To say that creative and beauty director Alex Steinherr is passionate about skincare would be a clanging understatement. Her Sunday Facial ‘feature’ on Instagram attracts thousands of views and a flood of comments and questions weekly and her fans form orderly queues in Primark to get hold of her affordable and effective skincare line with the brand (which has just been expanded and restocked FYI). Both her social media platforms and in-person meet and greets prompt all manner of skincare deep and meaningfuls, so we sat down with Alex to quiz her on what she’s quizzed on the most (meta, we know), discover her own tricky skin moments and get her view on what’s worth buying in beauty if you’re on a budget but want results. Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin...
Her worst skin moment (and how she fixed it)
“You know what, I’m not going to lie, I have genetically good skin but as I always say you can mess up a really good thing by not looking after it. About two years ago I was on quite a lot of antibiotics, because I get a lot of chest infections, and I found that taking them really affected my gut. I also developed a rash on the side of my face that was really quite bad - it wasn’t like spots, but it was this really red, angry rash that looked a little bit like mild rosacea . It seemed to have come out of nowhere. I do think that the trigger was internal though. I one hundred per cent believe in the gut/skin connection .
“I went to see holistic facialist Marie Reynolds , who I swear by, and she mixed this powder together for me. It was a paste and it just looked like brown green gunk, but she told me to put it on and so I did. She advised me to start taking probiotics too, to address inflammation and try to rebalance my gut, and gave me a supply of powder in a little pouch. I started using it consistently and it cleared my skin up. Then I said to her, “you need to sell this, you need to make this.” And so she did. The product became the Dermabiome Face Mask, which is now called MRL Restore , £68”.
The silver lining to a bad skin experience
“My business is skin and it’s very scary when you suddenly have something happen like that that you don’t understand, and that you feel like you control. It took a long time to go and it was nerve-wracking because I assumed that people would see me and simply think “well she doesn’t have good skin, she was just lying all along” but actually I’m appreciative of it because it made me understand far more what it feels like to suffer with skin issues on a daily basis. As a beauty journalist, I could comprehend it but I didn’t feel it, so in that way it was a good thing.
“It made me have a new-found appreciation of what it feels like emotionally and physically to have an issue with your skin and to feel bad in your skin. I didn’t want people to see me but that wasn’t an option for me. I had to go out there and work and I guess I’m not happy for it but I’m grateful for the experience because I learned something. Many people hold the opinion that beauty is just superficial but the mental impact that it has on your life, whether it it’s a rash, breakouts, pigmentation or whatever it may be, I think that the connection between the look of your skin and how you feel about yourself and what you want to do is so strong. At the time I just didn’t want to be seen.
The makeup that got her through her problematic skin patch
“I wore Oxygenetix Foundation , £45 for 15ml. It was honestly a saviour because I still had to do events. I remember I had to host a really important event and I was mortified because I thought my readers and people who haven’t met me might have thought that I just fake my skin, which of course I don’t.”
The #AskAlex questions that come up most often
“I tend to do my Sunday Facial live on Instagram now so the questions just fly. I get a lot of questions about pores and blackheads , but uneven skin tone is also a big concern.
“ Pigmentation is also a significant problem for many women, which makes sense as it’s so, so tough to deal with. When it’s genetic in particular, there’s not that much you can do about it and I think that using topical products for pigmentation issues delivers minimal results. I always recommend going to see a dermatologist if you can and perhaps considering laser treatment if that’s right for you (always seek out professional advice first).
“Exfoliation will help and niacinamide can too, but skincare wise sunscreen should be your number one go-to in terms of preventing further pigmentation, but as a rule skincare can’t get rid of pigmentation.”
The most common skincare mistakes we’re making
Incorrect product layering
“I think that something that people get very confused about, and an issue that I also get a lot of questions about actually, is the order in which to use products. There’s so much out there now and so much conflicting information. People are really focused on incorporating all of these different ‘wonder’ ingredients, but then the order in which to apply product causes a great deal of confusion.”
Using too many ‘high strength’ products in large doses
“People have a habit of using too much product or skincare that’s too active for their skin. People can become ‘skin bingers’ because they’ve got a tick list of ingredients to combine - ‘Oh I need hyaluronic acid , I need a retinol , I need glycolic acid , I need niacinamide , I need whatever new ingredient I just heard about.’ People are so focused on ingredients that they just want to pack it all on their skin because they’ve read about it or heard about it but then they don’t realise that certain ingredients, especially when combined, can trigger inflammation, which results in more confusion and panic."
Being our own skincare chemists
“Working in this industry, I love my ingredients, I’ve got all these ingredients in my skincare that I prioritise such as squalane , niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, salicylic acid and all of those ingredients that everyone is into, but I’m able to put it in a balanced formula. I think that people are often more concerned about whether it’s got this or that ingredient rather than whether the formula is balanced.
My Primark Dual Texture Exfoliating Peel Pads contain lactic acid and polyhydroxy acid but these are tempered by niacinamide, which acts as a soothing agent. In my Primark Super Detox Clay Mousse Mask, yes you’ve got purifying charcoal, kaolin and salicylic acid, but then I’ve also added a tiny amount of shea butter to buffer the formula so that you don’t experience any adverse dryness. I formulate my products with a cosmetic chemist, of course, but I always think about the full formula rather than just isolating the individual ingredients. When people are their own alchemist, it can cause real problems.”
Thinking that product needs to ‘tingle’ to be working
“I think that the public need to know that irritation and tingling reactions aren’t good or a sign that a product is working - that’s not a ‘result’, that’s damage and I think that my whole philosophy is always, and with my range especially about preserving the skin barrier . If you have a strong skin barrier regardless of whether you have oily skin, dry skin, ageing skin or whatever, if you have a healthy skin barrier, then your skin will be in the best possible condition. Only then can you do your active stuff, but the focus always has to be the skin barrier. That’s why, in my range with Primark, everything is in there is to preserve and support the skin barrier.”
Where to spend and where to save in your beauty regime
“My skincare range is as accessible as possible but technically, when you look at the formulation and ingredient profile, it’s worth more than it costs really. It’s about maintenance too - you don’t necessarily need lipstick every day but you come to rely on skincare so having affordable options is really key.
“I tend to spend when it comes to makeup - I don’t generally buy budget foundation , but mascara-wise, I’m definitely happy on the high street. Maybelline Colossal Mascara , £6.99, is brilliant and has a really thick, bushy brush and the original Max Factor 2000 Calorie Mascara , £7.99 is a great budget buy too that really boosts volume.
“While my base makeup is pricier on the whole I do think that Max Factor is quite underrated for complexion products - they make some brilliant makeup. Makeup artist Wendy Rowe showed me this beautiful, glowy highlighter that’s coming out soon so watch out for that.
“In terms of really affordable lip colours, Bourjois make the most gorgeous nudes and pinks. My main budget area has to be skincare though. Sometimes I’m too lazy to put on makeup because I don’t want to remove it, so I won’t put it on in the first place, but then I’m happy being without makeup and I know not everyone is. I’m actually happiest barefaced, I’ve got to say. I love makeup, but I’ve always been skincare first.”
What’s new in the Alex Steinherr x Primark budget skincare range