Has your skincare routine become too complicated? Whether your main concern is dryness, breakouts, sensitivity or an overly shiny T-zone, three experts break down what you really, truly need, what you can bin and why

When it comes to modern day skincare, most of us appear to have an encyclopedic knowledge of our active A-Zs. From retinol to niacinamide and vitamins C and E, our morning and evening rituals are full of the latest buzz ingredients thanks to the wealth of information now available at our fingertips.

However, as great as this is, does anyone else feel a tad overwhelmed? With so much choice, it can be hard to make sense of the jargon and find what our skin actually needs. The events of the past 19 months have further added to this. According to Life After Lockdown, the 2021 Skincare Trend Report from the L'Oréal Active Cosmetics Division, the shutting of clinics has led to increased misguided self-diagnosis, causing more harm than good in the absence of our professional sounding boards.

“With more time on their hands to research, many people have been bombarded by extra marketing and had much more exposure to new products and concepts,” notes dermatologist and trend forecaster, Dr Uliana Gout. “This information overload is causing confusion and creating misconceptions.” Excesses in skin experimentation could be wreaking havoc with our skin barrier (the skin’s coat of armour against environmental aggressors and water loss). “The more information that’s out there, the harder it is to navigate,” says consultant dermatologist Dr Justine Hextall. “I’ve seen patients that have had to go from a 20-stage regime to just water as their skin has become so sensitised that it’s all that they can tolerate.”

Over exfoliation, overuse of actives and questionable at-home remedies have become increasingly common, and as a result, have added to our skincare concerns rather than addressed them. “Once someone has a skincare regime that’s too complicated and it’s disrupted their skin barrier, they’re more likely to develop multiple issues such as dryness and breakouts. It often means that they need to strip back their regime.”

They say that prevention is better than cure, so we sought the advice of three skin experts to provide their top tips for six common concerns and the biggest mistakes they see people make.

From dryness to dehydration, dullness, breakouts, oiliness and sensitivity caused by overuse of actives, they act as a valuable starting point for anyone suffering from a case of ‘skincare overwhelm.’ “There’s a difference between what the skin needs, and what we read and think it needs,” says Dr Hextall.

So forget what’s gone before, here’s how to streamline your routine and keep your skin barrier happy and healthy with minimal fuss.

If your main concern is dryness...

The biggest skincare mistake

After a long commute or stressful succession of Zoom meetings, the idea of ‘washing the day off’ can be extremely appealing. For those of us with dry skin though, there can be too much of a good thing. Overwashing can be the nemesis of parched skin types and, while a trend such as double cleansing can have its place, it’s not for everyone.

“Double cleansing frequently can strip the skin, leading to dry patches and irritation in people with dry skin,” cautions Dr Sonia Khorana, (@dermgp on Instagram) GP with a Special Interest in Dermatology (GPwSI) and cosmetic doctor. “In my opinion, double cleansing should be limited to people who wear thick make-up and people with oily skin.”

If you’re looking for a less stripping way to remove heavy make-up in the evenings (especially around the eyes), go in with a gentle micellar water rather than a cream or milk cleanser as your pre-cleanse step.

What to do instead

Dr Khorana recommends seeking out hydrating cleansers enriched with conditioning ingredients to ensure your skin’s left feeling comfortable rather than tight and to avoid disrupting your barrier function. “This will ensure you’re not being too harsh with your skin,” she says. “Looking after your barrier will ensure that your skin is at its best.”

Try: Aveeno Face Calm and Restore Cleanser

• Size: 200ml

• Fragrance-free

• Non-comedogenic

This new cream cleanser for Aveeno is the perfect fit for dry and sensitive skin types thanks to its nourishing formula containing prebiotic oat and calming feverfew. 

Layer hydrating serums and moisturisers on top to help skin both attract and hold onto valuable moisture. “I would also advise carrying a facial mist and spritzing it on during the day – it’s an instant pick-me-up for dry skin,” suggests Dr Khorana.

