Truth be told, I expected my successful, independent, informed friends to have their shit together when it comes to their skincare – just like they seem to have it together in every other aspect of their lives. But, alas, no. At our last catch-up, when talk turned to self care and then skincare, one confessed “I literally have no idea what to use on my face.” A knowing look was exchanged, then another came forward. “I cleanse my face, but after that, I don’t really know what I need?”
Most either had a loose skincare routine, but weren’t really sure if it actually worked for them, while others chopped and changed at the first sign of trouble. “I sort of have a routine, but as soon as I get a spot, I’ll switch up the whole lot and go nuclear,” admitted one. It seems, behind closed (bathroom) doors, there’s a lot of blagging going on.
In fairness, skincare is an unnecessarily confusing space. The advice out there – and there’s plenty of it – is often conflicting and overwhelming. To exfoliate or not to exfoliate? Hmmm, depends on who you ask. Is double cleansing worth the effort? Depends on how much makeup you wear. How good is retinol, really? It’s good, but it can be tricky to introduce. What about daily sheet masks? Depends on your skin’s needs.
With brands bringing out new “wonder” ingredients or “essential” extra steps on a near-daily basis, it’s especially hard to know which ones are worthy of a spot in your stash and which don’t make the cut.
To clear things up, I asked leading skin experts, consultant dermatologist, Dr Anjali Mahto, aesthetician and founder of the Black Skin Directory, Dija Ayodele, and medical and cosmetic doctor, Dr Ewoma Ukeleghe, to run through the non-negotiables every woman should have in her skincare routine and why.
The absolute essentials for even the most stripped back skincare routine.
“Cleansing is a must for an effective skincare routine,” insists Dr Anjali. “Whether you cleanse, double cleanse or triple cleanse – cleansing not only removes microbes, pollution, and make up from the skin, but it allows for better penetration of skincare products that are applied afterwards,” she explains.
“Your skin should be cleansed twice a day, but if you feel that more is needed on occasion then that is up to you.” That said, “we need to be sensible about cleansing as over-washing can lead to dryness, sensitivity and irritation,” Dr Anjali adds. So if you have sensitive or dry skin, stick to twice a day, with gentle fragrance-free formulas.
If you do choose to double cleanse, step one should be to remove your makeup, so opt for a gentle option that can effectively remove eye makeup, such as a micellar water or a cleansing oil. Step two can be a treatment cleanser with active ingredients (because you’re not using it to remove makeup from your eyes, plus it will penetrate more effectively into pre-cleansed skin). It effectively offers a deep-clean and you can add this extra step every night, or as often as you need.
For something more thorough, follow with an exfoliating cleanser, advises Dija – “either with an AHA like glycolic acid or lactic acid to assist the skin in sloughing old skin cells and to brighten the complexion.”
If you suffer from sensitivity, Dija suggests seeking out an enzyme cleanser with papaya or pineapple extract. “They tend to work on a slower basis so they’re great for anyone on the sensitive side,” she explains. As for curbing oiliness, “I like to recommend a cleanser with salicylic acid to help decongest the pores,” says Dija. The benefit of opting for a cleanser that also exfoliates is that you can save yourself extra steps further down the line.
Next up, it’s important to keep your skin hydrated, because whether your skin feels oily or dry, it can still get dehydrated. “A simple moisturiser with ceramides and essential fatty acids forms a lightweight protective barrier on skin to prevent moisture loss,” explains Dija. Plus, follow-up products will work more effectively on hydrated skin. Cerave’s moisturisers are a great affordable option and we’ve got the best night creams for your perusal here.
That said, you can tailor the texture and thickness to suit you and if you’re not keen on traditional moisturisers, you might find a lightweight serum offers enough hydration. “I moisturise with Vichy Mineral 89,” says Dr Anjali, “which has a serum-gel texture and is light on the skin, since my skin tends to be oily. I’d use La Roche Posay’s Toleriane Ultra Fluid if my skin was feeling more combination or dry,” she adds. So it’s worth having a play around to find what you (and your skin) like best. One ingredient, in particular that’s worth looking out for to boost hydration levels, is hyaluronic acid.
3: Protect (in the morning)
“Sunscreen is an absolute must-have,” says Dija. “There are so many formulations now available on the market to suit all skin tones. Using active skincare [such as exfoliating acids, retinol and vitamin C] can increase photosensitivity, so sunscreen defends against this as well as premature ageing of fine lines, wrinkles and the worsening of pigmentation,” she explains. “Not to mention, protecting against the burning of the skin from UVB rays.”
As for when to apply, “SPF should be the last step in your skincare routine, in order to create a layer of sun protection over the skin,” explains Dr Ewoma.
The ones to consider
“The above acts as a skeleton to then add on further products depending on your skin concerns and skin type,” says Dr Ewoma.
“Serums are typically lighter (they have a lower molecular weight),” explains Dr Ewoma, which is why they work better under richer products like moisturiser. A good starting point is:
Vitamin C (best for the morning)
“Vitamin C should be inserted before moisturising and SPF,” says Dr Ewoma. Packed with antioxidants, it’s a good idea to have in your arsenal as it can fight inflammation, neutralise free radicals in pollution (which can accelerate aging) and boost brightness. It’s especially good for city dwellers.
Retinol (best for the evening)
“I highly recommend retinol (which should be used at night after cleansing),” says Dr Ewoma. It’s best introduced once you hit your late 20s and is “a gold standard ingredient that addresses a multitude of concerns in one go,” explains Dija. For instance, it can help to “rebuild collagen, fade hyperpigmentation, smooth the appearance of skin and balance oil.”
Some words of advice
Less is more – don’t go for a 10-step routine
“In my experience, the vast majority of women don’t want, nor have the time for a complicated routine. Those 10 step regimes cause so much confusion both for the user and for the skin. Eventually it gets left by the wayside, so in all things skincare, simplicity is best,” says Dija. “The skin is very clever and balances itself as required so copious amounts of products is a waste of money and time.”
Dr Anjali agrees. “I believe less is more. There is definitely such a thing as too many active ingredients. Applying a large number of active ingredients onto the skin can trigger allergy, sensitivity or irritation. It is much better to identify one or two skincare concerns and then use ingredients that are multi-purpose to address these. Just because there are 50 different ingredients on the market, it doesn’t mean we need to use all 50 of them,” she says. “I think it’s about picking ingredients wisely that have multipurpose functions.”
“Expensive” doesn’t necessarily mean “better”
“Make sure you don’t get sucked into believing that the cost of a product is by any means a marker of its effectiveness,” says Dr Anjali. Plenty of affordable brands have effective skincare. If you’re unsure, French pharmacy brands like Bioderma, Avene, La Roche Posay and Vichy are a good starting point, while brands like The Ordinary and The Inkey List offer proven ingredients at reasonable prices.
Choose your ingredients based on evidence, not marketing
“My skincare routine changes very little,” says Dr Anjali. Rather than following trends or trying the latest super-fruit, “I make sure I am using evidence-based ingredients,” she says. It’s more important that the product can back up its claims with clinical trials than having a famous celeb as the face of it or pretty packaging. Tried and tested ingredients include (you guessed it) retinol, vitamin C and hyaluronic acid.
From Glamour UK