When the world reoriented itself to virtual meetings and FaceTime dates last spring, the popular fashion website Man Repeller (then Repeller, and, abruptly now-defunct), featured a serum that the review compared to the “touch up my appearance” filter on Zoom. Though it wasn’t a site I read religiously, this article just struck a nerve with me, probably because I was trapped at home, constantly on Zoom, depressed and sad, and eager to panic shop. The other reason their piece on the Ilia Super Serum Skin Tint SPF 40 appealed to me was because it wasn’t just a straight editorial feature, it was initially sparked by a reader suggestion.
Eager to try out this product that reportedly “makes your skin look perfect,” and maintains that idyllic balance between skincare and makeup, I excitedly tried to buy my shade… only to find it was sold out for literally weeks, and maybe even months. Apparently, I wasn’t alone in my excitement over the recommendation. Last summer, when I finally got my hands on a bottle (Shela ST8, if anyone is wondering), some of the excitement had admittedly worn off, but since I’d all but stopped wearing makeup or going out in public by then, it was still nice to have something new to try.
In the meantime, I’d done some research on Ilia and learned that it is a woman-owned brand that was founded by Sasha Plavsic and her brother Zac in Vancouver. As a kid, Zac was plagued by asthma and allergies so severe that doctors said he’d never even be able to play sports. Their mother, apparently, wouldn’t accept that answer and administered homeopathic remedies that led to Zac’s healing — so much so that he ended up competing in the Olympics in sailing (!) Part of the journey was founding a co-op with several other local families to provide organic food as it wasn’t widely available in stores at that time.
Meanwhile, Sasha’s background is in design, and after several years working in LA in branding and beauty, she went back home to Vancouver where a close examination of the ingredient list on her chapstick, prompted by her mother, led to a realization that what was in the chapstick wasn’t necessarily safe. So began the initial steps of Ilia — recreating a chapstick with organic ingredients and sustainable packaging. After launching in 2011, the market for clean beauty and brands focused on sustainability has shifted a lot, but even after almost a decade, the first time I’d heard of the brand was in Man Repeller.
Writing about skin care during the past year has felt at turns pathetic and extremely important. Yes, the “unnecessary luxuries” of the beauty world tend to fall away, or retain less importance, during times of crisis, but there’s also plenty of evidence and anecdotes about skin care as an act of meditation or an important form of self-care. Plus, lots of us need a distraction right now, and I have these beautiful photos shot last summer when I finally got a bottle by Charlene Sanchez (a photographer who you should absolutely hire) that need to be seen.
The Beauty Mage says washing your face is ritualistic and helps reduce anxiety, so even if you can’t manage any other steps in your routine right now, try to keep that one up. Reducing steps is another thing that drew me to Ilia’s line of serums in the first place, and what makes the Super Serum an ideal product for pandemic/panic life. With squalane (anti-inflammatory), hyaluronic acid (moisturizing), niacinamide (pore-minimization) and 18 shades, it’s a two-birds-one-stone product for keeping skin healthy and hydrated and also getting some layered coverage.
The serum is, as promised, great at making my face look polished and shiny, and sinks in best if applied directly after a toner. The luminescence is really the best part, a shine that isn’t oily but seems to be emanating from the skin itself, a welcome optical illusion for this 32-year-old face. My one complaint with the product is whether it’s the zinc oxide added as sunscreen or another ingredient that’s part of the tint, the serum has a chalky smell and texture that sometimes irritates my skin a little bit. It’s also kind of like Glossier products in that if you already have good skin, it makes you look great. But, for instance, I never felt like it offered adequate coverage for my dark circles or occasional breakouts (maskne, anyone?) For people who have patches of skin that are already different colors, it is possible to layer, but doesn’t function like a full-on foundation.
I love the design of the bottle, it’s white instead of clear like a lot of other serums, which seems like it helps the ingredients stay fresh longer by keeping light out. I love the ergonomic white rubber stopper which is slightly bigger than other bottles, and the shaded lid that lets you know you have the right color. At $46 for an ounce, the serum is pretty fairly priced considering it includes squalane, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide too. If you have really sensitive skin, there’s potential this will irritate it, but if you have skin that’s mostly smooth just dull or greasy from being indoors, then this will really help.
Finally, if you really want another great Ilia product I also recommend their Clean Line Gel Eyeliner ($26) that I bought at the same time as the serum in order to qualify for free shipping. It goes on like a crayon liner but never gets crumbly, and stays steady like liquid liner without the necessary precision. Even if I was disappointed by the build up for tinted serum, I’m still impressed by Ilia overall and will keep trying their skincare and makeup in the future.
Shop Ilia here.