These products will all work hard to improve your skin. Choose the appropriate ones for your skincare concerns, and use them like medicine. By that, I mean use them as it tells you on the directions that come with the product, and be patient. Skincare can help to make great improvements in your complexion, but you do need to give it time. This is my shortlist, but I’m going to keep adding to it.
This outstandingly good SPF50 sunscreen is one of my all-round favourites. It is lightweight and runny in texture and doesn’t provoke blemish-prone skin. I find it is moisturising without feeling heavy and it is water- and sweat-resistant.
Like the rest of the Anthelios range, it was developed for sensitive skin though it is good for every skin type, and it offers impressive sun protection. This one, ‘Shaka’, is a new version of the product that used just to be called XL for ‘extra light’ (you need to shake it up before applying, to make sure it is properly mixed).
There’s a tinted version which some people prefer, but I like the plain one, and the fact that this neat little bottle is very easy to slip into a handbag or pocket.
Price: £ 16.50
This rich moisturising cream hydrates, soothes and protects sensitive and irritable skin, and helps keep it feeling comfortable.
A great choice for hypersensitive skin, and also for post-procedure skin Avene’s Tolerance Extreme cream moisturises and nourishes without feeling heavy.
Made with just seven ingredients, it is calming even for reactive skin.
Massage into dry, clean skin when needed.
Moisturiser and Night Repair
Price: £ 12.00
A cream cleanser that not only thoroughly cleanses the skin but has glycolic and lactic acids – those are both alpha-hydroxy acids — and rice micro-beads to slough away dulling dead skin cells and debris with both a physical and a chemical exfoliation.
It’s called ‘3Deep’ because it has three ways of working.
You can apply it to damp skin, massage it lightly into the skin and rinse it away for an everyday cleanse, which you can do twice a day.
Or you can apply the product to dry skin, massage it in thoroughly and then rinse (if you do this, I’d advise concentrating the massage on the oilier areas of the face such as nose and chin as the cleanser is mildly abrasive and I find rubbing those rice beads around the rest of my face can get a bit rough.
Or you can apply a decent amount of the mask to dry skin and leave it on for five minutes, for the alpha-hydroxy acids to go to work dissolving the cellular ‘glue’ that holds the outermost dead skin cells onto the surface, then rinse away.
So – yes, it is expensive, but think of this more as a treatment product than a run-of-the-mill cleanser, you’ll soon see the point of it.
Cleanser and Glycolic Acid
Price: £ 39.00
Don’t be put off by the name; it’s not just teenagers who are afflicted with acne-prone skin and this product isn’t just for the young.
Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (a BHA, as opposed to other types of ‘acid tonic’ you may have heard of, such as glycolic acid, or lactic acid, both of which are alpha-hydroxy acids aka AHAs).
Like AHAs, it has a light exfoliating effect on the skin, but unlike AHAs, salicylic acid has an unparalleled ability to weasel its way into clogged pores and clear them out by dissolving the oil that is blocking them – and reduce excessive oil production.
It is also anti-inflammatory, which is helpful for inflamed, congested, spotty skin.
This product contains 1% salicylic acid, so it is a good place to start (if you want something stronger, try Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid
Apply it to a cotton wool pad and wipe over clean, dry skin once or twice a day. Allow to dry before you apply serums, moisturisers, and sunscreen on top of it.
Exfoliant and Salicylic Acid
Price: £ 10.95
This hyaluronic acid serum is fortified with the thermal mineralizing water that is the foundation of the Vichy brand. It will soften and plump up skin cells and improve the function of the skin barrier. It can even help the skin defend itself against pollution.
Hyaluronic acid has the ability to hold many times its own weight in water, which is how it helps the skin.
I find this serum absorbs well and provides very decent hydration on all skin types.
Apply to dry, clean skin, morning and evening. It is best to use a moisturiser or moisturising sunscreen over the serum, to keep all that hydration in place.
Price: £ 22.00
A high grade, high-end hyaluronic acid serum that makes an effective ‘sandwich’ layer of hydration underneath a moisturiser and/or sunscreen. This gel is the central step of the Intraceuticals 3-step hydrating programme, but can equally well be used on its own.
Massage gently into clean dry skin twice a day, and allow to absorb before adding moisturiser or moisturising sunscreen on top.
Price: £ 73.95
A great all-round suncream with a high SPF, this protects against UVA and UVB rays and is recommended by consultant dermatologist Dr Nish Sheth in The Tweakments Guide book for people with pigmentation issues. He likes it because it contains physical UV filters – in the form of titanium dioxide — as well as UV-absorbing filters, and this blend of filters makes it extra effective against visible radiation as well as UV rays. contains glabridin, an ingredient which inhibits the action of tyrosinase, a key enzyme in the creation of darker pigmentation in the skin.
