One of the benefits of my job – aside from all the cake – is getting to speak to a whole bunch of beauty experts, ranging from Harley Street dermatologists to famous makeup artists.
Just yesterday, we filmed a Facebook Live with legendary beauty guru Liz Earle, where I discovered that the old wives’ tale about using cold teabags on your puffy eyes actually works – who knew?! (Well the old wives, obviously).
I’ve also got to try out A LOT of beauty products, and been in the privileged position that if my skin suddenly goes haywire, I can run to a beauty editor and ask her what the hell is up with my face.
Getting my skin scanned for work
Given this background, I’ve picked up quite a lot of wisdom along the way, and since I am FINALLY admitting that 28 is late, rather than mid twenties, I’m here to share a bunch to things I’ve learnt with my fellow nearly 30-ers…
1. If your skin breaks out, simplify your routine
It’s been one of the most annoying discoveries of my life to realise that spots don’t end once you become an adult.
During the disgusting acne-ridden years of adolescence, we comfort ourselves with our mum’s assurances that one day this will all be over, and we’ll emerge a beautiful zit-free swan.
Well, sorry, but it’s not necessarily the case. In fact, some of my friends who had perfect skin as teens later went on to develop full-on acne outbreaks for no obvious reason (although one of them we eventually diagnosed as resulting from excessive Alpen consumption…)
Anyways, I had one of these episodes myself about a year ago, and my immediate reaction was to try ALL the products in my skincare arsenal to reduce the problem. I found all my fanciest spot-zappers – La Roche Posay, Origins, Dermalogica – and applied them as much as I bloody well could in an effort to keep the spots at bay.
Unfortunately, my skin failed to improve, so I approached the beauty editor of the magazine I worked for at the time like ‘For the love of god PLEASE help me.’
She kindly took me into her beauty cupboard of dreams (seriously you need to see a magazine beauty cupboard before you die) and handed me what I needed: which was barely anything.
Her advice? Cut right back. Use a very simple micellar water and moisturiser, and hardly anything else. And you know what? It totally worked. Turns out being bombarded with products – even though they were spot-zapping ones – was actually upsetting my poor wee face even more. If your skin is going mental, I really recommend cutting your skincare regime down to the absolute bare minimum like I did, as I’ve found that despite what some beauty salespeople might tell you, less is normally more.
2. Wear SPF every goddamn day
If there is one thing that every single skincare expert I’ve ever met agrees on, it is the need for SPF protection.
There is plenty – PLENTY – they disagree on, from whether injectables are ok to if moisturiser is actually necessary, but, according to just about everybody, sun protection is the number one way to stop your skin from ageing badly.
Surprisingly, despite hearing this a load of times throughout my career, it’s only in the last year that I’ve actually taken it on board and started wearing daily sunscreen. Which means it’s only now that I can get on my high horse and tell you to do the same.
Literally needed a picture so here is me in Sri Lanka WEARING SPF
One of the main things that put me off before was the idea of adding yet another step to my skincare regime. I mean really, who has time to cleanse, apply serum, moisturise, apply SPF and then do makeup, all before work?
However, I spoke to one dermatologist who pointed out to me that of all these steps, SPF was the most essential one, so it would be better to leave out serum and moisturiser if it meant I protected myself properly.
There are also, of course, plenty of products that incorporate an SPF with say, a moisturiser. The main thing you need to make sure of is that as well as UVB protection (which measured by a number, e.g. SPF50) they also provide UVA protection (which is measured in stars), because it’s the latter that stops you becoming withered and wrinkly. Wear it year round and you’ll look like a peach forever. YOU’RE WELCOME.
3. Don’t be embarrassed to see your doctor about your skin
The advice in my first point is all well and good for the odd breakout, but what if the problem is more long-term?
Back in my teens, I remember going through episodes where my skin was AWFUL for months, but when I suggested going to see the GP about it, my mum was very much of the ‘It’s not cancer, don’t waste their time’ opinion.
It’s an old school view and I get it; going to the doctor about something which is, primarily, appearance based can seem super vain, not to mention embarrassing.
But do you know what? Fuck it. Having a severe skin condition, whether it’s acne or rosacea or whatever else, can make you feel like absolute crap, and I’ve seen SO many people who’ve gone to their doctor and consequently managed to get effective treatments.
Yes, there are people with bigger problems than a load of spots. Yes, you will have to wait a while if you get referred to a dermatologist. Yes, roaccutane does make you turn into a human snake, shedding skin like it’s nobody’s business (I’m told). But life is too short to be really depressed about your skin, so if you’re truly fed up, make an appointment pronto.
4. Know the difference between lines and dehydration
So a few months ago I met this amazing skincare expert from Kiehl’s, and almost immediately started regaling him with the sad fact that I’d suddenly started developing lines on my forehead, and that looks-wise it was probably all downhill from here (sob sob).
He took a close look and told me to pull myself together, because what I’d assumed was an ageing wrinkly forehead was actually just dehydration (i.e. evidence of my failure to wear night cream).
So, he sent me off armed with a new trio of night-time products – including a hydrating serum and a moisturiser, and lo and behold, within a few days, my granny forehead was gone.
