While this year has taught us to let go of some previous privileges (dinner parties, road trips, overseas travel), there are a few creature comforts we’ve been lucky to hold onto; skincare.
Admit it. You’ve dabbled in an e-tail spree or two involving new facial scrubs, moisturisers and sunscreen. But how many of these new purchases actually serve our skin, and what do we really know about the products on our shelves? We know that not all products are made equal, and while TikTok may be great at pedalling affordable chemist alternatives to tackle teenage breakouts, it’s a whole different ball-game when it comes to caring for skin over the age of thirty.
When you were younger you could put anything on your skin (body gel with glitter, fluro eyeshadows from the $2 Shop, questionable tanning sprays) and your skin would bounce back, resilient as anything. Better than that, it actually responded to skincare much more readily. But as you approach 30, the cells in your skin become more easily damaged due to environmental and atmospheric pollution and UV. You can no longer get away with using the same cheap, quick-fix, cure-all products that you used to. If you’re not using active ingredients, in the right concentrations and molecular weights, you’re likely wasting your time and money. And so the search for more expensive, higher-performance, scientifically-proven skincare begins.
Before we emerge from lockdown entirely, let’s revisit our at-home skincare routines and Marie Kondo what no longer serves us. (Marie Kondo [verb] The act of decluttering in the style of Japanese author, organisation specialist and personality, Marie Kondo.
Our skin is our body’s largest organ, and so it makes sense that we’re fixated on pampering, nourishing and protecting it. It endures all kinds of conditions, from fluctuations in humidity to growth - don’t even get us started on the foods we eat. So it should come as no surprise that no singular routine will work for all skin types. This explains why your 12-step K-Beauty system mighn’t work for your partner; who insists soap and water will suffice (sorcery).
To sort the need from the needless, we asked dermatologist and cosmetic chemist Megan Dempsey of Megan Dempsey THE CLINIC, about what we should know about our skin, what it likes, dislikes, and how to protect it for years to come.
Your skincare routine should set you up for success every single day, working in order from the thinnest, lightest product to the thickest and heaviest - but always starting with a cleanser.
But what could you possibly have to clean off of your face if you’ve been sleeping, you ask? Just like cleansing your nails before painting, cleansing your skin before beginning your skincare routine ensures your products will work properly. Appling expensive skin care to an unprepped face is as good as throwing money down the drain. Our skin expert Megan recommends cream or oil cleansers as they won’t strip your skin of its natural oils. If you have dry skin (a skin-type not a skin condition), oil cleansers are brilliant in making up for the oils your skin struggles to produce. If your skin is dehydrated (a condition that can be remedied and isn’t affected so much by your genetics), then oil cleansers are great for gently removing makeup and excess residue without stripping your skin of moisture.
A good oil cleanser goes on oily, then turns milky and washes off with lukewarm water - it shouldn’t leave behind any greasy residue. Cream cleansers are also great as they support the natural oils on the skin, without giving you that trademark ‘greasiness’ afterwards. Always use tepid water during the cleansing process. If you’re applying your cleanser in shower, please resist the urge to steam your face off by facing away from the showerhead. Trust us on this one, it’ll prevent intense heat and pressure from potentially bursting precious blood vessels under the skin - and the telltale broken capillaries they come with.
Your skin's natural protective layer, called the acid mantle, acts as a lipid barrier to guard your skin from baddies (acid, toxins, bacteria, infection). Think of it as the good fat that you actually want hanging around. Thanks to this layer, your skin's pH sits on the acidic side (roughly 5.5) and the addition of something like SLS or SLES which is more basic (on the alkaline side of the pH scale) might upset the balance. Adding more alkaline products to your skin may make it feel squeaky clean, but it could actually be messing with its pH; compromising your acid mantle.
B as in brightening, balancing, and blooming brilliant. B Vitamins are naturally occurring, skin-loving compounds and they exist in a bunch of fruits and veggies (vegans everywhere, rejoice!). Our dermatologist Megan, thinks everyone should incorporate Vitamin B into their morning skin routine, as it helps to strengthen cell walls and increase your skin’s ability to hold moisture; making it plumpier, less wrinkly and all-round healthier. It also helps to balance the skin’s natural oil production and suits all skin types - say goodbye to greasy and he-llo to a more dewy luminous complexion. We love this ingredient so much that we’ve used it in our Rest & Repair Wonder Mask for its inherent healing qualities. (Read more about the miracle ingredients in our nail treatment range here.)
