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A really great everyday toner with a bit of something extra is the First Aid Beauty Wild Oat Hydrating Toner* | £20. This is a weighty, milky toner with some similarities to a Korean essence. It's glycerin-based (plus contains hyaluronic acid), so you're getting lots of humectant benefits (meaning these ingredients pull water into your skin), there's also honey within the formula, which is moisturising and antibacterial and soothing oat (which is also great at softening dry skin). There's Beta-glucan in here too, which is hydrating and has anti-redness benefits and licorice root extract, which can help reduce the look of dark marks. It's hydrating, soothing, softening and just a little bit active (whilst skill being skin-friendly).
My exfoliating option (which I recommend using 2-3 times a week) is the PSA Heroine Mandelic & Licorice Superfood Glow Toner | £32. This is so incredibly gentle on the skin but is a really effective exfoliant. It's formulated with a little lactic acid, which is a hydrating AHA, meaning it can 'unglue' dead skin cells that make the skin look dull and dry to reveal glowing skin. Mandelic acid is also a great AHA for more sensitive skin, but it has slightly different benefits; it's antibacterial (which can be helpful for spot-prone skin) and great at evening out the skin's tone (so great for treating hyperpigmentation). It also contains niacinamide to boost up the skin barrier and further help with uneven skin tone, hyaluronic acid and panthenol can help with hydration levels in the skin and there are moisturising ingredients like jojoba. Allantoin and bisabolol are great for soothing the skin as it goes through the exfoliation process and we have fermented ingredients and antioxidants to provide an additional gentle boost to the formula. If you have sensitive skin but deal with pigmentation issues or want to get that glow: give this toner a try (starting from once a week).
A really great formula for treating stubborn pigmentation without the need for harsher treatments is the Sachi Triphala Pigmentation Serum* | £69. I think unless you have very sensitive skin, you're probably fine to use this as part of your PM routine before the retinoid I have to discuss today. And if your skin really, really can't tolerate retinoids and / or acids: this is a fantastic lotion-serum that will still deliver results. It features niacinamide, which (as I mentioned) is great for reducing pigmentation from breakouts because it stops the spread of the dark mark spreading through the skin. There's also triphala and microalgae in here, which target dark spots too. The silymarin in the formula helps reduce inflammation, which is what causes hyperpigmentation to begin with (so it preemptively reduces the cause of discolouration). The formula is well-rounded with plenty to hydrate and moisturise the skin to boot!
My perfect balance of gentleness and effectiveness when it comes to retinoids has to be the Medik8 Crystal Retinal 1 | £45. Retinoids (Vitamin A derivatives) are a must when it comes to well-ageing, so if you're not pregnant or breastfeeding and you're over 25: I recommend getting one into your PM routine. They not only reduce fine lines but boost collagen production in the skin (which is what gives it its bounce and fullness) and help with the appearance of old sun damage. The most common form is retinol, but I personally feel it takes a long time to see results, I find it a little drying and it can also be quite irritating for my skin at times. Retinal is actually both a more direct form of the ingredient (so you see those results faster) and many people find it gentler. Medik8 have an entire ladder of retinal serums you can work through, but 1 is the iteration formulated with sensitive skin in mind. If you want those amazing benefits in a moisturising base and a formula that's the least likely to cause you issues: this is what I recommend. Start from once a week and if your skin is happy, gradually build it up to every other day.
Lastly for treatments, my AM serum recommendation is the Dr Sam Bunting Brightly Serum* | £44. This is a creamy-lotion serum formulated with 4 brilliant actives at a skin-friendly concentration. Firstly is niacinamide, which I've worked into this routine every morning and every evening, because of its wide-ranging benefits. There's azelaic acid, which is great for hyperpigmentation but also for rosacea-prone skin. There's a Vitamin C derivative to deliver glowing skin and a dose of antioxidant benefits (whilst being gentler than the pure form of this ingredient). And we have bakuchiol which might have some retinoid-like effects but is gentle on the skin and can be used AM or PM (if you're pregnant / breastfeeding or are absolutely adamant you can't tolerate retinoids, then give it a go). It's good for discolouration and also has antioxidant benefits. All of this comes in a gentle formula that is really unlikely to cause irritation and feels nice and moisturising for the skin.
As a gentle, not-too-active hydrating serum, I really recommend Monday Muse's the Juice. Daily Serum* | £40. This is a lightweight milky, water-based serum that never fails to leave my skin juicy! This is what I recommend for when you want to give your skin the day or night off; it isn't some heavy active but still gives your face a bit of what it needs. It contains panthenol to help keep the skin hydrated, niacinamide (at a gentle level), red algae (an antioxidant source), centella asiatica to soothe the skin and cumin seed oil, which both moisturises and has anti-inflammatory benefits. It's the perfect not-quite-active serum for skin that can't tolerate anything too heavy duty.
As a moisturiser, I recommend the Skinfix Barrier + Triple Lipid Peptide Cream | £52. This can be used AM or PM and is formulated with the holy trinity of ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids to mimic the skin's lipid barrier. There are also healing peptides in here, nourishing shea butter, glycerin, oat extract to combat dryness and soothing ingredients like aloe. What I love about this is the surprisingly light, fluffy texture, which is what makes this a skin barrier support cream that can be used for any time of the day.
Lastly, of course we have a sunscreen, and for this post I've chosen the Murad City Skin Age Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 50 PA++++* | £62. Many people with sensitive skin choose mineral sunscreen formulas due to the low chance of these filters causing skin irritation and - though it's pricey - if you're one of those people then this is the most universal formula I've found in terms of the spectrum of skin tones of the people who love it. It's light, it's non-drying, it doesn't pill and it doesn't leave a cast on my skin (plus has a peachy tint to help it blend in and also to give visible light protection). Plus, you're getting that fantastic broad spectrum protection. If you're a mineral sunscreen person: this is one of the best formulas I've tried and is the one most likely to work regardless of skin tone.
Have you tried any of my picks? What are your favourite gentle-but-effective skincare products?