Alicia Lartey's forte is skincare but her defining characteristic is brutal honesty. The scientist and aesthetician has carved a niche for herself on Instagram as one of beauty's most personable, straightforward and knowledgeable skincare experts. In an industry which peddles myths and pushes various questionable hacks, her presence in skincare circles is refreshing to say the least.
Whether you consider yourself a skincare obsessive, more of a beginner or somewhere in between, you're bound to learn something new from Alicia. Her no-holds-barred approach to beauty spans brand reviews, from the good (like Paula's Choice, CeraVe and Face Theory) to the not so good. There are invaluable insider secrets, such as how to tell the difference between dry and dehydrated skin, IG posts which shatter common misconceptions (no, skincare isn't absorbed into the bloodstream) and tips on the benefits of buzzy skin treatments like laser and LED. Best of all, Alicia's content feels real and relatable. A former acne patient, she knows what it's like when your skin isn't playing ball — which is exactly why clients flock to her contemporary skin studio in east London.
With 2022 set to be the year of skin health, we caught up with Alicia, who divulged everything she wants you to know about achieving your best skin ever. No frills, no fuss — just what works.
The skincare products she recommends to clients all the time
Alicia's bathroom cabinet is groaning under the weight of skincare (it is her job, after all) but there is only a handful of products she talks about time and time again. First up, Bondi Sands Fragrance Free Sunscreen, £7.99 — an affordable must if you're after something lightweight but hydrating and protective. It works for all skin tones, too. "I love this SPF and I always recommend it," says Alicia. "You can use the body version on your face, too," which is a lot bigger than the dedicated face product but very close in price. "The COSRX Snail Mucin range is in my top 10 products ever," adds Alicia. "It's so hydrating and I think it's important for people to have really well hydrated skin." The cult-favourite essence is so popular that it's currently out of stock; instead, try COSRX Advanced Snail 92 All in One Cream, £27, which is just as revered.
Alicia's third recommendation isn't exactly a product but rather an approach to skincare. "I like the Skin + Me services, and this is a big part of the way I look at skin." The online service offers personalised skincare and access to a dermatologist. "I'm not someone that offers prescriptions to people, as I'm not a doctor," says Alicia, "but they are a great extension of the kinds of skincare services like mine. They offer backed and well-researched ingredients that you'd usually go to a derm for, but it's accessible and at an affordable price. I absolutely love it and have used it time and time again."
I'm not going to lie, a lot of the 'professional' skincare brands are rubbish.
Professional skincare brands aren't actually that great
"At skincare school, a lot of the time we'd be encouraged to have a 'back bar' full of skincare products," reveals Alicia. In most clinics, it'll be a shelf behind the counter or in the window, which is packed with 'professional' beauty brands. "I purposely went down the route of not selling anything," says Alicia. "I'm not going to lie, a lot of the 'professional' skincare brands are rubbish. Many are cheap for people to buy and that's why they're stocked. I want to go down the route of education. It would be silly to stock something that doesn't have great ingredients."
Alicia hits home the importance of a simple skincare routine, too. "I don't want to make anyone buy anything that they don't need," she says, "and some of these brands almost force you to use all of their products in one routine. We shouldn't be hoarding seven or eight cleansers — we just don't need them!" Alicia adds that any good skin expert should recommend a product based on ingredients and whether they are compatible with your skin issue or skin type. Dry, dehydrated skin? Ceramides and hyaluronic acid work wonders. Oily, acne-prone skin? Niacinamide and salicylic acid could be your best bet.
The same goes for many celebrity skincare brands, which Alicia has been vocal about in the past. "The celebrity skincare space is really lacking," she tells R29. "If I were a celebrity, I'd go down the route of saying, 'These are the procedures I get done and these are the products I use to maintain my skin in between'. We all know they don't just put on moisturiser. We know they've gone to get some fraxel laser — they need to just tell people!"
Don't expect instant results from your skincare
In a world obsessed with quick fixes, you'd be forgiven for trying a new product and shelving it if you haven't noticed any results. This might be a waste, says Alicia. "Skincare is a journey and the result you see on someone else isn't always the result you're going to get, so I always urge people to be patient." That goes for trying new products, too. "On average, the skin cycle is between four to six weeks," says Alicia, and results take time. "If you're using a product like retinol, you want to give yourself multiple skin cycles to see whether it's working for you," perhaps 12 weeks or more. "But if it's a moisturiser or a cleanser, after two weeks you should be able to tell if it's moisturising enough or cleansing well for you."
If your skin reacts badly to a product, for example it becomes dry, sore or sensitive, stop using it immediately and consult a skin specialist.
