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Cynical skincare myths every woman MUST read from Caroline Hirons’ best-selling beauty bible

A new beauty bible from a straight-talking skincare blogger who can help products sell out in hours is on track to become the best-selling beauty book this century, having reached the top spot in the book charts — the first fashion/beauty title to do so in 18 years. 

Here, in an illuminating extract from Skincare: The Ultimate No-Nonsense Guide, Caroline Hirons gives her excoriating verdict on misleading marketing ploys, long-held beauty myths and what NOT to spend your money on . . .

The skincare industry is in my blood. Some of my earliest memories are of my grandmother, who worked on beauty counters in the 1960s, religiously removing her make-up before bed.

Eyes first, in her bedroom mirror, then a full facial cleanse at the bathroom sink. The message was passed down the generations: take care of your skin.

My mum was also a ‘counter girl’; I started working in beauty after I had the first two of my four children. By 2008, I was a consultant being paid to tell brands what they needed to hear, not what they wanted to hear. 

Skincare blogger Caroline Hirons (pictured) gives her verdict on misleading marketing plots, long-held beauty myths and what NOT to buy in her new book Skincare: The Ultimate No-Nonsense Guide

As my husband once said: ‘Who would have thought that being gobby and opinionated would become a career?’

When I started my blog in 2010, I quickly gained a trusted audience by saying things like: ‘Actually, I wouldn’t advise that. Don’t do that. Do this.’ And so on. 

What you do need 

  • A good eye make-up remover or first cleanser. You may prefer thicker cream cleansers from your 40s onwards.
  • A lighter textured cleanser for your morning cleanse or evenings as a second cleanse, where you aren’t typically removing make-up or SPF.
  • Acids. Glycolic, lactic or PHA acids (see box) can all join your kit from your mid-30s and are great for older skins.
  • A hyaluronic-based facial mist. Your skin finds it harder to retain moisture from the mid-30s — this replaces that lost moisture. Do not spray plain water over your face: it is not the same.
  • A good antioxidant serum. Spend your money here. Buy a good niacinamide/vitamin C/resveratrol etc., and use it daily.
  • A good-quality hyaluronic product. You are more susceptible to transepidermal water loss (TEWL) from your mid-30s, so you will benefit from a daily dose of hyaluronic acid. Do not be fooled into buying a dirt-cheap one: it’s likely to be a single-ingredient, heavy hyaluronic acid that won’t really penetrate, so it’s a false economy.
  • Facial oil. Your quickest fix and your best friend.
  • Eye product. You will notice the need for these more from your mid-30s. Go for lighter textures such as gels or light creams if you have crepey eyes. Rich, thicker creams feel luxurious but are not favourable on an older face and will make your eyes puffy.
  • Vitamin A/retinoid. A must. Your skin’s cell turnover is extremely slow from your 40s and beyond. Vitamin A is your best friend. Jump in.
  • A moisturiser suited to your skin type.
  • SPF. Do not forgo this critical step. 

It’s now had over 120 million page views and resulted in the publication of my first book, Skincare.

There was clearly room for someone straight-talking to come along and shine a light on the skincare industry. After all, it’s very confusing. And the industry makes a lot of money by confusing you. 

The more knowledge you have about the products, the less likely you are to be persuaded to purchase something you do not need.

Of the many intentionally confusing terms, some rankle more than most. Take the current buzzwords: ‘clean’, ‘green’ and ‘detox’. 

Over the past decade, skincare brands and retailers have started throwing them around with abandon, to suggest their skincare is somehow ‘purer’ and safer for your skin than a ‘chemical’ product.

The ‘clean’ industry is worth billions worldwide.

It would have you believe anything man-made is bad for you, and bad for the environment, and for you and your family to remain safe and free from ‘toxins’ you must stick to all-natural products and use as few ‘synthetic’ ingredients as possible.

But I’m here to dish the dirt on ‘clean’. We are in a situation where brands use most of their advertising and packaging to tell you what is NOT in their formulas, while seemingly forgetting to advise customers what actually IS in them.

They also bulk out the list of ‘forbidden’ ingredients by including things never be used in skincare in the first place, as if they’re doing you a huge favour. 

It is the skincare equivalent of saying ‘there is no carrot in this yoghurt’.

Meanwhile science and scientists are ignored. Proven, legal safety assessments are disregarded as if they are meaningless — and retailers are buying into it, heavily.

