Pretty Hydrated

3rd November 2017

Autumn may be the prettiest season of them all – but, as Lisa Botwright writes, the change in temperature can have a less attractive effect on our skin. Just as we have a seasonal wardrobe, perhaps it’s also time to give our skincare routine a seasonal edit?

With autumn in full swing, the colder weather means there’s less moisture in the atmosphere – and unfortunately, cranking up the heating at home causes the same problem. “Heated air means low humidity, which leads to water evaporating from our skin,” says cosmetic dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting. “This can cause cracking, flaking and irritation and leave skin with a lacklustre, parched appearance.”

Dr Emma Wedgeworth of European Dermatology London says: “Think of the skin as being like a brick wall — a barrier against the environment. When skin feels dry, cracks are developing in this wall. Irritants can get in and water gets out.”

Dehydration can affect all skin types – young, mature, oily and dry – although dry skin is bound to feel the effects sooner. But before we reach for the nearest tube of cream, bear in mind that not all moisturisers are created equal. How do we find the right one that will offer targeted help for our particular skin type?

Surprisingly, most moisturisers don’t necessarily add moisture. Instead, they contain ingredients – known as humectants – to attract and trap existing water in the skin. A good moisturiser contains a mixture of humectants, emollients and other active ingredients to lock water in the outer layer of the skin and prompt damaged cells to repair themselves.

“Humectants act as a good first layer of moisture and are suitable for all skin types including oily, combination and acne prone skin because they’re void of the heavier oils,” says New York dermatologist Anne Chapas.

The downside is that with some synthetic ingredients, such as propylene glycol or some silicones, this might mean the humectants are pulling water from the deeper levels of skin without replenishing it, ultimately leading to less hydration overall. Instead, look out for natural honey or aloe, or the wonder ingredient hyaluronic acid – a molecule found naturally in healthy skin that cushions joints and holds up to 1,000 times its own weight in moisture.

Emollients are ingredients that soften skin and seal in moisture, such as shea butter or coconut oil, creating an occlusive, protective barrier on the surface. While these products will feel comforting to drier skin, they may be too rich for more oily skin and can cause breakouts.

The most cutting edge moisturisers boast ingredients that mimic the skin’s natural ability to heal and protect itself, and might include ceramides (the waxy, fatty cells that act as a raincoat to waterproof our skin) or peptides {the protein molecules that prompt skin to produce more collagen: the stuff that keeps skin plumped up and healthy looking that – sadly – depletes with age).

Also important to look out for are the most effective kind of antioxidants, which help to tackle environmental damage. Just as we need a healthy diet to boost our immunity, our skin benefits from vitamins A (otherwise known as retinol), E and C, to boost radiance and fight signs of ageing. And the most aggressive pollutant of them all? The UVA and UVB rays in the atmosphere that cause 90% of visible skin damage. Don’t forget to use an SPF every day even as we head towards the darker depths of winter.

A question that often comes up is whether we should use a serum too? “A serum is highly concentrated and has biologically active substances to help accomplish specific goals,” explains Catherine Orentreich, guiding dermatologist for Clinique. A good serum acts as a powerhouse to boost the active ingredients of your moisturiser, so using one really depends on whether we feel we have specific concerns that need addressing.

But it’s no use leaving creams or lotions to fend for themselves if the rest of your routine is more haphazard than habitual. For the active ingredients to do their work, they need to be able to penetrate deeply into the skin – so use a gentle cleanser (makeup wipes are a no-no!) and exfoliate regularly. Keep hydrated too, by drinking lots of water.

So now we can wrap up and brave the fresh air, safe in the knowledge that we’re protecting our skin from becoming as dry as the gloriously crunchy leaves underfoot. Good news, as autumn is all about making the most of the outdoors before it gets too dark and cold to do so; or, as someone far more poetic than me once wrote, enjoying… ‘the year’s last, loveliest smile.’

Our tester recommends…

Botanical Kinetics Intense Hydrating Soft Creme £35

'Botanical extracts increase skin’s own cellular energy'

Restore and Replenish Face Cream £40

'The unique peptide complex boosts collagen'

Sisley Black Rose Skin Infusion Cream £128

'Infuses skin with the most divinely luxurious ingredients'

Multi-Protection Essence SPF50

'A high level of protection with a lovely, light texture'

Double Serum £75

'A gorgeous serum with 20 potent plant ingredients'

Find Your Local