I don’t have any real problems with my skin. That’s not meant to be a brag! It’s just usually well behaved; I get the odd spot and sometimes it feels sort of dry, but it’s mostly somewhere in the middle. I don’t have eczema or pigmentation, it’s not super sensitive or oily, it’s just... standard. As I get into my mid-20s, I do want to get more into skincare but it’s all so confusing. I have no idea what I really need, or how much to spend. Please help!
A lot of doctors, derms and skin experts I meet have a Paul-on-the-road-to-Damascus story about their choice in career. An adolescence marred by cystic acne, or a childhood struggle with eczema or super sensitive skin turned them into a complexion-obsessive, thus they chose a profession where they could explore skin 24/7. But if your skin’s always pretty much fine, what’s the impetus for you to invest time and money in a real regime? After all, if it ain’t broke…
That doesn’t mean you don’t need to have a few things that work for you, however. I’m similar to you in that the odd hormonal spot aside, my main skin concerns are usually just patches of dryness or general dullness. A good regime is part maintenance, part insurance: keeping what you have in check, and ensuring it lasts as long as possible. The foundations of a good regime, as far as I’m concerned, are cleansing, exfoliating and protecting.
Let’s break that down a little. First of all, cleansing. Double-cleansing might sound a little over the top, but if you live in a city and/or wear makeup, it’s a necessity. Taking your makeup off is crucial, but if your cleanse stops there, you leave untold amounts of bacteria, grime and residue lurking on your face. A good makeup remover doesn’t need to be expensive – Bioderma, Nivea and Garnier all do excellent micellar waters which make light work of even waterproof makeup. Then, it’s the second cleanse. This removes any traces of makeup, but also general day-to-day dirt. Sure, your face may not look dirty but the accumulation of even microscopic bits of grime can still make your skin as congested as the M25 on a Friday night. I personally think gel cleansers are the best all-rounders, providing you choose one that’s sulfate-free. Sulfates are a foaming agent used in lots of products, from shampoo to dish soap, but they can be a little harsh and drying on the skin. SkinCeuticals Simply Clean is good, or Vichy.
Then, it’s on to exfoliation. Your skin has a natural exfoliation cycle that it does every day, where dead cells slough off and fresh new ones come through, but makeup and SPF can get in the way of this. Twice a week, make sure to give yourself a good scrub. The jury’s out on whether physical exfoliants (ie, scrubs) are better than chemical (ie, glycolic acid) and there are compelling arguments on either side. Murad Pore Reform Scrub is one I recommend to almost everyone, as it’s super gentle but really effective. Glossier Solution is a great chemical exfoliant, or something like Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid. I switch between chemical and physical, but use whatever you feel is best.
Then, protection. Protection takes a lot of forms, primarily SPF and a good antioxidant. I’m sure you’re bored to the back teeth of hearing why SPF is non-negotiable, but indulge me here. UV damage is a real silent killer when it comes to your skin health, and it’s probably one of the most ruinous things for your complexion. While you certainly get more sun in the warmer months, you need to wear sunscreen all day every day – it can even penetrate glass, so if you sit near a window or drive a lot, you’ll be getting exposure there. Even small, mild amounts of sun add up over time to spell trouble for your skin, so invest in a good sunblock now. NIOD, SkinCeuticals, Avène and La Roche-Posay are all really good options, as is Heliocare.
Antioxidants are your best friend when it comes to fighting the free radical damage that pollution brings. Free radicals are nasty little suckers that go around attacking cells in your body and causing oxidative stress. Your body is pretty good at fighting them off using antioxidants of your own but over time, you get less good at it, and modern-day pollution is sky-high. (Remember when that road in Brixton broke its annual air pollution target in five days? This is why you need more antioxidants.) I really like The Ordinary Resveratrol + Ferulic Acid, while if you have more cash to splash, SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic is always popular. Or you can go straight for a vitamin C serum. Vitamin C, as well as being a powerful antioxidant, is supremely brightening on the skin and can help your face look more awake. Try The Ordinary Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate Solution 20% in Vitamin F (and try saying it five times fast), or Clinique Fresh Pressed.
Then you need a hydrating booster. Personally, I prefer serums for this, and really recommend NIOD Multi-Molecular Hyaluronic Complex or La Roche-Posay Hyalu B5 Serum, but if you prefer a cream, La Roche-Posay Toleriane is really gentle and does the job, and Dr. Hauschka Rose Day Cream and Glossier Priming Moisturiser are firm favourites among my colleagues.
These are truly the basics. There’s so much more you can add, if you like. Maybe a bit of niacinamide in the evening or, once you hit your late 20s, some retinol. Masks are fun, and doing a clay mask once a week is a good way to give yourself a deep cleanse. I adore a sheet mask, especially the eye-wateringly expensive ZO Medical and Colbert ones, but I also love the Soap & Glory ones, and if you can get your hands on them, Dr. Jart+ masks are brilliant.
Skincare shouldn’t be a chore. For some, a 10-step regime of serums, lotions and essences is the perfect way to wind down before bed. For others, it’s as much fun as filing your tax return. Find a happy medium in terms of effort and cost that works for you, making sure you cover all the main bases, and you’ll be fine.
Got a question for our resident beauty columnist Daniela Morosini? No problem, qualm or dilemma is too big, small or niche. Email email@example.com, including your name and age for a chance to have your question answered. All letters to ‘Dear Daniela’ become the property of Refinery29 and will be edited for length, clarity, and grammatical correctness.