Before we get started, let’s do the maths: if your average beauty editor receives 350 lotions and potions a month, how big does the square footage of her face need to be before she runs out of space and has to start testing said creams on her elbow? This is not a joke; it is the reason you can never ask said person about her skincare routine. Chances are, she won’t have one. How can she? Too many creams, too little skin!
And yet, as each new year rolls around, the temptation of the routine kicks in. It’s a conundrum: on one hand, we know we are bad at following them and not entirely convinced they work on us as individuals, with all our individual issues; but, on the other hand – well, what if they do? Do you want to be the lined crone in the corner who didn’t believe in the possibilities of potions?
I feel I can say this with some authority. My life, after all, has mirrored the rise of the modern-day routine, starting with our shared date of birth: 1968, aka the year Clinique invented the three-step cleanse, tone and moisturise programme. I have been through the stage of the antioxidant serum, the era of the glass pipette – or better still, those phials with a glass bulb you have to snap off – and I have a familiarity with gadgets (don’t get me started on the Clarisonic electrical cleansing brushes or the new Philips RéAura at-home Fraxel laser treatment). I have used them all, as well as all of the following excuses for not using them:
1) I lost the instructions
This happened to me with Dermalogica – simple, white bottles with grey lettering, yet the routine was so complicated it came with a face-mapping chart that gradually disintegrated in the shower.
2) I have a life
Take Eve Lom’s much emulated classic cleanser with cloth. Did you apply the warm cloth like a compress to your skin three times this morning, allowing the heat to open the pores and the aromatic oils to penetrate your skin, with a sufficient interval between each compress to allow the skin to cool down and the pores to close? Or did you just rub it over your face as if it were a common flannel?
3) I am not Chinese
Apparently, at the Crème de la Mer counter in Selfridges, Chinese women arrive in droves and admit to having been on skincare routines of up to 15 products since they were, wait for it ... 10 years old. “Who are these women?” I asked, flabbergasted. “They’re just women who are meticulous about their skincare,” came the reply. Reader, I ask you, what chance do the rest of us have?
4) I have a specific skincare problem
Honestly, I’ve learnt to love my freckles ever since the range of pigmentation products I was offered on top of my usual routine required such precision placement of melanin-inhibiting lotions that only an Exocet missile operator could manage.
Here’s the problem, as I see it: routines are like diets – you have to stick to them for a minimum of 28 days (the life-cycle of a skin cell) to see results. Fall off the wagon and that way lies paranoia. Maybe I still have wrinkles/spots/a big nose because of that one morning I overslept/applied the concentrate before the serum or vice versa/mistook the clear nail varnish for the vitamin C under-eye liquid. (They both come in nail polish bottles, it’s easily done.)
And yet everyone I talk to in the course of my professional life – facialists, dermatologists and, more importantly, the women who stick with routines and keep coming back for more – says routines work. Is this in their interest? Well, for the first two sets, of course. Yet when Dr Stefanie Williams, a Harley Street dermatologist, assures me that she sees a big difference between the skin of those 40-something women who started a good routine in their 20s and 30s and those who didn’t, I admit: I believe her. This is partly because her recommended routine is simple: a cleanser, an antioxidant serum and a moisturiser with an SPF50. Also what I consider skincare gold: Airol cream, which is a 0.05 per cent tretinoin – brilliant for acne breakouts and fine lines.
But still, back in my bathroom, something is missing. This routine might work splendidly but it’s all a little ordinary. While I inwardly scoffed when the expert at the Crème de la Mer counter in Selfridges used the phrase “me time” to justify devoting six minutes every morning to patting on the four La Mer moisturisers he prescribed me, I did quite enjoy the whole process and savoured the way each serum, concentrate and cream smelled like two weeks at the Hotel du Cap. And perhaps that’s why I’ll keep on searching. Why have routine when you can have ritual?