If you’re a part of the Instagram skincare community then chances are you participated in @labmuffinbeautyscience‘s recent skincare bracket challenge.

For those who somehow missed out on the fun, Lab Muffin (henceforth LM) rolled out a March Madness-style bracket featuring a wide range of skincare ingredients, from aloe vera to Tretonin.

LM recently went through her own results, as well as the popular vote, in a recent blog post + video. Fellow Philly blogger and skincare lover Vanity Watchdog broke down her own skincare bracket, as well.

Seeing those analyses has prompted me to take a look at the decisions I made with my skincare bracket. Also, since it’s been roughly a month since I completed it, I’ll discover just how much or little my opinions have changed.

So, without further ado, enjoy…

The Queen of Wrong Style’s Very Wrong Skincare Bracket!

my busted skincare bracket
My completed bracket, in all its “glory.” Original template c/o Lab Muffin Beauty Science.

The Initial 32 Quadrant 1

Glycerin vs. Caffeine

My choice: Caffeine. OK, I’m off to a great start here because I have no idea why I went with this. Glycerin shows up in my routine often. It’s a reliable humectant and a decent Bush song. I’ve come across caffeine in my skincare products here and there. Apparently, it’s good for puffy eyes, which I can certainly appreciate. But that’s about all I got as to why I may have opted for this. Currently, I’d swap it for glycerin.

Glycolic acid vs. Kaolin Clay

My choice: Kaolin Clay. This one stings a bit, and it’s not because I’m sensitive to glycolic acid. In fact, before I had filled out this bracket I had not used glycolic acid to any significant degree. Kaolin clay masks, on the other hand, I had used but they’re not my favorite — particularly since some clay masks tend to be too drying for my skin. This was an instance of me going with what I knew. I’m now finishing up my second week with a glycolic acid serum and so far, I think it’s doing better by my giant pores than kaolin clay ever did. I’d overturn this decision.

Licorice vs. Mineral Oil

My choice: Mineral Oil. FINALLY, something current me agrees with. Hot take time: licorice is gross and I can’t recall a time when I’ve willingly put it on or near my face. I’ve no real qualms with mineral oil, however, which is deemed as a decent emollient. No doubt that I’m sticking with this answer.

Lactic Acid vs. Charcoal

My choice: Charcoal. This is 110% bias all the way. I’ve used lactic acid in the form of NeoGen peeling pads, which I love (especially in lemon). And yes, I bet in the scientific realm, lactic acid is the more tried-and-true ingredient between the two. But charcoal and me? We got history. Whenever I’m as greasy as a Big Mac or dealing with a breakout, charcoal masks take good care of me. The “detox” claim often attached to charcoal-based products is dubious, sure, but personally this has been one of my go-to ingredients for a long time. I said what I said.

The Initial 32 Quadrant 2

Retinol vs. Aloe Vera

My choice: Aloe Vera. OK, please put down the pitchforks and hear me out. I know retinol is a revered ingredient by many in the skincare world and for good reason. But I’ve never used it in any meaningful capacity. I’ve tried some retinol sheet masks here and there, but that hardly counts. Aloe vera, on the other hand, I have used plenty of times. Hell, it’s even my current shower gel/cushion puff cleaner! (By the way, I’m working through the Holika Holika Aloe 92 Shower Gel.) I bet I will find myself turning to retinol in the not-so-distant future, but in the meantime I’m going with what I know. (Plus, in high school I had a teacher who called me “Aloe Vera.” So yeah, bonus points.)

Tretonin vs. Shea Butter

My choice: Shea Butter. This isn’t a super ideal choice as shea butter can be quite greasy for me. But I’ve at least used it before — never been on Tret. Again, familiarity wins here, for better or worse.

