Notes to My 39-Year-Old Self on No-BS Skincare

27th September 2015
  1. Stop reading women’s magazines. You knew there was something hinky about them when, at age 13, you read an article on “How to Empower Yourself” and it was right next to a piece on the ten best ways to give a man a blow-job. Also: kudos to your 13 year-old self for instinctively recognizing that alternating mouthfuls of hot tea or ice cubes and a man’s tender bits probably wasn’t such a great idea.
  1. Don’t take the recommendations of beauty editors seriously either. Their job is to sell magazines, not to be your best friend. Anyone who has a financial stake in the recommendation they make to you is highly suspect. Listening to their “advice” is like listening to a Nestle-sponsored doctor in Africa explaining to his female patients why breastfeeding is going to harm their babies and why they should use Nestle milk powder instead.
  1. But do seek out women who don’t have a financial stake in whether you buy a product or not and who have made it their life’s mission to make women feel and look better. By this I mean women like Caroline Hirons, Sally Hughes, Paul Begoun, India Knight, and Caitlin Moran.
  1. These women are what I like to call “professional separators of wheat from the chaff”. They will tell you what products work, which are rubbish, and how, in general, to be a woman who is happy with herself, her looks, and her body past the age of thirty-five.
  1. You don’t need a separate cream for the eyes. You. Just. Don’t.
  1. Being on the wrong side of 35 has some benefits. You are no longer desperately seeking perfection. It’s almost a relief to realize – finally – that you’ll never have the dewy, glowing skin of the twenty-year old models in Vogue. You’ve reached the stage where you can admire them from afar without wanting to be them or thinking you ever could be.
  1. Be happy with the way you look right now. Do the best with the materials you are working with. Focus on enhancing the good stuff. You are NOT a bag of flaws just waiting to be fixed.
  1. Any marketing campaign, advertisement, glossy magazine, or TV agony aunt who tries to suggest that you need to be “fixed” can feck off.
  1. Stop being such a whore to beauty marketing. You’re old enough to know better. Don’t buy skincare products that sound fancy but have absolutely no scientifically-proven benefit to them – like arctic snow berries, sea whelk, snail mucin, tiger semen, and the tears of a hundred small children.
  1. Paula Begoun, a well-known beauty consumer affairs expert, has been investigating the so-called “studies” cited by skincare companies to flog their latest miracle ingredient, and in 30 years has been unable to find even one study that actually proved the effectiveness of the hyped ingredient.
  1. Get off the train of Cute. You’re 39 and you have a bathroom stuffed with products you don’t use and bought because they came in pink tubes and had cute, retro images on them and sported rib-ticklingly-witty aphorisms such as “Wash that man right outta your hair” and “You sexy mother pucker.” Jesus wept, woman.
  1. Oh, and collagen and elastin? Kind of bullshit ingredients. Their molecules are too large to penetrate the upper layer of skin. They are effective moisturizing agents – but then, so is duck fat.
  1. The only effective, active ingredients that actually do anything for your skin are as follows:
  1. AHAs (Alpha Hydroxy Acid) and BHAs (Beta Hydroxy Acid or Salicylic Acid) – these dissolve the glue-like bonds between around your old skin cells, slough them off, and reveal new skin cells underneath. It makes the rest of your skincare regime more effective. So, keep treating your face like John George Haigh did his women and you should be ok.
  1. Derived from vitamin A, they are proven to be one of the most powerful and effective weapons signs of ageing. Either you are lucky enough to come across a source of Retin-A, Trentinoin, Retin-A Micro, and Renova (the powerful, prescription-grade stuff) or you find a strong retinol cream or gel over the counter. I’ve been using Skinceuticals Retinol gel in the 0.5% strength, but I am desperately keen to get my hands on the stronger stuff I ordered over eBay.
  1. Don’t make a habit of buying skincare over eBay.
  1. The snake-like shedding of the skin when using potent retinoids is, like, the most satisfying thing EVER. If you’re someone who loves picking their scabs, then you’ll love this.
