We’ve all got it: that one beauty ailment which you’ve never quite conquered. Stylist asks three writers to take the journey that will vanquish it once and for all
"Teenage skin in my 20s"
Beauty director Joanna McGarry goes in search of poreless skin
Don’t be fooled by the picture of me you see here. Behind the great lighting I have skin which, from the age of 14, has been punctured with tiny holes, plugged with specks of coal. At 28, my pore problem still plagues me. I want to be the girl who confidently gazes into her lover’s eyes in the morning. Instead, I hide behind my hair. So, I challenged the global science lab of skincare to fix my porous, teenage skin once and for all.
Pores are actually hair follicles, acting as a passage for gases, fluids and tiny particles through the skin. The entire body is filled with them but on the face, pores are the funnel in which sebum (the body’s natural anti-bacterial and waste disposer) is transported to the surface. Blockages occur when sebum hits the skin’s surface and becomes oxidised, which accounts for the colour of black comedones (blackheads).
Today, pores are a big deal as brands finally accept that they are not exclusively a teen issue (this summer Clinique launched a range dedicated to the problem of pores), but a genuine concern for adults too. “As we age, sun exposure leads to collagen breakdown in the skin surrounding the pores. The pore is a funnel, a floppy structure, so if there is less scaffolding
I began my quest with avisit to expert facialist, Amanda Lacey, one of only four skin doctors in the UK qualified to surgically remove milea (the most stubborn of whiteheads). After cleansing, she whirled a high frequency probe over my skin, which “warms tissue and limits sebaceous flow”.
She then dabbed my skin with q-tips doused in her Miracle Tonic, £52. “It contains salicylic acid which helps to clean and harden off the sebaceous flow,” she tells me. I ask if I am doomed to a face rippled with blackheads. “You can’t open and close pores like an elevator,” affirms Lacey. “It’s about stemming the sebaceous flow.” After two weeks of using Miracle Tonic, my skin feels cleaner, but, the offending plugs are still present.
After two weeks of using Miracle Tonic, my skin feels cleaner, but, the offending plugs are still present
I’ve found the only way to truly turf out the blockages, is ‘extraction’. “It’s an art. Use muslin cloth under your fingers and heat the skin first by taking a bath,” advises Lacey. Beware, over-zealous extraction at home, as this puts undue stress on the surrounding skin, leading it to sag around the pore. It’s a tricky business, so I enlisted the help of Bliss’ Pore-fector gadget, £127.70, which uses sonic technology to gently jostle out pore debris. While it helped shift some of the larger blockages on my nose (this is unbearably ticklish) and chin, I found using my fingertips more precise.
Still, removing blockages, doesn’t cure my skin for long. Specialist cleansing is vital, which is why I am fanatical about facial scrubs. This, I learn, is a mistake. “The beads stretch pores open, switch to a chemical cleanser that contains glycolic acid which will exfoliate without aggravating,” suggests Laura Goodman, resident skin expert for SK-II. “Opt for cleanser which doesn’t strip oil,” adds Dr Bunting. “It should contain alpha and beta hydroxy acids and glycolic or salicylic acid,” she explains, handing me a tube of Obagi Clenziderm Cleanser, £30.
I still felt I needed something stronger, so Dr Bunting sent me away with Tretinoin, a prescribed retinoid to help prevent heavier blackheads. “Over-the-counter retinols work in the same way (try Skinceuticals’ CE Ferulic Serum, £129) but are not as stable.” I added a few drops to my moisturiser three times a week. “And remember, you need to commit to a skin routine for at least six weeks – that’s the cycle of collagen production,” warns Dr Bunting.
A month later, my blocked pores seem to be retreating. My skin looks healthier and it’s less of an oil-slick come afternoon. I’m on the road to skin utopia but what I’ve also found is a new acceptance. “Naturally oily skin is more hydrated so you’ll stave off fine lines for longer,” says Goodman. The woman in her 50s with hardly any winkles? Now, there’s a woman I’d like to be.