Hyaluronic Acid vs. Snail

My choice: Snail. And this was such a tough choice to make! I count on both of these ingredients to make my skin more plump and hydrated. I realize that some people may see snail as a “fad” ingredient. Maybe it is. But all I know is that I’m halfway through my third-ish bottle of Cosrx Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence and have no plans of giving up on this product up any time soon. I use it day and night. Hyaluronic acid is amazing in its own right but I don’t tend to turn to it often when it’s cold and dry. Snail is there for me always.

Zinc Oxide vs. Mandelic Acid

My choice: Zinc Oxide. Meh. I’ve never used mandelic acid. I’ve used enough sunscreens with zinc oxide, so this was another case in which I went with the devil I knew. I prefer chemical sunscreens.

The Initial 32 Quadrant 3

Azelaic Acid vs. Avobenzone

My choice: Avobenzone. I had to do a little bit of Googling, but Avobenzone is a chemical sunscreen filter. (A couple of weeks later, it hit me that this Neutrogena Hydro Boost Sunscreen contains it.) I’ve never used azelaic acid, and probably won’t any time soon. AVB FTW.

Plant Oils vs. Salicylic Acid

My choice: Salicylic Acid. This was easy. I’ve no aversion or awful reactions to plant oils. On the other hand, my favorite drugstore cleanser — Neutrogena Naturals Purifying Facial Cleanser — contains salicylic acid. Even before I was knee-deep into skincare, I at least knew to rely on salicylic acid whenever I had a breakout. And it’s served me well in that regard.

Petrolatum vs. Benzoyl Peroxide

My choice: Benzoyl Peroxide. Memories of when I used to slather my face in Clean and Clear Persagel? Maybe. What has Vasoline done for me lately, anyway?! (Or BP, for that matter? Ehh, this is kinda looking like a throwaway pick.)

Centella vs. Matrixyl

My choice: Centella. Hands down. centella has quietly become one of my favorite ingredients for its soothing properties. I’ve never used matrixyl, which I learned is renowned for its anti-aging properties. Perhaps I should do some preventative care and reach for matrixyl now before I develop any apparent wrinkles…but I likely won’t.

The Initial 32 Quadrant 4

Ceramides vs. Niacinamide

My choice: Ceramides. And trust me, I like both very much. Vitamin B3 has helped my skin through some tough times (namely when I looked horrendously dull). But I just like ceramides a teeny-tiny bit more. I’m forever grateful to the Dr. Jart Ceramidin line for rebuilding my busted moisture barrier.

Adapalene vs. Tinosorb S

My choice: Differin I had to Google both of these. Adapalene is the active ingredient in Differin, which I have never used. Tinosorb S is a chemical UV filter that the United States Food and Drug Administration apparently doesn’t like very much. I don’t think I’ve used a sunscreen with Tinosorb S. Maybe that’s why I went with adapalene/Differin? Or I flipped a coin. That’s also possible.

Vitamin C vs. Squalane

My choice: Vitamin C. If I’ve used squalane it was likely as a small part of a much larger whole, like a sheet mask. I don’t know much about this ingredient, to be honest, but it’s apparently quite hydrating. Vitamin C, on the other hand, I’ve used plenty, albeit in baby steps. Stabilized C has done a fair job of fading the remnants of my unnecessary pimple picking, so Vit C gets the W here.

Green Tea vs. Honey

My choice: Honey. I love green tea. I love honey. I love to consume them together (especially as I battle this weird coughing spell.) And I love putting both of these products on my face. But I have to give the edge to honey because I think it does a little more for my skin (namely hydration) than green tea and its antioxidants.


OK, that was…quite painful. Moving on!


Sweet 16 Quadrant 1

Caffeine vs. Kaolin Clay

My choice: Kaolin Clay. Yeah, I don’t know, either.

Mineral Oil vs. Charcoal

My choice: Charcoal. No contest here.

Sweet 16 Quadrant 2

Aloe Vera vs. Shea Butter

My choice: Aloe Vera. Yes, the soothing powers of aloe beat the greasiness of shea.

Snail vs. Zinc Oxide

My choice: Snail. #SlugLife.