A collection of clinical papers (including this one) have proven that Niacinamide (or vitamin B3) not only penetrates the stratum corneum (the skin’s barrier to transepidermal water-loss), it supports skin cell renewal by improving its ability to retain moisture.
C is for collagen. Vitamin C (ascorbic acid or l-ascorbic acid) doesn’t just love your insides, this antioxidant stimulates your skin’s natural ability to produce collagen; a key structural protein that makes skin strong and elastic. But when exposed to UV, free radicals can damage our skin by breaking down collagen (the worst). Good thing vitamin C is a natural photo protectant, which means it guards your skin from any oxidative stress and free radicals caused by UV exposure. Take that, sunshine! Our dermatologist Megan recommends using vitamin C during your AM routine to make the most of its protective and strengthening qualities when you’re most-likely to be exposed. To complement this protection, we highly recommend wearing sunscreen every day (but more on that later).
And before you go rubbing orange slices on your face, know that there’s a whole range of dedicated topical solutions available for you to try. As always, we advise chatting to a skin specialist before throwing just any product on your face. Like many acids, vitamin C is rather unstable on its own, readily oxidising in the presence of water. So you’ll often notice it combined with a blend of other compounds like hyaluronic acid and vitamin E for stability and prolonged effectiveness. Look for ‘ascorbic acid’ or ‘ascorbate’ compounds in the ingredients list. For this reason, we recommend products that aren’t openly exposed to air (screw-top tubs, pots, dropper bottles) as this could prematurely degrade their effectiveness.
One of the main reasons people use creams and lotions on their face is to remedy dryness. But many of us still mistake dehydrated skin for dry skin.
Dry skin is commonly recognised as a type, just like sensitive, combination, or oily skin and is affected by your biochemical makeup, diet, lifestyle, hormones and genetics. (Which might explain why your skin type changes as you age.) It feels tight, itchy, and parched. Dry skin struggles to produce natural oils and so oil-rich moisturisers work by making up for this deficiency. If you fall into this category, stay on the lighter side, and avoid putting heavy moisturisers on any areas that may already be oily like the forehead, nose etc.
Dehydrated skin is a pretty common condition that can be caused by a whole range of things, from transdermal moisture loss to ruptured cells. If you experience the double-whammy of dry and dehydrated skin, please read-on.
Most moisturisers act on the upper layer of the dermis by creating a supportive layer to assist the skin in preventing transdermal moisture-loss; mending the skin from the outside-in. So the actual reason why most of us have parched skin is because the cells can’t retain the moisture in the first place. In this case, oily moisturisers won’t work. You need a solution which strengthens your skin’s cell wall (a vitamin B boosted situation) and maintains moisture within the cell itself. Otherwise you’re simply applying a band-aid solution to moisture loss.
If you have oily skin, our dermatologist advises that you steer clear of face oils and conventional moisturisers as it will only further clog pores and create milia (a buildup of dead skin cells in the hair follicles).
‘I don’t! My SPF is enough.’
The skin under our eyes is thinner and more delicate than the rest of our face, and as such, is more susceptible to sagging, ageing, moisture loss and pigmentation. To prevent free-radical damage, most eye creams contain antioxidants and are specially formulated for this area so that the product particles can actually be absorbed effectively, without causing irritation.
‘But KB, isn’t vitamin C a brilliant antioxidant? Can’t I just apply my vitamin C serum under my eyes?’ Heavens, no. The products you use on the rest of your face work very differently to products applied to the eye area. Antioxidants in eye cream have been carefully formulated to gently firm, brighten and improve the appearance of fine lines - without burning your very delicate under-eye skin.
We are smitten with CosMedix Elite Eye Doctor because it contains retinol (more on this one later) in a liquid crystal serum that stimulates the skin’s natural regenerative functions, accelerating epidermal turnover. Gently patting just one drop, around the eye area daily has noticeably improved the look of our fine lines and wrinkles. (This is not an ad, just straight-up adoration).
Liberty Belle Eye Do® Eye Treatment and CosMedix Elite Eye Doctor.
‘While there’s a cheaper (and less effective) version, trust me, you’ll want the elite version. This product may be exxy but it lasts ages. You only need a pin-drop amount on your finger to treat both eyes. Always ensure you dab it on gently.’
