From the one product she can’t live without to the skincare routine that guarantees a flawless complexion, Caroline Hirons shares her insider tips and tricks that we can all do at home.
My years of experience have given me a simple and succinct approach to skincare. If I rave about a product or an ingredient, it’s because I know it genuinely works. Equally, if I tell something to get in the sea and get lost, it’s because I know it’s a waste of your hard-earned cash.
Let’s start with the basics: our skin is the biggest organ in our bodies, and it deserves a bit of attention. But that doesn’t mean we all need to be scientists. Get into a few good habits with a daily routine and you’ll soon see the benefits. A routine is the foundation of everything. And if you get it right, you can set up your skin for life. Make it a habit. Morning and evening, for two to three minutes. Just make sure you take the time every single day.
It’s easy to see how your skincare routine can be a little overwhelming. We are sold so many products these days – there is something for everyone – but if you have more than two serums, which do you use first? And what about eye cream? And double cleansing and… Stop. Chill. I’m going to explain exactly what needs to happen at each stage of your routine, beginning with the morning…
Caroline Hirons morning skincare routine: Which order to apply your products
Start with a cleanse
It’s important to cleanse your skin every morning. It obviously doesn’t have to be as intense as the night-time cleanse, which needs to remove make-up and all the day’s dirt. But a quick warm flannel and milk/balm/gel (avoid any foaming cleansers – I think they are too drying) wouldn’t go amiss to get rid of the overnight shedding. I like Oskia Renaissance Cleansing Gel (£35, spacenk.com). And, yes, you can absolutely use the same product in the morning that you use in the evening if you want to. Just don’t cleanse in the shower – the water is too hot for your face. Oh and, as with everything, TITTTs: take it to the tits. Your neck and décolleté, which is a fancy French term for your upper chest and shoulder area, are part of your facial skincare, too.
Skip toner and exfoliate with acid
Forget harsh scrubs. I’m a fan of liquid exfoliating acids that you use at the point you’d traditionally use a toner (see below for which one to use). One of the originals – since the 1970s – is Biologique Recherche Lotion P50. Try to have a couple of exfoliating/acid products if you can: a milder version and a more ‘active’ one and alternate them daily. If you can only afford one, either buy a mild one and use it twice a day, or a stronger one and just use it in the evenings. If you have sensitive skin, or you are concerned about using acids, start by using them twice a week and see how your skin reacts.
Hydrate with a mist
I love this step. It’s the start of the hydrating process and it wakes me up. Use whatever flower mist or water you like. Any spray should have glycerin or hyaluronic acid in it. La Roche-Posay Toleriane Ultra 8 (£19.50, lookfantastic.com) is one of my favourites and is good even for sensitive skin.
Apply eye cream before anything else
Do not apply your eye product last. No matter how carefully you apply your serums and moisturisers you will always get some in the eye area, and then your eye product won’t be absorbed where you need it to be. Pointless. Apply eye products to the orbital area (the area covered by your sunglasses) before serum, moisturiser and SPF. Sunday Riley Auto Correct eye cream (£60, johnlewis.com) is a good all-rounder.
Sandwich your serum and oils
This step is what I am asked about the most. I use a mixture of oils and serums, and application goes by texture. Serums – especially water-based ones – go on first. I’m a big fan of Beauty Pie (beautypie.com) for inexpensive serums to treat all sorts of skin concerns. Next, a couple of drops of facial oil if you are using one – I always take Indeed Labs Squalane Facial Oil (£19.99, lookfantastic.com) on flights – topped off with your moisturiser.
Moisturise & protect
Your moisturiser is your coat/protection. People tend to spend far too long choosing their moisturiser and far too little time taking care of what goes on beforehand. Remember to avoid anything ‘mattifying’ – a promise that’s often made on products for oily skin. Skin is not designed to be ‘matt’. Your skin has plenty of time to be matt when you’re dead. If your skin is excessively oily, just go for light hyaluronic acid serums, which help lock in moisture, and oil-free moisturisers. No need to force the issue. Leave that to your make-up. Whatever moisturiser you are using that is right for your skin, whack it on now. I like Jordan Samuel Skin The Performance Cream (£34, cultbeauty.co.uk).
