It's true that many people inherit an interest in skincare from their mum. The memories often involve watching her at her dressing table as she delicately presses in an array of lotions and potions, finishing with a puff of powdery, skin-scented talc. Not me. The only memories I have of my mum's skincare routine include a chunky bar soap, which she'd follow with a cotton pad soaked in purple liquid and wiped over her face and a yellow moisturiser. I later learned that it was a famous skincare brand's three-step routine, and it doesn't have the greatest reputation among beauty editors and TikTokers these days...
Since then I've forged a career as a beauty journalist who has a serious fascination with skincare. "I never really had much interest in any of that stuff until you started teaching me," my mum told me recently. Over the years I've built her a routine made up of everything I've learned from various experts, and it goes like this: in the morning she cleanses with micellar water, then uses vitamin C and hyaluronic acid serums, followed by moisturiser and, finally, sunscreen. Each evening, she'll cleanse again and use Estée Lauder's Advanced Night Repair Serum, £60, followed by a thick, nourishing moisturiser to cocoon her dry skin. It always seemed to work for her and she didn't really question it.
If I were to age in a similar way to my mum, I'd be more than happy. Her skin is healthy and it glows. For me, they are the two most important things.
The nature of my job means I chop and change between products (despite knowing consistency is key) and I dabble in exfoliating acids, too. I use vitamin A (also known as retinol) instead of moisturiser at night and often use targeted treatments for my breakouts, which are definitely getting worse as I get older. Generally speaking, my routine is fine and I try not to let the monthly spots stress me out. In all honesty, I never really thought to switch it up. Why would I, when the ingredients I was using are considered the beauty world's crème de la crème — and rooted in science?
When I saw that personalised online skincare service GetHarley was offering Mother & Me consultations ahead of Mother's Day, I simply had to book in. This is a website I'd been wanting to try anyway, mostly thanks to how it makes dermatology accessible. It costs £40 for a 30-minute virtual consultation (or £100 for 50 minutes) with one of over 500 qualified experts, from consultant dermatologists to aesthetic doctors and plastic surgeons. They'll listen to your skin concerns, offer advice and prescribe a personalised routine, which you can then purchase after the call.
The idea of roping in my mum was intriguing. She's never seen a professional and I know that if it wasn't for me, she wouldn't have a solid routine in place at all. "There are so many products out there, I wouldn't know where to start," she told me. I was also interested to know what a dermatologist would say about the products she uses — and whether I could steal inspiration for my own routine. Perhaps with those nourishing serums and creams, her AM-PM rituals would be more gentle and effective than mine, which features lots of active ingredients. I also wanted to know if there are any similarities in our skin types and behaviours — both now and when I'm older. Will we age in the same way, for example?
One product I've never believed in is eye cream. If your serum and moisturiser is tested for use around the eyes, they can be effective here.
We were matched with Dr Alia Ahmed, a consultant dermatologist who specialises in psychodermatology — the psychological effects of chronic skin disease and the link between the skin and stress. During the call we shared our current routines with Dr Ahmed. My mum told her that she'd like to streamline her regime but doesn't know how. Happily, Dr Ahmed was really positive about the skincare products my mum is using.
"Your product list is good," she said, hinting that she's actually pretty lucky to have somebody who can offer an insight into what she should be using. (I took the compliment.) Dr Ahmed did say that my mum is using too much skincare, though. "I don't think you need to use all of those products every day," she said. What my mum could do is alternate. "One day you could use a vitamin C serum and the next day use your hyaluronic acid serum." That way, said Dr Ahmed, she would still get all the brilliant skincare benefits but keep her morning routine swift and fuss-free. Dr Ahmed also had a great tip regarding moisturiser for my mum's mature skin. "If you notice your face getting dry throughout the day, you can apply moisturiser as and when it's needed," as opposed to using it just once in the morning and hoping it's enough.
One product I've never really believed in is eye cream. It's to do with something my first boss in the beauty industry said, and I've not used it since. But I've also spoken to experts who agree: if your serum and moisturiser is tested for use around the eyes (often referred to as 'ocular-tested' on product labels), taking these products up to the eye area can be very effective. But Dr Ahmed added an eye cream — Meder Beauty Blepharo-Light Cream, £42 — into Mum's routine.
"The eye cream should replenish the moisture loss that's happening around the eyes and start to improve the volume again," said Dr Ahmed. Dehydration and moisture loss around the eye area can be a cause of fine lines, wrinkles and slack skin. Dr Ahmed also stepped up my mum's nighttime moisturiser game, adding a night cream containing retinol: Skin Better Science AlphaRet Overnight Cream, £110.
"This retinol-based cream has a nice rich base so it shouldn't make your skin feel too dry," explained Dr Ahmed. "The reason I like retinol is because it starts to rebuild some of the things you're losing," such as collagen, which decreases naturally as we age. "It improves skin turnover and reduces the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and dark spots, too."
My mum used to get breakouts, too, but the cream she tried was harsh and this put her off using anything similar in future. It never occurred to her that a GP could help.
