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From what you really need to include in a basic beauty regime to whether facials are worth bothering with, expert beauty consultant Caroline Hirons answers all your questions on skincare, makeup and beauty. Here's what we learned...
Q: I wash my face with soap and water but confess I have no 'beauty regime' other than that - is this a disaster?
A: It's a good job I'm sitting down.
Depending on your age and your genes, you will either be at least dehydrated and therefore more wrinkled and at the worst, a handbag in the making.
I would at least counteract the soap <dies> with a hydrating moisturiser to protect your skin.
<goes for a lie down>
Q: I read somewhere that although moisturiser helps plump up skin in the short term it has absolutely no effect over the longer term. What is your view? Do you think the proliferation of products - not just cleanser but toner, not just moisturiser but day cream and night cream and eye cream - is just about trying to sell us more? What, in your opinion, is the least we can get away with?
A: There is definitely an element of the industry that will try to tell you that you need 15 products a day and preferably all from their brand. I would say the bare minimum, depending on your age is:
- Cleanser (oil based, non-mineral oil)
- Exfoliating toner
- Moisturiser with SPF for day
- Appropriate product for night time, i.e. a facial oil, a treatment, or a serum etc.
I personally like separate eye cream, but if you have budget constraints you can just use your normal moisturiser.
It's more the serums and pre-moisturiser products that plump the skin these days. I would say a moisturiser is definitely essential as a protective barrier.
Q: Regular monthly facials - yes or no? I have been told yes, but I often get spots erupting afterwards. When I don't continue with facials (which I only started fairly recently anyway) my skin seems to settle down and be smoother.
A: No to monthly facials. It's nice if you can afford it to have a facial with the change of each season. If not, try twice a year and go to a named facialist rather than a brand, if possible, ie, the Caroline Hirons clinic (there isn't one!) rather than a department store brand facial.
Q: I have always believed the edict that two litres of water a day is essential for clear skin but a) this has begun to play havoc with my bladder and b) I read something recently that says that this is all a myth in the first place. What is your opinion?
A: I know where you're coming from with the bladder! BUT: hydration is essential for a healthy body, skin, sleep, everything. I probably drink more like three litres a day. I recently moved to sparkling water which makes it slightly less tedious and is infinitely more refreshing in hot weather!
Q: What are the little red marks, like freckles, which have appeared in recent years on my hands and forearms? I'm sure they must have been caused by sun damage, but wonder are they age spots, which I thought were brown?
A: They are indeed signs of sun damage and pigmentation, but don't feel bad, everyone gets them, unless you've been covering yourself in SPF since you were born! There are newer formulations of hand creams available now that encompass SPF and vitamin A derivatives that both prevent and cure.
Q: I asked a beautician the other day if she could remove some tiny pin-head sized lumps (or spots) that have appeared on my face recently. She had a look and said I should ask the GP to remove them. I was astonished. I thought a good facial might do the trick.
A: It's hard to be specific without seeing your skin, but they sound like milia. They are almost impossible to remove yourself (I don't even take my own out and I'm qualified!) so you need a specialised facialist or skin specialist to remove them using a needle to lance them and specialised equipment such as a mag lamp. If you go for a facial to get them removed, make sure you ask beforehand if your beauty therapist knows how to remove them and has experience, or you can be scarred.
Q: In middle age I have developed spots on my back and chest. They aren't there all the time but when they are they're very itchy and if you scratch them they spread. The GP hasn't a clue. Tea tree concealer helps a bit. Have you got any ideas?
A: Itchy and spreading signifies infection. In all honesty, a lot of GPs are clueless when it comes to skin and don't take our concerns seriously. I would try to keep on hand something like HEAL gel available at Victoriahealth.com and Liberty, as it's soothing and may help. If you can, I would also get yourself tested for food intolerances, as that is a classic skin reaction.