Always finish with SPF
I recommend using a walnut-sized dollop of a separate SPF. A moisturiser with added SPF will not benefit the skin as much as two separate products will. I mean, it’s better than nothing, but wouldn’t you rather be safe than sorry? Do not use an SPF instead of a moisturiser. That’s like going out all day with a raincoat on and only bra and knickers underneath. Unless that is your everyday outfit of choice, I suggest you wear actual clothes (moisturiser) underneath your raincoat (SPF). You should always use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA rays, which damage your skin’s elasticity, and UVB rays, which can cause skin damage and alter the structure of cells, potentially leading to skin cancer. I would always recommend an SPF30 or higher. La Roche-Posay Anthelios is one of the SPF ranges I recommend (from £11, lookfantastic.com) as they have products to suit all skin types. Apply it everywhere, including the back of your neck and the top of your ears. Women typically apply their SPF before they hit the beach and put their hair in a ponytail the minute they hit the sand. EARS! Even if you aren’t on holiday.
Caroline Hirons evening skincare routine: Which order to apply your products
Why your evening routine is crucial
While the main point of the morning routine is to prep your skin for the day, the primary purpose of your evening routine is to help your skin help itself. Your face is not being bombarded with sunlight and dirt at night, so you can get the treatments in while they actually have a better chance of being effective.
The double cleanse
‘Do I need to double cleanse?’ is another of my most frequently asked questions. The name speaks for itself – it simply means cleaning your skin twice. The only time I don’t double cleanse is if I haven’t applied SPF or make-up. Otherwise, I go straight in with an oil-based product to hit the grease, dirt, make-up and general gunk on my face after a day in Central London. If you wear SPF you need to double cleanse. A lot of people who think they are allergic to SPF because it breaks them out are simply not taking the time to wash it off properly. Using the flannel from the morning is fine. I usually use two out of the following three products: pre-cleanse oil or eye make-up remover, oil/balm cleanser, milk/gel cleanser. I know I’m biased but my favourite double cleanser is the one I created with Pixi (Pixi + Caroline Hirons Double Cleanse, £24, pixibeauty.co.uk).
My anti-ageing wonder treatment
Vitamin A products, most commonly known as retinoids, go on to dry skin after cleansing. I love these. They are easily the best products for fighting signs of ageing. Everyone should use one. (If you don’t know where to start, have a look at Medik8’s range, medik8.com.) They are worth the faff. Just use them correctly. Don’t apply a lot, thinking it will work faster. It won’t. Apply a small, pea-sized amount, or in the case of an oil, a few drops – less is more. Avoid the neck, eyes, nose and mouth, otherwise you risk irritation. Start by using every third night, moving to more regular use when you know your skin is tolerating it. Leave it for about 20 minutes before applying anything else.
Layer products before you sleep
As in the morning routine, now it’s time for your eye cream. If you typically wake up with puffy eyes, use a lighter texture in the evening, or a serum or gel-based cream. Avoid rich eye creams. Then it’s my favourite step – on the days you don’t use a retinoid, this is where you can really go to town. Treatment products should be your main expense skincare-wise and what you use will depend on what you’re trying to achieve. If you have rosacea, you might want something like Paula’s Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster (£37, paulaschoice.co.uk) that contains azelaic acid which can help that condition, and there isn’t anyone on earth who wouldn’t benefit from some more hyaluronic acid. Or if you’ve got dry skin, you might choose to use a good facial oil. Try to have at least three products you can use in rotation, depending on your skin’s needs that day. Whether or not you use a night-time moisturiser depends on what treatment you prefer. If you are using a lovely night-time oil, you may not want/need anything else; otherwise, go for the same moisturiser you use in the morning (as long as it doesn’t contain an SPF – your skin really doesn’t need an SPF at night).
