I’m not much of a rule-breaker. I like early nights, down gallons of water (hot, because an ex-boyfriend’s mum once told me cold water upsets your digestion), always check the weather forecast before leaving the house and have never shattered my phone screen. I like my routines. But if there’s one routine that truly, truly comforts me, it’s skincare. Nothing calms my mind like the oh-so-satisfying wipe of a damp cotton pad across my face, the feel of a creamy cleanser emulsifying on my skin or the relief from my skin as I daub oil over it before bed. On receiving bad news, I’ve been known to head to the bathroom cabinet, as if on auto-pilot, and cover myself in a clay mask with the same vigour some people reserve for pouring a stiff drink. So imagine my surprise when I settled in for a consultation with leading facialist Kate Kerr, and rattled off my daily list of lotions and potions, expecting a gold star, only to be told: "You should stop using moisturiser." The cornerstone of every good skincare routine is moisturiser, right? It’s the one thing that most people use, if absolutely nothing else. It’s the step most of us make time for before bed. "We’ve been brought up that we need to cleanse, tone and moisturise, but it’s just not necessary," Kate told me. "Your skin is perfectly capable of hydrating itself. Moisturiser is essentially a crutch." Kate’s not alone in her thinking – Dr Zein Obagi, the Medical Director of ZO Skincare, told me the same thing. "Moisturisers in general weaken the skin’s barrier function because they alter the natural function of skin self-hydration," he explains. "Natural hydration comes from within the body – the only thing moisturiser usually really offers is instant gratification. Your skin will feel soothed after applying cream, but this wears off after a few hours and then you want more." According to Kate and co, what happens is that moisturiser is typically introduced to women at some point in their teens, their skin then becomes dependent on it, and then it’s harder to quit. She’s got a point; children and (some) men have incredibly soft skin, without ever applying a lick of Nivea Creme.
"Your skin has its own mechanisms for hydrating itself," Kate continued. "Including drawing moisture from your body and from the air. But when you apply moisturiser topically, your skin thinks it doesn’t need to do its job and stops that process. It gets lazy. Think about it, most people start with using a light cream, and throughout their lives needing to move on to richer and richer formulas." It doesn’t just shut down the hydration process, Kate informed me it also makes your collagen and hyaluronic acid production sluggish, meaning more wrinkles, sooner. And that’s not to mention a lack of radiance. My response, which I’m sure would be shared by many, was that I have really dry skin. Like Sahara dry! To which Kate replied: "There’s real dry skin and there’s dehydrated skin. Real dry skin usually has eczema or dermatitis alongside it, and only 10% of the population have that. Dehydrated skin is skin that’s not very oily, but has gotten used to moisturiser." Well, that firmly puts my skin in the dehydrated camp. I left armed with a new skincare prescription – to my relief, I can still have a routine – and a mind buzzing with questions. How tight is my face going to feel? Is my skin going to flake? Oh god, what’s makeup going to look like? Back at home, I put my Sisley Black Rose Oil and Colbert MD Heal & Soothe away in a drawer and forlornly applied NIOD’s Multi-Molecular Hyaluronic Complex (£38), which is allowed on the Kate skin diet (she also likes SkinCeuticals’ Hydrating B5 Serum, £59), and for a purse-friendly option, La Roche Posay Toleraine Fluid £15) to my stiff, dry face. These serums are all kosher according to Kate as their only moisturising agent is hyaluronic acid, which occurs naturally in the skin and so doesn’t upset its hydrating function. For a day or two, I don’t hugely notice a difference. My face feels tight, yes, but I wouldn’t say it looks vastly different. That’s until almost a week in, when I notice a spate of tiny whiteheads springing up around my nose and mouth, something I never normally get. I put in a crisis call to Kate who soothed me over the phone: "This isn’t the most common reaction but it can happen. Your skin is simply trying to address the lack of hydration by producing more oil. It will settle down," she assures me. Problem is, by this point, makeup really isn’t sitting as well as I’d like it to. And trying to slap on concealer to those bad boys just looks obvious and cakey. My colleagues and friends insist my skin looks fine, but it feels uncomfortable, and mask-like.
By the mid-point of the experiment, taking off my makeup has become my favourite part of the day. Just splashing water onto my face feels so good. I tell Kate over the phone, who laughs and tells me I can enjoy that feeling, and should even hold a warm, wet flannel against my face before applying my serum to maximise the benefits, which is the best news I’ve heard in a long time. If moisturiser offers instant gratification, this NIOD serum is delayed gratification. It does nothing straight after applying, relief-wise, but over the course of the day, your skin does start to feel a bit softer. Still, two weeks came and went, and I never experienced any flakiness, which was my worst fear. "Looks like you don’t really have dry skin after all," Kate tells me. Perhaps she’s right. Yes, it didn’t feel great, and sure, makeup was a bit of a challenge, but all in all it really wasn’t too horrific at all. Granted, I didn’t check that every makeup item I used was free from moisturising agents (some foundations in particular have glycerin or other humectants) but I did well and truly quit the creams. I even switched to a gel cleanser, which I would never normally do. Being able to only use one or two products on my face massively streamlined my evening routine, and to be honest, I don’t see myself going back. Dr Obagi told me there are some circumstances when moisturiser would be permissible, like if you were skiing at extreme altitudes, but I lead a pretty dull sea-level life. The spots have gone, the tight feeling has all but disappeared and there’s not a flake in sight. Could I, the perennial rule-follower, be about to become a skincare renegade?