The skincare book review

I just finished Caroline Hirons’s book Skincare the other day. It made me think about the variety of skincare books that I’ve read in the last few years. 

Clearly my skin is not perfect. If it was, I wouldn’t be reading all those books about skin, would I? I’d just be wandering around with my lovely looking skin and not worrying about it. Instead, I tend to be wrestling with dryness, hormonal acne, or some weird allergic rash. I’m by no means pretending to be an authority on skincare here.

I started reading skincare books more 15 years ago with Bobbi Brown’s Teenage Beauty and then I moved on very soon to Jo Fairley’s and Farah Stacey’s The Beauty Bible

To Teenage Beauty I owe the life-saving skill of concealing breakouts at high school. And for that I am incredibly grateful.

From The Beauty Bible, I learned about facial cleaning with muslin cloths. Learned about it theoretically, as I was not minded to launder muslin cloths that often. The other thing I learned is the use of tea tree oil for nasty bacterial spots if you don’t have any anti-acne treatment. It burns and hurts, but it works – and it’s especially good if you’ve picked at it. Of course, you need to be a bit careful as it’s quite strong stuff. The book is now out of print, but most of its content is available online – this includes their yearly Beauty Bible awards, which are chosen by their volunteer testers.  

Here’s some of the skincare books I’ve been reading more recently.

Sali Hughes’s Pretty Honest

Sali Hughes is the beauty columnist of The Guardian. I knew her mainly from her makeup advice. 

Sali Hughes adamantly defends a woman’s right to wear red lipstick. I should probably blame my lockdown addiction to Mac’s Ruby Woo on her.  See her article on red lipsticks in The Guardian

Pretty Honest is an enjoyable read, with the additional benefit of looking quite pretty on a bookshelf. It’s a book that covers all manner of beauty concerns: nails, waxing, teenage beauty, chemotherapy beauty, beauty and the careerwoman, and the etiquette of talking (or not)  to your hairdresser… you name it, she’s got it. 

Sali Hughes has a very common sensical approach to most beauty treatments and miracles. She is highly likely to tell you straight up what works and what doesn’t. Her skin routine, as I reread it recently, is very similar to what Hirons recommends – except that she recommends acids a few times a week instead of everyday. This is probably for people like me, who have sensitive skin.  But otherwise, her skincare routine advice is pretty much the same – she even talks about using flannels for washing your face instead of muslin cloths. She stresses the importance of hyaluronic acid for moisturizing.

The one complaint that I might have against Pretty Honest is that it does not include enough illustrations or photos – trying to explain winged eyeliner without using photos seems ambitious to me… 

That said, I would still really recommend this book.  To avoid risk of bias, Sali Hughes does not give any particular product recommendations – if you are looking for those, you are welcome to check the Guardian for her most up-to-date columns (and they are all available for free). 

Alexandra Soveral’s Perfect Skin

The next skincare book I read was Perfect Skin by Alexandra Soveral. I bought it because I saw it recommended in the Vogue or a similar lifestyle publication. Alexandra Soveral is described on the back cover as “the fashionista’s favourite facialist” – and I think the alliteration worked on me. 

Soveral is very keen on organic, holistic, and ”free-from” skincare. After reading her book, I bought a brush for dry brushing, some essential oils, and I tried to learn a little bit about facial massage. 

I still have the dry brushing brush – I used it all of five times, I think. 

The essential oil I binned – that’s what my dermatologist made me do. My dermatologist exclaimed with absolute horror on using any kind of essential oil on acne prone skin. Soveral also wants you to avoid all the other typical medical treatments for acne such as benzoyl peroxide, salicyc acid, and antibiotics. If this is your thing, it might be the book for you. I would still like to believe that a trained dermatologist knows better than a celebrity facialist. But heigh ho. 

The one positive aspect of  Soveral’s book is her little instruction on facial massage. Now, having researched a little about the “lymphatic drainage” she claims for it, I am more than a little sceptical of its wondrous effects in that area. That said, I think facial massage is good if it comes to relieving tensions in the muscles in your face. It’s simply quite relaxing. Also, unlike the essential oils, it is probably reasonable to believe that you’re not actively doing your skin any harms. So at least there’s that. Hooray?

Caroline Hirons’s Skincare

Last, but not least, there’s Skincare by Caroline Hirons. Now, I’ve not read any of her blogposts before – and that’s probably a good thing, since the book contains a great deal of very similar content —  so if you’re happy to read stuff on your laptop screen  – the blogposts might do the trick for you.

Another thing that I’ve discovered since buying this book is Caroline Hirons does fantastic Instagram videos. I mean genuinely, she just sits there with a massive mug of tea and natters away at you as if she were your best friend.  Then she gets too distracted by the Instagram comments to which she constantly tries to respond. Then she has a rant about TikTok trends. She feels very genuine and I suspect that’s why people like her. However, among these genuine blogposts, there’s quite a few ones that are clearly marked as ads. 

And even though, thank goodness that they are clearly marked, one can see why these big brands want her to say good things about them – because people trust her. 

This comes down to one of the beauty industry things – you build trust by being brutally honest about products – but if a brand starts paying you for advertising because of the massive following you have built – will that trust be compromised?