Keep in mind, that even though the world is pretty smitten with hyaluronic acid right now, it’s an optional element of your skincare routine. While collagen in our dermis forms the structure of our skin, hyaluronic acid is responsible for how plump and hydrated it appears. This acid is actually a sugar that naturally occurs in our bodies. It can carry 1,000 times its weight in water and gives our complexion an oh-so glorious glow by drawing moisture to the surface of the skin.
Because we produce much less hyaluronic acid and collagen as we age, our skin can become dehydrated much faster. To make up for it, folks have used this natural humectant (something that prevents and reduces moisture loss) to restore bounce to otherwise ‘blah’ skin. It’s lightweight, absorbs well and can be used on all skin types, making it a skincare essential. Look out for this ingredient in its many forms; HA, hyaluronic acid, sodium hyaluronate, hyaluronan, or hydrolysed hyaluronic acid - to name a few.
Hyaluronic acid can be found in topical creams, moisturisers, sheet masks, serums (our preferred method) and in dermal fillers (an element we hope is notably absent for your at-home routine). To get the most out of this magic molecule, immediately and in the long-run, you’ll need a combination of molecular sizes and weights. We’re trying to mimic the skin’s natural HA production - a naturally chaotic process. Low weight molecules penetrate deeper for long-term hydration whereas the higher weight hyaluronan molecules bring you instant intensive hydration to the surface of your skin (what you observe in your reflection upon application).
Chantecaille Blue Light Protection Hyaluronic Serum
‘I know Chantecaille has another, much prettier, 3D printed serum but the clear pack allows sunlight to oxidise the active ingredients; rendering the entire product an expensive (but pretty) waste of money.’
Absolutely everybody should be using sunscreen daily. This serves as a double-reminder for those living under those big ole holes in the ozone layer (pray for us antipodeans).
Even if you spend most of your time indoors, UVA can penetrate windows and UVB doesn’t discriminate on cloudy days. Unfortunately, it only takes five minutes for UV-damage to occur and all exposure is cumulative and irreversible. This means, that late-autumn sunshine you were catching? Yeah, that’s in the UV-exposure bank now. It’s as if the reasons to wear sunscreen mount just as fast as the damage does.
But why should we be concerned, sunburn happens and we recover, right? According to a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, approximately 80% of facial skin ageing is attributed to UV-exposure. Imagine having a sound skincare routine only to be thwarted by the sun. No one wants prematurely saggy, leathery, aged skin, let alone an increased risk of the big C. But there’s a way around it; by wearing a physical, broad spectrum sunscreen.
Broad spectrum means protection from both UVA and UVB light rays. UVA breaks down collagen, causes hyperpigmentation and premature ageing. While this is our skincare nemesis, many sunscreens still don’t protect you from UVA, favouring the more burn-related UVB instead.
UVB causes that painful burning and redness we experience and can only be prevented by appropriate protection. In sunscreens, UVB protection is represented by the SPF; sun protection factor. This is measured by how much solar energy is required to produce sunburn on protected skin. The higher the SPF, the greater energy required to penetrate the protection you have. We recommend wearing SPF45 at the minimum, especially if you live in Australia.
Physical sunscreens (sometimes referred to as mineral sunscreens) are usually made with zinc or titanium dioxide and sit on top of the skin to block the sun’s rays. These compounds are usually lab-synthesised as natural sources can be contaminated with heavy metals (excellent for your workout playlist, terrible for the body) during the mining process.
Chemical sunscreens absorb UV radiation through their chemical bonds and release it as heat. While this formula makes for a better makeup base, it can also lead to increased breakouts and allergic reactions. And the higher the SPF, the more toxic-load on your skin. Unfortunately, a handful of the active ingredients in chemical sunscreens like oxybenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene, and butyl-paraben are recognised coral-killers that can harm our precious marine ecosystem when they wash off in the ocean.
Overall, we recommend physical sunscreen over chemical ones, as they reduce the toxic load on your skin - and won’t mess with your hormones or genetic expression.
‘PURITO Comfy Water Sun Block is the best I have ever tried. You can grab it for under $20 on Amazon.