How to get healthy, glowing skin almost immediately
If your beauty budget allows, you might like to head to a facialist or skin expert once or twice a year. The rest of the time you'll be treating your skin at home. "I've always said that home care is the most important thing," says Alicia. "Try not to get too bogged down by marketing and look for ingredients that are beneficial to you. Rejuvenated, glowing skin comes from hydration so I always look for things that contain peptides [basically repairing skin proteins], moisturising glycerin, hydrating hyaluronic acid and allantoin," which prevents dry, rough skin. You might also like to consider adding in skincare products that contain retinol, says Alicia, which boosts the skin's collagen, making it more plump and refreshed over time.
Skincare's smartest trend is 'short contact therapy'
If your skin is sensitive, reactive and doesn't do well with potent ingredients like exfoliating acids or even vitamin C (but you're still interested in giving them a go), look for them in cleanser form. "Leaving your cleanser on for two minutes is a way to shorten your contact time with an ingredient," she says, rather than opting for a leave-on toner or serum containing it, which may irritate skin. Alicia specifically suggests a cleanser with BHAs (or beta hydroxy acids) like salicylic acid, or an ingredient called benzoyl peroxide, both of which are great for blackheads and breakouts. "I do this for people with inflamed acne, for example." Allow the product to work for a few minutes and then simply wash it off.
This is the most important step in any skincare routine
Actually, there are two: cleansing and applying SPF. "Your routine should revolve around those two steps," says Alicia. "SPF is for protection against UV and cleansing because you have to start with a fresh face. You don't want everything to be piling up and sitting on your skin." That includes skincare from the daytime or previous evening as well as daily grime and makeup. "Cleansing is very individual, though," Alicia adds. "If you have very dry skin, you could just splash water on your face and go. If you have very oily skin, a water-based cleanse is best. If you have a gym class that morning, you can apply your SPF and leave the house, then wash your face afterwards. I always say that you don’t have to cleanse for the full 60 seconds, either. This is a guideline. I sometimes do 30 seconds!"
Try an LED face mask at home
"I’ve got to the point in my acne journey where if I start picking my skin, I'm going to get into a nasty cycle and it affects me psychologically. One thing I tend to do with breakouts is zap them with my high frequency tool and sit under LED," says Alicia. She adds that LED is really great to try at home but the devices which are good and CE-approved (meet strict EU regulations) tend to be expensive. "LED tools are a nice thing to have if you have a bigger budget but it's not something you necessarily have to have." Though spenny, Alicia rates the Dr. Dennis Gross DRx SpectraLite™ Faceware Pro, £430, as well as Current Body's Skin LED Light Therapy Mask, £279, and LightStim's LED Device, £249.
The skincare myths to stop believing ASAP
In 'clean' skincare circles it's a common misconception that skincare can be absorbed into the bloodstream. This is untrue, says Alicia, so there's no need to avoid certain ingredients unless your skin doesn't tolerate them well. "I'd be able to go outside and get hydrated in the rain if so," she says. "You'd basically swell up like a sponge!" Alicia says she also sees Black clients who don't think they need to use sunscreen — but this is another misbelief. Sunscreen is beneficial for all skin tones and types, and protects against skin cancer-causing UV. "Another myth is that you can make your own SPF at home using things like zinc powder and raspberry oil, which I've seen online recently," adds Alicia. "I really need people to stop making their own SPF at home. You can't even make it perfectly in the lab, as it goes through that much testing, so you absolutely can't make it at home. I tend to see this a lot from natural skincare bloggers but they're literally cooking their followers."
Always have fun with your skincare but while you're doing so, make sure your skin barrier has not left the chat.
The skin-saving ingredients to look out for this year
2022 is the year of peptides, says Alicia, who advocates strengthening skin and looking after your skin barrier. A damaged barrier can make some skin tones appear red and result in flakiness, uneven texture, soreness, roughness and skin that may feel warm to the touch. Alicia mentions Ole Henriksen Strength Trainer Peptide Boost Moisturiser, £40, and Youth To The People's Triple Peptide + Cactus Oasis Serum, £52. If you're on a budget, try The Inkey List's Peptide Moisturiser, £14.99.
"I also love azelaic acid and I think it's amazing," says Alicia, especially for pigmentation — one of the most common gripes in clinic. "Most skincare products on the market feature 8-10% azelaic acid, though, and are more for breakouts rather than pigmentation." Alicia rates Face Theory's Lumizela A15 Serum, £21.99. "Then there's kojic acid, which I like for most skin types and skin colours as it provides protection against pigmentation," adds Alicia. R29 recommends PCA Skin's Pigment Bar, £45, which boasts both azelaic acid and kojic acid to keep pigmentation at bay.
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There's one golden rule when it comes to skincare
"Have fun with skincare," says Alicia. "We're in strange times and lots of brands don't know what people want from their routines." It's all about trial and error. Personally, Alicia loves brands like Face Theory. "I also think Kate Somerville skincare is so good," she reveals. "I have to be cautious, though, because it's a little bit pricy but absolutely worth it. Always enjoy your skincare but while you're doing so, make sure your skin barrier has not left the chat."
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