If you’d have asked me whether or not I thought there was anything else to learn about my own beauty routine this time last year, I would have laughed. It’s not that I think I’m a know-it-all when it comes to beauty (my go-to skin guru, Pamela Marshall at Mortar & Milk, teaches me something new about skin every time we talk), it’s just that I spend every minute of my working days quizzing experts and trialling products. As far as I was concerned, there was nothing left for me to learn about my own routine. I knew what cleansers worked for my skin, what ingredients to steer clear of, what sort of products my hair likes and what makeup products to leave well alone.
But then 2020 happened. Much like everything else in life, the events of the past year or so really have messed with my beauty routine. Spending more time at home, rethinking my product budgets and a big shift in general priorities have meant that I’ve been forced into doing things a little differently. For example, whereas once upon I time I may have spent an hour applying my makeup before dinner, this year, my makeup drawer has gone largely untouched. Similarly, while monthly facials were once a set fixture in my diary, the past few months have seen me adding various new skincare products into my line up in a bid to get my glow back.
And it is as a result of this shift in priorities that made me realise that I still have many beauty lessons to learn. Much like everyone else I know, in a bid to seek solace from everyday stresses, I turned to my beauty rituals a lot this year, and in doing so learned some serious home truths. From the perils of overmasking to the silliness of skipping SPF, keep scrolling for the beauty realisations that hit me hard in 2020.
I’m by no means a die-hard manicure person, but I must admit that without semi-regular trips to the nail bar, I struggled to keep my nails in shape. Not only did my hands become dry from frequent washing, so too did my nails and cuticles. As my nails became more delicate and brittle, they started breaking and snagging – causing me all sorts of troubles. In a bid to save them, I text my nail technician. She informed me, “As long as you keep on using your oils and creams, things will be fine.” Although I do own cuticle oils and countless hand creams, using them regularly was not a part of my weekly regimen. To get my hands feeling soft and smooth again, I started applying oil to my cuticles and nails every single night and massaging in hand cream before I hit the hay. As a result, my nails have stopped breaking, patches of dryness have totally diminished and my cuticles are nearly non-existent. I’m a convert.
My hair is long and balayaged, so my style has never felt particularly high maintenance. Having said that, this year I learned what happens when you have long, bleach damaged hair that hasn’t seen a pair of scissors in over a year. Not only did my ends turn dry and frazzled, the rest of my hair has suffered badly, too. Not being able to keep on top of regular appointments not only meant I had to have inches cut off my lengths to keep strands healthy, it also meant I’ve had to more or less start my colour journey from scratch (bleaching virgin hair will inevitably leave things looking brassy at first.) While I understand this situation was totally out of my hands, it’s made me cautious about leaving long gaps between appointments again. In the meantime, turning to at-home nourishing and toning treatments has certainly helped keep on top of things.
There’s no doubt that 2020 was a year of serious masking. In attempt to inject our stressful lives with a bit of zen, it’s safe to say a huge number of us chose to kick back and relax with a face mask. The only problem is, after a few weeks of masking madness, my skin started to freak out. It turns out, it is possible to give your skin too much of a good thing, especially when it comes to face masks. From drying clays and pore-refining acids to glow-boosting vitamin C and deeply-nourishing vitamin E, face masks are jam-packed with seriously powerful ingredients and it’s important to go easy on them. As a result of over-masking, my skin was left plagued with breakouts and looked patchy and red. From now on, I vow to stick to soothing and nourishing masks that won’t cause too much damage for my relaxation sessions, and keep more active formulas for special occasions.
For skincare to really do its thing, you need to be prepared to give it time. In the past, I thought this simply meant finding your routine and sticking with it. However, this year I really learned the importance of slowing everything down. With some more time on my hands, I’ve been allowing my products to fully absorb before applying the next – and wow does my skin look better for it. Most importantly, I’ve been letting my vitamin C serum sit on my face for 10-15 minutes every morning before going onto the next step. The science behind the reasoning isn’t too complicated, and I’m unsure why it’s taken me so long to get on board. In essence, active ingredients like vitamin C are unstable and don’t mix well with other ingredients – the longer you leave it alone on your skin, the less chance of it becoming diluted.
OK, hear me out. In the past, when my oily skin started to look a little congested, I have been known to take what I dubbed an ‘SPF break’. With UVB rays a rarity, when the first lockdown hit, I figured if I wasn’t going outside that day, I could give my pores a bit of an SPF detox. When I went for a facial in the summer, the facialist analysed my readings and asked why I didn’t have SPF on my nose (who knew she was going to be able to tell?!) After telling her I wanted to give it a break in a bid to clear up my blackheads, she showed me my skin under a special light to reveal the damage of UV rays over my entire face. The skin on my nose looked significantly more worse for wear than the areas I had been religiously applying SPF to every day. She also pointed out that my WFH set-up faces a window, meaning my face is ageing much more rapidly without SPF, even if I’m not going out.
Don’t get me wrong, I love makeup, but not leaving the house nearly as much has made me appreciate the power of lightweight formulas a whole lot more. Whereas previously I might not have given mutil-tasking makeup products a try (I was a firm believer that products should do one thing really well and not overcomplicate the matter), I really did fall in love with all-in-one, multi-hyphenate makeup this year. From glowing skin serums to pigments that cover off your blush, eyes and lips all in one, my growing love for do-it-all products has taught me that a smaller, more refined makeup stash is much better suited to my lifestyle.