Double cleansing is a sure-fire way to ensure nothing from the day stays on your face while you rest. Cleansing removes particulate matter and those volatile organic compounds or VOCs that cause free radicals and accelerate the ageing process. (Read more about the causes of skin ageing here) This is especially important if you’ve been wearing makeup or sunscreen all day (which you have, because you know better).
We recommend starting with micellar water on a cotton pad or a cleansing oil, balm or cream followed by a water-based cleanser. Micellar water is made up of soft-water (water with a high pH, that is more alkaline than acidic) along with micelles, which are tiny balls of oil attracted to the debris on the skin (think: dirt, oil and makeup). These micelles act like tiny magnets to attract impurities on the skin, removing all the gunk without stripping your skin or throwing it off its natural balance. Our founder Anna, really likes Aspect Cleansing Micellar Water, for its botanical infused effectiveness.
Similarly, oil or cream cleansers help to melt away any superficial products and grime by absorbing them and rinsing away clean. We recommend a two-step cleanse to really ensure the day’s products are well-clear before any active serums are introduced.
Exfoliators work by dissolving, lifting or gently buffing away the top few layers of the skin; removing dead skin cells, pigmentation, and encouraging cell turnover. There are two kinds of exfoliators out there; physical and chemical. And just like toners, exfoliants have come a long way from their ‘90s predecessors.
Physical exfoliators work by sloughing away dead skin cells, and usually come in the form of scrubs or masks. While we recommend chemical exfoliators, we think the odd, gentle manual exfoliant can’t hurt in removing the dead skin your chemical one is working on over time. We highly recommend seeking products with natural abrasive particles like ground almond, walnut husk, or coffee - because no one likes a microplastic. Not only are these natural abrasives machine-ground into a face-friendly shape, they are fine enough to deliver exfoliant results without tearing the skin. Please steer clear of using DIY abrasives on your face.
Let’s get one thing straight, the word ‘chemical’ in ‘chemical exfoliant’ is nothing to be afraid of. Our bodies rely on millions of chemical reactions to take place every second in order for us to breathe, digest food, exercise and more. After all, water, sugar and salt, are all chemicals that we ingest every day without even batting an eyelid. It’s the use and context of these chemicals which determines whether they are harmful or helpful - and chemical exfoliants are all sorts of helpful when it comes to your skincare routine.
Chemical exfoliants usually contain alpha, beta or poly-hydroxy acids (AHAs, BHAs or PHAs, respectively) and work by gently dissolving dead skin cells. The word ‘acid’ in this instance is used to describe the chemical structure and pH level of these compounds. Remember, our skin is on the slightly acidic-side with an average pH of 5.5. These acids work wonders in promoting skin cell renewal, sorting out hyperpigmentation and increasing your skin’s hydration factor.
Alpha-Hydroxy-Acids (or AHAs) are water-soluble and work more superficially than their beta counterparts. They are predominantly used to fight the signs of ageing and can completely restructure the surface of the skin (for the better) when applied correctly. They tend to have a tingling effect and include glycolic acid, citric or lactic acid. Our favourite AHA is lactic acid (synthetically produced of course, no need to have a cow) for its more sensitive nature. Lactic acid works to prevent dryness and improve keratin production in the epidermis, without any lightening. This strengthens cell walls and reduces our skin’s moisture loss - something we’re constantly keen to nip in the bud.
Beta-Hydroxy-Acids (or BHAs) are oil-soluble which means that they can get up and under the oil clogging your pores to dissolve grime and gunk where it counts. Salicylic acid is the most common BHA and is often used to combat acne, blackheads and milia without stripping your skin.
Finally PHAs, or poly-hydroxy-acids, are great for more sensitive skin types as their larger molecular weight means they won’t penetrate as deeply as other hydroxy acids. They are effective at breaking down the bonds between dull and dead skin cells, resurfacing skin with minimal irritation. Sometimes they’re mixed in with amino acids to help slow their absorption, to give very sensitive skin a chance to adapt. Some common PHA acids to look out for include gluconolactone, galactose and lactobionic.
In terms of order, it’s best to consult a professional to figure out which acids are best for your skin type and concerns. You might choose to start with a BHA first and finish with an AHA or you might find your acids all packed into one product.
REN Clean Skincare Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask ‘for when I want to feel like I am at a day spa’. Goldfaden MD Fresh A Peel ‘when I’m looking for more intense exfoliation’.
