I love hot showers more than ever – unlike a bath, they are a place where I know I’m never going to be asked to test anybody on 20th-century dictators or listen to a litany of who was mean to whom. But my skin is less and less in agreement; it dries and shrivels in protest much quicker than it ever used to.
It’s a fact of ageing that your skin barrier is not really up to the job. It's supposed to be our security guard, keeping irritants and pollutants out and helping lock natural moisture in, but quite frankly post-40, it's having a snooze with the keys dangling out of its pocket.
As we get older, we produce fewer key lipids or oils so the skin becomes more vulnerable, fragile and prone to sensitivity. If we wash off those precious oils with shower gel and then stand stripped, so to speak, in the heat and the wet, the natural moisture we have in our skin then also starts to evaporate – it's a double drying whammy.
Another compelling reason for bringing in reinforcements is that a healthy skin barrier means healthier layers underneath, where all that lovely upholstery, the collagen and elastin, lives.
So with that in mind, I’ve been trying some reverse engineering - oiling up before washing, which is the Ayurvedic way (the practice of abhyanga involves an oil massage followed by bathing). The Romans and Egyptians body cleansed with oil too. The product that works brilliantly is not mythic, magical or ancient - it's budget buy from the baby aisle, Burt’s Bees Baby Bee Baby Oil, £7.96.
Yes I’ve tried more grown-up shower oils, but I find them all a bit over-produced with long ingredients lists, often including irritants such as PEGS and sulfates, or a bit too soapy and scented. Plus, they are designed to be applied once your skin is already wet. Too late, I've aged!
This oil is totally natural, free of nasties and suitable for the most delicate skin. And it smells deliciously and subtly of apricots and honey – there is after all something a bit wrong about smelling overtly of baby oil.
The main ingredient is nourishing apricot oil, which according to expert formulator Pedro Catala (the man who approaches the skin strata with the forensic eye of an archaeologist) is light on the skin, sinks in well and rich in oleic and linoleic acids, which help repair barrier function. It also has grape seed oil which is rich in polyphenols, powerful anti-oxidants, which also protect the skin.
‘The longer you spend in the shower the greater the damage to the skin barrier,’ Pedro warns. ‘Water is an irritant on its own. Applying a lightweight oil before showering helps to minimise the impact of the water and surfactants [soaps].’ His favourites are meadowfoam seed oil and apricot oil. ‘An alternative is avocado oil, which is similar to the skin’s composition and protects the skin barrier,’ he says.
Once I’m in the shower, I pour a few drops of my Burt’s Bees Baby Bee Baby Oil (£7.96, 100g) at the top of my spine and let the water wash the oil down my back so all those hard-to-reach areas are covered. I keep it on while I’m washing my hair and right at the end buff it all off with a flannel, in the same way as I use a balm or oil and hot cloth to cleanse my face.
My facial cleanser goes on before the shower too. I’m currently using Nataliya Robinson’s Quantum Botanika Waterless Cleansing Balm, £65 and the Elemis Rose Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm, £53 which comes in a 200g supersize tub. It has the most gorgeous aroma and is a face treatment in itself.
QVC beauty expert and presenter Alison Young tells me that a pre-shower oil actually softens the skin and loosens dead skin cells and dirt, thereby exfoliating much more gently than a scrub - adviseable especially if you have a flaky skin condition such as eczema or psoriasis.
Sometimes I think we overcomplicate things. I love this oil for its simplicity and its price point – you can slosh it on with abandon knowing you are doing your skin good and getting a thorough clean at the same time. And you're keeping your collagen under lock and key.
Buy Burt's Bees Baby Bee Nourishing Baby Oil (£7.96, 100g) and let us know what you think!
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