Ageing? It’s a fact of life!
It is worth mentioning that although a good routine will undoubtedly improve the quality of your skin, a glowing, clear complexion is different to facial structure. No amount of skincare will actually stop you ageing or change the structure of your skin. If you are more concerned about the signs of ageing such as a heavy brow, hollow cheeks, sagging jawline or hooded eyelids, you’ll need either a needle or an operation. To be clear, I am not suggesting for one second that you actually need any interventions with your face; I am merely trying to manage expectations.
By the time we reach 50, loss of elastin and collagen in the skin is most noticeable, especially during and after menopause. Skin will have the most visible and immediate results from treatments such as fillers, Botox, laser, radio-frequency, PRP (platelet-rich plasma), thread lift… the options are endless and limited only to how much you want to tweak and, of course, how much you have to spend.
I’ve had filler twice, and will definitely have it again at some point, and I’ve had my eyelids done but I’ve also looked after my skin. Botox and filler change the structure of your skin, not the surface of it. You may have plumper, higher cheeks, but you could still have acne, pigmentation, redness and dryness – that’s where good skincare comes in.
Why wipes are bad news
They’re bad for the environment (even if you bin them rather than flush them) and they’re bad for your skin. They don’t cleanse, they just move dirt around your face, and I don’t recommend using them unless you really have no access to water (hospitals, flights, festivals – emergencies only, you get the idea). If you are consistently ‘cleansing’ with wipes and then applying a really expensive serum or moisturiser, you are wasting your money. And your time.
I’m also not a fan of sheet masks, aka wipes with holes cut out for the eyes. They’re unenvironmentally-friendly fabric soaked in goodness knows what that promise to saturate your skin with beneficial ingredients. Yes, I’ve used them, we all have. But they do not give you anything you can’t get from applying a couple of rounds of hyaluronic acid serum to your face before your moisturiser.
What’s your true skin type?
The terms skin condition and skin type are often used interchangeably, but they are totally different things and you work with them in different ways. A ‘condition’ is something that can describe either a (hopefully) temporary situation that occurs as a result of lifestyle factors, or a long-term problem that can occur for other reasons, such as illness – things such as acne, eczema and rosacea are conditions and may require consulting a doctor, whereas your skin type is essentially the skin you were born with.
This has a low production of sebum, the oily substance your skin produces to help waterproof it. Dry skin is often confused with dehydrated skin, caused by lack of water. One of the telltale differences is that dry skin doesn’t absorb products easily, while on dehydrated skin, make-up disappears (and goes patchy) throughout the day as the skin is absorbing any water in your foundation.
This is prone to excessive production of sebum. Your skin may appear shiny and thickened, and show larger pores. Blackheads and spots can be present.
This contains a good balance of sebum and moisturising factors. Skin texture is good.
The most common skin type. Usually presents a greasier T-zone (your forehead and nose) and dehydrated or dry cheeks.
Acids: the products every woman should use
Acids sound scary but can be brilliant for many different types of skin. To be used after cleansing, they come as liquids or pre-soaked pads and gels. They replace your traditional toner. There are three main types of acid…
ALPHA HYDROXY ACIDS (AHAs) FOR ANTI -AGEING
These are the most commonly used acids and include glycolic, citric and lactic. They are water-soluble and, with the exception of glycolic, do not penetrate deeply beneath the skin’s surface. They exfoliate, stimulate collagen formation and normalise the outermost layer of the skin. They are best for targeting signs of ageing. Try Pixi Glow Tonic (£18, pixibeauty.co.uk).
BETA HYDROXY ACID (BHA) FOR ACNE
The most common type of BHA is salicylic. Like AHAs, BHA acts as an exfoliant, increasing the shedding of dead skin cells, but it is oil-soluble which means it can penetrate oily pores and help to exfoliate the pore itself. It’s useful for treating breakouts, managing keratosis pilaris (small bumps on the skin) and conditions involving blocked pores. Try Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant (£28, paulaschoice.co.uk).
