The 5 Active Ingredients You Actually Need In Your Skincare Routine

How do you approach your skincare routine? Is it with a certain sense of abandon, incorporating any and every strong active ingredient? Or have you taken a more measured route – stepping back, consulting a professional, and considering what will work best for your skin? If you’re in the first camp, a little swotting up is all that’s required to get you back on the beauty straight and narrow. Thanks to LA-based celebrity facialist Joanna Vargas, who has worked with everyone from Julianne Moore to Emma Roberts, we have her book Glow From Within to consult on the rules of skincare. And Vargas knows a thing or two about what makes for a robust, radiant complexion. 

An advocate of a “pillar-based”, 360° approach to the skin, Vargas has conquered all manner of concerns in her time as a facialist. “Beauty isn’t skin deep,” she says. “Today, most of my clients know that they need to eat nutritious meals, avoid particular foods, and drink enough water to achieve their own brand of youth.” Other positive lifestyle choices she recommends are good self-care, paying attention to your body, prioritising sleep, reducing stress, and doing some exercise. She sums it up as making “time for connection and joy” in her book.

As for products, “I recommend a minimalist regimen,” Vargas says. “Cleanse at night and apply a serum or a mask for sleeping. In the morning, cleanse or rinse, apply a serum, moisturiser and a sunscreen,” she says. “I also exfoliate twice a week and do a beauty mask once a week.” Finding the right cleanser for you is relatively straightforward – simply use a gentle formula that targets your skin issues and doesn’t leave your face feeling tight after washing. So far, so simple. But Vargas is also enthusiastic about another, potentially confusing pillar of good skincare: active ingredients. So where to start?

Vargas says any effective routine should incorporate a retinol at night. “It’s great for all skin types, and using a vitamin C in conjunction for the day will help brighten skin.” Despite what many people think, good retinoids can be bought over the counter – brands like Skinceuticals and Medik8 offer an array of options that cause little to no skin irritation. Medik8’s Crystal Retinal 3 Serum is a brilliant entry point and will help to increase cell turnover, leading to more even skin tone, smoother texture and, of course, fewer fine lines. No 7’s new Advanced Retinol 1.5% Complex is a good high street option. There’s also Vargas’s own brilliant vitamin C serum (the Rescue Serum), which combines vitamin C with super-hydrating squalene and elderberry extract, a powerful antioxidant. You can also find it more potently in Vichy’s LiftActiv Peptide C Ampoules, which contain 10% fresh vitamin C as well as hyaluronic acid within each capsule.

Exfoliation is also at the top of Vargas’s list when it comes to encouraging a glow back into the skin. “It usually acts as a mini facial and brings back glow immediately,” she says. She recommends a fruit enzyme-filled mask or treatment, with one or two other alpha hydroxy acids (actives that are excellent for keeping skin healthy and luminous), like lactic, kojic, mandelic or glycolic, to gently nibble away at the pore-clogging dead cells that can sit upon skin, making it look far less happy than it should.
Try Sand & Sky Emu Apple Enzyme Power PolishHerbivore’s Prism 20% AHA + 5% BHA Exfoliating Glow Facial,or Joanna Vargas Exfoliating Mask. Note that she recommends performing a treatment like this twice a week, rather than every day.

For hydration, Vargas is a fan of hyaluronic acid, the wonder molecule that can hold up to a thousand times its own weight in water, meaning it hydrates and plumps the skin as no other active can. Niod’s Multi-Molecular Hyaluronic Complex is a great option, since it contains 15 different forms of hyaluronic (which means it’s more likely to conquer the skin barrier), or Dr Barbara Sturm’s Hyaluronic Acid is also highly concentrated, with long and short chain hyaluronic molecules for better penetration.

Of course, there are other active ingredients that can prove beneficial in any good beauty routine, but as Vargas points out, these are the key power players that form the basis of excellent skincare. Listening to your skin and what it’s telling you, however, is also key – what works for one face won’t necessarily work for another. “Unhealthy skin can appear red, inflamed or irritated and, when pinched, may not bounce back but will tent up in a wrinkly shape. Or you could simply be struggling with breakouts,” says Vargas. If that’s the case, combat irritation with soothing, anti-inflammatory ingredients like niacinamide, aloe vera, green tea or cica, to name four, then reconsider the product you’ve used and whether you might have overdone it. 

After that? Your fifth and perhaps most important active, SPF (which is actually a cocktail of different actives). Apply, and you’re ready to take on the world. 

VOGUE article

Skincare Mistakes to Avoid

  • Please seek expert advise from a dermatologist or a skincare expert if you feel conflicted with all of the different product reviews, or have specific skin needs/concerns.
  • Give a new product enough time to see results – sometimes it might take from 1-3 months to see the results of a new product in your skincare routine.

    Cleanser – should see results immediately – up to 4 weeks, pay attention to skin texture and moisture levels.

    Toner – should see results immediately – 2/3 weeks, pay attention to skin texture and hydration benefits.

