In the first of our new Stylist Skincare Series, aimed at simplifying your beauty routine, we recommend the four products to apply every day. Say goodbye to skincare overwhelm.
Two weeks ago we sat in a meeting room with the whole Stylist team and the one recurring theme was skincare, and it seems we’re just as confused as each other: do I really need to use cleanser? What is retinol and will it burn my face off? Is SPF really necessary every single day?
These are legitimate questions from people who get sent these products, and if there’s one thing we learnt from that meeting it’s that we’re all suffering from a very real case of complete beauty overwhelm. And we know you feel it too – because, Stylist team aside – skincare is the biggest topic of conversation right now, it’s the one thing that our friends, family and even readers (who seek us out on Instagram and slide into our DMs) are constantly asking about.
All anybody really wants is to be told what to use, when to use it and how much. So that’s why we’ve decided to launch our skincare series, where we’ll be focussing on a different area of skincare, breaking down the barriers and busting myths in an attempt to make things easier to understand. It’ll also – hopefully – help you realise that, actually, skincare doesn’t have to be confusing or complex and instead it can be fun.
But where’s the best place to start? At the beginning, of course. So here’s the only four products you need to use every single day. Just four. Use them consistently and they will improve your skin, they will make a tangible difference to its appearance. Some of it may seem counter-intuitive, but trust us on this because we’re all in it together. Let’s begin.
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Here is every single product in our beauty editor’s skincare routine
First, figure out your skin type
See which of the descriptions below best sums up your skin type, then keep reading for the products you should use each day – think of it as a capsule collection for your face.
Your skin is dry if…
It looks matte, poreless and feels tight, especially after cleansing. “Markings on the surface may look exaggerated, for example, below the eyes,” says Dr Justine Kluk, consultant dermatologist. In severe cases, skin may be prone to cracking, appear red and feel rough.
Your skin is oily if…
It has excess shine. “Pores will be visible and there will be a light sheen where they’re most dense, usually in the T-zone,” explains dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting. Blackheads and breakouts are more likely to be a concern, and make-up tends to slip during the day.
Your skin is sensitive if…
It stings, burns or itches after applying products. “Sensitivity can appear in a number of ways, and it could be intolerant of multiple products or look dry or flaky,” explains Kluk. Fragranced products may also make your eyes water, and skin may flare up regularly.
Your skin is ageing if…
You have fine lines or wrinkles. “All skin types will be subject to ageing at some point,” says Kluk, but one of the earliest signs is fine lines, initially around the eyes. “These lines, called crow’s feet, are accentuated by smiling and squinting,” she says.
The best cleansers for every skin type
No matter your skin type, a decent cleanser is the cornerstone of any routine. It’s essential to remove make-up and get rid of all the dirt, grime, pollution, dead skin cells and other impurities that your skin picks up throughout the day.
So even if you don’t wear make-up, you still need to cleanse – applying the next steps of your routine onto dirty skin is pointless as products just won’t work as well. Lukewarm water (around 37 degrees) is best for the most effective cleanse, and always splash your face first to loosen any make-up and grime and help emulsify the cleanser.
Then massage in circular motions – not forgetting to go down to your neck – and use a damp flannel, muslin cloth or your hands to remove it. Pat your face dry with a clean towel (never rub as it can aggravate the skin) and then you’re ready for the next step in your routine.
USE IT: Morning and evening. Use a 50p-sized blob on damp skin and take about two minutes to really massage it in, then ensure you remove it properly.
Best cleanser for dry skin
The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser, £5.50, is packed with humectants – which help to reduce the loss of moisture – and is also soap-free, so it won’t strip your skin or leave it feeling even drier.
Best cleanser for oily skin
Cleansers formulated with blemish-busting, oil-absorbing salicylic acid are second to none for oily skin. CeraVe’s SA Smoothing Cleanser, £12, is beauty editor Lucy Partington’s all-time favourite.
Best cleanser for sensitive skin
Pai’s Camellia & Rose Gentle Hydrating Cleanser, £30, is free of soap and fragrance and will help soothe any existing skin irritation while effectively and gently dissolving make-up, dirt and impurities.
Best cleanser for ageing skin
Nothing beats Dr Sam’s mild, non-stripping and non-comedogenic Flawless Cleanser, £16. It also works perfectly alongside retinol, the best skincare ingredient of all for ageing skin.
The best topical antioxidant for every skin type
Antioxidants protect skin against pollution and toxins, but they also help reduce signs of sun damage. Often produced in serum form, all skin types can benefit from their use. Studies show that applying topical antioxidants can reduce wrinkles and improve surface roughness, skin laxity and dullness.
They also help defend skin from free radicals caused by UV radiation, meaning they work in tandem with SPF. While l-ascorbic acid, a form of vitamin C, is the antioxidant most backed by research, it’s notoriously difficult to work with as it can oxidise when exposed to light and air.