Try: PIXI Glow Mist

• Size: 80ml

Enriched with 13 natural oils as well as propolis, aloe vera and fruit extracts, this hydrating mist provides a welcome spritz of radiance when you need it most.

Try: Clinique Moisture Surge Intense 72H Lipid-Replenishing Hydrator

• Size: 50ml

This rich cream-gel is a favourite of Dr Khorana’s for strengthening the skin barrier and leaving a dry complexion instantly soothed. Containing aloe water, calming cica, hyaluronic acid and caffeine, it’s an ideal moisturiser update for the winter months. 

A wildcard addition to your dry skin artillery? Dr Khorana recommends investing in a humidifier to help offset the drying effects of central heating.

If your main concern is sensitivity...

The biggest skincare mistake

Skin can become sensitised due to a variety of reasons. These range from genetics to environmental factors and harsh skincare that has disrupted your skin barrier.

If your skin has become more delicate due to overuse of actives, help it get its strength back by going back to basics. “I find that many people who have sensitive skin underestimate the importance of finding the right cleanser,” Dr Justine Hextall tells us. “If it’s foaming or alcohol-based, it’s probably too strong for sensitive skin.” A good indicator that you could benefit from using a more hydrating formula is if your skin feels tight after cleansing.

It could also be worth looking at the ingredients in your bathing products. “Some of my patients say that their skin feels and looks fine when they wake up,” says Dr Hextall. “In those cases, it’s usually a clue to have a look at their shampoo and shower gel as these could be the source of the irritation.” 

What to do instead

“Apply your moisturiser on sensitive areas before you shower,” advises Dr Hextall. This forms a semi-barrier of sorts to protect skin from harsh ingredients in your hair and body products. “Places prone to irritation are often around the eyes and lips and the nasolabial folds - especially during the winter months.”

She also advises cleansing skin as soon as you come out of the shower. “I have patients who only use water to wash their faces as their skin is so sensitive, however, the hard water in certain areas of the country contains lots of minerals which can actually cause irritation in some,” Dr Hextall points out. In these cases, look to face washes that carry skin benefits - ingredients like shea butter and ceramides, and milk and cream formulations that soothe as they cleanse.

Try: Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser

• Size: 236ml

• Fragrance-free

• Soap-free

• Non-comedogenic

This is a go-to of Dr Hextall’s thanks to its super mild formula that’s extremely unlikely to irritate dry and sensitive skin. Some of her other favourites include CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser, and La Roche-Posay Toleriane Dermo-Cleanser. After cleansing, Dr Hextall recommends layering on a hyaluronic acid serum (try The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5, and then a calming moisturiser on top for your serum to draw moisture from.

Try: Avène Tolerance Control Soothing Skin Recovery Balm for Dry Sensitive Skin

• Size: 40ml

• Fragrance-free

• Colourant-free

If your skin is prone to flare-ups, this top pick from Dr Hextall may help. Formulated to relieve discomfort, tightness and tingling, its soothing formula contains a combination of Avène Thermal Spring Water and an ingredient called D-Sensinose (a calming postbiotic that targets hypersensitivity) that seeks to restore balance to reactive skin.

In terms of the rest of your routine, Dr Hextall recommends stripping it right back to give your skin time to recover and re-strengthen. “It’s important to calm, hydrate, protect and repair,” she says. Once your skin has started to calm down, you can start adding actives slowly back into your routine. If you’ve got your eye on a vitamin A serum, she suggests incorporating it slowly into your routine and opting for low strength options like The Ordinary 0.2% Retinol in Squalane (£4.20), making sure to apply a moisturiser underneath to act as a ‘buffer’ while your skin gets used to it.

If your main concern is dullness...

The biggest skincare mistake

Incorporating an exfoliating acid into your routine can be a great way to slough off dead skin cells and reveal brighter, smoother skin. That said, doing it too often or using a product that’s too harsh, can lead to sensitivity. “Unfortunately, many people take exfoliating too far to address dullness,” Dr Khorana tells us. “Over-exfoliating (especially in winter months) can result in irritated skin and a damaged skin barrier.”