    Serums – should see results in 3-5 weeks if it’s a hydrating/anti-aging product, 2-3 months if it’s a skin brightening/hyperpigmentation product, 1-3 months if it’s an acne-targeted but not prescription product.

    Eye creams & Sunscreens – should see and feel immediate results. Pay attention to improvements in fine lines and texture.
  • Don’t overuse physical exfoliants – rubbing in the beads can cause irritation and skin sensitivity, make sure you’re gently gliding the product over your skin or use a chemical exfoliator on a cotton round instead.
  • Don’t remove clay masks with a cloth – the skin will look red and feel irritated when removing a dried-out clay mask. Instead, keep removing it with water until it’s gone.
  • Rinse off the micellar water – especially cheaper products are formulated in a way that can cause dryness and clog pores. Also, make sure the micellar water is not your only makeup-removing step.
  • Don’t rely on popular skincare websites to check skincare product ingredients – they’re not a trustworthy source, they list all of the ingredients and give them a rating. But we have to look at the formulation as a whole with dominant and recessive percentages, “it’s the dose that makes the poison” (referring to alcohol in products being seen as a drying agent). Also, the ingridients are mostly uploaded by users, not companies, which can be misleading.
  • You might not need to use a specific product at all – understand what all active ingredients are doing for your skin and whether you need it or not. Figure out what you need for your personal skin concerns and benefits you want to see.
  • Remember that skincare can only do so much – don’t rely on skincare alone to fix your concerns, take into account your diet, exercise, water intake, genetic conditions, and always seek professional help if you feel the need to.

Video referenced

8 Historical Makeup & Beauty Products That Still Exist Today

  1. L’Oreal’s True Match Foundation (since 1994) – the first of its kind to match 40 different complexions that also adapted to your unique undertone.
  2. Maybelline’s Great Lash Mascara – the packaging hasn’t even changed that much since 1971, but popularized in the 80s. It was the first water-based mascara, making it much easier to remove and having a faster drying time after initial application; it’s also free of chemicals and oils to avoid irritation.
  3. Revlon’s “Cherries In the Snow” Lipstick (since 1950s) – it’s a blue-based red, making it universally flattering on many different complexions, but depending on your skin undertone it may pull a bit more raspberry or true red.
  4. Carmex Original Lip Balm (since 1937) – one of the best tried-and-true products to bring the chapped/dehydrated lips back to life overnight. The first jar of Carmex sold for $0.29!
  5. Coty Air Spun Transluscent Powder (since 1935) – gives the skin an airbrushed, flawless finish, while having a neutral undertone (which is hard to find still to this day). The first Coty Air Spun Powder box was introduced in 1925, and it was revolutionary because it was the first to be spun by air, giving it a finer texture and greater fluffiness. The only thing that repelled people from it was the scent, however, now they make an unscented version!
  6. Revlon’s “Cherries In the Snow” Nail Polish – in the past it was a trend among women to have their nails match their lip colour, so both products gained popularity simultaneously and are still sold today.
  7. Noxzema Skin Cream (since 1914) – it wasn’t marketed as a skin cleanser until the 1950s, when a company secretary realized how beautiful it made her skin look.
  8. Pond’s Cold Cream Cleanser (since 1846) – one of the oldest skincare products to exist today, it does a great job at removing makeup, leaving the skin very moisturized. The term “cold cream” comes from the cooling feeling it leaves on the skin.

Video referenced

The Underdogs and Big Dogs of Skincare

Some of my personal skincare favourites are known to many beauty lovers. There are a few that not many people talk about though, but that bring amazing results!

Here are a few showcased here and why I recommend them:

  1. Clean & Clear Morning Burst Skin Brightening Cleanser wakes up the skin with an invigorating formula and citrus scent, oil-free, suitable for all skin types;
  2. Wander Beauty Gold Eye Patches are quite an investment, but if used sparingly with a generous amount of time between each mask – you’ll still see the difference and it’ll be worth it! They’re very hydrating and feel luxurious;
  3. Spectro Cleanser for combination skin (now, that doesn’t mean other skin types can’t use it, the opposite in fact) has a gel-like consistency that glides over the skin gently but is extremely effective. I recommend using it twice a day – morning and evening;
  4. St. Ives Apicot Scrub has been in the talks of beauty lovers for years! Some swear by it and others swear about it… My personal opinion is that it helps tremendously when used once a week to get rid of dead skin cells and help purify pres. However, if physical exfoliants aren’t for you – then stay clear of this product and use lighter exfoliating face washes instead;
  5. Cup’O’Coffee Lush Face Mask comes in a large tub that lasts for months! It smells like coffee the entire time you have it on (I’m guilty of leaving it on for way longer than recommended) and is very effective at brightening and purifying the skin. Suitable fo all skin types, made with natural ingredients and is cruelty-free;
  6. Olay Daily Moisturizing Lotion is a lovely daily moisturizer with SPF (which is always great to have in a skincare product) and has a light consistency that keeps the skin nourished all day long! I recommend it fo all skin types and I’ve never had a client speak ill of this affordable product either.

Enjoy!