The beauty chain Sephora now has a ‘clean’ section. They state that products in this part of their store and website are ‘safe’: and by shopping there you are in a ‘toxin-free’ zone (insinuating, therefore, other brands on offer in their stores are full of ‘toxins’?).

This is ironic from a retailer that makes the majority of its skincare sales from the prestige, high-tech (in other words those containing chemicals) section.

Meanwhile Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop is another ‘clean’ exponent: it posts articles claiming a link between ‘toxic chemicals’ found in personal care products to allergies, autism, ADHD and, horrifyingly, cancer, all without links to scientific papers to back their opinions.

I’m passionate about good skincare and frequently frustrated by all the misinformation. Here, I tell you what you need and what you don’t, and where not to waste your time and energy.

Busting these beauty myths 

Oily skin means you don’t need moisturiser 

The biggest mistake people with oily/combination skin make is to try to ‘strip’ the skin during cleansing — to the point where it squeaks — and then not apply anything else on top and just go.

For the more lubricated among us, my advice is to cleanse your face with a good non-foaming cleanser (oil, cream, milk or gel — no mineral oil or bubbles).

Caroline Hirons busts the myth that eye products can fix genetic dark circles. She says some brightening ones will 'lift' the appearance of them, 'but genes are hard to mess with'

Caroline Hirons busts the myth that eye products can fix genetic dark circles. She says some brightening ones will ‘lift’ the appearance of them, ‘but genes are hard to mess with’

Then exfoliate with an acidic toner, spray hydrate. Follow this with a light serum to target specific skin conditions (ageing, pigmentation, scarring/dehydration etc) if required. Then apply a hyaluronic serum, moisturiser, or a facial oil designed for your skin type.

Avoid anything ‘mattifying’ — a promise often made on products for oily skin. Skin is not designed to be ‘matte’.

Your skin has plenty of time to be matte when you’re dead.

Eye products fix genetic dark circles  

If your parents/close family have dark circles, they probably run in your genes, and there isn’t a cream alive that will safely deal with that kind of dark circle. 

There are excellent eye products that can take the edge off, and some brightening ones that will ‘lift’ the appearance of them, but genes are hard to mess with.

Waiting lists for products

Those long lists retailers circulate, stating that ‘literally thousands’ are ‘eagerly awaiting!’ a product — they do not exist. At least not in the way they are portrayed. 

Take it from someone who’s spent her life in retail: there is no such thing as a list of thousands of names, eagerly awaiting whatever product that marketing company is paid to push that week. It’s all hype, to make you want a product more.

MAKE your own skincare

Despite what you might read on certain websites, you’ll find no substitute for good professional skincare in your kitchen. It’s wishful thinking. Do not believe the hype.

The best you can hope for is a temporary softening of the skin (avocado/plain yoghurt) or a very temporary tightening (egg white). 

The beauty blogger tells people not to spend money on 'wipes', as they do not clean your face and are bad for the environment (file photo)

The beauty blogger tells people not to spend money on ‘wipes’, as they do not clean your face and are bad for the environment (file photo)

The aloe vera you see on a product’s ingredient list is a world apart from the sticky, clear gel that you get when you cut an aloe leaf. It has to go through a chemical process to even begin to think about penetrating the skin.

There is nothing, I repeat, NOTHING in your larder that can cure acne. I wish there were! But coconut oil, lemon, baking soda, turmeric and the rest all belong in your food, not on your face.

Don’t waste money on… 

  • Wipes. They do not ‘clean’ your face. They are for Emergencies Only. If you have access to clean water, there is no emergency. They’re also atrocious for the environment. NEVER flush.
  • Sheet masks, aka ‘wipes with holes cut out for eyes’. Think of the environment if nothing else.
  • Foaming face washes that contain sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS/SLES) or, more specifically, anything that describes itself as giving you ‘squeaky-clean’ skin. No part of your body should squeak. These products are too drying. Full stop.
  • Micellar waters.Fine for removing eye make-up, or your entire face in an emergency with no access to water, but they’re not a one-stop shop for daily use and should be washed off. Use them as a first cleanse only.
  • Pore strips. I don’t care who advertises them, no one who works in and on skin and cares deeply about your skin would ever — ever — recommend these. Horrible things.
  • SPFSO drops that claim to give you complete SPF coverage, even if mixed with moisturiser. Righty-ho. How? What wizardry makes them stay a pure undiluted form when mixed with another product? Stop it.
  • Expensive clay masks. Clay is one of the cheapest ingredients to put in a product. Don’t pay big bucks for it.
  • Cellulite creams. Cellulite is caused by fat cells pushing through your connective tissue. Cream will not fix it. Use a body brush and a body moisturiser. Your skin will feel smoother, but it won’t get rid of cellulite.
  • Any topical skin product made using your own blood. Taken from the idea of PRP (vampire) facials, founded by Charles Runels, the difference being once your platelets are mixed with base ingredients for a skincare product, they become completely inert and are useless once outside the body. Also: illegal in the EU. Fact.
There is no substitute for professional skincare in your kitchen, with avocado and plain yoghurt only momentarily softening your skin, while egg whites temporarily tighten skin (file photo)

