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I feel as though everything comes and goes in cycles. Back when I was in my early 20s: no one was wearing sunscreen and it was wipes and scrubs all the way! Then skincare became cool and we started learning about ingredients and we had 4 different serums from the Ordinary we'd apply every single night and now... well, there's a lot of over-exfoliation, damage to the skin barrier and self-inflicted irritation, and many have been left wondering if using every single active under the sun is really the best idea. Today I want to talk about how to maximise your skincare routine without having to use circa 10,000 products. I also thought it would be fun to walk through the essentials that I'd be using if I didn't have this blog.
Look, not everyone needs every active under the sun! The question I'm asked the most on social media is 'can I use x-ingredient with y-ingredient?' and I love the enthusiasm and excitement over different skincare ingredients, but why is everyone suddenly desperate to use 10 different actives in their routine? No, you probably shouldn't be using you BHA every single day, no I would not use a glycolic acid in the same routine as tretinoin and no, that redness from your niacinamide is not 'purging', it's probably irritation. Calm! Please! Everyone! If you want to use more than one active in your skincare routine, there are some amazing products that have already done the mixing and blending for you - one of which I'll discuss later in this post.
Ok, so you have hyperpigmentation you'd like to improve the appearance of. Maybe try a Tranexamic Acid, then when you've finished that product you can try Alpha Arbutin next, but you don't really need to be using both. And, if you really can't choose the why not go and find a product that combines the two? That way it's formulated so they're both going to be effective with minimal irritation instead of you playing chemist. I personally would use two serums in a routine at most: an active treatment and then a hydrator, but even then I rarely do so and personally prefer a well-rounded product that can do it all for me. I often think single-active products can be a false economy. You're buying a niacinamide, a hyaluronic acid and a Vitamin C for £8 a pop, but if I wasn't reviewing skincare, I would personally prefer to spend £30 on a product that does it all. Single-ingredient products have their place in the world and I've blogged recently about amazing products from both the Ordinary and the Inkey List, but I think if you're finding yourself applying lots of steps and furiously Googling if all of these different ingredients can be layered up; I would reconsider your approach.
For me: a skincare routine looks like this:
- REPEAT AFTER ME: RESPECT THE SKIN BARRIER -
Because, if you don't, you'll be sorry... Look, I'm not a skin expert - I'm an insurance underwriter (so that probably plays into my handling of risk!) - so I'm always going to be conservative in the skincare advice I give because I don't want to expose anyone to irritation based on me assuming that what works for my skin will work for them. Ultimately, the more products you use, the more you're exposing yourself to potential irritation. Your glycolic acid isn't going to cancel out your retinoid's effects, but both can cause irritation and both increase cell turnover, so I'd recommend alternating them each evening. There's always going to be someone who says 'well I use my glycolic with my retinol every night and my skin has never been better', and that's fine, but I'm absolutely not going to advise anyone to try this because I'm not an expert and don't know the skin of the person asking me. On average, more people are going to have issues with that than get great results and, as someone who has over-exfoliated my skin in the past and destroyed my barrier, causing me real skin issues, and I wouldn't wish it on people who follow me. However, I can appreciate that as individuals we sometimes need to learn the hard way what the 'limit' is for our skin, so do what you want but I'm not going to co-sign it! I would just say that more isn't always more. If something works for you: keep at it, if your skin feels irritated and reactive and you're using 5 different serums every day: you might want to reconsider.
Specifically, if you're using a prescription product: take it easy. I sometimes see on Instagram people using products with acids, Vitamin C and peptides alongside tretinoin and that's just a lot. I personally know how people tend to go overboard with things so I keep my routine gentle and replenishing when I'm using a prescription retinoid, and that's what I show you because I don't want you to see me piling on all of these potentially irritating ingredients and trying to do the same thing. Likewise, if you're on medication for acne - follow your dermatologist's advice; they will likely tell you that a simple cleanser, moisturiser and sunscreen is the very most you should be doing!
- WHAT ARE MY ESSENTIALS? -
If I didn't review skincare here but was still interested in having a good routine, I think I'd dabble in oils and eye creams, but I don't think I'd freak out if I used something up and didn't immediately repurchase it. Even with the moisturisers; I could quite happily use the same product for the morning and the evening but perhaps use a different product in the summer to what I would in the winter.
