beauty splurge?
JL: I'm pretty frugal when it comes to skincare, so L'Occitane is a splurge for me. Their Immortelle line is amazing - I haven't been able to find anything cheaper to replace the toner and moisturizer from that line.

KL: If you could pass down some beauty and skincare wisdom, what would it be?
JL: Everyone's comfortable with a different level of maintenance when it comes to beauty and skincare, and we'll all be happier if we celebrate those differences. I love to cultivate a judgment-free zone when it comes to skincare: whether you only use SPF or do the whole 10-step Korean skincare routine every day, it's all about what makes you feel comfortable and confident in your own skin (literally). Do whatever makes you happy!

KL: Are there beauty/skincare needs that aren't being addressed by the current market? If so, what do you think our beauty industry needs?JL: As a woman in her early 30s, I'd love for there to be more products and resources for people who are suffering from acne and wrinkles at the same time - it seems like every anti-wrinkle product gives me acne, and every anti-acne product gives me wrinkles. I know I'm not the only one out there with this problem, so I'm super eager to try out product combos that address both of these skincare concerns simultaneously rather than sequentially.

KL: Who is your beauty muse and why?
JL: I have many! It happens that all my beauty muses are Asian-American, which makes sense because I'm trying to get a feel for which looks would work on my Asian features, e.g., monolids. I'd love for there to be more open discussion on skincare and beauty for people of different ethnic backgrounds - I feel like we're always tiptoeing around the issue for fear of being politically incorrect, but when it comes down to it, most Asian women are comfortable with the fact that our features are different from what's portrayed in beauty mass media. Let's embrace it and move on. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions in beauty or skincare.

  • Jenn Im of Clothes Encounters - I loved the makeup in Jenn's Colourpop line, and I find her beauty tutorials easy and helpful. She's got a soothing voice that keeps me calm and patient when I'm struggling through the eyeliner part of the tutorial (haha - happens every time, even after all these years of wearing eyeliner...)
  • Jen Chae of From Head To Toe - Jen is the first beauty blogger that I followed - our common first name and Korean ancestry drew me in :) I love her seasonal makeup tutorials in addition to her everyday ones. She recently had a baby, too, so I've been bookmarking her posts on how to juggle a skincare/beauty routine as a new mother, since motherhood is likely for me in the next few years.
  • Jean Wang of Extra Petite - her classic Bostonian style has helped me transform my wardrobe into something that's more early-30's appropriate (bye, body-con dresses!), and I love her practical hair, makeup, and skincare recommendations.
  • Claire Marshall of Hey Claire - she has the most amazing voluminous hair, and her vlogging creativity is unparalleled (especially when we get to see her cat, Bruce Lee). I also love her frank discussions on skincare and openness about her past skin problems (of course, her skin looks amazing today).