These days, there's so much skincare information out there that the consumer has become the expert. Beauty fanatics know their retinol from their vitamin C, their hyaluronic acid from their PHAs, and yet it can be hard to cut through the white noise and distinguish fact from fiction. In a world where brands are built on reviews and Instagram likes, finding what will suit your skin can be confusing. The ability to look past the PR schtick and have an open conversation with fellow beauty lovers is only ever a good thing, but sometimes a dermatologist's science-backed advice is the only way to get to the crux of a skincare issue.
That's why Dr Anjali Mahto, one of the UK's leading practitioners, has today published a book called The Skincare Bible. "One thing that has really struck me with the advent of social media over the last five to 10 years is that there is so much conflicting information for those wanting advice about their skin from both a medical and beauty point of view," she explains. "More and more, people turn to the internet as their first port of call for information and one thing I was noticing in my clinics as a result of this was the amount of time, effort and money being wasted by people on products that weren’t going to work. The Skincare Bible was an opportunity to provide quality information grounded in science, based on my role as a consultant dermatologist."
Her book (tag line: "Your No-Nonsense Guide To Great Skin") covers everything from finding your ideal everyday routine to how to tackle specific concerns like acne, rosacea, age spots and dark eye circles. It's a thorough but easy to read guide that will be relevant to anyone of any age who's interested in skincare. Answering more niche questions like "Are there any circumstances where a blood test is useful for acne?" and providing step-by-step regimes under "The Lazy Girl's Guide To Anti-Ageing Skincare", there's nothing Mahto doesn't cover.
Ahead of the book's launch, we asked the consultant, writer and dermatologist about our biggest skincare misconceptions, her clients' most common concerns, and at-home vs. professional treatments.
How did you end up working in skincare?
I struggled a lot with my own skin as a teenager. My first dip into skincare was probably similar to a lot of other people. I spent hours browsing the aisles of Boots and Superdrug, looking for a miracle face wash and spot treatments for my cystic acne. After most of my teenage years with my skin getting worse not better, I eventually went on the drug Roaccutane, which at the time literally changed my life. My skin was spot-free for the first time as a teenager, just before I went to university.
I studied medicine and also got a degree in pharmacology from Cardiff University and knew fairly early on that I was interested in dermatology. My acne came back over the years and I also suffered with a number of other skin issues (eczema, urticaria, polymorphic light eruption) and specialising in skin seemed like an obvious thing to do. I found that I understood it not just from a medical perspective but also from the point of view of a patient. Having to take medicines or use creams and the significant impact that had on my daily routine, as well as my visible skin conditions affecting how I felt when I looked in the mirror, all led to my career choice.
I qualified in 2004 before deciding to apply to specialise in dermatology. I got a post in London and have now been a consultant for over five years and my practice is based in Harley Street and Chelsea.
I remain sceptical that we need to layer so many products onto our skin
How has the skincare industry changed since you first started out?
There are a number of things that are very different from my days as a teenager in the early 1990s. The sheer volume of products on the market is the biggest one – I remember just having Clean & Clear and Clearasil for my spots! Trends have changed too – skincare routines have become so much more complicated and multistep. I remain sceptical that we need to layer so many products onto our skin! We have become much more aware of the importance of sunscreen use for preventing premature skin ageing. There has been a drive towards skincare labelled “natural” or “organic” as wellness has gained popularity – again, not something I think is necessarily a good thing. It leads to the misconception that these products are somehow safer or better than synthetic ones.
Skincare has become more democratic and consumer-friendly. As a trained professional, what's your view on this?
The beauty industry needs to sell, so it is in its benefit to be more consumer-friendly. Using influencers to promote or sell a new face cream or beauty product is the new normal, but we need to remember that often money exchanges hands for this. One of the problems this leads to is getting genuine, evidence-based advice. Most beauty products overstate or oversell the benefits they can provide.
There's an idea that skincare needs to be complicated or expensive to be genuinely worthwhile
What's the biggest misconception people have about skincare?
There is an idea that skincare needs to be complicated or expensive to be genuinely worthwhile. This crops up over and over again, talking to patients, family, friends and acquaintances. It doesn't. Cheaper products can work just as well as expensive ones and we don't need to be using complex routines in the morning or evening.
What's the biggest skincare concern your clients come to you with, and why is this?
The top reasons I see patients are for acne, pigmentation, facial redness and prevention of skin ageing. These are all incredibly common problems faced by nearly all of us at different stages in our life and often require the right skincare combined with medical prescriptions, and occasionally laser or injectable treatments. Being able to see one individual that can provide all of these things rather than chopping and changing practitioners is much better for the patient and treatment of their skin. It means I have a relationship of trust with my patients and continuity of their care.
In your opinion, can at-home skincare ever be as good as professional treatments?
For those people that don’t have any specific skin problems and are blessed with “normal” skin, most basic home skincare such as moisturisers will be adequate. However, if there is a problem with the skin then home skincare as a general rule will work for mild concerns but will never be as effective as clinic-based treatments. The same goes for those interested in reducing skin ageing. At-home skincare is not as good as professional treatments. The simplest reason for this is that clinic-based treatments are stronger than what can be sold to the general public. I see people on a daily basis in my clinic that have spent a fortune on skincare which simply is not going to work despite what the packaging says.
Sunscreen and retinol are here to stay
What are you most excited about in skincare right now?
Brands like The Ordinary make me happy (I don't have any financial ties with them) – the products contain active ingredients at good concentrations with a very reasonable price point. I’m not going to use any trendy buzzwords surrounding skincare as I suspect that is all they will be – trends and fads that will come and go! Sunscreen and retinol, though, are here to stay!
What does the future of skincare look like?
The way skincare is going, I think we will continue to see an explosion of more and more new “pseudoscience” products – growth factors, stem cells, microbiome manipulation, DNA testing for skincare. While the science behind these sounds plausible and exciting, we need to turn to the actual medical evidence at hand and seek the advice of a good cosmetic scientist to really prove they work. Ingredients in a lab test tube in isolation do not necessarily act in the same way as when applied to human skin in the context of a cream or serum. I think we should always maintain a healthy dose of scepticism!