This is tinted so it won’t give a white cast to your skin, and it makes a decent base for make-up.
Price: £ 15.50
A great cleanser, more jelly than gel, that’s great for all skin types and especially for redness-prone, sensitive skin and those with adult acne. Dr Sam advises that one cleanse will be enough with this super-effective cleanser.
Use morning and evening on damp skin and massage well into the face to loosen oil, sweat and old skin cells, then rinse off.
Price: £ 16.00
Ideal for oily and acne-prone skin, this wash-off gel cleanser also contains exfoliating alpha-hydroxy acids and salicylic acid (so that’s both AHAs and BHAs).
The salicylic acid helps to decongest blocked pores – particularly if you massage it around the nose and chin for a minute, to give it a chance to go to work, before you rinse it off.
Use this once or twice a day, and work it into damp skin before rinsing it off with warm water.
Cleanser and Salicylic Acid
Price: £ 16.00
A gentle cleansing gel with calming and replenishing ingredients such as aloe vera and allantoin, so it will get your face clean without provoking reactive skin.
It’s good for sensitive, dry skin, post-procedure skin and any skin that feels it needs a touch of TLC.
Massage a small amount into damp skin, then rinse off with warm water and a flannel.
Price: £ 19.00
This mineral sunscreen is very runny and you have to remember to shake it up before using it – but it is well worth that slight bother.
I love it because it has a slight tint to it which gives the sort of finish that you would expect from a good tinted moisturiser, along with solid SPF50 protection from UVA and UVB rays. (It’s called a universal tint, so it is meant to work with any skin tone).
It is oil-free, so it’s good for combination and oily skin, and it has green tea extract in the formula, too, to give it an antioxidant boost.
Massage it on to clean skin in the morning – then wash your hands, otherwise the pigment in it will cling onto your fingers and transfer itself to the next thing you pick up.
Price: £ 29.00
This multi-tasking, protective day moisturiser tackles dryness with barrier-boosting ceramides and skin-softening shea-butter, with added antioxidants to ward off envirmonmental damage.
It’s an SPF50 so will give good protection from ultraviolet rays, and it also contains niacinamide and liquorice for more even-toned and younger-looking skin.
Massage generously into your face every morning – and don’t forget to do your neck, too !
Moisturiser and Sunscreen
Price: £ 33.00
An ultra-lightweight serum packed with key antioxidants to protect and repair the skin, along with hyaluronic acid for oil-free hydration and niacinamide which helps brighten the skin and minimise the look of large pores.
Great for oilier skins which needs help in tackling fine lines and large pores but which can do without being overloaded.
Use once or twice a day – the brand says it can be used over moisturiser, though I prefer to use it first, and let it absorb before popping moisturiser over the top.
Price: £ 35.00
A creamy cleanser that’s great for taking off make-up, pollution and all the daily grime while leaving the skin feeling nicely moisturised rather than dry and tight. Can be used once or, if you like double-cleansing, then go ahead. Best for normal, dry and mature skins.
Price: £ 16.50
A hydrating lotion that will lock in moisture while helping to repair and replenish the skin barrier.
It is oil-free, lightweight and packed with skin nutrients and is oil-free and lightweight so works for any skin type though it’s particularly good for sensitive, reactive or rosacea-prone skin
Massage into clean dry skin twice a day. If you’re using a serum, use that first, let it absorb, then apply this afterwards.
Price: £ 58.00
Tripeptides and Willow Herb are among the key ingredients in this milky serum which helps calm sensitive red skin, rosacea and skin that tends to flush.
It also helps to strengthen the skin barrier and reduce inflammation in the skin, by defending it against skin irritants and redness-inducing triggers.
Apply morning and evening to clean skin
Price: £ 43.00
Designed to brighten skin that has amassed uneven pigmentation through sun exposure or general ageing, this lightweight serum sinks in easily and packs a punch with brightening ingredients such as vitamin C, liquorice extract, niacinamide and neoglucosamine.
It helps to decrease the production of melanin, encourages cell turnover and breaks down existing brown spots beneath the surface, as well as inhibiting the development of new pigmentation patches.
Use in the evening, on clean skin.
Price: £ 51.00
This brilliant serum claims to reduce the appearance of dark spots and hyperpigmentation in just one week (not just any old claim; the company can offer results from a clinical study to back up the claim).
How does it do this? With brightening ingredients such as niacinamide, Hexylresorcinaol, a plankton extract and vitamin C, which together disperse dark spots and improve skin smoothness and radiance.
