Thanks to their focus on targeted and proven ingredients, brands like The Ordinary, Allies of Skin and Paula's Choice get my vote as some of the best. But a stressful house move recently took its toll on my already hormonal complexion and for the first time in a long time, not much seemed to work for me. Even weeks after, my skin was peppered with little whiteheads and deeper under-the-skin spots that would leave behind skin staining in the form of red blotches. I had three concealers on rotation and logging onto Zoom without a generous slick of the stuff didn't feel like an option.
Before I go any further, I want to acknowledge that there is no such thing as 'bad' skin. That said, what's happening on the surface has a proven link to our mental health and you'd be forgiven for feeling downcast and exasperated when your face is breaking out in uncomfortable bumps or isn't responding to your expensive skincare. It's very easy to say that we should embrace our skin in all its glory. But for the majority, the reality often isn't so straightforward.
Two skincare ingredients which have worked separately for my skin in the past are vitamin C (an antioxidant, which brightens the skin and protects it from dulling, clogging pollution and even UV) and salicylic acid (a beta hydroxy acid (or BHA), which exfoliates deep inside the pore to break up the combination of oil, dirt and dead skin that typically causes a spot). Depending on the concentration, these two ingredients don't mess around and since they can be pretty strong, I wouldn't ever think to use them together.
When I came across L'Oréal Paris Revitalift Clinical Pure 12% Vitamin C + E + Salicylic Acid Serum, £29.99, at an event recently, I wanted nothing more than to ask the scientist present what they were thinking. Vitamin C? And salicylic acid? In a product you can use both in the morning and at night? Surely not. But at that point, my skin just wasn't playing ball and I didn't have much to lose. That evening, I switched up my skincare routine, cleansing with Trinny London Better Off Cleanser, £28 (a product I've used before), following with the serum and finishing off with Avène Tolerance Hydra 10 Fluid, £18 (another favourite of mine).
Within a week, I noticed a big difference in my skin. I no longer wake up with a family of new whiteheads and the skin staining left behind by bigger zits is less apparent. I've not wavered from this routine (save for swapping in SPF when I'm heading out in the daytime) and I'm convinced it's the powerful serum that's doing the heavy lifting.
What are the skin benefits of vitamin C and salicylic acid?
According to Dr Ana, cosmetic doctor and skin expert at Dr Ana The Skin Clinic, vitamin C is what is typically referred to as a tyrosinase inhibitor. Without subjecting you to a chemistry lesson, the ingredient blocks tyrosinase (which causes melanin production) and regulates the pigmentation process. This certainly explains why my red skin staining improved and my overall skin tone was bright and even. Dr Ana added that vitamin C also prevents free radicals (molecules in the environment which can come from smoke and pollution, for example) from damaging the skin further and causing breakouts. Hence my much smoother skin.
There are a handful of exfoliating acids that are beneficial for acne-prone faces, including lactic and glycolic acid. But salicylic acid helps to promote a clear complexion, controls sebum and is anti-inflammatory, explains Dr Parisha Acharya, an aesthetic doctor at Waterhouse Young Skin & Aesthetic Clinic. It's also an excellent ingredient for preventing the formation of blackheads — another benefit I spotted.
Can you use vitamin C and salicylic acid together?
The reason why I wasn't so sure about this serum at first is because vitamin C in particular can be hit and miss, and it often irritates my skin. There are some vitamin C products that have a huge cult following — but which I can't touch with a bargepole. The vitamin C in this product is a whopping 12% L-ascorbic acid (the purest and most effective form of vitamin C) but it sinks in without a tingle. The same goes for the salicylic acid. No stinging, no redness, nothing. Just seriously impressive results.
The texture of this new serum is lightweight, not sticky, which makes following with your chosen SPF or moisturiser easy. I've since tried it with other, thicker moisturisers in anticipation of the colder weather and it sits on the skin just as beautifully. No pilling or rolling off. Having reactive skin, I'm usually not a fan of fragrance. There is a slight scent to this serum but it's so minimal and doesn't bother me. If you have super sensitive skin, it might be something to bear in mind, though.
My only real gripe is that the bottle isn't airtight. Vitamin C is notoriously unstable and becomes less potent when exposed to air. You can tell by the colour: when the liquid inside turns a dubious shade of orange, it's your sign to throw it out. But the pace at which you're supposed to use this serum (morning and evening, or just once a day if that suits you better) means that you'll likely get through it before it has a chance to turn. I use a pipette-full twice a day and mine is still going strong. But I'd recommend tightening the lid every time you put it back on your shelf to keep it fresh.
I think the best thing about this serum is that it has given me the boost to go makeup-free without worry, as my skin texture is back to my version of normal. The second best thing about this serum is that it's relatively affordable at £29.99 and available at Boots, especially when you consider that some pure vitamin C serums can cost a small fortune.
If you have less to spend, try Garnier 3.5% Vitamin C, Niacinamide, Salicylic Acid Brightening and Anti Dark Spot Serum, £11.99, which combines the two ingredients in lower concentrations. Or you could go for something like The Ordinary Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 12%, £11 (which contains a derivative of vitamin C) in the morning and swipe on Revolution Skincare 2% BHA Salicylic Acid Toner, £9.99, before moisturiser in the evening. I wouldn't recommend layering the two in one go, though, as you could irritate your skin. The reason why L'Oréal's serum works so well is because it had a team of qualified dermatologists working on it behind the scenes.
All in all, I'd argue that this is the best new serum to make it to the high street in recent months. In fact, there are two more bottles in my shopping cart right now, because I'm pretty certain it was on offer the last time I checked...
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