POLYHYDROXY ACIDS (PHAs) FOR SENSITIVE SKIN
The larger molecular size and slower penetration of these means they’re non-irritating. Multitasking PHAs are great at attracting moisture, restoring skin barrier function and protecting against collagen degradation. Lactobionic, gluconolactone and maltobionic are examples. Try Zelens PHA+ Bio-Peel Resurfacing Facial Pads (£65, lookfantastic.com).
Beauty myths busted
Cellulite creams work
Save your money. There is not one cellulite cream on the market that gets rid of it. Not one. Either by prescription or over the counter, it makes no difference. They may make your skin feel softer and smoother, but they aren’t shifting the fat.
Cellulite is not caused by trapped ‘toxins’. It’s caused when your underlying fat cells start to push through connective tissue. Connective tissue is weakened by a mixture of things, including hormones, lack of exercise, poor muscle tone, excess fat and poor circulation. Around 90 per cent of women get cellulite – compared to ten per cent of men, as they have stronger connective tissue – and as lack of oestrogen makes it worse, it gets more of an issue as we age. Some fillers and injectables can help, albeit temporarily. Eat well, move around more, drink plenty of water, take care of your health in general. And even after you’ve done all that, your genes may well just insist that you keep your cellulite.
You have to use everything from the same brand
No, you do not have to use everything from the same brand. Your serum from XYZ won’t know that your moisturiser is from ABC and stop working in protest. That’s not how it works, no matter what sales hype you are given from the brands at a beauty counter. There are thousands of products out there. Embrace them (obviously within your budget), and the next time someone tells you that you simply have to use their moisturiser on top of their serum or they won’t work, don’t buy either of them.
Moisturiser is your most important purchase
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had a conversation with people who tell me they are using an incredibly expensive moisturiser, but cleansing with wipes or a quick wash in the shower.
Your moisturiser is your coat. It’s your protection and ‘cushion’ from the elements. Of course it’s important – and, yes, you can find moisturisers that contain all sorts of wonderful things such as peptides, vitamins and other active ingredients. But those ingredients will generally work better for you in a serum where they can more freely penetrate and get to work while your moisturiser stands guard.
If you are on a tight budget, prioritise your spending on exfoliating acids and a good retinoid serum and you can get away with cheaper cleansers and moisturisers.
Celebs just use soap and water
Let’s be clear. Celebrities telling us they don’t wash their faces and saying they only use soap and water is not new. Some have always said that. It was utter b******s then, and it is now. The ‘average’ woman (you and me) feels enough pressure to be perfect without XYZ celeb saying they don’t work out (lies), they eat ‘everything in sight!’ (lies) and now that they don’t wash their face at all? Give me a break. Please don’t think that these people have perfect skin without skincare and/or medical intervention. The jig is up, people. Enough.
You need a detox
Despite what the ‘clean and green’ industry would have you believe, we have our own built-in detox system. It’s called your lungs, liver, kidneys and skin. Outside of the medically supervised detox treatment in a hospital or drug-dependency unit, any other use of the word ‘detox’ is disingenuous at its best and absolute nonsense at worst. And it has no business in either the food world or in skincare.
Detox products. Detox creams. Detox teas. Detox pads for your feet. Detox hair straighteners. Enough. If your body was ‘full of toxins’ you would be, at best, very ill and, at worst, dead.
My ultimate hero buys
Emma Hardie Moringa Cleansing Balm, £47, shop.emmahardie.com
Kate Somerville Peptide K8 Power Cream, £127, spacenk.com
Biologique Recherche Lotion P50, £67, embassyofbeauty.co.uk
Dermatica Tretinoin, a subscription-service vitamin A cream, £19.99 a month, dermatica.co.uk
This is an edited extract from Caroline’s book Skincare: The Ultimate No-Nonsense Guide, which will be published by HQ on 25 June, price £20.