My first reaction to hearing about the new Glow Recipe Plum Plump Hyaluronic Serum was, “Plum is the star ingredient, really?” I stand by the opinion that, as stone fruits go, plums are objectively not the tastiest choice (and neither are their dried and mushy twins, prunes).
Since this is Glow Recipe we’re talking about, though, I was willing to set aside my preconceived judgments and give the brand’s latest K-beauty formula a chance. While plum might not be something I get excited about under other circumstances, if you put it in a cute bottle with hyaluronic acid and a skin-plumping serum, you have my attention.
According to cofounder and co-CEO Christine Chang, the unassuming plum actually has a lot going on beneath the surface. “We used a blend of three different plums that have unique benefits,” she says. “Kakadu plum has the highest concentration of vitamin C, so it’s both brightening and a powerful fighter against fine lines and wrinkles. Illawarra plum is concentrated in anthocyanins, an antioxidant. The Burdekin plum is rich in soothing minerals like magnesium, calcium, and potassium, which are beneficial for your skin.”
The fruit’s antioxidant-rich properties also pair well with hyaluronic acid, the other key ingredient in this formula. You’ve probably seen H.A. in most of your hydrating skin-care products due to its ability to absorb and hold mass amounts of water. “It plumps and adds volume to your skin cells to make your skin more radiant and smooth,” says Jessica Weiser, M.D., of the New York Dermatology Group.
As the name implies, that’s the goal of Plum Plump. Cofounder and co-CEO Sarah Lee says the team set out to create a daily-use serum that could be used to enhance glow for any skin type. “We wanted to achieve the ultimate bouncy, juicy skin,” she says. “In Korea, this is called chok-chok skin, and it’s characterized by a hydrated glow.” Along with five molecular weights of hyaluronic acid (think instant maximum hydration), Glow Recipe also includes plant-based versions of collagen and silk protein, which boost the serum’s moisturizing effects.
As said by one GLAMOUR reviewer: “The most noticeable difference from previous Glow Recipe serums I’ve tried was the dramatic plumping, smoothing effect, especially on the dry sections of skin around my nose and cheeks. As someone who wakes up daily to the phone reminder to #WearYourDamnMask, I have spent a good chunk of 2020 wearing said mask, and that mask in turn has inevitably worn out my face. A combination of irritation and overly drying acne treatments left the lower half of my complexion in less than ideal condition. A few days (and nights) of Plum Plump later, and you wouldn’t even know it. It erased every flaky patch in sight, didn’t clog my pores, and gently put me back on the path to the coveted chok-chok skin I thought was beyond my reach.”
“Chang and Lee told me that in the process of testing Glow Recipe’s latest launch, they sometimes layered it with other serums for added hydration or glow-enhancing benefits, but I didn’t feel the need to cocktail it with any other formulas. A thin coat of moisturizer on top to seal those benefits in, and I was sufficiently illuminated even by my high standards. I still haven’t changed my opinion on plums as a food choice, but after experiencing the results of this serum firsthand, I’ll happily welcome them to join my beauty routine anytime.”
By now you know the drill: Every few months a new wunderkind skin care ingredient is discovered in some remote locale, and pretty soon it’s everywhere—in your masks, serums, foot creams, insert-step-in-your-beauty-routine-here. But at the end of the day, there are only a handful of ingredients that have stood the test of time and truly become essential. “In skin care, they’re the holy grail,” says Cambridge, Massachusetts, dermatologist Ranella Hirsch.
You’ve probably heard of all these by now. (Retinol, hyaluronic acid, AHAs, peptides, and vitamin C all make the list.) But you may still be a little confused on what exactly each one does—and how you should be using them. Here, I break it all down.
Retinol: For Softening Wrinkles and Fighting Acne
If there’s one ingredient lauded more than any other for its wrinkle-fighting, complexion-perfecting abilities, it’s this derivative of vitamin A. “Here’s the deal with retinol,” explains Hirsch. “We were talking about it in 1975, and we’re still talking about it now because it works.” In study after study, retinol has been shown to build collagen, decrease fine lines, improve skin’s texture, and fight acne.
