Next month marks my 32nd birthday in which I will formally refer to myself as a proper grownup. I’m fine with age and a strong believer in not looking back, but at 20, 32 seemed like an eternity away. Turns out, it came around quickly. But, if anything, age has brought experience, a greater appreciation of relationships, and the chance to get just that little bit closer to achieving my dreams.
While clearing out some old uni boxes from the loft last week, I stumbled across a photo of me on a uni night out. At 20, my skin was awful. It didn’t always look terrible, but it felt terrible. I lived in a damp terrace in Sheffield while studying for my degree, and I drank a lot, ate poorly, and got stressed at the drop of a hat. As a result, I had terrible flare-ups of eczema on my face all the time, which felt really uncomfortable and often meant I would redo my makeup four times over – just to try and cover the irritation. I had no idea how to make it better and was completely clueless about the skincare that could help. So instead, I resigned myself to a life of greasy emollients and skin-thinning steroid creams.
With time, my skin has slowly improved and at 32, I’d say I’ve got things under control. Admittedly I have a better lifestyle than I did as a student, but I also believe it’s down to my growing knowledge of skincare and nutrition. So, as I count down the final weeks to my birthday, I thought I’d put together five gems of wisdom I’d tell my younger blotchy faced self.
Buy French skincare
The French do sensitive skincare like no other, and over the past few years Avene, La Roche-Posay, and Bioderma have all become my relied upon friends. Plus they’re affordable and make looking after eczema-prone skin feel quite chic – a far cry from those ugly tubs of Diprobase that I turned to daily for many years. Unlike many so called sensitive skincare products, brands such as La Roche-Posay are scientifically backed and also really effective at targeting other problems such as spots and blackheads. If only Toleriane Ultra Fluide had existed in 2004, I would have avoided plenty of pre-party tears.
Stress was always a major cause of my eczema, and before an important exam or post argument with a boyfriend, I could actually feel my cheeks begin to tighten. While I know that stress is all relative and often hard to avoid, (particularly when studying) I wish my 20-year old self would have found some better coping mechanisms. I cried a lot between my teens and early twenties, which was often an explosion of immense anxiety and stress spiralling out of control. Now I try to manage my stress levels with daily meditation sessions via the Headspace app, regular exercise, acupuncture and a good night’s sleep. It’s also pretty liberating to admit that you have problems with anxiety and tackle it head on. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and finding ways of understanding and coping with it can improve your life immeasurably.
When I was 20, I focussed more on covering up my skincare issues with makeup than sorting out the underlying issues. Age has taught me that this isn’t the best method, and there’s no makeup in the world than can hide the onslaught of a really bad flare-up. (In fact, it makes it look 10 times worse). Diet goes hand in hand with good skincare, and at 20 I ate a lot of processed foods. McCain smiley faces, crispy pancakes, pizza and crisps were my staples, and fresh fruit and veg were consumed sporadically. (Four nights out of drinking and late nights also exacerbated my skincare woes). Ok, so let’s be realistic, this is all part and parcel of student life and is a whole lot of fun, but if your skin is getting you down, it may be time to reconsider your nutritional intake. Fresh fruit, for example, is full of antioxidants that defend your skin against free radicals such as pollution, while nuts and seeds contain skin-friendly minerals such as zinc, selenium vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids. By maintaining a healthy, balanced diet, your skin is better equipped to fight off the daily aggressors that are upsetting it so much. And no, Berocca doesn’t count.
Invest time into finding professional advice
Part of the reason my skin was so problematic and unpredictable was that I didn’t understand how to care for it properly. As I mentioned earlier, the standard skincare products available to me at the time were greasy emollients and steroid creams such as Diprobase and Eumovate – plus I was so scared my skin would react to other products, I daren’t use much else.
Luckily we’re now spoiled for choice and both bricks-and-mortar stores and online sites such as Cult Beauty and Feel Unique give really detailed product information to inform your purchase. Spending time understanding key ingredients and terminology will serve you in good stead, as will seeking professional advice. If you can afford it, spend the money and go and see a dermatologist or facialist that specialises in your condition. Alternatively, go to a skincare counter in a shop such as John Lewis or Boots and get some advice for free. It may take some time to find the perfect regime, but investing in good advice initially, will prevent you from buying unsuitable products that end up at the back of the cupboard.
“If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it,” said Baz Luhrmann in his nineties track Everybody Should Wear Sunscreen. This is valuable advice and one that you should ignore at your peril. My mum told me to start wearing sunscreen on my face at 20 and oh how I scoffed. As you can imagine, wrinkles were at the bottom of my list of concerns at the time, and I actually used to go on sunbeds as someone told me it helped with eczema. In fact, some sunbed shops still advertise this as a reason to use them. Please, please, ignore and laugh in the face of this unbelievably stupid advice.
Aside from the risk of skin cancer, the sun (including sunbeds) can do irreparable damage to the deep layers of your skin and cause premature ageing. UVA rays are present all year round and can reach the skin through cloud and glass, while UVB rays are responsible for top layer damage such as burning. It makes me weep when girls in their twenties say they don’t worry about sun protection as they’ll just have Botox when they’re older. (Note to your future self, Botox doesn’t make you look young, it just makes you look weird).
Still not sold? Humour me anyway and put a thin layer of broad-spectrum factor 50 cream on your face after your moisturiser. And never darken the door of a tanning shop again. I bet you look better at 30 than your friends who saved up for Botox.