“Have you near heard of Clearasil?” I was fourteen, walking across a green near my house, when a group of guys around my own age shouted this sage skincare advice at me. I had heard of Clearasil. I had tried Clearasil. But while it was a perfectly fine facial wash, it didn’t do anything to combat acne.
The jeer across the green wasn’t a huge deal in the bigger scheme of things – I’m not scarred for life (though I am acne-scarred for life) and I know that kids deal with far, far worse than jibes about problem skin. But it was that stage in life when I already had close to zero confidence, and the jeers shredded what was left of it. What compounded it was the fact that they were some distance away. Meaning they could either see my blemished skin from all the way over the other side of the green, or my reputation went before me. And worst of all, I knew that they were saying out loud what many people think inside when they see acne-covered skin. Why doesn’t she do something about it? Does she eat too many sweets? Why doesn’t she clean her face properly or buy that damn bottle of Clearasil?
What saved me, eventually, was makeup. All the well-meaning articles advised against wearing makeup. It wouldn’t help, they said, it might make it worse. And throughout the early teen years, I tried very hard. I avoided makeup, I avoided sweets, I washed my face, I put Sudocrem on spots, I never touched my skin, and I never, ever squeezed anything. But nothing worked. And when I was old enough to wear makeup – when I caved and wore makeup, I was saved. Thirty-odd years later, makeup and the right to wear makeup without being criticised, is the hill I will die on.
About eighteen months ago, I started to feel my makeup needed a bit of help: my skin looked dull and dry and just generally bleurgh. I was looking into changing foundation, when I read an article about serums, and a particular serum that’s believed to help acne scars. Because my skin breaks out so easily, I had avoided anything other than Simple facial wash and Clinique moisturiser for twenty years, but I felt like maybe it was time to take a chance on something new.
So I read some more articles, and asked my parent blogger friends for advice, and decided to dip my toe (or fingertip) into skincare. Even still, I was skeptical – suspecting the products were all a bit of a con, and a big waste of money.
Eighteen months and much (enjoyable) experimentation later, I’m a skincare addict. In a good way. My skin looks better and it feels a million times better. For the first time in my life, I don’t hate it. My skin tone is still very uneven, I still wear makeup, but the improvement in look and especially feel is something I’d never have believed a year ago.
And particularly during lockdown, when dresses and makeup are sitting unworn, experimenting with skincare has brought me joy.
So why am I writing this post?
I know from having many conversations since, that lots of people know lots of things about skincare, and dabble regularly.
And I know that lots of other people are like I was – curious to try, but not sure where to start, and confused by the vast array of products available.
Of course, lots of other people are perfectly happy with a simple dab of moisturiser – if it’s working and you’re not looking to change, there’s nothing to fix.
But the for the middle group above – people like me who want to dip a fingertip and try something new – this is for you: this is the new skincare routine I’ve put in place, and all the products I’ve tried in the last eighteen months.
A couple of important notes:
- I bought all the products, I’m not promoting anything, and it’s all 100% honest feedback. (But also, just because something wasn’t great for me, doesn’t mean it won’t be great for you.)
- This is very much an end-user summary of products tried and tested – I don’t know anything about the science of skincare.
- I am very careful about patch testing and following instructions and if anything stings my skin, I wash it off straight away. This is my way of saying if you do try something I’ve recommended, please read the instructions 🙂
Last year, when I was trying to understand the ins and outs of skincare, I read an article by Laura Kennedy in the Irish Times, in which she said that without “double cleansing”, you may as well be putting serum on your couch, for all the good it will do you.
It caught my attention, but I had no idea what double cleansing meant (or what serums were for.) So I did lots of reading and asked lots of advice, and tried a few different options, ending up with the following cleansing routine:
I use one of the following:
- La Roche Posay foaming gel
- Liz Earle Hot Polish
- Kinvara Oil
- The Ordinary Squalene Cleanser
I use the La Roche Posay in the shower, and one of the other three at other times. La Roche Posay products are very kind on sensitive skin, and widely available in pharmacies.
I love Liz Earle Hot Polish – it’s a creamy cleanser you put all over your face, then clean off with a cloth soaked in hot water. You get two cloths with the starter pack. It costs about €23 (currently online for €19) in Boots, and mine lasted me six months.
The Ordinary Squalene Cleanser feels nice going on and after being washed off, if less of a zingy feeling than the Liz Earle. It’s very good value at €6.95 . I bought this – and all The Ordinary products listed below – from Cloud10Beauty.com, a very good Irish website for skincare and makeup. You can also get The Ordinary from Arnotts and Brown Thomas.
I recently bought Kinvara Cleaning Oil – I love the smell and how it feels, but have yet to test it out with heavy duty makeup (Oh, to have somewhere to go with heavy duty makeup…) Kinvara is an Irish skincare brand with a really lovely website and very quick ordering service. I’m looking forward to buying more products from them. (€22.95)
La Roche Posay Miceller Water or Simple cleanser – I put some on my fingers, smooth all over my face, then remove with a cotton pad.
And it turns out, double cleanse just means cleanse twice.
Pixi Glow Tonic or La Roche Posay Toner
Until last year, I had never used toner. Now I love how it feels to use it after cleansing and can’t go without it. My treat toner is Pixi Glow Tonic – I’ve tried three different types in that range and love them all (€12 in on Cloud10 / €15 in Boots). For night-time, I have a big bottle of La Roche Posay that’s far less fun than Pixi but will last a lot longer.