It’s lovely to use, too. It sinks in beautifully and works well under make-up.
Use morning and evening, on clean skin.
Price: £ 75.00
This lovely lotion is gentle, hydrating, and formulated with skin-barrier-restoring ceramides and essential fatty acids as well as plumping hyaluronic acid.
On top of this, it has a ‘botanical complex’ of natural extracts such as meadowfoam and avocado to soothe inflammation and tackle free radicals (unstable molecules that accelerate ageing in the skin).
That means this is a great choice for sensitive, reactive skin that tends to kick off for no apparent reason.
Use once or twice a day on clean skin.
Price: £ 77.50
A particular gem from Neostrata’s thoughtfully formulated range of skincare, this has a range of antioxidant ingredients to offer wide-ranging protection from free-radical damage. There’s vitamin E, a vitamin C ester, tea extract, grape-seed extract… along with bionic acid and polyhydroxy acids to protect the skin from premature ageing, while providing defence against environmental damage.
Use once or twice a day on clean, dry skin.
Price: £ 57.00
This best selling salicylic acid (which is beta-hydroxy acid, hence its name) is brilliant for dealing with oily, congested skin and it is so loved that it has acquired cult status. Salicylic acid dissolves its way through oil so as well as giving the surface of the skin a light exfoliation it can work its way into blocked pores and help clean them out from the inside. It also has an anti-inflammatory effect, to bring down redness and swelling.
Easy to use, you just apply it to a cotton pad and wipe over cleansed skin. I always have a bottle of this on the side in the bathroom and use it more days than not. If you find this 2% BHA solution a bit drying on your skin, there is a 1% strength available.
Price: £ 26.00
A great serum containing a three-part retinol complex that aims to secure all the benefits of retinol – the smoothing of fine lines and wrinkles, the softening of dark spots, the brightening of dull skin — without irritation or inflammation.
This ‘retinol complex’ contains a time-release retinol, a fast-acting retinol and a retinol-booster ingredient that makes skin more receptive to retinol.
It’s a lightweight lotion-type serum so not hugely moisturising. It’s certainly effective – I would (as with any new retinol product) start slowly with this, using it twice a week for two weeks, then three times a week for two weeks, before using it nightly. And once it has sunk into the skin, slap a moisturiser over the top to keep your skin feeling supple (or consider the Resurgence Renewal Night Cream, which has the same three-part retinol complex, but is that bit creamier).
I happily use this all around my eyes, but if you prefer not to, there is a retinol-free line-smoothing eye cream in the Resurgence range.
Night Repair and Retinol/retinoid
Price: £ 66.00
If you are new to retinol, this is a great product to start with. It’s a tiny bottle so it’s not too much of a commitment, price-wise or product-wise. It’s a brilliant product, with a gentle formula that pretty much anyone should be able to use, and a time-release factor which slowly dispenses retinol into your skin over the course of the night.
Retinol works to boost collagen production in the skin and, in time, will lead to smoother, plumper, fresher looking skin (it helps to even out pigmentation, too).
Use it at night, and start by spreading four drops over a clean face, twice a week. If that goes ok for a couple of weeks, step up to three times a week. Do this for two weeks, before using it nightly. And be sensible. If your skin protests, and gets flaky, red or irritable, use it less and put moisturiser over the top, to help your skin acclimatise.
Night Repair and Retinol/retinoid
Price: £ 26.00
This lightweight, hydrating lotion-style serum does a brilliant job of plumping and strengthening skin cells. Its combination of omega fatty acids, ceramides and antioxidants helps to rebuild and repair depleted skin.
I find it makes my skin feel really well nourished and what with all those moisturising elements within it, it is really more of a moisturiser than just a hydrating serum.
Price: £ 34.00
This lovely cleanser is gentle, effective and kind to dry and delicate skin. It’s a wipe-off milky formulation created to go easy on intolerant, sensitive or allergy-prone skin.
Use this morning and evening. I like to rinse my skin after wiping it away the cleanser, either with a flannel wrung out in warm water, or with damp cotton wool, but you don’t have to.
Price: £ 12.50
The idea of a cleanser that is both foaming and acid-based sounds all kinds of awful, but Neostrata Glycolic wash is one of my all-time favourite cleansers. The glycolic acid gives a freshening edge to cleansing, and it doesn’t leave skin dry.
The glycolic acid helps to loosen the bonds that hold old dead skin cells onto the skin’s surface. Obviously you don’t get as much glycolic action going on with a wash as you would with a leave-on product, but I find this is helpful in keeping my skin clear.