 What to do instead

Go low and slow. “When you do exfoliate, use gentle products and avoid any harsh scrubbing or tugging on the skin,” advises Dr Khorana. “I’d recommend exfoliating two or three times per week max (maybe even less if your skin can’t handle it).”

Your choice of exfoliating acid is key. One size doesn’t fit all, and there are loads of hardworking, yet mild options to choose from. “I’d recommend swapping to gentler exfoliants like PHAs such as lactobionic acid and gluconolactone acid,” says Dr Khorana. “These are gentler than AHAs and BHAs and are also humectants (they retain moisture reserves). This means that you can have a glowy complexion in the winter months without excessive exfoliation.”

Try: Ole Henriksen Transform Plus PHAT Glow Facial

• Size: 50ml

This exfoliating face mask is a top pick of Dr Khorana’s thanks to its mix of PHAs and Nordic birch sap. It’s the ultimate beauty sleep booster if you ask us. 

Other brilliant glow-enhancing favourites of Dr Khorana’s include using a vitamin C serum every morning for helping with dullness and fading dark marks and using a daily sunscreen to prevent sun damage and pigmentation.

If your main concern is breakouts…

The biggest skincare mistake

“Having too complicated a regime is a common mistake,” says Dr Hextall. “Often people feel that if something is drying or tingly, it’s helpful and so they end up overdoing the actives and making things worse.” 

Hydrating the skin barrier is a key part of helping manage breakouts. “Water-based moisturisers soothe and also help repair the skin barrier, which is really important for those who have spots, acne and breakouts,” explains Dr Hextall. “Yes, you do want to unclog pores and balance oil levels, but you also want to respect the skin’s microbiome which in turn will calm skin. It sounds counterintuitive but it’s so important.”

What to do instead

When it comes to breakouts, it’s important to think holistically as well as what we put on our skin topically. “Consider your triggers,” suggests Dr Hextall. These could range from hormones to stress and diet. It could be helpful to log your breakouts in a diary to see if they crop up at particular times or after eating certain foods.

It’s also important to get a proper diagnosis if you think that you may have acne. It can often get confused with conditions such as rosacea and the best skincare for each can differ dramatically. Book in with your GP if you’re unsure or try the Boots Online Doctor Acne Treatment service to get an expert-led plan of action.

If you’re looking to tackle flurries of breakouts or spots, try incorporating an exfoliating acid such as a salicylic acid product, an oil-soluble BHA that helps unclog pores, into your routine. “Be careful that it’s not too strong and introduce it into your routine slowly,” cautions Dr Hextall.

Try: CeraVe SA Smoothing Cleanser with Salicylic Acid

• Size: 236ml

• Fragrance-free

• Non-comedogenic

As well as salicylic acid to help with roughness, blackheads and blemishes, this exfoliating face wash also includes hyaluronic acid and ceramides to avoid stripping skin.

Another option to try is a retinoid to help increase cell turnover. Whichever you opt for, Dr Hextall recommends starting slow and using a hydrating cleanser beforehand and a soothing non-comedogenic moisturiser afterwards to keep irritation to a minimum. If you’re using a retinoid, there’s no need to use a separate exfoliating acid all that frequently as it could result in over-exfoliation and irritate skin in the process.

Try: Avène Triacnéal Night Moisturiser for Blemish-Prone Skin

• Size: 30ml

Retinaldehyde, an ingredient that converts into vitamin A to boost cell turnover, is the star ingredient in this night cream pick from Dr Hextall. It works in synergy with soothing Avène Thermal Spring Water to answer a range of skin needs.

If your main concern is excess oil...

The biggest skincare mistake

If you're contending with a shinier than usual T-zone and you’ve noticed more blackheads as a result, you’re not alone. The winter elements and extremes in temperature can cause sebum production to go into overdrive. “The oil content of our skin can change for many reasons: exercise, at-home heaters and changing hormone levels can all lead to our skin feeling more oily,” explains Dr Ifeoma Ejikeme (@dr_ifeoma_ejikeme on Instagram), founder and medical director of the award-winning Adonia Medical Clinic. The biggest mistake she sees those with this concern make? “Adding extra oils to already oily skin can lead to congestion and even breakouts.”