Basically what I’m saying is, don’t assume that if you frown or laugh and the lines don’t disappear when you stop, it automatically means the ageing process is upon you. Your skin could just be gasping for a drink.
If you’re looking for something super hydrating, then keep your eyes peeled for products containing hyaluronic acid. This wonder ingredient is loved by beauty editors because it can hold on to up to a thousand times its own weight in water. Like one of those freakishly strong ants you see on David Attenborough shows. It’s the actual bee’s knees for your skin, so slap some on your crinkly bits and prepare to look 19 again (without the terrible foundation).
5. Do NOT use makeup wipes on the regular
Ok, this is a bone of contention with some of my friends, because lots of them use makeup wipes as their only form of cleanser and it drives me cray to discover this.
I don’t know about you, but I just cannot feel clean after wiping one of these soggy bits of tissue around my face. You could use about 10 wet wipes and makeup would still be coming off on them. Plus, according to most makeup experts, they just move all the crap round your face, instead of properly removing it.
And let’s not even get started on the fact that all these friggin’ wet wipes are going into landfill, or worse, being flushed down the drains, where they can’t break down properly and are causing SERIOUS environmental problems. Ahem.
My preferred makeup removal routine – and one which gets the thumbs up from every dermatologist or facialist I meet – is a double cleanse, starting with a face wash (water makes you feel clean!), and followed by micellar water on a cotton pad, just to sweep up any excess dirt or makeup.
Since I’ve started this two-step regime I’ve noticed a huge difference in my skin, mainly fewer blackheads/whiteheads because my pores are less clogged.
(N.B. The only exception to the makeup wipe rule is when you are so drunk that it’s that or nothing, or at a festival where cleaning your face involves trudging half a mile through mud to queue in what might be piss to get access to the single, pathetic tap. Then God’s speed with the makeup wipes my friend).
6. A tan will almost always make your face look better*
BUT, make sure you do it properly. So that means:
- Not sunbathing to get a natural tan on your face, because one day you will be a wrinkled old prune
- Not just choosing a darker foundation shade in the hope it will make you look exotic
- Not daubing on a blanket of bronzer in your face so you have a brown head and pale body
The best way I’ve discovered is either to go for a professional spray tan, which will ensure the most even finish and will make you feel a million dollars OR to use a special night-time facial tanner, like James Read’s Sleep Mask Tan, to do the magic overnight.
During that hilarious phase when you’ve had a spray tan and it keeps getting darker by the minute
You can use bronzer to add a light tan to your face, but rather than blanketing it all over the face, only apply where the sun would hit (i.e. cheekbones, jawline, temples). And less is more – build up gradually otherwise you’ll end up looking dirty (been there, done that etc).
7. Giving stuff up won’t necessarily make your skin better
There seems to be a lot of encouragement these days to give things up in order to improve your skin. Sugar, dairy, gluten etc. – they’ve all been linked to dodgy complexions, with many health and beauty bloggers suggesting you need to quit these in order to achieve the perfect face.
I feel really uneasy about the shame element involved here – ‘oh it’s your fault you have that spot on your chin, if you didn’t insist on being such a greedy chocolate-guzzling cow you’d look fine. Have some self control’.
I’m also not convinced that cutting food groups out is the route to better skin. For example, I had read lots of articles about how dairy is terrible for your skin, causing spots, congestion etc. So, when I was asked to write a feature on going vegan for a month for work, I was excited to see how amazing my skin would be at the end of it.
To test this, I had a full skin scan done before and after the vegan month, measuring things like skin texture, blemishes, fine lines etc. The results? Literally no change.
I don’t doubt that for some people, dairy and other food groups do play havoc with their skin, but I think it’s misguided to tell the general population that the holy grail of perfect skin is achievable if they would just drastically change their diet. And quite frankly, if it means giving up chocolate forever I don’t think flawless skin would be worth it anyway…
Just eat the goddamn cake already
8. Don’t be haunted by the ghosts of skins past
My final point is one that I’m still trying to get my head around myself: basically, that if you once had bad skin, you shouldn’t let this affect the way you see your face forever.
As I’ve mentioned, my skin was pretty damn dodgy when I was a teenager, and from a young age I got used to wearing craploads of foundation and concealer to cover it up.
I’ve now become an adult who wouldn’t be seen dead going to the office or out with friends minus makeup, which I think is very much a hangover from this teenage phase.
Ironically, whenever I do meet a skin expert, they always compliment me on my skin, and instead of saying ‘thank you’, I’m always like ‘No, no, it’s terrible’. I basically can’t get out of the mindset that I am a officially person with horrendous skin, and if I ever have my makeup done professionally, I’m always mildly horrified if they pick a low coverage foundation, because I can’t see how letting my natural skin show through could ever be a good thing.
The irony is that I’m probably in the best phase of my life skin-wise at the moment – my spottiness has calmed down (for the moment) and I haven’t got too many lines yet, so really I should be enjoying it.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that even if there have been periods of your life where your skin has caused you embarrassment, don’t let the after-effects of this reverberate forever. Don’t cover your skin unless it needs it, and learn to take a compliment. Accept the fact that your skin might not actually be terrible – maybe you are a zit-free swan after all!
*Unless you have gorgeous porcelain skin, in which case red lipstick and you’re done.