Use once or twice a day. Apply a small amount of the foam, massage it around the face, and rinse clean.
Cleanser and Glycolic Acid
Price: £ 23.00
This is a lightweight lotion with a relatively rich formula, and it works a treat, particularly on dry skin which needs some extra nourishing care, particularly with building up the skin barrier.
There’s an exfoliating element to the formula to help with tone and texture, and it also enhances the skin’s barrier function. Plus, there’s a soothing anti-irritant complex and Priori’s ‘LCA complex’ which adds hydration and a spot of antioxidant protection, too.
Massage the cleansing lotion into the face (thoroughly, not too hard), before wiping it off with a wrung-out flannel. Or, if you prefer, simply rinse it off with warm water.
Price: £ 30.00
This serum, which combines vitamin C with vitamin E and Ferulic Acid, has become a skincare classic. If you have the cash to splash, it is a brilliant choice.
What can it do for your skin? Its powerful combination of antioxidants can defend skin cells against environmental damage. It will protect the supportive collagen in skin cells, too.
The type of vitamin C in the serum is 15% L-Ascorbic Acid, and this can help promote collagen growth within the skin. On top of this, the formula can minimise the development of age spots and pigmentation.
CE Ferulic is great for normal-to-dry skin; if your skin has oilier zones, like mine, you might find it a bit heavy and like me, you might prefer its sister-product, Phloretin.
Use in the morning, on dry skin, after cleansing.
Price: £ 118.00
This is a great vitamin serum for people who are new to the category. It has an impressive formula, at a very reasonable price.
The particular type of vitamin C it contains is 7% Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate, together with vitamin E. Together, these two antioxidants provide a good level of protection against environmental stress.
This serum will also help to brighten uneven skin tone by inhibiting pigmentation and will stimulate collagen production in the lower layers of the skin.
Use it daily, in the morning, on clean skin.
Price: £ 29.00
If you’re one of those people who hates sunscreen because it always feels too ‘heavy’ on the face, this is the product that will change your mind.
This extra lightweight sunscreen with added antioxidants which will provide thorough UV protection for oily or combination skin. Even better, it will do this without provoking breakouts.
Or, if like me, you have patches of oilier skin, it is ideal. The formula is super-light and the product settles down to a mattified finish, leaving skin smooth and thoroughly protected. Job done.
Use daily, in the morning.
Price: £ 33.00
A top quality sunscreen offering great UV protection, with added antioxidants and peptides to improve your skin from within.
A new favourite of mine, this is as much a face cream as sunscreen and has a light, pinkish tint to it.
The Teoxane Perfecting Shield contains hydrating hyaluronic acid, and peptides. These peptides include the well-known collagen-boosting peptide Matrixyl 3000 which helps to restructure the lower layers of the skin.
It works well as a primer, but what with the tinted, light-reflecting pigments which add a touch of radiance to the skin, you may find your skin looks just fine without any make-up.
Apply in the morning, then as needed.
Price: £ 46.00
Yes, this is more of a foundation or concealer product than a skincare product but I’m including it because it is hugely useful if you have had a procedure that leaves your skin looking red and stung-up, or if you just need really thorough coverage that isn’t going to shift. There’s arnica and hyaluronic acid in the mix, along with a hefty dose of pigment, and it’s great on really sensitive skin. I had this recommended to me a few years ago when I was going on holiday shortly after having laser treatment (no, not a good idea – that was bad planning) and wanted something super-reliable as cover-up. The three shades of colour inside mean that you can mix and match to accommodate complexions from the pale to mid-brown.
Price: £ 35.00
This has to be one of the loveliest sunscreen products available.
That is not a phrase I often type, but let me explain.
This product is lightweight and gentle, good for sensitive skin and suits everyone I know who has tried it. It also provides long-lasting, effective SPF50 protection without any hint of a white ‘cast’ or residue.
It’s even water-resistant, should you be wanting to take it on a sunny holiday, and because it settles so easily on the skin, it works beautifully under make-up, too.
Apply generously to the skin, as needed.
Price: £ 29.50
Phloretin is a powerful antioxidant serum, just like its sister-product CE Ferulic. It is designed to prevent free radical damage in the skin. Free radicals are unstable molecules that accelerate skin ageing and which are generated, among other things, by exposure to UV light and pollution.
This product has a lighter formula than CE Ferulic. That is because its ‘added extra’ ingredient is Phloretin (an ingredient derived from the bark of apple trees), rather than Vitamin E. So if you have a complexion that is oily, combination or generally problematic, this is the one to choose.
