Beauty Basics – the Skinny on Skincare

When it comes to looking and feeling beautiful, the idea of feeling happy in your own skin is consistently a winner. The notion can be applied figuratively to express a person’s confidence from within, but for the purpose of this post I’ll be interpreting it literally. Good skincare is one of the most basic measures that we can take to look and feel good, and an effective regime is vital to the health of your skin.

The global skincare industry is valued at around $43billion per year and constant innovations, diversifying demographics and the increasing threat of environmental aggressors will ensure that the industry continues to grow. Our obsession with skincare suggests that consumers are experts when it comes to their own skin – however, it seems more likely that the over-abundance of choice bombards consumers to such an extent that we’re left confused and misled as to what our skin really needs. Being a sucker for gimmicks myself, my own skincare regime has been achieved through a process of trial and error and I’ve found that the most effective way of caring for my skin is by stripping the process down to basics. Here are my tips for a kind and simple approach to topical skincare:

1. Know your skin
When answering questions about skincare from friends or customers, I’ve been gobsmacked by how many people are unfamiliar with their skin type. This is the most basic and essential step to tailoring your own skincare regime. Celebrities are always endorsing products they can’t live without, but these recommendations are useless without knowing their skin type and there’s no guarantee they’ll work for the rest of us. Take a skin type test online, or pay attention to which products aggravate your skin, identify any common ingredients and eliminate them. For example, if you react to oils, replace them with water- or aloe-based products and see how you get on.

2. Stick to what works
If you find a method, product or ingredient that agrees with your skin, don’t be tempted to deviate. I can tell you from experience that it’s usually not worth it, and a waste of money to boot – whenever it happens to me, I always end up going back to what I was using in the first place and my skin thanks me for it.

3. Keep it simple
Too much fussing is a sure way to aggravate your skin; over-cleansing can strip skin of its natural moisture, upset its balance and lead to excess oil production and breakouts. You can’t change your skin type, so follow a gentle regime that respects what your skin does naturally:
1) Cleanse – soap- and oil-free, packed with antioxidants
2) Tone – alcohol-free (unless you have very oily skin), with caring ingredients that won’t strip the skin
3) Treat – targeted treatments for concerns like blemishes, etc.
4) Moisturize – with SPF for day and a richer formula for night
5) Exfoliate – non-abrasive scrub or peel, once or twice a week
Where possible, stick to one range or use products that share common ingredients that agree with your skin.

4. Know what you’re using

Our skin is the often-unwilling recipient of countless new products that promise results in increasingly innovative ways that the consumer can’t really understand. Manufacturers spend a lot of money researching how to tempt consumers, and products are marketed to us with exciting words like ‘complex’ or ‘technology’. Personally, I don’t want to put a computer on my face – I trust products that tell me what’s actually in them. Even products that boast active natural ingredients can be misleading – often close examination of the labels reveals 35 obscure chemical names with that particular fruit concentrate very low on the list. I’m a big fan of customer reviews, and always get the low-down on any product I want to try – sites like Beautylish and Makeupalley are great because you can filter reviews by skin type to get an idea of how suitable a product will be for yours.

5. Look out for triggers
Pay attention to ingredients that commonly aggravate skin, and monitor how yours reacts. The usual suspects are oils, fragrances and preservatives – many brands have ranges that are free from all these ingredients, so they are increasingly easy to avoid. Other ‘bad’ ingredients include:
* Sodium laureth sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), the lathering ingredients found in soaps and shampoos. Look out for these sufates in case your skin is sensitive to them.
* Bismuth oxychloride, a common ingredient in mineral makeup. Although minerals are supposed to be natural and kind to our skin, this ingredient is widely used as a ‘bulking’ product and many people are sensitive to it. Particularly in hot climates, it can cause inflammation and breakouts.
(You can find a list of chemical irritants found in skincare products here.)

6. Use SPF

If good skincare is an insurance policy against future damage, you’d be taking out the premium package by using SPF. I read recently that sun damage increases aging by 70% – it can cause melanoma, which leads to cancer, and loss of elasticity, which leads to sagging. Being sun-savvy is being skin-savvy.

7. Scrub kindly
Exfoliation is essential to keeping skin clear and promoting cell regeneration, but be careful that the scrubs you are using don’t damage your skin. I favor exfoliators in liquid form, like glycolic and lactic acids. These are far less abrasive on the skin than natural exfoliators, commonly made from ground up husks and seeds that can scratch the skin. If you prefer scrubs, use synthetic exfoliators – microdermabrasion is popular and not damaging to the skin if used infrequently. ‘Two-step’ systems, comprising a microdermabrasion scrub and an acid peel to be used together, are available for DIY facials.

8. Clean your tools

It might seem easy to overlook, but cleaning your makeup brushes is a no-brainer when it comes to skincare. Brushes and sponges covered in makeup, particularly cream- and liquid-based products, are a delightful breeding ground for nasties. Why spend so much time and effort removing the muck and bacteria from your skin if you’re just going to slap it back on? Clean your foundation brushes every day ( I wash them at the same time I take off my makeup at night) and your powder brushes weekly – if you don’t have a brush cleaner, your facial cleanser or sulfate-free soap (see #5), like baby shampoo, will do. Also avoid dipping used brushes back into cream products – you can scrape out foundation or concealer with the other end of your brush and use the back of your hand as a palette.

9. Mother knows best
My beautiful Mama

Although it’s tempting to try every new product that comes out, sometimes we can get the best idea of how to care for our skin by following the tried-and-tested methods of people who share our skin. I’ve learned a lot from my mother, who has incredible smooth, glowing skin – even at almost 60, there’s not a line in sight and I can’t remember the last time she went for a facial or bought an expensive product. If I know what’s good for me, I’ll follow her lead – my mother knows what works for her, and she also learned it from her mother.

10. Love the skin you’re in

There’s only so much that we can do for our skin, and sometimes problems will persist. In these cases, the best that we can do is to care for it gently and promote its recovery. Treating it aggressively and trying to hide imperfections under layers of makeup will only aggravate the issues, as will worrying excessively – stress can reflect outwardly by taking a toll on your skin. Sometimes your skin is like a teenager who just needs to get the behaviour out of its system before settling down by itself. Just know you’re doing the best you can and try to embrace your skin as it is, and there’s a good chance you’ll look and feel better.