Dr Anita Sturnham is a revered GP in skincare circles. Her specialist interest in dermatology and aesthetics prompted her to open the doors to Nuriss Skin & Wellbeing — arguably one of west London's most booked and busy skincare spaces — but you may know her best as the founder of influencer-approved, luxury beauty brand Decree. That, or her incredibly honest approach to skincare.
If you were to secure some time with Dr Sturnham, you'd leave with a truly bespoke skincare routine and an entirely new outlook on your skin. Unlike plenty of skin pros, she won't berate your routine or tell you off for burning away your skin barrier with exfoliating acids (though for 90% of her patients, skin issues are self-inflicted). Instead, it's her aim to arm you with the knowledge you need to get the best out of your skin, whatever the tone, type or texture.
"Most of my patients have really unrealistic benchmarks of what we should look like and that's because of the industry we're in," Dr Sturnham told me when I joined her in her swanky treatment room recently. "Everything is filtered and airbrushed and we put a lot of pressure on ourselves." It may be a bold move for a skin expert whose goal is to improve your complexion but Dr Sturnham makes a case for "celebrating positive things in the skin". She adds: "I don't ever want my patients to leave feeling traumatised so we look at strengths and how we can keep them strong, as well as which areas need a bit more support."
As someone who has more than their fair share of bad skin days (thanks, hormones and British winter), I had to pick Dr Sturnham's brain for the complexion tips and tricks she swears by. Here's everything I learned about how to keep skin in tip-top condition all year round.
Ditch your vitamin C serum
Well, not entirely. If you have sensitive skin, though, you might want to rethink your daily dose of vitamin C. The benefits are great: experts everywhere love vitamin C serums for protecting skin against pollution and making it brighter and more even in tone. But if your vitamin C tingles or stings on application (which is actually pretty common), you're using the wrong type. "Sensitive skin is at risk of reacting to anything with ascorbic acid in it," said Dr Sturnham, which is basically the more technical name for a very popular form of vitamin C used in many skincare products. If you want to use a vitamin C serum, Dr Sturnham suggests looking for ascorbyl glucoside on the ingredients list instead. "This might be a better option," she said. "It's the only version of vitamin C which is converted into ascorbic acid in the skin, so you get all the ascorbic acid benefits without the reaction."
R29 rates The Ordinary's Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 12%, £8.90, NIP+FAB Vitamin C Fix Concentrate Extreme 3%, £24.95, or The Inkey List's 15% Vitamin C and EGF Serum, £14.99, after cleansing and before moisturiser in the morning.
Start using a toner
"A toner is controversial in the world of dermatology," said Dr Sturnham, "but a good, water-based toner can be really great for adding in extra hydration." This is a must if your skin feels tight after cleansing or gets dry in the winter months. "A well formulated toner will also rebalance your skin after cleansing," said Dr Sturnham, keeping it healthy and smooth. She suggests spritzing it on after your morning and evening cleanse. "I used to be the good old-fashioned on a cotton pad way," she said, "but so much product is wasted when you use them. The Decree Preparatory Mist, £52, can be spritzed over the face." Also try the very gentle Eucerin Hyaluron PH Balancing Facial Mist Spray With Hyaluronic Acid, £10.50, and CH x StriVectin Tears of My Enemies Hyaluronic Phyto-Nutrient Facial Mist, £25.
One thing Dr Sturnham sees a lot in clinic is people using toner to cleanse their face but this isn't the best use of the product. "A toner is only there to hydrate, not cleanse," she said. Instead, Dr Sturnham suggests the Decree Deep Cleanse, £55, in the evening to counteract pore congestion, and the Light Cleanse, £44, in the morning.
Face oils have no real benefit
Facial oils feel luxe but Dr Sturnham revealed that most skin types don't benefit from the product. Even worse, oils can dry the skin out. "When you're putting superficial oil on the surface of your skin, your oil glands send a signal to say there's plenty of oil in the skin and that it doesn't need to produce any more." Essentially, it switches off your natural oil production — and that may pose a problem. "Sebum equals natural skin hydration," says Dr Sturnham, so plying it with facial oil may result in drier skin in the long run.
What should you use instead? "There are so many hydrating ingredients," said Dr Sturnham, who rates glycerin and hyaluronic acid in moisturisers. "They are two winners in my book." Also look for moisturisers with ingredients which will support your skin barrier. "I'm a big fan of ceramides, niacinamide to encourage healthy cells and moisturising squalane, which is my ultimate favourite."
