How to look 10 years younger with this five step skincare plan

I quickly learned to use a vitamin C serum in the mornings (brightening, firming, neutralises

I quickly learned to use a vitamin C serum in the mornings (brightening, firming, neutralises the unstable ‘free radical’ molecules that accelerate ageing), topped off with a moisturising sunscreen (nothing ages skin faster than exposure to ultraviolet light), and to use a retinoid – that’s retinol, or something stronger in the same ingredient family – at night (for fewer wrinkles and smoother skin with a more even tone), and that has improved my skin greatly. I’d like to think it looks fresher than average 57-year-old skin, and usually the Visia machine agrees.

I have frequent updates with this skin-imaging system, which reveals the precise extent of wrinkling, pigmentation and so on, then gives me a ‘skin age’ in my late 40s – though one sunny holiday, even when I’ve worn sunscreen and a hat, will shoot it up to a decade older. This can be corrected by sticking to a diligent, consistent routine after the holiday. 

When people find out what I do for work, they pile in with questions. British women have a bizarre double standard when it comes to skincare. On the one hand, hope springs eternal – ‘Should I get this new miracle cream? Everyone says it’s amazing…’ they will start, yet in the next breath, they’ll add, ‘But none of this stuff really works, does it?’ At which point I almost shout, ‘Yes it does! You just have to pick the right stuff!’ 

The top question by far is, ‘Which is the best moisturiser?’ That’s unanswerable. What’s best for you depends on what your skin is like and what you want that moisturiser to do. (Some just moisturise; others pack in active ingredients like they’re going out of fashion.) I tend to reply that a treatment serum will be more helpful than just moisturiser – that, plus sunscreen, will make a real difference.

The other cracker, and equally difficult to answer succinctly, is, ‘Are expensive creams worth it?’ The answer is: often, yes – great cosmeceutical products with cutting-edge ingredients in a fantastic formula from an innovative brand are totally worth it… but not always. If it’s a product where more has been spent on the packaging, the international advertising campaign and the celebrity who promotes it than on the formula, then no. 

Having great skin is totally achievable, and it’s never too late to start improving yours. Even if you’ve reached a stage where you think you need cosmetic procedures, the first thing your practitioner will want you to do is get your skin into great shape, because that will optimise the results of any tweakments you might have. You want your skin to be healthy, smooth and pliable and to provide a good barrier between you and the outside world, because that’s what it’s there to do.

Here are my five key steps to good skincare…

Cleanse: You need to get your skin clean and remove all the oil, sweat, dirt and bacteria that builds up on it during the day – for basic hygiene, for skin health and so the products you use afterwards will be properly absorbed. And you need a special facial cleanser – using soap, or the suds from shampooing your hair, will strip out the natural oils and leave skin dry. A gentle cream cleanser is a great start.  

Exfoliate: Getting rid of the surplus dead skin cells cluttering up the surface of your skin smooths the surface and reveals fresher, brighter skin, which is also going to absorb whatever products you put on it afterwards better and more evenly. You don’t need rough scrubs – using a flannel to take off your cleanser, or  a gentle chemical exfoliation, will do the job in a kinder way.

Treat: A treatment serum – vitamin C to brighten, retinoid to firm, smooth wrinkles and rein in pigmentation, peptides to strengthen – is the way to bring about change. Think of serums as concentrated treatment shots and use them like medicine – if the product says you need to use it for six weeks, morning and night, to see results, do exactly that.

Moisturise: All skin types look better, feel better and function better when they are well hydrated and research has shown that well- hydrated skin wrinkles more slowly than dry skin. That goes even for oily skin, which, though it may be pumping out too much oil, is often dehydrated. Try an oil-free moisturiser. 

Protect: If you want your skin to stay looking younger for longer, you need to protect it against ultraviolet rays. It is well accepted that up to 90 per cent of what we think of as the signs of skin ageing – age spots, wrinkles, rough texture, dryness – are caused by UV light. Not just by summer sunshine and its ‘burning’ UVB rays, but also everyday exposure to ‘ageing’ UVA rays in normal UK daylight, as the effects of these stack up over time and break down collagen and elastin in the skin. So wearing sunscreen every day is boring but necessary.

The products that have stood the test of time 

Cleanse & Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser, £17, Liz Earle  

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