I suffer from dark circles under my eyes and have been researching this on and off since the internet was invented. From what I know, you can’t really do anything about dark circles, no matter how many creams claim to fix them. They are caused by thinner skin under the eyes, and you either have dark circles or you don’t. (They do look more pronounced when you’re tired, but this is because the rest of your face is paler, apparently.) I’ve spent money over the years on creams that were supposed to fix dark circles – most recently a Number 7 Dark Circle Corrector product that the woman in Boots told me “definitely works”. I believed her, because why would she say it if it wasn’t true? It doesn’t work. I’m still sore about the €37 I spent.
I use The Ordinary Caffeine solution under my eyes because I like how it feels, and then I cover up dark circles with Bobbi Brown Corrector (best concealer I’ve ever bought) followed by Benefit Boing.
This was the bit that was completely new to me and I’m still learning. What I understand is that serums go on after cleansing and toning, but before moisturising. Moisturiser is like the sealant you put on at the end, while serums do all the hard work of putting good things into your skin. I had been using an expensive Clinique Moisturiser (€56) for years and was buying it every six weeks, but now I use much lighter, cheaper moisturisers, because the serums are doing the work of making my skin feel good.
This is my current routine, but I keep trying new products:
Morning serums, layered:
- Matrixyl by The Ordinary which is for fine lines. I’ve just started using this – it has a really lovely thick consistency and my skin felt very soft and smooth afterwards. So far, so good.
- Hyaluronic Acid by The Ordinary, which I’ve bought a third time (€6.75 from Cloud10). I’ve also tried one by Pestle and Mortar, which was very good, though more expensive. I can’t see myself ever not using Hyaluronic Acid now that I’ve started. It makes my skin feel smooth and plumper, and feels like a good base for the other stuff that goes on after – moisturisers, primer, foundation.
Other serums I’ve tried over the last year:
Mizon Snail Repair from Damsel.ie (a skincare website run by a friend of mine) – I really liked this and keep meaning to purchase again, and try some other products from the range.
Niacinamide by The Ordinary – this one is supposed to reduce the appearance of blemishes. I don’t know if it did, but it wasn’t expensive (€5.70) and I would buy it again if my skin took a downhill turn towards break-outs.
NIOD Copper – this has quite watery consistency which surprised me as so many other serums I’ve tried are more satisfyingly gloopy and, well, serum-y. I liked the smell, and it felt very serious, like it must be doing something good. Overall, I liked it, I liked how my skin looked when I used it, but I’m not rushing to buy it again immediately especially when there are so many other products to try.
Buffet by The Ordinary – according to The Ordinary website, Buffet has a “range of Peptide complexes and Amino Acids”. I have no idea what these are. But it says it’s anti-aging and works a bit like Botox. Sold! It feels really lovely going on, and when I run out of my current serum, I’ll buy again. €14.75 for 30ml.
EUK by The Ordinary – this is an antioxidant that reduces redness. I have half a bottle left, I got distracted by Buffet. I will go back to it and see if it reduces redness, now that I’ve looked up the website and discovered that’s what it does!
I also bought Vitamin C serum by Inky List but my skin began to sting after using it and I had to wash it off. Inky List is another low-cost skincare brand (not as cheap as The Ordinary, but almost) so I will try something else eventually.
Evening serums and oils, layered:
At night, after cleansing and toning, I’m currently using the following:
Kate Somerville Squalane Hyaluronic – I ran out of something when we were in Kerry in the summer so bought this in TK Maxx (okay, it was just an excuse to buy something new). I like how smooth it is going on, and the bottle is lasting well, but it’s not top of my list to buy again.
NIOD Skin Vaccine – I love this so much. It’s a thick consistency and feels absolutely lovely going on, and my skin feels great the following morning. I’ve already bought it again for when my current bottle runs out. Possibly my favourite product to date.
Other serums I’ve used at night or swap in and out with the above:
Paula’s Choice Resist Instensive Wrinkle Repair Retinol Serum – really like this and have just bought for a second time (€42.95 on Cloud10)
Paula’s Choice Resist Ultra-Light Antioxidant Serum – loved it and that’s what prompted me to try more Paula’s Choice products (around €38.95)
The Ordinary Retinol, which I think is fantastic and have repurchased. I use the lowest % one (0.2%). I usually put this on after everything else I’ve used, but less so at the moment as the NIOD Skin Vaccine feels like enough. (Around €5)
Rosehip Oil – I use this sometimes at night on top of serum.
I also tried Alpha Lipoic Acid by The Ordinary but it was too stingy for me, I stopped using it. Likewise for Alpha H Liquid Gold which sounds amazing but stings my skin. I haven’t given in though, it’s still on my dresser, ready for when I toughen up.
Now that I’m using so many serums, I no longer buy expensive moisturisers. At the moment I’m using a La Roche Posay one that I bought my accident last year when I was looking for their miracle spot cream.
Next up, when my La Roche Posay runs out, is a Balance Me moisturiser called “Arctic Cloudberry Rosehip”. It cost a little more at €30 but I’ve tried it already and it feels really lovely going on. And look, you can’t argue with a name like “Arctic Cloudberry Rosehip” and pretty packaging. Available in Dunnes.
I also got a Codex Skin Superfood for Christmas last year after reading great reviews online. It smells gorgeous, and feels like a treat cream to use on top of everything else on days when I’m not wearing makeup. It’s not cheap (€55) so I’m using my tube sparingly.
And the Miracle Spot Cream
A final note – La Roche Posay Effeclar Targeted Corrector is hands down the best spot cream I’ve ever tried for me, it reduces the inflammation and heals the spot much more quickly than if left alone.
A final, final note
I don’t believe any particular product can give miracle results, but I know I’m enjoying the ritual of skincare and I’m really enjoying trying new products. And a few weeks ago, my eldest said to me, “Mum, your skin looks really nice and you have less wrinkles than you used to!” A comment that was arguably just as direct as the original Clearsil comment, but this time I was left with a smile on my face.