"I have 365 bad hair days a year"
Associate editor Alix Walker, owner of wafer-thin locks, attempts to get the healthy hair that’s always eluded her
I’m certain that had I been blessed with a mane of thick, glossy hair I would be a much less tolerant person. Because only those who know what it’s like to ply your hair with the latest thickening mousse/ serum/elasticiser/conditioner… only to see your pitiful attempt be mockingly blown back to a handful of strands by a gust of light wind, will truly understand real humiliation. The one thing I can say about life with hair which snaps easier than a Pringle is that it’s character building.
So I gave Stylist’s beauty director, Joanna, one of the more challenging tasks of her career and asked if she could give me the thick hair I’ve spent the last 10 years dreaming about. She sent me off for a consultation with Carole Michaelides, a trichologist at the healthy hair clinic, Philip Kingsley (from £220). She starts by asking about my diet, family and lifestyle before taking a look at my hair with what seems to be a magnifying glass.
An hour later and she’s diagnosed me with female genetic alopecia. Thanks to my lovely mum’s genes, my hair isn’t growing at the same rate it once was. Although everyone’s hair gets thinner as they get older, mine is doing so at an accelerated rate. It’s still thick at the sides but much thinner on top (my hair follicles are producing their own version of a mullet) which is typical. It’s not a curable condition, but it is treatable. She prescribes a blood test as she suspects I’m lacking in iron (one of the most common reasons for hair loss) which will also decipher whether I have any hormonal issues.
She also blasted my terrible, ‘hair-unfriendly’ diet. I rarely eat red meat (hair is made from keratin, a protein which is found in abundance in red meat) and admittedly my relationship with dark green veg (which is full of iron – utterly crucial to hair health) is not on the greatest of terms. In short, I’m not feeding my hair. I commit to changing it. However, the reality is no short-term game. Each strand of hair lasts three to four years so in order for your follicles to begin producing healthy hair you need to wait that long to see the difference.
The kind of hair I’m in the market for is that long, beachy, healthy-looking hair seen on models the world over. So Joanna doles out cult US hair supplement, which keeps all the top models’ hair thick and full – Viviscal, £49.95. It’s packed with proteins to encourage hair growth. I team that with their shampoo and hair oil, which you massage onto your scalp nightly. Two months on and my hair is definitely growing faster – I need my roots done in eight weeks instead of my typical 12 – and oddly my eyelashes have grown too. They recommend six months for a clear result so I’m sticking with these.
Thanks to my lovely mum’s genes, my hair isn’t growing at the same rate it once was
But I still haven’t got that thick hair I was hoping for, so Joanna suggests the quickest option – hair extensions. I’m nervous because I’ve been here before. Eight years ago in fact, and the result was more Cousin It than Gisele. Luckily times have definitely changed. Leena at Michaeljohn salon in Mayfair uses Great Lengths hair extensions (£250 for half a head) which attach to your own hair using a gentle method called ‘moulding’. It’s less harsh than glue and puts less strain on hair. As my hair is very fine she suggests keeping the extensions to a minimum and only uses 15, all at the back of my hair, where it’s thinnest. It only takes two hours and the result is impressive. Hardly anyone notices I’ve had them done – my biggest fear – but I feel different. This could become a habit…
The problem with everything that I’ve tried so far is that it’s either expensive and complicated or will take years to get results. Surely there must be a more instant solution? Aaron Dorn is a stylist who has worked on countless magazine shoots and fashion shows. He believes that some intensive work on your roots before you style can double its thickness. He starts by applying lots of L’Oréal Professionnel Tecni.art Volume Lift, £10.10, to my roots saturating my head. Then he takes a brush and pulls my hair upwards, directing heat at the roots, until it’s lifted. Next he smooths Sachajuan Straight Out Gel, £13.60, over my hair – a miracle product which leaves even the driest, most damaged hair smooth – and dries straight. His final touch is to crimp just under the top layer of my hair – it’s a genius move which makes the outer layer of my hair sit much further away from my head, giving the illusion of much thicker hair.
