A friend called me last week in a right state.
“My face is bleeding”, she wailed down the phone skipping the pleasantries. “What can I do? My skin hurts, it’s so sensitive I can barely touch it, and I’m scaring the cat?”
When her breathing levelled-out, I discovered she’d been using a retinol skin cream for the first time. Like many before her, she’d dived in, using a product containing one per cent strength retinol, otherwise known as Vitamin A. Why? Because she wanted results, and she wanted them fast.
Now, one per cent doesn’t sound strong, certainly not when compared to the percentage of alcohol in a lockdown bottle of gin. But in the retinoid world, it’s high. For the long-term health and wellbeing of your skin, not to mention its comfort and appearance in the short-term, it’s important to introduce your skin to retinol slowly and safely. That means starting with the lowest possible percentage – I began on 0.006 – and building your skin’s tolerance to the ingredient over time. By doing this you will ensure your skin doesn’t peel (or at least, not much), feel uncomfortable, get inflamed or become over-sensitised.
Most importantly, you won’t risk destroying the natural barrier offered by the uppermost layer of your skin, which acts as a security wall, stopping the bad stuff getting in and keeping the skin underneath hydrated and healthy. Go too hard too soon with retinol and you risk destroying that wall, causing your skin more harm than good. As my friend and all-round beauty legend, expert Nadine Baggott, says, “With retinols, slow and steady wins the race.”
Back to basics
We’ve now spent the best part of ten months in and out of lockdown, and it’s caused a significant shift in our beauty priorities. Skincare sales continue to rocket as we take more time to look after ourselves – perhaps trying new products, following routines suggested by experts online and administering home facials.
But while self-care is vital, unfortunately for many, this approach has proved counterproductive, as it did for my friend. Too many people are mixing single active ingredients in their bathrooms, overloading their skin with products at best cancel each other out, doing nothing at all and that, at worst, are incompatible and cause skin issues – sometimes serious ones.
According to dermatologists, chucking everything at your face leads to problems including breakouts, redness, dehydration, peeling, pigmentation, and inflammation. And as I advised my friend, getting her skin back into shape meant downsizing her skincare routine. Because the truth is, the fewer steps in any skincare routine, the better it will be for your skin. So, using fewer ingredients means using fewer products – but using an SPF remains absolutely mandatory. Yes even if you spend most of the day indoors.
This is the new routine I recommended for my friend, and it will work for you too. It’s derm-approved. Thankfully, her skin is now firmly on the road to recovery – and her cat can come out from under the sofa.
You want to use a gentle, hydrating cleanser which will clean the skin while maintaining the health of your skin barrier, maintaining a healthy balance without stripping away any natural moisture. Using the same cleanser day and night is fine if you cleanse your face properly. I use a face flannel to make sure I’ve taken off any make-up I might (big might) be wearing properly before I pat it dry on a towel. I love CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser, £9.49 for 100ml at Superdrug.
If you need a bit of extra help, apply a light layer of La Roche-Posay Toleriane Ultra Dermallergo Soothing Serum, £21 for 20ml at Look Fantastic, before your moisturiser. This stuff is a godsend for skin that’s been overworked and overwhelmed. It’s super-soothing and gentle and calms sensitive skin fast, minimising the appearance of redness and irritation and making the skin feel comfortable and comforted.
Use a dermatologist-approved, fragrance-free moisturiser like the excellent La Roche-Posay Toleriane Sensitive Fluide, £12.35 for 40ml at Look Fantastic. The formula is so gentle – even for the most sensitive or sensitised skin – that you can use it on babies. It’s been clinically proven to reduce skin sensitivity, so use it morning and night to combat inflammation, itchiness or burning.
Finish your day routine with an SPF, whether you plan to spend time outdoors or not. I love Heliocare Color SPF 50 Gelcream Light, £26.60 for 50ml at Dermacare Direct, which has a skin-tone enhancer giving full-spectrum protection and a healthy-bronzed glow at the same time. It even masks uneven skin tone and spots, meaning you won’t need a foundation or bronzer. Simply put, it’s genius.
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