Q: I'm certainly not a sun worshipper but in the past have spent considerable time outdoors with children, horses and dogs. I'm getting an increasing number of brown blotches on my face despite using preventative cream. Can anything remove them?
A: It sounds like pigmentation from sun damage. Going forward I would use a high SPF to stop them getting worse.
There are lots of products on the market aimed at pigmentation, which is on the increase. Avene have just launched a line specifically for helping with pigmentation. Look for ingredients such as vitamin A, niacinamide and arbutin.
Q: I have sensitive skin and try to buy products that are 100% natural and ideally unperfumed. But I still react. Why?
A: Natural products are no different from chemical products when it comes to skin reactions. A product only has to have the smallest amount of natural extracts to be labelled "natural". It can still have plenty of rubbish in it. Equally, they may use essential oils as fragrance which are also big irritants. I would ask you what you've used that works for you, look at the ingredients and try to stick to something similar.
Q: What is the best concealer in your opinion? I have been using Touche Eclat for years but whenever I go in Space NK they say there are better versions. I find they either go incredibly quickly or are too claggy. I definitely need some concealment!
Touche Eclat is a marketing phenomenon, as it was originally designed to be used as a highlighter! Space NK are correct in the way that if you actually need to conceal something, there are much better options available.
If it's for spots and blemishes and discolouration on the face in general, the best concealer in my opinion is Laura Mercier Secret Camouflage (you must buy a brush to apply). For eye area, there are numerous options, but one of my favourites is Sue Devitt (available from Harvey Nichols) Microquatic Bioluminescence Concealer (I know, I know). Estee Lauder also make a nice highlighter/concealer for the eye area called Idealist Cooling Eye Illuminator, which is nice if your dark circles aren't too bad.
Q: What is a good moisturiser for middle-aged, normal to dry skin?
A: Depending on your price bracket, you can usually get something that works and is affordable by brands like REN and Decleor. Go for labels such as nourishing and anti-ageing.
Q: Is there a cream or anything which can protect the face from chlorine? I swim regularly, and don't want to keep my face out of the water because that's supposed to be bad for your neck and spine. But my skin is sensitive and the chlorine makes my face go red.
A: There are balms that you can apply pre-swim that can definitely help protect from redness and irritation from chlorine. The aforementioned baby bottom butter being one! Neals Yard make a brilliant product called Wild Rose Beauty Balm, which is perfect for this situation. Just make sure you wash your face properly when you leave the pool to rinse chlorine residue away.
Q: There was a lot of hullaballoo about a supermarket's baby bottom cream being the best thing to use on your face EVER. If this is the case why pay a fortune for really expensive moisturisers? Or do you really get what you pay for?
A: I'm aware of the cream in question. In theory, it would work for someone with incredibly dry skin, such as eczema or psoriasis as a protective barrier cream, but it is incredibly thick and would give any other skin the possibility of breakouts.
I'm not a fan of the £500 face cream, you should be able to get the best quality for between £30 and £75.
Q: I would love some advice about my decolletage - always something I have been happy to show off but lately noticing the odd wrinkly line. How can I firm it up?
A: The French believe that facial skincare ends at the bottom of the breast. If you incorporate your normal skincare routine, including your decollete and breasts, everything will firm up. Although you can buy specialised bust creams, for example by Clarins and Mama Mio for that area.
Q: Have you any lipstick tips? I find I increasingly have to wear lighter colours as I age (red just shows the lines round my mouth and is too harsh) but I feel a bit silly in pink - which makes me feel like a girl. Mutton dressed as and all that. I can't wear anything with a slightly orange tint as it makes me look like one of the baddies in Batman.
A: I'm a fan of lipglosses and lipbalms, or lip stains. In an ideal world, you could use a lip stain around the centre of the lips and go over it with a coloured lipbalm or gloss.
Stay away from the edges, as the product will gravitate towards the area anyway. Batman is never a good look!