It’s disheartening to know I’ve got a three-year wait until I wake up with the hair I’m happy with, and to be honest I’m not convinced I’ve got the patience. But it is reassuring to know there are things you can do – whether that’s changing your diet, using clever styling tricks or really committing to giving your scalp some love. And until then, I’ve heard wigs are coming back…
"I'm fed up with excess hair"
Journalist Farrah Storr attempts to tackle her over-zealous body hair
Like all traumatic events, it happened very quickly. One day I was an 11 year old with legs as smooth as a fireman’s pole, the next I was a bison covered in long, downy hair. I have since spent the last 22 years waging war on the hair that has set up camp across every ridge of my body. I have hair on my back; on my feet; little tufts on my chin and black, stubborn hillocks of it along my fingers. I’m not alone in this war. In fact studies show that the average woman will spend £12,000 in her lifetime on hair removal. What’s more we’ll also spend 58 days of our lives removing the stuff.
I’ve done everything to tame it. Shaving, Immac, waxing, electrolysis, bleach, tweezing, threading… I shave my legs every other day; ditto plucking my eyebrows. I bleach my arms and fingers and pluck rogue hairs from my feet and big toe. I Immac my top lip, wax the cashmere blankets on my temple and have had my armpits and bikini line hair nuked.
It’s my 33rd birthday in a few months. I’d like to celebrate it with a body as smooth as a Michelangelo marble nude. So I decide on an aggressive three-pronged hair attack. The new MPX Laser is stronger than conventional hair-removing lasers and promises results in three sessions. I book in with Joanne Evans at The Royal Garden Hotel’s Soma Centre in Kensington, London for my lips and fingers. At the same time I order the Philip’s Lumea, a new at-home IPL machine. At £450 it’s a pricey one-off purchase, but if you’ve got hair to burn… I will use this for my legs, tummy and toes. Finally, I book in to see nutritionist Amanda Griggs at The Balance Clinic. I’ve heard that diet can have an effect on hirsutism [excessive hairiness].
The MPX Laser combines two laser technologies – the Nd:Yag and Alexandrite. Translation: by combining two different wavelengths it can target dark, finer hairs more effectively than other laser treatments. It is also much less painful than electrolysis and passes in mere seconds as the laser emits a beam over a much larger area targeting groups of follicles at one time. Evans tells me the hair should drop out in a few days and promises to see me again in four weeks. The hair on my fingers looks crushed.
It’s my 33rd birthday in a few months. I’d like to celebrate it with a body as smooth as a Michelangelo marble nude
That night I try the Lumea. It’s a simple device that you charge up then fire. Your skin bristles slightly under the fleeting heat of the laser but that’s it. I cover both legs in under five minutes. My stomach and toes takes seconds. Within a few days my body is a trail of withered hairs lying across my midriff, legs and feet.
A few days later I meet Amanda. She asks if I have any other health problems apart from the excess hair issue. “I’m constantly tired, sweat uncontrollably and have shooting pains across my shoulder blades.”
She mentions PCOS [polycystic ovary syndrome] where symptoms can include excessive hair growth. I hotfoot it to my GP who refers me for an ultrasound. In the meantime Amanda emails me a detailed lists of foods I should avoid – basically nothing fried, no refined foods, excess milk or fatty cheeses. Amanda also recommends I take chromium supplements which can help stabilise blood sugar levels. While there’s no concrete evidence this will help tame hair growth, research does suggest it can help.
Two months later and the MPX seems to be working. I haven’t had any hair on my top lip or scattered across my fingers for months. The Lumea meanwhile has been working up a storm on my legs, feet and stomach. Admittedly I do have the occasional regrowth (though the hair is noticeably thinner) but I just zap them back into place.
So there I was all smug when I dropped by my GP’s surgery. “The good news is you don’t have PCOS. The bad news is you do have a hormonal imbalance, which could explain the excessive hair,” she says.
As I left the surgery that evening, I felt confident, that despite the months of further probing that lay ahead, I would at least be hair free when the women in white coats got to work on me. I also felt grateful, that the one thing that had blighted my body for so long – hair – had actually helped unlock the key to the rest of my health.