  1. Antioxidants like vitamin C. Find the purest grade of vitamin C in serum form in a dark dropper bottle and use it well before the sell-by date. Nothing brightens the skin like it. I also find that if I accidentally lick my upper lip in the mornings, I can still taste the bright, citric sting of it on my skin. That makes me feel like it is working?
  1. Hyaluronic acid. Not a miracle worker in the league of, let’s say, AHAs or Retin-A, but it traps moisture near the skin surface and essentially boosts the moisturizing power of your day or night cream. There’s a point in mid-winter when I need it to “un-flakerize” my skin but in general I can do without it.
  1. At night, you like to “seal in” my active ingredients (applied in the form of serums and treatments) with a lovely antioxidant face oil, such as the Trilogy Rosehip Antioxidant+ or a vitamin E oil from the health food store. Not sure that these are actively doing anything for your skin.
  1. But fancy night creams are probably doing nothing for your skin anyway – it would be a miracle if whatever active ingredients they contain can penetrate the five layers of goop you have on your face.  This is not a scientific belief, just a….. belief.
  1. Day creams don’t need to be posh or expensive, but they do need to have a good sunscreen in them. That’s their only requirement.
  1. Eat your way to good skin. That daily smoothie you’ve been forcing yourself to chug down every morning is so full of super foods and miracle seeds that it’s already cleared up the whites of your eyes. Still waiting for the effect to make it to your skin, but the initial signs are hopeful.
  1. Sugar destroys whatever collagen you’ve got left in your skin. So stop eating so much sugary crap.
  1. On the other hand, you’re a busy mum and sometimes the only thing that’s getting you through the day is the thought of that sneaky bag of Maltesers in your bedside table, to be silently dissolved in your mouth in the darkness so as not to wake the two little sleeping bodies on either side of you (or worse, alert them to the presence of chocolate in the room, thus forcing you to share them).
  1. Recognize that you are, and probably always will be, attracted by the whole South Korean skincare thing.
  1. But nurture that suspicion that South Korean skincare works best for South Korean school girls or movie stars whose skin is already preternaturally gorgeous. One is not sure that it works as well for ageing, saggy, middle-aged Irish skin that has the greyish, blueish tint of about-to-turn milk to it.
  1. It doesn’t mean you won’t try Korean skincare, though. You’re an eternally hopeful eejit that way.
  1. Yeah, but wait, no – you can’t say you’re for no-bullshit, effective-ingredients-only skincare and then dovetail off into South Korean skincare, can you? Let’s be consistent. South Koreans make products that favor natural, cruelty-free ingredients such as snail mucin, maple tree sap, bee venom, rose oil, sea kelp, pig collagen, and starfish extract. You know your skincare-bullshit-ingredient meter is tingling right now.
  1. The South Korean skincare issue is unresolved.

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22nd February 2016 9:44 pm

hahahhahaha, same over here, can’t wait to place that order of pig collagen hello kitty super cute retro pastel pink sheet masks 🙂

24th February 2016 7:38 pm
Reply to  Claire

unless I pay a huge customs fee, then it won’t be much fun 🙂

25th February 2016 7:26 pm

This list is brilliant and should be required reading for young (and older) women everywhere. Sounds like the first magazine you encountered was Cosmopolitan!

re point 5: Paula Begoun has released an eye cream because there were so many women out there convinced that it was a product they needed and that no skin care line should be without one. Sigh.

re point 14: I loved one of the few BHAs that Paula recommended other than her own — Neutrogena 3-in-1 lotion with 2% salicylic acid. They have discontinued this product and replaced it with a 1% or 0.5% in their other lines.I now have blackheads for the first time in over 10 years. So far I have not found a 2% product in any other mainstream line. It appears that all lines have instead a liquid cleanser, a foam cleanser and a scrub with those nasty microbeads. Guess I’ll have to start buying online from Paula./rant over

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