Irritated? Sensitive? Confused? Maybe even a bit flaky? I’m not talking about lockdown-induced moods, but winter-ravaged faces. When it comes to tackling a dull complexion it can be tempting to pile on multiple potions, but one of the beauty buzzwords for 2021 (no other industry seems to coin so many neologisms) is “skinimalism”, which essentially means to pare back make-up and products.
London-based dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting has noticed that “lockdown has led to an intense interest in skincare, but I’ve seen lots of people who have overdone active ingredients or simply used too many in rotation at once, leading to irritated, confused skin. I firmly believe that less is more.”
And Johanna Gillbro, author of the illuminating book The Scandinavian Skincare Bible, which explains skin function and ingredients, and founder of skincare brand The Skinome Project (shipping to the UK from April) knows a thing or two about complexions in cold climes. She says “people need to try out what works best for them, but I would like to introduce a Swedish word called lagom which means we shouldn’t do things too much or too little.”
We often fixate on moisturiser as the holy grail of hydration, but cleansing and exfoliating correctly are also important so as not to disturb the skin barrier, the outermost layer of the epidermis. Bunting urges people to “cleanse gently — this is the single most important tip for managing winter skin.” Don’t cleanse with hot water, she advises. “Use tepid water instead and pat skin gently dry without rubbing. Avoid foaming or fragranced cleansers and skip double-cleansing.” I like Elemis’s new Pro-Collagen Naked Cleansing Balm, because it’s fragrance free and a lot of hot cloth cleansers are ruined by overly pungent perfume, (£44, uk.elemis.com), and Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micellar Water (£10.80, boots.com) which has long been a staple of make-up artists’ kits backstage at fashion week.
Gillbro adds that scientists are increasingly looking into our skin microbiome which comprises bacteria, fungi and viruses, and warns not to over-cleanse because some of these microorganisms have benefits for the skin. She also recommends that people with normal, to dry and sensitive skin skip cleanser — and even rinsing with water if they want — in the morning. Perhaps this appeals to my inner slob, but I’ve started just splashing my face with water when I wake, then moisturising, and my skin seems calmer, less like Leonardo DiCaprio’s wind-chilled, bearded visage in The Revenant.
If you find a product that your skin has a rapport with — or dislikes — it’s worth analysing the ingredients in order to apply this knowledge to future purchases (for example, many find sulfates, often contained in facial washes, drying, and my skin loves glycerin), rather than just absorbing soothing blurbs about star ingredients. This can cut down on the expensive trial and error that building a routine can entail.
Exfoliation should also be done judiciously so as not to disturb the skin barrier. Noelly Michoux, founder of skincare brand 4.5.6, which is designed for melanin-rich (darker) skin says, “exfoliation is important to avoid an ashy look. But over-exfoliating can create inflammation and when melanin-rich skin feels aggression it can cause melanocytes to overproduce melanin, which causes hyperpigmentation. 4.5.6 uses a combination of low percentage chemical exfoliation and enzymatic exfoliation for the best efficacy and tolerability.”
When choosing a moisturiser, Bunting suggests “a cream format that contains a blend of occlusive ingredients to trap water in the skin and barrier repair ingredients to replenish ceramides. Seek out ingredients such as shea butter, squalane and niacinamide. Good options include CeraVe Moisturising Cream (£13, boots.com) and Dr Sam’s Flawless Moisturiser (£25, drsambunting.com).”
What about toner, serums and other potions? With the bathroom shelfie — an image of a bathroom shelf groaning with co-ordinated unguents — still popping up on Instagram, it can be hard for beauty product lovers to go streamlined. Dr Barbara Sturm, founder of the eponymous skincare and spa line favoured by Kim Kardashian and Gwyneth Paltrow, thinks a routine can be whittled down to four or five steps. (In the beauty world this counts as pared down.)
As well as cleanser and moisturiser, she advocates toner with the same pH as the skin “to balance and strengthen the skin barrier, and keep it hydrated”. She explains that, “[Covid-19] masks disrupt our skin barrier. We get sensitivity, skin redness, breaks in our skin and breakouts. I started religiously using my balancing toner (£45 drsturm.com) as it helps with the mask.” She also recommends a serum with hyaluronic acid as a good hydration tool before applying a richer cream with more oils in it.
I love her (admittedly rather pricey) Face Cream, (£135, en.drsturm.com), which is calming and plumping, Aurelia Cell Revitalise Night Moisturiser (£32, aureliaskincare.com) and Balmonds Daily Moisturising Cream (£14, balmonds.co.uk), which is good for sensitive skin. When it comes to SPF, Bunting recommends wearing sunscreen no matter the weather, as “UVA levels are present all through the year”. Beauty Pie Super Healthy Skin Ultralight UVA/UVB SPF 25 (£35, beautypie.com) doesn’t leave a white film and imparts a bit of radiance.
Beyond products, other hacks include turning down the central heating and the temperature of your shower, and — if you really mean business — getting a humidifier. Sturm suggests “skip the junk food, put milk in your bathtub, get enough sleep, try to disconnect from the news, meditate, read a good book. Bringing down your cortisol levels really helps with your skin.”
Finally, if you wear make-up, then a dewy base won’t draw attention to dryness; I have recently discovered the amazing Dior Forever Skin Glow foundation (£39, dior.com). Think Elsa from Frozen after a facial.
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