Growing up you might’ve experienced toner as an acutely burny-feeling fluid applied to the face with cotton balls post-cleanse. However, this is not, we repeat, not what toner is like today. In fact dermatologists have since discredited the overly astringent toners of the ‘90s due to their drying, dehydrating qualities and are rapidly trying to educate the masses on the new and improved formulations of our millennium. And our skin is all the more happy for it.
Say goodbye to alcohol-infused concoctions. Today’s toners treat a whole range of skin concerns (not just oil and acne) and act like a primer for the rest of your skincare. After cleansing, toners help remove dead skin cells from the surface or your skin and deeply hydrate in anticipation for your serums and creams. Dermatologists insist you use it morning or night and within a minute of cleansing (or double cleansing). Modern formulations often contain antioxidants, acids, glycerin, or anti-inflammatories to penetrate the skin fast. At night, you can use toners after exfoliating to restore the skin’s natural pH.
A is for anti-ageing. Vitamin A or retinol has been long heralded as an anti-ageing, skincare saviour. However, it can be difficult to spot which forms of vitamin A are actually effective with all of the confusing terminology bouncing around.
Retinoic acid is the biologically active form of vitamin A responsible for skin repair. To be effective, all other retinoids (an umbrella term for retinol products) will need to undergo conversion at the skin level to become retinoic acid.
Other members of the retinoid family include retinaldehyde, retinol and retinyl derivatives (like retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate and retinyl linoleate). But, not all retinoids are created equal and their effectiveness varies greatly based on their concentration, time, your skin’s chemistry and retinoid receptors.
Retinoids affect gene expression in the skin by penetrating the epidermis and speeding up cell turnover through inflammation. This process might be irritating at first, but it triggers and enhances collagen production, evens out pigmentation and smoothes the skin. Straight retinoic acid is obviously the most effective of the bunch as it doesn’t need to undergo any further transformations, while retinol is still effective but requires time to convert into retinoic acid on the skin. Then there are the more gentle, low-concentrate retinyl derivatives which are kinder on sensitive skin but take much longer to take effect. (Nothing against these derivatives if you’re building up to more active retinoids.)
Finishing with an eye cream is like icing on the cake of skincare routines. Applying an eye cream at night is a glorious way to deeply hydrate, smooth and soften tired eyes before tucking them in for bed. While we touched on this during our AM routine, applying an eye-cream at night really allows the product to sit and soak-in, without being exposed to daytime oxidisers.
Most facial oils can be too heavy for the skin, which is why we tend to gravitate towards lighter alternatives like apricot, avocado, jojoba and almond oil in our skincare.
If you identify with dry skin types, then you’ll be intimately aware of your skin’s struggle to produce much of its own oils. The good news is that there are plenty of products on the market packed with natural oils that mimic our skin’s sebum. Our Self Love Oil is filled with organic jojoba, almond, and avocado oils, acting as a nice little treat for dry skin. We’ve been known to use it as a melty makeup remover, a drop of instant glow when added to foundation and absolutely everywhere else in need of hydration - cuticles, elbows and lips included.
This oil nourishes the skin and helps prevent moisture loss, but it will not increase your cells’ ability to withhold water - we recommend a good vitamin B solution for that.
If you have oily skin that is dehydrated (yes, this is totally a thing) then then you may benefit from something light, like grapeseed oil. Chances are your acid mantle has been depleted from over exfoliating, causing moisture loss and overactive sebum production. To help repair a damaged mantle, a light oil like grapeseed can provide the protection you need to help your lipid barrier recover, while preventing further moisture loss. And because it’s incredibly light oil, it soaks in quite quickly and doesn't feel that oily at all.
‘I don’t! I steer well-clear of all face oils.’
You’ve made it! And while that was a rather exhaustive guide to your daily at-home skincare routine, there’s still so much to learn and explore (we’ve hardly scratched the surface on SPF, let alone vitamins D, E and F). And you’ve guessed it. What works for your skin will ultimately depend on your type, concern, weather, diet and preferences. It pays to experiment and see what products work best for your face and to iterate based on results - the scientific way.
In summary, here’s what we’ve learned:
Want to learn even more about ingredients? Read our guide to vegan cosmetics and how to spot animal-derived ingredients that might be lurking in your beauty products.
Or if you’re keen to perfect your home pampering routine, read 5-steps to the perfect manicure or the miracle ingredients behind our treatment range.