The whole thing is made more amusing by the fact that in her books she talks about the massive advertising budgets that brands like Cetaphil, Avene and La Roche Posay spend at marketing their products to dermatologists – after all, these are the people you are most likely to trust… 

But of course, this is the position of anyone remotely engaged in the industry – Hirons included. If people trust you, the brands will be tempted to pay you to market their products. 

Millionaires who just love impartially reviewing skincare don’t exist – and even if they did – would they say no to praising X brand’s product for a large enough salary?

At any rate, Hirons’s videos are very enjoyable and super friendly. She is both knowledgeable and funny – but also – key thing – highly opinionated. 

Here’s a few quotes: 

  • “If you are consistently ‘cleansing’ with wipes (aka moving the dirt around your face) and then applying a really expensive serum or moisturiser on top, you are wasting your money. And your time.’
  • When explaining why she doesn’t like electronic cleansing brushes “It does not need a sandblaster to clean your face. You have hands – use them”
  • When it comes to explaining the industry’s love affair with “clean” products,  she points out that “the use of the words ‘natural’, ‘clean’ and ‘green’ is completely unregulated.

One of my favourite bits of the book is hidden at the very back: and it gives you tips on how to read and understand product ingredients. I already have to read the product ingredient list, as my other half is allergic to nuts – so I might as well try to figure out something semi useful from it. 

Hirons also provides you with helpful guidance on what ingredients you should be trying to use for your specific skin conditions. 

The book also includes photos of these conditions.  So for instance, I have found out that what I kept describing as “mini blocked pores” are actually milia – and they’re actually not spots, technically speaking.

Also in the past I have suffered with an allergic reaction on my face – the GP prescribed a topical steroid for it – and it reappeared as soon as I stopped using. It stayed there for months, until by sheer coincidence I changed my toothpaste.  I thought my skin was just plain weird. Well, having looked at the photo in Caroline Hirons’s book, it looks exactly like perioral dermatitis – and according to her it can be caused by “sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) in toothpaste and cleansers… The biggest single difference for me personally was using toothpaste that did not contain any SLS.” 

Guess what, I checked the ingredients of that old toothpaste. SLS is right there. My current toothpaste does not contain it. Voila.

Another nice thing about this book is that Hirons is not shy of recommending specific products for particular skin concerns. This is very useful, but it also means that I kind of want to blow my budget on all the cleansers and serums she is recommending.  

No, seriously. Me wants. 

She recommends a lot of products, partially because she argues that – though you will want to use up a serum within the next few months – most of the products can be used whenever you see fit – targeting a specific concern you might have on the day. So you might have two or three acids and cleansers open at the same time.  She also says that if you are serious about skincare, you should be willing to spend the same amount on a serum as you would on a nice handbag. 

This is why the skincare industry is now all over her – make no mistake. Because if you do skincare like that, you will spend lots. 

My main knit pick with the book (aside with the whole – “what is real, what is true: the social media marketing ethical dilemma”) —  is that the layout could be a bit clearer. 

For instance, instead of simply numbering the morning routine steps, we have a very designer series of hashtags: for each step:

 #cleanse

#exfoliate

It is quite difficult to refer to any particular step of the list, and you have to keep flicking between pages to ascertain the order. And you will keep wanting to refer to Hirons’s skincare routine list – or at least I did. I have been reopening this book again and again. 

Funnily enough, I started using white face towels just before I got a copy of this book. Before that I was using micellar water (Bioderma) on a cotton wipe. Hirons’s enthusiasm about face towels and cleansing might just be enough to make the persevere with laundering the sodding things.  

However, I might have to switch away from my current Cetaphil cleanser…. In typical Caroline Hirons fashion, she is quite blunt about Cetaphil’s cleansers

“In my opinion, water, three parabens, two alcohols and SLS do not ‘a suitable cleanser for dry skin make.’”

Fine, Caroline Hirons, have it your way then. Even if it makes me feel a little bit like poor Maria Lucas, reordering her packed clothes, just because Lady Catherine De Burgh instructed her to do so. 

P.S.

It gets funnier with my cleanser story.

I was inspired by my reading of Caroline Hirons, but unwilling to spend much money on it. I was made slightly sceptical by the fact that she recommends her own collaboration with Pixi first (PIXI + Caroline Hirons Double Cleanser – very much mixed reviews online).  

I ended up buying La Roche Posay’s Effaclar H cleanser, which she did not mention anywhere, because:

a) was the same line as a cream I was already using (how bad can it be, I thought…)

b) was recommended in many of the listicle articles as “the one that dermatologists use”

It actually makes my skin irritated and sore. I am not even joking. Unlike than the Cetaphil that Hirons was so quick to dismiss. Though the Cetaphil also contains SLS, I’m pretty sure that the glycerin proportion is way higher there. This fancy La Roche Posay face wash actually hurts. I have used it twice now, hoping for a different effect, but I think I’m just going to have to bin it and stick to the Cetaphil.

Suffice it to say, the next cleanser I buy will probably be from one of Hirons’s lists. At least then I can justifiably complain. But I will keep my emergency Cetaphil.

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