Pyruvic acid is the buzzy ingredient to know
While exfoliating acids such as glycolic and salicylic acid have their benefits for skin prone to excess oil, spots and pigmentation, Dr Sturnham rates pyruvic acid, especially if your breakout troubles are hormone-related. "It works similarly to salicylic acid," she said, by penetrating deep into the skin, reducing inflammation and making oil not as 'sticky' so it's less likely to clog pores. It's also great for nixing acne-causing bacteria, said Dr Sturnham, and can be combined with lactic or glycolic acid in a nighttime skincare routine. When using acids, always apply a broad spectrum SPF 30 or 50 in the daytime.
How to improve texture around your eyes
Dr Sturnham hinted that eye cream isn't particularly necessary. "Sometimes you don't need an eye cream. If your moisturiser is gentle enough, it can treat your area. In fact, many of the ingredients lists on eye creams are very similar to facial creams in a product range," she said. "I designed the Peptide Emollient Veil Moisturiser, £115, and other Decree serums to double up as eye creams." Just make sure they are 'ocular tested' (safe for use around the eyes), which you'll spot on the label or in the product description.
There's a handful of ingredients to look out for specifically when it comes to treating your under-eyes. "Peptides (which boost collagen) are always amazing for the eye area, as well as ceramides and anything that helps support hydration, so hyaluronic acid and glycerin," said Dr Sturnham. "Caffeine can also be really nice for de-stressing and de-puffing and then vitamin K and arnica for dark circles," she added. "Even camomile is really nice and soothing."
Aside from skincare, lasers like the popular Nd:YAG help to resurface the skin in this area if you're interested in further treatment, said Dr Sturnham. "It's gentle but strong."
'Spot treating' is the latest skincare trend
If you're experiencing breakouts or dryness in one small area but the rest of your skin is behaving, Dr Sturnham suggests 'spot treating'. "With areas that are prone to dryness such as eyes or around your mouth, applying a hydrating, hyaluronic acid-based mask on these areas will help," she said. Spot treating simply concentrates the ingredients to where your skin needs them the most.
The same can be done in regard to breakouts or blackheads. Dr Sturnham advises spot treating with a face mask that contains ingredients like salicylic acid (to exfoliate and bring down redness) as well as bentonite and kaolin clay. "Think of it like an at-home spa treatment," said Dr Sturnham, but remember: "Less is more and there's no benefit to doing it every night, otherwise you'll send your skin into mayhem. Make sure your strategy is gentle most of the week." Try The Ordinary's Salicylic Acid 2% Masque, £19, or Pixi's Glow Mud Mask, £18. For all-over hydration, Dr Sturnham recommends a weekly mask like the SOS Revitalising Mask, £20.
Try taking a skincare supplement
Though evidence is pretty sparse in relation to taking supplements for skin health, Dr Sturnham said that there is no denying they are big in skincare right now, particularly collagen supplements. "There's more and more data showing how particularly a type 1 marine collagen can really help support your skin," she said. "While you're still young and your collagen hasn't quite depleted yet, it might be a good idea to start thinking about adding something like that in. But collagen is also quite helpful for barrier compromise, as well." A strong barrier = healthy skin.
Dr Sturnham likes Revive Active's Beauty Complex, £49.95. Also try Ingenious Beauty Ultimate Collagen+ Second Generation, £60, if you prefer capsules.
This is the best way to start using retinol
Retinol is adored among skin experts for boosting collagen, minimising fine lines and treating spots — but it can be notoriously irritating. Cue sore, red, flaky skin. There are ways that you can introduce retinol slowly into your skin, though, said Dr Sturnham. "Skin loves retinoids but the way products are formulated and the strength of them can sometimes be too much. We know now with the ingredient, less is more. You can apply it for 30 minutes one night, wash it off and then apply your moisturiser. The next week, apply it for 60 minutes, leave it on, wash it off and apply your moisturiser. My strategy is very bespoke."
If you're leaving retinol on overnight, Dr Sturnham recommends following with a barrier-supportive serum for the first four to six weeks to help your skin tolerate it. She suggests something with squalane. R29 likes Face Theory's Emolliating Olive Squalane O7, £12.99. Don't forget to apply SPF in the daytime, too.
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