What to do instead

It’s a common skincare myth that you don’t need moisturiser if you have oily skin. It still needs hydration, but product choice is key. “For those with oily or acne-prone skin, opt for oil-free or lightweight non-comedogenic moisturisers to reduce the risk of breakouts,” Dr Ejikeme recommends.

Try: Eucerin DermoPurifyer Oil Control Mattifying Fluid

• Size: 50ml

• Non-comedogenic

As well as helping to dial down shine, this cream also helps reduce blemishes courtesy of a dose of salicylic acid and other sebum-regulating ingredients.

Keep your regime simple to avoid stripping skin as this can cause it to produce more oil to overcompensate. “Streamline your skincare routine with my five step approach: a gentle cleanse, antioxidant, treatment step (to target your specific skin need), moisturiser and SPF.”

If extra shine is concentrated around the nose and it’s causing blackheads or blemishes, your treatment step might include salicylic acid, which can be applied just to your T-zone.

Try: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo+ Blemish Treatment

• Size: 40ml

Containing salicylic acid, calming niacinamide and zinc, this gel moisturiser is a favourite of Dr Ejikeme’s for helping unclog pores and rebalance sebum levels.

Try: The Inkey List Niacinamide Serum

• Size: 30ml

Niacinamide is one of the best all-rounders going. As well as boosting barrier function, it also has anti-inflammatory benefits to make it an effective blemish-buster too. This serum is one of Dr Ejikeme’s go-tos for those with spot-prone skin. Discover more of the best niacinamide serums in our handy guide.

Looking for a handy way to touch-up your T-zone throughout the day? Try these Invisamatte Blotting Papers from Fenty Beauty Compact and refillable, they’re super absorbent for stealthy shine control on the go.

Try: ZitSticka Killa Spot Clarifying Patch Kit

• Size: 8 pack

Do you get the occasional blemish? Dr Ejikeme recommends popping one of these transparent patches on to help take the edge off. It’s also an excellent way to resist the urge to constantly touch your spots.

Searching for a cleanser? Read our guide to the best face washes for acne-prone skin.

If your main concern is dehydration...

The biggest skincare mistake

Come winter, temperature control is at the forefront of many people’s minds. And while it can be tempting to crank it up, it can be better for your skin to keep it a little lower when it comes to the bathroom. “Steaming hot water can strip skin of its natural oils, causing it to become more dehydrated,” says Dr Khorana. “It’s best to avoid really hot showers in the winter months to prevent dehydrating your skin.”

What to do instead

Keep showers lukewarm to de-stress body, mind and skin at the end of a long day. “Follow up with a moisturiser immediately while the skin is still damp,” recommends Dr Khorana. “This will help to replenish any of the moisture your skin may have lost while in the shower.” 

When it comes to your skin products, look for mild and hydrating cleansers and products containing a mixture of humectants, smoothing emollients and occlusives to attract and lock moisture in. Some of Dr Khorana’s favourite ingredients include ceramides and humectants such as hyaluronic acid applied to damp skin and then follow it up with an occlusive to seal it. Peptides can also help with firmness and elasticity.

Try: Vichy Mineral 89 Hyaluronic Acid Hydration Booster Serum

• Size: 50ml

This hyaluronic acid serum has accumulated quite the collection of glowing reviews over the years thanks to its water-like texture and fast-absorption. It also contains 15 minerals to soothe as well as it hydrates. 

You might find our guide to the best hyaluronic acid serums helpful too.

Try: Dr.Jart+ Ceramidin Moisturising Gift Set

• Size: 8 pack

As well as containing Dr Khorana’s favourite face moisturiser for dehydrated skin, this three piece set also contains the range’s Facial Toning Liquid and Facial Barrier Mask for the full Ceramidin experience. Just the gift for parched skin. 

Gift set contains:
Ceramidin Cream 50ml
Ceramidin Liquid 10ml
Ceramidin Facial Barrier Mask 22g

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