I would always have two cleansers knocking around: one as a makeup remover and the other as a morning or second cleanse. For me, I enjoy something oil-based to remove makeup and something creamy to cleanse my skin. If you're more oily-skinned you might prefer a foaming gel. The two product I use are the Ordinary's Squalane Cleanser | £13.90 | full review | and the Skingredients PreProbiotic Cleanse* | £23 | full review. The Ordinary's formula is a balm-cream that melts down makeup with its oils but I also often use it as a moisturising morning cleanse, because it has such a beautiful texture. I love the Skingredients cleanser; it's formulated with prebiotics and probiotics, to promote a healthy skin barrier, along with PHAs for very gentle, hydrating exfoliation. I love that it gets quite lotiony as you add in more water. I love taking my time to massage this in, because it leaves my skin so soft, smooth and moisturised.
For a toner, I haven't necessarily put in a hydrating option. I don't feel as though it would be an absolute essential in my routine all year round if I only wanted to invest in the really important parts of my routine. Instead, every other night I'd reach for the PSA Skin Heroine Mandelic and Licorice Superfood Glow Toner | £28 | full review. This is a very gentle exfoliating toner, but if I chose to use something stronger; I'd go for 2-3 times a week at most. Mandelic acid is an option that doesn't irritate my skin but really helps with texture and hyperpigmentation, and this contains other brightening ingredients like niacinamide and licorice extract. On exfoliation nights, I'd keep things simple and just follow it up with a hydrating serum. My favourite for a while has been the PSA Skin the Most Hyaluronic Super Nutrient Hydration Serum | £34 | full review. This is a calming, active-free hyaluronic acid serum (drawing water into the skin) also formulated with moisturising plant oils.
On those alternate nights, I'd instead reach for my beloved Medik8 Crystal Retinal 3* | £45 | full review. This comes in a variety of strengths but I've used retinoids before so I went straight in at 3. Retinal is a more direct retinoid than retinol and I find that this formula delivers incredible results fast, without any irritation. It smooths my skin texture, improves the appearance of fine lines and helps with residual scarring after breakouts. In the morning, I have one option, but don't be fooled: the Dr Sam Bunting Flawless Brightly Serum | £44 | full review | is packed full of good stuff! There's azelaic acid (to calm redness and even out the skin's tone), ascorbyl glucoside (a Vitamin C derivative), niacinamide (to strengthen the skin barrier, even out the skin's tone and regulate oil production) and bakuchiol (for its skin-smoothing properties). This comes in an elegant, creamy formula and it works!
Looking at moisturisers, I do have normal-to-dry skin and given we're only just emerging from the depths of winter, I'm not really thinking about light summer formulas! For me, I'd use the Biossance Squalane + Omega Repair Cream | £49 | full review | during the day time and slather on the Kate Somerville DeliKate Recovery Cream* | £69 | full review | overnight. Ok, so these creams do a similar thing - they're both fragrance-free and both contain lovely ingredients like ceramides, squalane and fatty acids to replenish the skin. The difference is really the texture; the Biossance is very light and really melts into the skin, making it great during the day and it works well under makeup. I'm not saying you can't wear the Kate Somerville during the day (it really depends on what you're doing, what kind of makeup you're wearing etc.) but it really works to form this occlusive barrier to seal everything in. I personally like that in a night cream to pack in the nourishment, as the skin can be susceptible to transepidermal water loss overnight.
Lastly, of course we have sunscreen and my favourite is the Thank You Farmer Sun Project Water Sun Cream | £18 (15% off with code JASMINETALKSBEAUTY (affiliate)). This is an independently-verified broad spectrum SPF 50 sunscreen with a lightweight lotion texture that doesn't give me a white cast and has this gorgeous dewy finish. For a day at the beach, sure: I'd buy something water and sweat resistant that's going to stay on the skin all day long, but for everyday, this is my perfect elegant formula.
I'd definitely see myself switching things up when I wanted a change; for example, the PSA toner could easily be the Inkey List's PHA* | £9.99 | full review. The Dr Sam serum could easily be the Summer Fridays CC Me Vitamin C Serum | £57 | full review | or something else to tackle hyperpigmentation. The Ordinary cleanser could be replaced when it runs out with the Inkey List's Oat Cleansing Balm* | £9.99 | full review | or the Beauty Pie Japanfusion Pure Transforming Cleanser | £7.47 for members | full review. However, they're really going to be rough equivalents; the steps wouldn't change but the products would. If I wanted to try a new active, I would, but it would fit into a category that would only be replaced when it ran out, like 'antioxidant' or 'hyperpigmentation treatment'. I think considering what you're trying to achieve with an ingredient is key to simplifying your routine, because there really aren't 10 different skin goals to focus on, so why would you need 10 different products or ingredients?
Are you naturally a product junkie or a minimalist? How do you like to approach skincare?