The prescription version (retinoic acid, or Retin-A) acts fastest, but it’s pricey—and it can be drying. Over-the-counter retinols take eight to 10 weeks to show results (compared with six weeks with an Rx), but are normally paired with anti-inflammatories to calm the redness, peeling, or dryness; they can also cost less than a prescription, depending on your insurance, generally starting around $100.
Whichever type you use, you’ll want to ease into your retinol use slowly. “I start patients on the mildest version, one night a week at the onset,” says New York City dermatologist Amy Wechsler. As your skin begins to tolerate a pea-size amount, you can eventually go up to two nights a week. But stay off harsh physical scrubs and peels while you’re using retinol; remember to moisturize, moisturize, moisturize; and use extra sunscreen for the first six months.
This tiny molecule helps lubricate joints and keep skin plump, and is one of the world’s finest humectants (elements that attract and retain water). What does that mean for skin? “Hyaluronic acid is awesome,” says Wechsler. In addition to being a terrific moisturizer, she says, it partners well with other active skin care ingredients (so you can layer it with retinol, for example, and use it daily). “The beauty of hyaluronic acid is that it doesn’t have any fine print,” says Hirsch. “It benefits any skin type, at any age. And the truth is that everyone looks great with hydrated skin.”
Doctors love vitamin C because it’s an incredible antioxidant and it stimulates collagen production—in other words, it increases glow and evens out spots. For best results, look for a high concentration, up to 20% in a serum or cream.
Vitamin C does have a downside, though: It breaks down when exposed to oxygen and light. Seek out truly airtight packaging, watch out for discolored formulas, and know that because vitamin C loses efficacy in the sun, it’s best as a nighttime product, says Montclair, New Jersey, dermatologist Jeanine Downie. But “use it on the nights you’re not applying retinol,” she adds. It’s also great in an eye cream to help soften fine lines and spots.
“Think of peptides as Legos—they’re protein building blocks,” says Hirsch of the skin strengtheners. Studies show certain peptides can boost collagen production and speed wound healing; or they can mimic the effect of Botox when applied topically. That means you’ll likely want to introduce peptides in your 30s, when you notice your skin doesn’t feel quite as firm or bouncy as it did in your 20s. They can also be used on your body to smooth and firm skin, and they may fade old scars and stretch marks. There’s emerging science that some peptides have been found to safely treat eczema.
Salicylic Acid and Benzoyl Peroxide: For Eradicating Acne
Okay, these are technically two ingredients—but the pair is name-dropped so frequently in the same acne-fighting sentence that it seems a shame to split them up.
“Salicylic acid is a lipid-soluble acid, so it penetrates into oily pores to clean them out, and it’s anti-inflammatory too,” renowned dermatologist Fredric Brandt once told us. “Benzoyl is antibacterial, so together they work synergistically.”
Look for bacteria-zapping benzoyl peroxide in face washes or spot treatments. It’s widely available in drugstores, ranging from 2.5% to 10% concentrations. (To minimize irritation, start with the lowest.) Try salicylic acid in an allover toner or cream to prevent breakouts, or on pimples if you have sensitive skin—it’s gentler than benzoyl, explains Wechsler.
“My patients love, love, love AHAs,” says Downie, who explains that the powerful exfoliators are genius for clearing up sun damage, hyperpigmentation, acne, and fine lines. Multiple AHAs exist, but the most popular (and potent) is glycolic acid, which penetrates damaged skin to spur fresh, new skin cell production. Glycolic acid does its exfoliating work in everything from once-monthly in-office face peels to nightly washes, but it’s best not to use glycolic acid while you’re on retinols. And if your skin is sensitive, try glycolic’s less intense AHA cousin, lactic acid, which also chemically exfoliates but isn’t as drying.
