Just when I think I’ve got my sensitive skin under control, life happens and all hell breaks loose. Things tend to unravel each time the seasons change, but usually a few minor adjustments here and there are all it takes to feel comfortable again. However, over the last few months there’s also been the added stress of moving house (which involved getting covered in a lot of white paint), two rounds of antibiotics, an endless cold and a very unfair reaction to Vicks Vaporub - which along with that so-called arctic blast we had has left my skin (read: me) looking, well, terrible.
With all the disruption and nose-blowing I’ve also been very slack when it comes to my beauty routine - mixing and matching all kinds of skincare, cleansing lazily with products I know aren’t doing a thorough job, and generally not taking care of myself very well because I didn’t have the time or the energy to worry about which serum goes with what. Insert world’s tiniest violin.
But enough is enough - party season is almost upon us and I need my face to be as radiant and twinkling as the London Christmas lights, so I’ve called upon the industry experts to work out what my sensitive skin really needs. Enter Lion/ne , an unbiased skincare consultancy run by two women who want to cut through the confusion in beauty; in my session with the two founders, Ksenia Selivanova and Megan Felton, they used an OBSERV Skin Diagnostic Tool to look beyond what I’ve been seeing in the mirror and analyse what’s going on under the surface. The result? Aside from some horrifying photos of my face and skin that I won’t be posting to Instagram any time soon, the advice was invaluable; I had no idea my skin was dehydrated, was relieved to find my sun damage was fairly minimal and was provided with a shopping list of what to use to get things back on track, which included some of my own go-to hero products that I’d mentioned in my consultation.
It was exactly what I needed - a skincare prescription for a routine that, if I could stick to it, would deliver on all the basic needs of sensitive, dry skin.
As Ksenia wrote to me in my Lion/ne Shopping List, "Your skin is, by nature, sensitive so it is normal for it to be easily affected, especially if you are trying new products. I know that it is difficult to maintain the same routine with your job. Let’s try to find a few basics to have on your bathroom shelf and see what ingredients you should avoid. From the OBSERV photos, we can see that your skin is slightly dehydrated and dry. This is a normal combo to have with sensitive and reactive skin.”
A regular, simple routine is what every skincare expert I talk to recommends first when I ask them about sensitivity - overcomplicated 10-step regimes are the opposite of what we need. So what exactly should be in my minimal, effective skincare routine? Here’s what Lion/ne prescribed…
"The morning routine is all about protection. This is very important for sensitive skin, because a few of the main triggers for sensitive-prone skin are attributed to environmental factors, such as pollution and UV light,” wrote Ksenia in her appointment follow-up.
Step one is to obviously cleanse (the most important step in any routine) - my cleanser of choice is the trusty Pai Camellia and Rose Gentle Hydrating Cleanser , £30 which Ksenia approved of, though I’m also loving Dr Sam Bunting’s Flawless Cleanser , £16 too - and you can see my other favourite cleansers for sensitive skin here .
Next, Ksenia prescribes antioxidants ideally in the form of a serum, but as I’m not yet using vitamin C she’s recommended a milder formula of the LixirSkin Vitamin C Paste , £32. It contains 10% L-Ascorbic Acid and can be massaged into skin with water for a few minutes before rinsing off; though I’m yet to test it, I have a feeling this step is what’s really been missing from my routine. I’ve been so focused on making sure my skin doesn’t feel dry that I haven’t been protecting it efficiently, or using any actives that will really make a difference.
In the summer Balance Me launched their Vitamin C Repair Serum , £32, a gentle yet powerful formula which also contains hyaluronic acid and anti-inflammatory extracts to brighten skin that’s showing signs of sun damage; it’s so popular it seems to have sold out on most stockists, so if you spot one, grab it - it’s ideal for this second protective step in a morning routine.
Talking of protection, next is SPF - my preferred option is Ultrasun Family 30 , £19, which I tend to use after a thin layer of La Roche-Posay’s Toleriane Fluid , £17.50, or I combine the two steps using Paula’s Choice Calm Hydrating Moisturiser SPF30 , £29.
And that’s that, just three easy steps - because it really is about stripping back your skincare and nailing the basics.
"At night, it’s cocooning time. Our skin endures so much during the day, so you need to properly nourish it at night,” Ksenia advises me. She recommends I ditch my micellar water and try a more milky makeup remover such as Avene Gentle Milk Cleanser , £12 (it’s a derms’ favourite).
Cleanse and (carefully) exfoliate
With makeup removed, it’s onto thoroughly cleansing with something like the Exuviance Gentle Cleansing Creme , £29, which contains polyhydroxy acids (PHAs) to very gently exfoliate the skin. This wash-off exfoliant is better suited to my dry, tight skin than the BHA product I’d been previously using; PHAs have larger molecules than your more commonly known acids, which means they can’t penetrate the skin as easily - they even help build up our sensitive skin barrier rather than simply sloughing away dead cells.
The Exuviance cleanser does contain a small amount of fragrance, however; if like me you avoid if you might prefer your PHA hit to come from this Neostrata serum .
On to the cocooning, and this is the part of my routine that I was getting right - I love the feeling of layering up the hydration before bedtime. Ksenia agreed with my current go-to of Vichy Mineral 89 , £25, or suggested La Roche Posay's Hyalu B5 Serum , £37 as a strong alternative (I'm a big fan of the eye cream from the same range).
This hyaluronic hit can be followed by Kate Somerville’s Goat Milk Moisturizer , £55, though when my skin is feeling drier than usual I use Pai’s Age Confidence Cream , £60 as it’s that much richer.
If that’s still not hitting the spot, I’m to use a calming mask such as the Avene Soothing Moisture Mask , £11.50 - music to my ears as it's another brand I regularly stock up on.
Good skin needn’t be complicated, it seems - but my new clean slate isn’t just about what’s on my bathroom shelf. "Sensitivity is highly impacted by stress,” explains Ksenia, something I know only too well. "Once released, the adrenaline hormone puts us in a high state of alert, and the sensory nerve endings become over stimulated. This results in an over reactive, sensitised, and possibly inflamed skin. The inflammatory cascade can also be triggered by other factors such as UV light, changes in temperature, and pollution.”
Well, at least I’ve got the product part covered - watch this space for updates. If I find a diagnostic tool and prescription for reducing stress I’ll let you know…
Lion/ne are hosting a pop up in Notting Hill on 22nd November, or at Duck & Dry on Kings Road on December 8th – to book, email email@example.com
Follow Judy on Twitter and Instagram and read her other sensitive skin tales here