My skin is a mess. It’s combination tending toward oily; I have blackheads, enormous pores, and regular blackouts. I am a low-maintenance person living in high-maintenance skin—I just want to be able to live my life without worrying about getting too little sleep or drinking soda or rubbing my face on a pillow. Do you have any products/tips/advice/sympathy? —Anonymous

I definitely have sympathy for ya, girl. I know firsthand how much of a bummer it is to have not-so-perfect skin. Yes, you should drink lots of water, get a good night’s rest, and wash your pillowcases regularly. But you shouldn’t have to go through life worrying about every single thing you are or aren’t doing.

So, a few things: First of all, no one has “perfect” skin—everyone has pores, and they’re visible, so don’t feel like your skin is “flawed” because you can see yours. The size of your pores depends on a zillion different factors, including genetics, environmental pollution, sun damage, and an excess of dead skin cells and/or makeup residue hanging out on your face (and in your pores). So, wear sunscreen, wash all your makeup off before you go to bed, and exfoliate. If you’re not already doing those things, that might just do the trick (and still qualifies as low maintenance in my book).

But it’s also possible that you’re over-cleansing. Washing your face more than twice a day can irritate your skin. Also, foaming soaps can contribute to dryness, which can lead to oiliness (because your skin starts to overproduce oils to compensate for the surface dryness), so you might want to try a cream cleanser, like this one from SkinCeuticals.

If you want to expend a little more effort, you might want to try the oil-cleansing method, which sounds like it’s gonna make your skin oilier, but actually often calms down over-active oil glands and excavates blackheads.

If none of these ideas has worked and you can spring for it, I’d recommend that you see an esthetician for a few regular facials. Someone who knows what they’re doing can get the gunk out of your pores with extractions (basically squeezing it out—don’t try to do this yourself if you don’t want acne scars!), chemical treatments, an at-home regimen tailored to your skin, or some combo of those. But a good esthetician can be expensive (probably around $100 just for a facial with extractions), which is why I recommend you try the other stuff first.

Clockwise from top left: Philosophy’s Hope in a Jar, $40, Sephora; Origins Charcoal Mask, $23, Sephora; Clinique Moisture Surge, $37, Sephora; Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Oil-Free Toner, $16, Kiehls

Finally, some product recommendations. Using a toner after cleansing might help with the oiliness, the acne, and the blackheads. I really like Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Oil-Free Toner. I also recommend getting a good mask to use once a week, like the Origins Clear Improvement Active Charcoal Mask to Clean Pores. I mean, it’s all right there in the name, and it is AMAZING! Also, during the winter, your skin can get really dehydrated, sending your oil glands into overdrive, so it’s SUPER important to keep your skin moisturized with an oil-free product. I am a big fan of Philosophy’s Hope in a Jar and Clinique’s Moisture Surge. Good luck, my sista! —Marie

I’m really into experimenting and doing funky looks with my makeup, but I find my options severely limited by my sensitive skin, which has a bad reaction to most cosmetics (especially eyeliners and mascaras). Do you know of any good natural/hypoallergenic brands that are preferably cheap, too? —Madeline

I should say up front that I’m not a dermatologist, and you should, if possible, talk to one to find out exactly what might be bothering your skin, then consult this site to see if that irritant is in any product you’re considering. That’s really the only way to know for sure what to look for and what to avoid. Meanwhile, though, know that the word hypoallergenic is almost meaningless when it comes to makeup; there’s no guarantee that you won’t have a bad reaction to products that are labeled that way. And although there are no guarantees with this recommendation either, I’d say your best bet (until you get some concrete answers from a doctor) is probably mineral makeup, which usually doesn’t include ingredients like parabens and chemical dyes, both of which can irritate sensitive skin. Some that I like: bareMinerals mascara and eyeliner. In general, that line works well with sensitive skin, and I love this palette. If you’re on a budget, there are two indie cosmetic brands, both vegan, that could be a good alternative for you. Fyrinnae has a selection of unusual, complex colors, and you can order samples of most of their stuff, so try it out and see if you like it. Geek Chic Cosmetics is gluten free as well as vegan, and it aspires to nerdy excellence with its product names, which reference Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who, video games, etc. I hope this helps! —Arabelle

I feel really self-conscious about my dark skin. I am half Greek and half Indian, but my South Asian characteristics are more dominant. Everyone else in my family has really beautiful olive skin, and I feel like I stick out in family photographs. I was hoping that you had some tips on how to make my complexion lighter, using a safe method? Any help would be much appreciated!

Hey, girl. I don’t think trying to lighten your skin is the way to go here, for so many reasons. One is, like you hinted at, that a lot of the more “effective” lightening products out there contain prescription-strength steroids or mercury, both of which are hazardous to your health. Seriously, they have led to horror stories. Even brand-name products that are FDA approved can have side effects like allergic reactions, sun sensitivity, and permanent spotting/discoloration.

More important, though, I’d rather see you love the way you look! The desire (and pressure) to be fair-skinned in our society is damaging not just to our skin but also to our hearts and souls. So what if you stick out in your family’s photographs? It’s good to stand out! I say wear a crazy hat and stick out more, you know what I mean?

How about this: if you want to experiment and have some fun with makeup, find products that really suit your natural skin tone and play around with those! I always believe that makeup is about enjoying yourself and feeling good, not hating some part of yourself or trying to “fix” something that you’ve been taught to see as a “flaw” (which makes me especially sad when it’s about something like race—don’t let our culture’s racist beauty standards poison your brain!). Bobbi Brown has a great system called Perfect Match that I find really helpful when choosing the right shade, and Iman’s website is really user friendly too—and both of those companies make makeup for every beautiful skin tone under the sun. Including yours! You are perfect just the way you are, boo. —Marie

Whenever a lipstick is described as “nude,” it seems to be for fairer skin than mine. I’m mixed race and my skin tone is similar to Thandie Newton’s. Do you know of any browner/pinker lipsticks I could wear that would have that “nude lip” effect?

I think lots of brands have “nude” lipsticks that would suit your complexion, so let me throw some suggestions out there. On the pricier end, you have M.A.C. lipsticks in Freckletone, Fresh Brew, Jubilee, and Half ’n Half. Also: Bobbi Brown’s Cocoa, Revlon’s ColorBurst in Hazelnut, NYX’s Extra Creamy Round Lipstick in Hades, and Nars’s Honolulu Honey. (Notice that none of these shades are called “nude,” which seems like ridiculous name anyway, since naked skin comes in so many colors!) The best way to find a shade that suits you is to visit a few counters and test for yourself, or ask someone to help you. Maybe arrange a date with your girlfriends and treat yourself! —Arabelle ♦

If you have a style/beauty question for Marie & her Rookie team, please send it to [email protected].