Few brands have revolutionized the way we shop for skin care the way The Ordinary has. Before the Canadian brand burst onto the scene, accessibility to cheap high-quality products had mostly been restricted to makeup. Even with so much innovation among drugstore skin-care brands, few affordable options really rival what luxury serums and moisturizers have to offer.
That’s why buzz for the best The Ordinary products refuses to die down. The brand takes a clinical, science-based approach to skin care and specializes in single-ingredient-driven products that deliver targeted results. The best part? Nothing costs more than $20. In fact, the majority of it clocks in for less than $10. This is largely in part thanks to The Ordinary’s dedication to transparency, resulting in prices that aren’t significantly marked up.
But despite its low price point, the brand can be intimidating. Because the names of the products refer to skin-care ingredients–not results—they all sound like something out of an advanced medical textbook. Meaning you’re left trying to decipher what the hell ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate (a vitamin C derivative) or epigallocatechin gallatyl glucoside (an anti-inflammatory compound in green tea) does.
GLAMOUR editors went through hundreds of dollars of The Ordinary skin-care products to help explain the cryptic descriptions of each and narrow down what’s actually worth adding to our medicine cabinets.
The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5
For true, deep moisture, you’re supposed to use a serum or acid that can penetrate deeper than your standard emollient. Enter hyaluronic acid. It provides a healthy glow, leaves the skin dewy but not oily.
Yes, part of this product’s appeal is that it looks like you’re doing an at-home blood facial, but the results are just as Instagrammable. The mix of AHAs and BHAs deeply exfoliates to clear up congestion, dead skin, and hyperpigmentation. The skin looks brighter and smoother after one use—with no irritation to sensitive skin.
Apply a pea-size dollop once every day for a week after washing the face. The moisturizer comes out with a sunscreen-like consistency, but it blends in with the skin in seconds. After a week of using it, the cheeks would be plump and flake-free, probably because it has hyaluronic acid, which helps skin cells retain moisture. With such noticeable results for a low-maintenance moisturizer, we can count on this for the winter months.
The first noticeable thing about The Ordinary’s High-Adherence Silicone Primer is its texture, which feels just like a creamy moisturizing lotion. Once applied, it makes the skin feel so soft that you almost don’t want to put on makeup for fear of losing the silkiness. The makeup goes on smooth and stays matte throughout the day.
Pycnogenol is an extract derived from pine trees that has the ability to boost collagen and elastin production in your skin. Plus, it’s a great hydrator. The skin looks and feels healthier after using it.
The Ordinary 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rose Hip Seed Oil
It’s great for moisturizing and nourishing the skin, yet it still feels lightweight. Using it in tandem with a retinol can significantly fade post-acne hyperpigmentation, and it definitely makes a difference in the glow factor. It has a slightly earthy smell.
In reality, chemical exfoliants are much gentler and better than physical exfoliants, like face scrubs or loofas. This glycolic acid visibly resurfaces the skin, and it’s pretty gentle—though you shouldn’t use it more than every other night. Plus it’s affordable and lasts forever.
I’ve always been curious about azelaic acid, since I’ve heard it can treat both acne and dark spots while being safe enough to use even during pregnancy. The texture is super luxe and absorbs nicely, can provide an improvement on a stubborn breakout, and make post-acne dark spots look less opaque.
While it doesn’t help with dark circles (sadly, not much will), the lightweight serum instantly de-puffs and smooths out any baggage. It brightens the eyes in seconds, and makes it look like you got a full eight hours of sleep.
This is an incredibly gentle retinol option. The serum is an almost milky consistency, and after a month of using it, users report that they’ve started to see a few lines on their foreheads fade. It’s also a wonder for smoothing out the texture of the skin.
The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%
Perfect for a pre-bedtime ritual, it’s is only $5; plus, it can be mixed with your other favourite serums to reduce its somewhat gritty texture. If you’re looking to fight wrinkles and even out your skin tone, this one is a great bet.