Phloretin should be used in the morning, on dry skin, after cleansing. That way, it can stamp out those free radicals before they can damage collagen stores or cause the DNA damage that can lead to the development of fine lines or the accumulation of pigment into dark spots.
Price: £ 130.00
Medik8 boldly calls this all-in-one night cream its ‘best-ever anti-ageing product’.
Is it retinol? Yes, though it is more like rocket-fuelled retinol. The ingredients are many times stronger and more effective, with clinical trials to prove it
This product contains two vitamin-A-derived ingredients (Retinyl Retinoate and Retinaldehyde); it is the first and only product on the market to combine these two ingredients and together they make for a potent mix that can rejuvenate, brighten, firm and retexturise the skin
It is strong stuff. The skin needs time to acclimatise to powerful retinoids like these. The formula contains hyaluronic acid and squalane to minimise dryness and sensitivity, but even so, go slowly.
Introduce this gradually into your life, even if you are used to retinol. Use it twice in the first week, and if all is well, step up to every other night for a fortnight before using it nightly.
Night Repair and Retinol/retinoid
Price: £ 210.00
This lightweight gel-serum is packed with hyaluronic acid, which attracts water into the skin. The formula is boosted with vitamin B5, which promotes skin-barrier repair.
The product boosts the moisture content of skin and plumps up skin cells. All skin needs hydration, and this product works for all skin types.
Apply a few drops onto clean, dry skin and massage gently until it is absorbed, once or twice a day. I like to use it layered under a moisturiser or moisturising sunscreen.
Price: £ 33.00
This three-product set is just fabulous if you want to splash your cash on skin hydration. The products – the Rejuvenate Daily Serum (30ml), the Rejuvenate Hydration Gel (40ml) and the Rejuvenate Moisture Binding Cream (40ml), are designed to be applied together once or twice a day.
Why three products? Because they contain different molecular weights of hyaluronic acid, the super-moisturising molecule that holds many times its own weight in water. The lower-molecular-weight serum with the smallest molecules penetrates that bit further into the skin, to nourish the lower layers. The medium-molecular-weight gel slips into the skin to sit on top of the first, and the cream tops it all off.
The serum nourishes and plumps, while the gel smooths and tightens and the lightweight moisturising cream seals everything in place, leaving skin feeling very cossetted.
It is great on older, drier skin. I find it works well on my combination skin, too and because better-hydrated skin of any age functions better than dry skin, it helps skin to help itself, so it is good, and calming for acnefied younger skin, too.
Price: £ 249.00
This lovely cream is much more than a moisturiser. It is designed to replenish the lipids – the fats – within the skin which help keep the skin barrier strong, improve radiance and improve skin slackness.
The formula works by using ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids in a 2:4:2 ratio. Why this ratio? Because these proportions have been proven (by SkinCeuticals’ own research) to be much more effective at stabilising the skin barrier in dry, rough, dull-looking older skin.
If you are younger, and wondering whether this is a good preventative purchase – it’s not. The extra cholesterol gives no added benefit for younger skin. But for older, drier skin like mine, it’s just lovely. It leaves my skin feeling deeply nourished yet without the oiliness of a heavy moisturising cream.
Use once or twice a day, on clean dry skin or over a serum, as needed.
Moisturiser and Night Repair
Price: £ 114.00
‘A luxurious gel-cream that absorbs in a flash to leave skin comfortable, dewy and hydrated throughout your busy day’.
That’s what it says about this product on Dr Sam’s website, and that’s exactly how this moisturiser is. It’s great, and light enough not to turn my face into an oil slick down the centre, yet with enough hydrating power to keep the drier sides of my face comfortable. If your skin feels dry after application, Dr Sam suggests adding another layer.
It won’t block your pores – it contains five per cent niacinamide, which is good for brightening the skin as well as keeping pores clear – and, hallelujah, it contains no fragrance (yet it smells just fine).
Use after cleansing on clean, dry skin. If you are using an antioxidant or other serum, apply that first, then the moisturiser.
Price: £ 25.00
Where to start with retinol? This product is a good place to begin. It combines retinol – the powerful, skin-renewing ingredient – with skin-soothing Bisabolol, conditioning shea butter and barrier-repairing ceramides. These calming ingredients counteract the drying effect that retinol can have.
The formula has a time-release technology, too, to slowly introduce retinol into the skin. This also helps to reduce the inflammation and irritation that retinol can cause. (And yes, I know you want results, but using retinol is a long, slow game, so go steadily).
Use at night, once a week, then twice a week, then every other night before you step up to nightly use. If your skin protests, go more slowly, use less product, and put plenty of moisturiser over the top once it has absorbed.
Night Repair and Retinol/retinoid
Price: £ 48.00