There is no substitute for professional skincare in your kitchen, with avocado and plain yoghurt only momentarily softening your skin, while egg whites temporarily tighten skin (file photo)

Acids — the basics 

I understand combining the words ‘acid’ and ‘skin’ can be intimidating. Don’t be scared!

Acids are all about exfoliation, and are derived from professional chemical peels, but are now included in our everyday skincare routines. 

I originally coined the phrase ‘acid toning’ to allow readers to easily identify where it goes in their routine, i.e. after cleansing — the liquid acid stage replaces your traditional toner.

Try to buy two, preferably three, acid products: a strong one for evenings, a lighter one for daytime and one more to mix it up. 

Different strengths and different acids do different things to the skin, and you’ll want to tweak which you use depending on how your skin’s feeling.

Caroline Hirons dishes the dirt on the 'clean' industry in her new book, Skincare: The Ultimate No-Nonsense Guide

Caroline Hirons dishes the dirt on the ‘clean’ industry in her new book, Skincare: The Ultimate No-Nonsense Guide

All acids are available in a variety of strengths and come in many forms: liquids, pre-soaked pads and gels.

What they’re for: 

  • LACTIC (AHA): resurfacing, great for dehydrated and dry skin.
  • GLYCOLIC (AHA): stimulating for better collagen production, resurfacing.
  • MALIC (AHA): resurfacing, good for boosting production of collagen.
  • SALICYLIC (BHA): best for spots/acne. Surprisingly gentle.
  • POLYHYDROXY ACIDS (PHAs): best for those in need of hydration and deep penetration of a product applied afterwards.

Edited extracts from Skincare by Caroline Hirons (out now, HQ, £20).

Overused, misused, confusing — and all over our faces 

NATURAL: The most over-used and abused word in the industry. If a product is labelled ‘natural’ you think you’re doing yourself some good. But ALL products contain chemicals and the use of the word natural is not regulated. Read the label. Educate yourself.

ORGANIC: This is marginally better than ‘natural’, as at least there are some standards. Eight certification bodies in the UK give organic accreditation, and many more worldwide. All have different requirements. Brands that are obsessively organic will tell you the how, why, when and where behind their products’ creation.

DETOX: Despite what the ‘clean and green’ industry claim, we have our own built-in detox system. It’s called your lungs, liver, kidneys and skin. Outside of the medically supervised detox treatment in a hospital or drug-dependency unit, any other use of the word ‘detox’ is disingenuous at best, nonsense at worst. And it has no business in the food world or in skincare. Detox products. Detox creams. Detox teas. Detox pads for your feet. Detox hair straighteners. Enough.

HYPO-ALLERGENIC: It means ‘should not cause an allergy’, which is fairly meaningless. There’s no industry or legal standard to back it up, and there are different standards in the U.S. and EU. An extreme allergen to you may be perfectly fine for me.

SHRINKS PORES: Pores are not doors, they do not open and close. Nothing opens and closes pores. There is a big difference between ‘closes pores’ and ‘minimises the appearance of pores’. One is rubbish, the other is possible.

DERMATOLOGIST-TESTED: This has no legal standing or definition. It also does not mean the product tested ‘positively’ by a dermatologist, just that it was ‘tested’. ‘How was it tested?’ you ask. Probably by rubbing a bit on their hand, or on a patient’s face, to check for any reaction. It is a genuinely pointless term and I pay no attention to it.

ANTI-AGEING: We’re all so used to this term we don’t even question it. If a product says it is ‘anti-ageing’ on the box, it must be, right? Wrong. I don’t like the term anti-ageing — if we’re lucky enough, we all get older — but the industry is slow to catch up and still thinks youth is the dream. Few ingredients are indeed ‘anti-ageing’— but some are entitled to be called ‘ageing prevention’. They do not reverse signs of ageing, but they do help slow them down or prevent them from getting worse.