Treatments 101: What to use, how to use it, when to use it

Part Two of my Skincare 101 series is looking at treatments. If you haven’t seen Part One, which talks about cleansers and toners, head over there first.

These products and routines are suited to my skin type and concerns (normal/dry, acne prone, not sensitive, drastically dehydrated, with post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation). I am by no means an expert and the products I use are what work for me.

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WASH-OFF TREATMENTS

What does it do?

Most people will be pretty familiar with masks and scrubs. As a product family they’re nothing new.

Nothing really has changed in the overall concept of the two products – masks are non-everyday treatments designed to tackle specific issues, scrubs are designed to exfoliate the skin and are often marketed as everyday products (Clinique 7 Day Scrub anyone? I don’t know how I still have a face after using that for so long!).

Tackling specific issues is definitely what we are all about here in the ‘wash-off treatment’ category. If you are looking for a quick fix for congestion, dullness and the such-like these products are your best bet.

What different products are available?

If you scour the Instagram pages of the skincare community, you will very rarely find a real scrub featured in people’s routines. It’s become commonly accepted that most scrubs are way too harsh. Also a lot of them are terrible for the environment as they contain microbeads. (Caroline Hirons has a great post about this here).

Most people tend to choose to get their exfoliation from acid based treatements, which can come in the form of masks. There are some scrubs that people seem to enjoy – most of these get their ‘grit’ from sugar, coffee and other mild physical exfoliants which are far more gentle on the skin.

Mask are where things really get fun. There are always exceptions and variations, but largely I think masks fall into four categories: clay (or mud) masks for congestion, creamy masks for hydration, gel-like masks for brightening and exfoliation and sheet masks (which tend to be hydrating).

Creamy hydration masks are often ‘sleeping masks’, meaning you leave them on overnight and wash-off in the morning. In my opinion this does not a mask make, this is just a heavy moisturiser. But I guess you wouldn’t use them everyday, hence the ‘mask’ status…

In my opinion, the brightening and exfoliation masks are where you will see the greatest variety of ingredients. You will usually be looking at choosing between AHA, BHA or fruit enzymes. I personally really like fruit enzyme ones and have had great results.

Caroline Hirons maintains that you don’t need to spend a lot on clay masks as clay is one of the cheapest ingredients available. If you are looking at something a bit more pricey, make sure it has some added bonus ingredients.

How do I use it?

I pretty much always use masks at night. Occasionally, if I have time and my skin really needs it, I will use a brightening mask in the morning. I tend to reach for masks when my skin is playing up, and for this reason have never really got into hydrating masks (maybe this is where I am going wrong?!) I will usually choose a mask two or three nights a week, sometimes when my skin is great I go for a few weeks without feeling like I need one.

Any product you buy will come with instructions for use, which usually suggests leaving the mask on for 10-15 minutes and remove with a cloth. I would always suggest sticking to recommendations when you first use a mask, as you don’t want to have a reaction, but once you know you can tolterate the product a lot of masks benefit from being left on for a lot longer. I’ve left clay masks on for hours before, regularly spritzing if it drys out too much.

How often do you I use it?

I’ve mentioned above what I tend to do, but its really a personal thing and depends on what your skin needs. You might find you don’t need one at all!

Which products do I like? 

Decongesting – NIOD Flavanone Mud, Sukin Super Greens Detoxifying Facial Masque, Aesop Parsley Seed Mask, Eve Lom Rescue Mask, Origins Clear Improvement Mask, Una Brennan Salicylic Anti Blemish Mask

Exfoliating/Brightening – Herbivore Brighten (fruit enzyme), Herbivore Blue Tansy (BHA), Ilcsi Sour Cherry & Blackthorn (best mask ever – hydrating too), Elizabeth Arden Pro Invigorating Face and Body Scrub (this contains lactic acid and is a pretty hardcore scrub – I use it on top of my cleanser to make it more gentle. I also use this only about twice a month, when I really need it. You have been warned…)

LEAVE-ON TREATMENTS

What does it do?

Oh god – where to start with this one! I’ve spent a lot of time jotting down notes and figuring out how to structure this section because there is just so much to talk about! I think the simplest way to summarise these is that they are the key products you are going to use to tackle skin-issues long term. While wash-off masks are good for a quick fix, your serums and oils are going to protect the skin in the long run and promote skin health, while tackling trickier problems like pigmentation and dehydration.

If I take a scan of my collection I would say my serum and oil stash are focused on the following: dehydration, dullness, hyperpigmentation, acne, clogged pores, aging, antioxidants.

What different products are available?

Leave-on treatments are mostly designed for regular use, once or twice a day, but you will come across products that are designed for use one or twice a week (think Alpha H Liquid Gold or a strong retinol product).

Going back to my stash these are the key products groups you may want to look into, and a pretty good starting point if you are new to skincare.