Sweet 16 Quadrant 3

Avobenzone vs. Salicylic Acid

My choice: Salicylic Acid. Both great ingredients, but I have to give it to the face-clearing properties of salicylic acid.

Benzoyl Peroxide vs. Centella

My choice: Centella. Again, what has BP done for me lately? Compared to centella, not much. Bam.

Sweet 16 Quadrant 4

Ceramides vs. Adapalene

My choice: Ceramides. A thousand percent.

Vitamin C vs. Honey

My choice: Honey. Risky pick? Maybe. But I loves my honey.


We’re coming down the home stretch, folks!


Elite 8 Quadrant 1

Kaolin Clay vs. Charcoal

My choice: Charcoal. If you’ve read everything up to here then you know why this makes sense.

Elite 8 Quadrant 2

Aloe Vera vs. Snail

My choice: Snail. Sorry, high school nickname/shower gel, but the power of snail just can’t be ignored.

Elite 8 Quadrant 3

Salicylic Acid vs. Centella

My pick: Centella. Honestly I’m a little surprised I went with centella. But I think it’s because I’ve been using centella on a more regular basis, so I went with what’s working for me right now. Yeah that’s a good spin on it! Now I think I’d be more inclined to pick salicylic acid, but it’d still be close.

Elite 8 Quadrant 4

Ceramides vs. Honey

My pick: Ceramides. Sorry, honey, but when it comes to my moisture barrier ceramides are the MVPs.


Oh snap, we’re down to the wire now.


Final 4

Charcoal vs. Snail

My choice: Snail. 

Centella vs. Ceramides

My choice: Ceramides



Snail vs. Ceramides

My choice: Ceramides. What?! I know, but this was a very, very tough decision. I think I just put so much stock into what ceramides have done for me in repairing my moisture barrier and keeping my skin in a good state. And unlike snail, which I use year-round, I especially rely on ceramides in the fall and winter months. (I also use them in spring and summer, but to a lesser degree.)

Maybe in the back of my mind I thought I should go for the “upset” pick. When I asked my followers which of the two they thought would be crowned the winner, majority said snail (although it was a slim margin — 53% to 47%). Of course, I posed this question after I made my decision so there was no outside influence at play.

So what did we learn from my skincare bracket?

Bias, bias, bias. It’s very apparent here. Of course I opted for ingredients that I either had a good history with or even just used, even if the experience wasn’t that great. Again, the devil you know…

Heart over head, in most cases. I suppose that also goes with the above point. A good deal of emotion was at play!

Opinions change all the time. I was a month removed from filling out this bracket and immediately I questioned my choices when I started reviewing it. In that span of time I was introduced to new products and maybe even some new information.

Time is of the (snail) essence. I definitely took more time breaking down my already-filled-out skincare bracket than I did actually filling it out. I guess it was the excitement of participating in the challenge that prompted me to make some questionable decisions (among other things). There was a deadline in place if I wanted to be a part of the popular vote tallies, which I think I still could have met even if I really gave some thought into my decisions. Oh well!

I’m differentAnd as much as I joke that’s not a bad thing, I think. My final choices had little overlap with LM’s and the popular vote. In fact, in both cases retinol was the grand champion, and I knocked it out of the first round! But again, personal experiences greatly influenced my decisions, and retinol is an ingredient I’ve not used enough. These brackets provide some keen insight into others’ skincare journeys and trains of thought.

Final words

I want to thank Lab Muffin Beauty Science for hosting this fun — if not at times harrowing! — challenge! Meanwhile, have you filled out a skincare bracket? How did your choices look compared to mine, or LM’s/the public? Share your notes with me in the comments.

Queen of Wrong Style posts contain affiliate links; purchases you make through these links may result in a small kickback for the site. Learn more here.

I am not a professional. All opinions are my own. 

Featured image originally by Keith Johnston from Pixabay; altered by QoWS.

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