If that happens, the formula turns brown and should no longer be used, but it usually comes in dark glass or airtight bottles to prevent this. Other antioxidants include resveratrol, derived from grapes, and vitamin E, hailed for its moisturising and healing properties.
USE IT: In the morning as the first step after cleansing. One pipette or pump is enough. Smooth it over clean skin and wait around 10 minutes before applying SPF.
The best antioxidant for dry skin
Alpha-H Vitamin E, £29, is infused with macadamia and fatty acids which calm and hydrate dry skin, fight off free radicals and other environmental damage and soothe irritation and redness.
The best antioxidant for oily skin
A powerhouse resveratrol cocktail, AlumierMD HydraClarité Moisturiser, £52, is specially formulated for oily skin as it inhibits acne-causing bacteria while defending against environmental damage.
The best antioxidant for sensitive skin
SkinCeuticals Serum 10, £80, is formulated with 10% l-ascorbic acid as well as being fragrance and alcohol-free. It’s gentle enough not to cause irritation but powerful enough to have a real impact on skin.
The best antioxidant for ageing skin
One of the most effective l-ascorbic acid-based serums we’ve come across – and we’ve come across a lot – Garden of Wisdom’s Vitamin C 23% and Ferulic Acid, £10, is affordable, too.
The best SPF for every skin type
More than 90% of skin ageing is caused by sun damage, so it’s imperative to wear a broad spectrum formula with a minimum of SPF30 every single day.
“Both UVA and UVB rays can damage cells, which leads to fine lines, wrinkles, loss of elasticity and even skin cancer,” says Victoria Hiscock, medical communications manager at AlumierMD. UVA rays can pass through glass and clouds, so you need sunscreen all year round, which comes with an added bonus. “It’s been proven that SPF not only prevents premature ageing but actually helps improve existing wrinkles, pigmentation and texture,” says Bunting.
There was a time when SPF formulas were greasy, chalky and would frequently cause breakouts, but that’s no longer the case. These days, sunscreens are more lightweight and usually non-comedogenic, meaning they won’t clog pores.
USE IT: After your antioxidant as the last step in your routine before you put on any make-up. You should apply around 1.5 tsps of SPF on your face alone.
The best SPF for dry skin
Paula’s Choice Resist Youth- Extending Daily Hydrating Fluid SPF50, £34, is a thick and creamy formula that will add some much-needed moisture back into your skin without the greasy residue.
The best SPF for oily skin
A mattifying, non-comedogenic formula that keeps oil at bay, Garnier Ambre Solaire Sensitive Anti-Imperfection Protection Cream SPF50, £12, comes recommended by us and top dermatologists.
The best SPF for sensitive skin
Ultrasun is one of the most effective and respected SPF brands out there, and its Face Mineral SPF50, £26, is the least likely to cause an adverse reaction as it’s free from unnecessary fragrance.
The best SPF for ageing skin
The higher the protection, the more effective it’ll be, which is important for ageing skin. Skin is often drier as it ages but Heliocare’s Advanced Gel SPF50, £18.50, is specifically formulated for fragile skin.
The best retinol for every skin type
Retinol is the skincare ingredient most backed by science and the thing that will make a tangible difference to both skin health and appearance.
As Daniel Issacs, director of research at Medik8, explains, “In terms of reducing the signs of premature ageing, no ingredient comes close to retinol. Not only does it work to stimulate skin cell turnover for a smoother complexion, it also unclogs pores, enhances collagen production and blocks pigment formation for a more even skintone.”
Everyone benefits from using retinol, but during initial usage it can cause irritation or dryness so it’s important to introduce slowly. Start with a low strength such as 0.3% and use it twice a week, adding in an extra application every two weeks. Then move onto 0.6% before going up to 1%. Use at night as sunlight can make it less effective, and follow with SPF the next morning.
USE IT: At night. Apply a pea-sized amount to cleansed skin and spread it evenly over your face. Follow with a basic moisturiser after 20 minutes if skin feels dry or tight.
The best retinol for dry skin
An oil-based vitamin A formula will counteract any dehydration or dryness while still ensuring your skin reaps all of retinol’s benefits – Verso Super Facial Oil, £150, is well-loved, and with good reason.
The best retinol for oily skin
Oily skin tolerates retinol best as it helps unclog pores and reduce breakouts. The Inkey List’s Retinol Serum, £9.99, is formulated with squalane, a super hydrator, and is very effective for the price.
The best retinol for sensitive skin
La Roche-Posay’s Redermic R Retinol Treatment, £32, has been specially formulated for sensitive skin, and a low entry-level concentration of 0.3% retinol means it’s unlikely to cause any further unwanted sensitivity.
The best retinol for ageing skin
The most ground-breaking retinol-based formula of recent times, Medik8’s patented R-Retinoate Intense night cream, £210, does wonders for skin’s tone and texture.
Main image: Getty / courtesy of brands.
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Lucy Partington is Stylist’s beauty editor. She’s obsessed with all things skincare, collecting eyeshadow palettes that she’ll probably never use, and is constantly on the hunt for the ultimate glowy foundation.