Treatment type Key ingredients to look for Issues they tackle Products I like
Exfoliating AHAs (glycolic acid, lactic acid),
BHA (salycilic acid), fruit enzymes
Dullness, acne/breakouts, clogged pores, texture Sunday Riley Good Genes

Bravura London (acid range)

Alpha H Liquid Gold

Retinol Retinol, Retinyl Palmitate,
Retinaldehyde
Anti-aging*, texture, hyperpigmentation, acne Sunday Riley Luna

Dr Dennis Gross Ferulic and Retinol Wrinkle Recovery Overnight Serum

La Roche Posay Redermic R

Brightening Niacinimide (Vitamin B3), Vitamin C, Arbutin Hyperpigmentation, texture, uneven skin tone Su-Man Velvet Skin Brightening Serum
Breakout Busters Salicylic Acid, Benzoyl Peroxide Acne/breakouts, texture, pigmentation, clogged pores Bravura London Salicylic Acid

La Roche Posay Effaclar Duo

Over-the-counter Benzoyl Peroxide products (from your local chemist/pharmacy – max 5% strength)

Hydration Hylauronic Acid, Glycerin Hydrating (a lot will come with additional ingredients to help with brightening and anti-aging) Hylamide Booster Low Molecular HA

Hylamide SubQ Anti-Age Advanced Serum

Caudalie Vinosource SOS Thirst Quenching Serum

Hydraluron

Jordan Samuel Skin Hydrate

Antioxidants Vitamin E, Vitamin C, (CoQ-10), Resveratrol, Retinol, Green Tea Extract

*read this

Prevention, long-term skin health Caudalie Polyphenol C15 Serum

A lot of serums for other issues will contain antioxidants – multi tasking is easy!

Oils Any nut, fruit, vegetable, seed oil (basically any plant oil you can think of!)

If you have sensitive skin you may want to avoid essential oils (e.g. lavender, rosemary, sandlewood, lemon, orange, jasmine)

Everything! Jordan Samuel Skin Etoile

Sunday Riley Artemis

La Belle Lune

African Botanics Pure Marula Oil

Zelens Z-22

How do I use it?

Some general notes as a starter for 10. As a rule of thumb I apply my serum treatments after my hydrating toner/spritz step, while my skin is slightly damp. Oils follow serums, then you can add a moisturiser on top of your oil if you like (I always do in the AM, rarely do in the PM). Of course if you don’t like oils you can go straight from serum to moisturiser.

There are of course exceptions.

Exfoliating: Having been burnt (metaphorically) by over-exfoliating I now only use these ‘hardcore’ exfoliation treatments once or twice a week (I also count my acid toners in my weekly exfoliation limit). Alpha H recommends using Liquid Gold every other night as a maximum. These treatments are strong and over-use will result in your face falling off 😉

I never use an exfoliating treatment if I have used an acid toner and I tend not to spritz before it either, preferring to apply onto dry skin. Most exfoliating treatments can be used alone, but I find my dehydrated skin always wants something more. In these instances I will leave the exfoliating treatment to sink in for 20-30 minutes before following up with a spritz then an oil. I only use these at night as they can make skin more UV sensitive and I personally don’t see the point in exfoliating in the AM and then piling moisturisers, SPF and make-up on top. Up to you what you prefer though! (always read the instructions).

Retinol: I currently use my retinol product about once a week, although I would like to up it to at least twice. I like to apply it onto damp (spritzed) skin, but I’ve read if you are sensitive you should use it on dry skin as it absorbs slower into the skin. As with exfoliating treatments, I leave for about 20-30 minutes then follow up with my oil of choice. I will admit that sometimes I love using Sunday Riley Luna over the top of my cream retinol for a gently double whammy.

Brightening: I will admit that my foray into brightening treatments has been limited. I recently purchased the sample size of Su-Man’s brightening serum and I think its the first brightening specific product I have ever bought (actually I did get the Ordinary Niacinimide and Zinc serum – but have not had a good experience with it. More on that another time!) Keep an eye out for the key ingredients in other products as you may not always need a brightening specific products if your concerns are minimal. From what I know of other products on the market, these serums are frequently water-based so I would use them straight after spritz, morning and evening, and before oils or creams. A note of warning, niacinimide can destabilise vitamin C so they are best used separately.

Breakout Busters: From personal experience you need to be careful using products specifically for breakouts. The ingredients can be harsh and prolonged use can degrade the skin’s barrier function and skin health which can lead to irritation, inflammation and further breakouts. I personally tend to ‘spot treat’ – ie dab onto problem areas rather than all over my face. This is especially true with over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide products and I also do the same with LRP Effaclar Duo (although I know some people are fine using this as a moisturiser!). Just pay attention to your skin. Dr Sam Bunting has a great video series on acne management – I highly recommend it and it has changed my approach to tackling my breakouts for the better. Salicylic I would use all over – for example I like to add a drop or two of Bravura’s acid to my oil (morning or evening) to give it a breakout busting boost.

Hydration: These are staple serums in my line-up and I use one once, if not twice, a day. Due to their formulation and consistency, if I am layering serums my hydrating serum will usually go first, straight after spritz.

Antioxidants: As with the brightening serums, I haven’t used too many specific antioxidant treatments over the years as you will so often find antioxidant ingredients in your other products. These ingredients fight free radical that oxidise on your skin and cause long-term damage. They are critical in any good skin care regime, and while you probably won’t see immediate effects from them, they are to protect your skin and promote long-term skin health. Most products will be OK to use twice daily, layered with other serums and under your oil or moisturiser.

Oils: Ah oils. I love oils and as someone who is acne prone and in my youth was oily skinned, I can tell you there is no need to be afraid of oils. The ones I go for tend to be all natural and I find they are great for soothing, calming, healing, hydrating and brightening. I have a reviews of my favourites Sunday Riley Artemis and La Belle Lune, which will give you a bit more information about how and when I use specific products and what they do for me. In the morning I like to mix a drop or two of oil into my hydrating serum to add extra moisture under my moisturiser. In the evening I use them instead of a moisturiser. I use them every day with out fail. LOVE.


If you want to see how I use and mix my products on a daily basis, depending on what my skin needs, please check out my Instagram account @infatuatedbybeauty

What products do you like? Any particular tips or ‘hacks’ that you love in your routine?

Keep an eye out for the third part of my Skincare 101 series on moisturisers, eye creams and SPF.

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