Though my mum's new routine is a little pricy, she's happy to pay for the products and said she would continue to buy them when she runs out. My mum is an advocate of spending money on good quality things if they're actually going to work — and come recommended. If you're after an alternative, Medik8's Night Ritual Vitamin A is £45 and I'd also recommend trying the new L'Oréal Paris Retinol & Niacinamide Night Cream, £27.99.
When it was my turn in the hot seat, Dr Ahmed told me that she's rather happy with what I'm doing. "You're using the right sort of ingredients but your breakouts don't have to happen," she said. Dr Ahmed hit home that my skin needs a little medical attention and said I would benefit from dermatologist-favourite Jan Marini Bioglycolic Face Cleanser, £29, plus Skinoren, £15.99, which is a prescription-strength, 20% azelaic acid cream.
Azelaic acid has anti-inflammatory effects on the skin (minimising redness and swelling in acne-prone skin). It also reduces clogged pores. Skinoren is a product I've used before and really got on with, so I was happy to be reunited with it. Incidentally, my mum used to have breakouts when she was younger, too. She told me that she tried a cream once but it was harsh and made her skin red. This put her off using anything similar in future. She doesn't remember seeing a GP, as it never occurred to her that they could help, so she just put up with the breakouts — just like I've been doing.
Dr Ahmed then suggested I replace my beloved vitamin C. This took me by surprise. I've been using it for a while but if I'm being honest, it didn't seem to make any noticeable improvements to my skin. I realised I was only using it because so many experts rave about its benefits. Dr Ahmed encouraged me to swap it for a serum that combines vitamin C and vitamin E, plus many more antioxidants that'll help protect my skin from things like pollution.
She recommended Skin Better Science Alto Defence Serum, £134. If you're on a budget, plenty of beauty brands like The Inkey List, Glow Recipe and PSA Skin combine vitamins C and E in day serums and creams. Dr Ahmed also encouraged me to use something that offers more barrier repair to counteract the drying effects of the exfoliating acids I've been using. Lots of serums and moisturisers will look after your skin barrier anyway, with moisturising glycerin and repairing ceramides among the ingredients to look out for. She also suggested I incorporate Meder Beauty Eu-Seb Oily and Problem Skin Masks, £48, into my routine when I'm in the mood for some self-care.
Mum used sunbeds for a short period of time when she was younger, when the emphasis on sun protection was pretty much nonexistent. Now, we know a lot more about UVA and UVB damage.
Next came the interesting part: finding out whether me and my mum will age in the same way. Dr Ahmed said that while some of it is down to genes, external factors also play a huge role. My mum used sunbeds for a short period of time when she was younger, when the emphasis on sun protection was pretty much nonexistent. Now, we know a lot more about the damage done by UVA and UVB rays, including premature ageing, hyperpigmentation and skin cancer. I have always been against sunbeds. Their harm has been drummed into me throughout my career but even before I worked in the beauty industry I knew how dangerous they were. I never had any urge to try them.
My mum is also taking immunosuppressants and has previously had a basal cell carcinoma removed. "As most people get older, they gather photo damage and some of your mum's skin cancers are a sign of that," said Dr Ahmed. "But just because she's had skin cancer doesn't mean that it's always genetically predisposed," she explained. "What is more likely is that if you had lots of sunburn then that might be something you have to think about when you're older." Dr Ahmed said we also needed to take into consideration the immunosuppressants on my mum's skin. "If you are predisposed to having skin cancer, then immunosuppressants can accelerate it, so what was going to happen to your skin at age 80 might happen at age 60."
Studies confirm that taking immunosuppressants does mean that some people are more likely than others to develop skin cancer. So while it's not guaranteed that I will age in the same way (nor is it certain I will be more prone to skin cancers), it reiterates the importance of using sunscreen. I use it every day, rain or shine, and I usually always sit in the shade while I'm on holiday. I believe that these two small acts have prevented so much future sun damage. That said, if I were to age in a similar way to my mum, I'd be more than happy about it. Her skin is healthy and it glows. For me, they are the two most important things.
As soon as the call was over my mum rang me and told me how much she enjoyed chatting to Dr Ahmed. "It was so interesting," she said. "I've never really spoken to anybody like that about my skin before and I learned so much in half an hour." She was immediately excited at the prospect of using her new products and the results they could have in the long run. A few weeks into our new routines and we're both noticing an improvement. My spots are clearing up quicker than I'm used to, thanks to the azelaic acid cream. My mum said her skin feels lighter – it seems the products I'd recommended were weighing her skin down a little. She said that her skin looks a little clearer and healthier, too.
If I've learned anything from this mother and daughter skincare experience, it's that I wasn't adapting my knowledge to either mine or my mum's skin types and concerns. I know what's considered a 'good' or effective ingredient and while the products we were both using weren't bad, they weren't targeted, either. Plus, what works for one person isn't necessarily going to achieve the same results across the board. Effective skincare is about personalisation and homing in on individual concerns — and speaking to a qualified expert is a great way to do that.
Refinery29's selection is purely editorial and independently chosen – we only feature items we love! As part of our business model we do work with affiliates; if you directly purchase something from a link on this article, we may earn a small amount of commission. Transparency is important to us at Refinery29, if you have any questions please reach out to us.