Squalane is a fantastic hydrator—it’s nonsticky, fast-absorbing, and has humectant (meaning, moisture-drawing) properties that work in tandem to make your skin look crazy plump. The downside is that it’s traditionally derived from animals. But that’s not the case with this serum. Instead, it’s powered by plants, so you feel even better about using it when you see dewy, bouncy skin.
The Ordinary Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate Solution 20% in Vitamin F
The name of this sounds insane (and impossible to pronounce), and I’ll admit that, going in, I had no idea what it did. After a little research and a test-drive, though, I’m sold. It’s basically a form of vitamin C (which helps brighten and even out your skin tone), while vitamin F is a fatty acid rich in omega-6 that helps maintain your skin barrier (when it’s disrupted, all kinds of things like acne and redness occur). You notice a major difference in the condition of the skin after just one use—it is noticeably smoother, firmer, and overall much brighter and more radiant.
It’s lower-strength and delivered with squalane, so it’s a bit less irritating than other ones out there. Start by using it one to three times per week, use it only at night, and know that if you don’t wear sunscreen after using it, it will damage your skin.
Mandelic acid is really slept on—and hard to find—so it’s exciting to see this hyperpigmentation-fighting superstar available at a lower price point. It’s super gentle yet has helped reduce some of the acne as well as the scars it leaves behind.
This pocket-sized, super-affordable charcoal-colored mask is the only thing that’s been helping with my quarantine breakouts. I rate it highly for both skintertainment and effectiveness. It gives me a bright, exfoliated glow without irritating my skin. There is simply nothing more I want from a product.
Contrary to popular belief that it helps moisturize the skin (which is mostly the case), when in the wrong order – it can be very drying. Hyaluronic acid pulls moisture into the skin, so if it’s the last thing on your skin (a setting spray or foundation) it will be drying it out. This acid needs something on top of it to draw the moisture into the skin, otherwise it will pull the moisture out of the skin. We’ve recently been seeing ads for products with hyaluronic acid in everything, which can be good, but watch out! If you’re using it as a serum with a moisturizer on top – that’s great. Just don’t use it as the last step, which will have the reverse effects.
Make sure you know what your skin type is and choose proper products accordingly. If you have combination skin, you may need to use more than one primer. For example, you don’t want to use the same primer on the perimeter of your face as you do in the centre of your face. Most people with combination skin have an oily T-zone, so, use a mattifying primer there, and add other primers in other areas of the face (pore-minimizing, smoothing, hydrating, gripping for longevity, etc). Some people don’t need a primer at all, if you have normal skin, the moisturizer might be enough (if you want, you can of course use blurring, smoothing, etc primers).
Same goes for powders. Use the proper (mattifying, smoothing, sheen-y) products according to your personal facial needs.
Consider what happens when you use false eyelashes everyday (which I don’t recommend, but am guilty of sometimes…). Give them a break. Too much usage can lead to lash breakage, make them less strong, shiny, and thick, can lead to some eye injuries & sensitivity; some lash glues may be okay for you initially, but over time you can become allergic to them (ingredients in them). Instead, you can use a lash growth serum, or castor oil, to make them more luscious and healthy. Just make sure to be careful and not get the product into your eyes.
Before using your mascara, take a spool and brush out the lashes to get rid of eyeliner residue and separate them. This will ensure your mascara has the best shot to work properly and avoid clumping.
At the end of your makeup routine, take a translucent with a slight radiance powder and buff over the entire face to give a healthy glow and blend everything together smoothly.
Setting Spray Application Alternative
If you want to have the benefits of a certain product but find that when sprayed it’s too much (for example, Tatcha Luminous Dewy Skin Mist), spray it onto a sponge and bounce it on the areas of your face where you’d like to have that result/effect. You get an even layer, use less product, and have control over the application.
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 Polish, Herbivore’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.