Q: I would like to ask how to avoid getting lipstick on your teeth.
A: When you apply your lippy, stick your finger in your mouth, wrap your lips around it and pull it out. All excess lippy will be on your finger, not your teeth.
Q: What is the best oil-free way of removing makeup? I like having fake lashes but you're not really supposed to get oil on them. When I don't have fake lashes, I love Shu Uemura cleanser.
A: If you have lash extensions, you can use micellar waters by brands such as Avene, as they are oil-free and non-irritating.
Sidenote, the Shu Uemura cleanser is mineral oil based, and not the best thing for your skin, just an FYI.
Q: Are there any tricks to achieving a smooth line with eyeliner on older skin with the inevitable wrinkles? Do any of the cosmetic firms make a 'filler' that could be applied first?
A: In terms of older skin and eyeliner and filler, brands such as Daniel Sandler make make up pens that temporarily smooth over the area and help make up to last longer.
Q: My teenage granddaughter suffers badly from acne and understandably wants to hide this when she can. But will cover up make-up (even worn for short periods) make her skin worse?
A: In short, no. And psychologically if it makes her more comfortable braving the world then it's a definite help.
If you'd like more help, please do contact me via the blog as I know how awful it makes teenagers feel, and again, GPs are prone to just prescribing antibiotics and sending them on their way.
Q: I have really bad rosacea. How can I camouflage it without really heavy foundation. Nothing seems right.
A: To cover, I would refer back to the Laura Mercier Secret Camouflage.
To help the rosacea itself, I would ask what your current routine is and recommend you stay away from alcohol, sugar and dairy to start (all the fun stuff, as Josie says). If you want more help, there is advice on the blog.
Q: Are those makeup remover wipe things any good?
A: Makeup remover wipes are acceptable in hospital, on flights and for sticky children. That's about it!
Q: Eyebrows...pluck, wax or thread? (Or go for the full Dennis Healey?)
A: I'm not a fan of waxing, as it stretches the skin. I'm a threader with plucking as maintenance, but plucking is fine if you can't afford regular threading.
Q: Please tell me what fake tan I can use that won't streak horribly (despite promises from the manufacturers) and ideally something that smells vaguely ok too.
A: I prefer gradual tanners, as you can apply them daily until you can get the coverage you need. Also, they don't stink and they are less likely to streak. Lots of brands make them - my current cheapo version is Garnier Summerbody.
Q: Now it's finally sandal weather I realise how dry my heels and soles are. I've tried having pedicures which sorts them out for a few days but then they are as bad as ever. Someone recommended cocoa butter and socks overnight - I'd welcome any other suggestions that won't have my husband running for the hills.
A: Dry feet, or as I like to call them, trotters, happen to all of us, especially if you're a flip flop wearer.
I would recommend a foot file from someone like Diamancel, available at Bliss and House of Fraser. My feet were atrocious, so I bought the strongest one a few years ago for around £50 - BUT so worth it as a little file every evening before bed with cream if needed takes care of it. High outlay, but SO WORTH IT.
Q: What is wrong with mineral oil cleanser?
A: Mineral oil is used in skincare because it's cheap. It can block the pores and causes a barrier on the skin.
Natural oils found in cleansers such as Emma Hardie, REN, OSKIA etc are much more beneficial, while still giving a good cleanse.
Q: How long should we keep and use products, especially sun creams and lipsticks?
A: Sun cream should be changed every year, all leftovers should be binned especially when used on children! Lipsticks I would go by the smell - if they don't smell of the fragrance that came with them, they belong in the bin. Mascara as soon as it starts to dry out. Face creams in pots, again, go by the smell. The most long-lasting products are airtight products in pumps and tubes.
A third generation beauty expert, Caroline has worked in the industry for more than 20 years. She is also the founder of Give and Make Up, a not-for-profit company which aims to get essentials to women suffering from domestic violence via Womens Aid. Check out her website for more information.
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