Whether you read her beauty column in the Guardian, watch her In The Bathroom With... series on YouTube, or donate to her Beauty Banks charity which supports people who can’t afford to be clean with donations of personal care and hygiene products, chances are you'll be familiar with beauty industry oracle Sali Hughes.
Author of beauty books Pretty Honest and Pretty Iconic , there's not a lot Sali doesn't know about skincare, makeup and hair care and when she recommends a product we sit up and listen. Here she shares the essentials she buys on repeat.
My typical day
"I wake up at 7:30am to get my sons off to school. They’re teenagers, so the hard part is getting them up but after that they are great at getting themselves ready, organised and out. I’ll usually go back to bed and have my first of many cups of tea with my husband, who’s also a writer and I’ll pick up my emails. Products launch so frequently and the industry moves so quickly, that I get around 3000 emails a week from brands and Beauty Banks contacts and heaps of WhatsApp messages from colleagues and DMs from readers, which can be hard to manage. After showering, I’ll either put on comfies and scrape back my hair for a day of writing, or do my hair and put on my face to make videos.
"There’s always lots to be organised on Beauty Banks, often some radio and Zoom product launches dotted throughout the day too and a big part of my job is hosting and presenting events. In normal times, I go to London about twice a week, which is a pleasure since it means I never miss my former home. I normally do my makeup on the train from Brighton and I’ll usually make the most of my time by booking back-to-back meetings and catching up with a friend for a drink at the end of the day before coming home.
"Wherever I am, I chat to my closest girlfriends online, all day, every da, and I’m in constant contact with Jo Jones, my co-founder of Beauty Banks. There are only three of us on the team of quite a big operation so it’s very hands-on. I frequently work late, but love to cook and still feed my family most nights. My husband and I always end up watching TV late in bed and invariably do the cryptic crossword before lights out."
"My friends know that to get me out of Brighton on a weekend, someone essentially needs to be marrying or turning 40. Otherwise, I will stay resolutely close to home. I love weekends, partly because no one emails me, but mainly because I love relaxing at home with my family. Friday night is takeaway and TV night and all four of us look forward to it all week. We all lie in on Saturday and then do lots of pottering. We’ll walk the dog on the beach or at the park, my husband might garden, I’ll do some eBaying (I’m secondhand fashion mad) or slow cooking. I will always test lots of extra beauty products on weekends, too - I only have one face so I have to be very disciplined about getting through the testing pile, even if it means leaving behind favourites, but I still feel extraordinarily lucky to be working in an industry I’ve loved my whole life.
"I tend to have long baths instead of showers on the weekend and listen to my favourite podcasts, such as Desert Island Discs or You’re Wrong About, while I do a peel mask.
"Later on, we’ll all watch a film together. We’re extremely boring and I wouldn’t have it any other way, though I’m excited at the prospect of having friends round again. On Sundays, we usually go for a roast in a local pub, and have a really good catchup with the kids, away from all the domestic distractions. We are big on games and quizzes, so we might crack out a board game in the evening. I get the uniforms washed and we’re always quite late to bed.
My beauty routine
"My job means that products swap out constantly, as I test new launches for my columns and videos, but the routine itself stays pretty much the same. In the morning, after showering, I cleanse with a hot cloth and cleansing milk, exfoliate with a multi-acid solution, treat with a vitamin C and hyaluronic acid serum , moisturise with quite a rich cream (I’m very dry skinned) and apply SPF .
"In the evening, I remove everything with a balm cleanser and apply prescription tretinoin, niacinamide and azelaic acid .
"I’m obsessed with skin and have been my whole life which is why I’ve been so delighted to work with Head and Shoulders in educating consumers on the importance of skincare for the scalp. For me, skin is skin, is skin, so I never neglect my body and scalp – moisturising my entire body daily and avoiding overloading my hair and scalp with product. Things such as dry shampoo and mousse, brilliant though they are, can cause lots of itching and build up, so Head and Shoulders' Deep Cleanse Scalp Detox Shampoo , £6, is ideal for clearing the debris and getting back a clean and comfortable scalp."
Wellness from within
"I can’t help it, but I find fitness utterly boring and the wellness industry full of misinformation and what often appears – at least to me – to be quite disordered eating and I worry about how that impacts women in particular. I eat well and would never deny myself anything delicious – I’d just casually try to balance things out over the week. I take vitamins D and K2 religiously, but should probably take others.
"I hate structured exercise but physically exerting one’s self is obviously vital to mental and physical health so I try to use my Peloton regularly, always walk instead of driving where possible and am excited that the local reformer Plates studio is reopening.
"I’m quite a busy person, which I deludedly tell myself is enough. We all have different needs, but honestly, the most important thing to my mental health is laughter with my husband, sons and my friends. We support one another a great deal and truly, I couldn’t have got through the tough times without their complete trustworthiness and unfailing ability to make me laugh."
The best advice I've been given
"Oh, so many. 'You will work with everyone again, so be nice from the first time'. 'Everything gets better, everything ends', 'Never share a bank account', 'Triple glazing is a waste of money'. The list of brilliant advice I’ve been given by older, wiser women throughout my life, grows ever longer. You should never stop learning, changing your mind about things, looking for different ways of being."
Sali Hughes' beauty essentials
"This is a dermatologist-run prescription skincare subscription service, dispensing medical grade tretinoin and other active ingredients. I pay £19.50 monthly and click up a measured dose of cream nightly and apply to my face before bed."
"I was born with a skin condition called ichthyosis, meaning my skin cells turn over too rapidly and my limbs and back become very flaky without diligent daily care. This AHA exfoliating and moisturising body lotion makes what can be a bit of a drag as easy and pleasant as it can be. It smoothes and soothes and sinks in quickly and ungreasily. I simply cannot be without it."
"I’ve been using this for many years and eight times out of ten, when someone on Instagram tells me they love the look of my 'foundation', I’m actually wearing this. It goes on like a dream with either fingers or brush, has a high sun protection, is as comfy as skincare and gives skin a natural but still polished glow."
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"I feel naked without perfume and have worn it every single day of lockdown, without fail. I have a collection of hundreds, but my all-time most worn is Chanel No5. There’s no need for me to say it’s a classic – there are no fragrances more iconic. But I do urge anyone to revisit No5, because it’s as modern and relevant now as it was groundbreaking a hundred years ago. That’s the sign of a true masterpiece."
"One of my favourite product launches of the past five years, these genius drops add warmth and plumping hydration to my skin. They couldn’t be easier to apply. I add few drops to my day cream and just mix together before massaging in as normal. In under two hours, I look at least 50 per cent better."
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"I’m sorry, but this is simply the best, most useful and least dispensable makeup brush in the world and this is a hill I will die on. Applies foundation quickly and flawlessly, cream bronzer extremely naturally, liquid and cream blush effortlessly. I have one in every handbag and never go anywhere without one."
"A brush designed specifically to detangle and smooth wet hair without dragging and snagging, that I’m just simply never without. I use it to brush my hair upside down when wet, before wrapping in a microfibre towel and frequently use when it’s dry too – remember that regular brushing helps to shift any remaining stray flakes, loosened and lifted by the salicylic acid in your Head and Shoulders Deep Cleanse shampoos, £6. (yes, that is the same stuff that lives in your luxury face cleanser and serum)."
Sali Hughes is an ambassador for Head and Shoulders