Serums I have known and loved – the best serums for ageing combination skin

Best serums for ageing combination skinI’ve worked in the cosmetics industry for most of my life and although I’m not currently directly involved in it, I do still enjoy having a selection of products around. Over the years I’ve tried most of the popular (and some lesser known) face serums and I decided it was time to share my current favourites with you. I have pale, thin, ageing combination skin but I don’t have many lines or wrinkles. There’s a bit of creasiness around the eyes and a few blotches but my skin looks younger than I am. I owe most of that to my natural aversion towards sunbathing and fastidious use of sunscreen but I’ve also learned what my skin loves – and change my routine depending on the time of the month, season and other factors. I tend to have two or three serums in use (not all at once but on rotation) and a choice of day creams and cleansing products, plus emergency items such as salicylic acid for breakouts or the calming lavender, neroli and almond oil blend I made for myself.

Overall, what I look for in a serum (just to help you understand why I like these over some others):

  • Must not irritate the skin
  • Must have a pleasant or tolerable fragrance
  • Must not feel too silicone-laden
  • Must not cause breakouts
  • Must be able to see a visible improvement in whatever issue I am targeting

My current favourites are:

1. L’Oreal Age Perfect Cell Renew. This surprised me. I was expecting a L’Oreal serum to be a silicone-slick and obnoxiously scented and this was neither. The scent is a tad stronger than I’d like but fades fast (it smells rosy) and the serum, whilst having some slip, isn’t like trying to rub grease on your face. It’s lightweight, sinks right in, hydrates the skin immediately and adds a very subtle golden glow which is absolutely perfect for days you need a bit of help in that department. When I was planning this post I originally thought Advanced Night Repair must be my top favourite because I’ve had several bottles over the years but then I realised I’m on my third bottle of this serum in under six months which means I’ve been reaching for it more often than any other serum before. Wow. I love it as a daytime serum in particular because of the cosmetic effect it gives. It works really well when my skin is good enough to go with just a few dabs of concealer and a dusting of translucent powder – but it’s also brilliant under foundation.

2. Vichy Liftactiv Serum 10. This is another floral fragrance which could be a bit milder but fades fast and doesn’t bother me. The serum is fairly watery (which is a bonus if you’re feeling dehydrated but also a bit oily – a horrible situation which can happen when someone with combination skin suddenly realises they’re 40…). A good all-rounder, day and night. Sinks in, really hydrates the skin and is a fraction of the cost of some high-end serums. I really love this as a go-to product and it would be my top choice if I’d have to pick just one. Very versatile and a fantastic formula.

3. Advanced Night Repair 2. Something I always come back to. It’s a skincare staple for a lot of women for a reason – there’s hardly any scent (it smells somewhat functional rather than perfumed), it works well on its own for combination skin or under a night cream for dry skin types, and it seems to suit practically everyone. I’ve sometimes added a few drops to a moisturiser to make it less greasy and it’s actually a product I would recommend for men who are feeling that their face could do with a bit of a boost but don’t want an overly girly product. Use it at night for best results.

4. Lierac Mesolift Serum. This smells of orange juice and has the same effect on your skin as a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice has on your constitution – it perks you up and refreshes. Absolutely delightful if you’re under the weather or recovering from a cold; brilliant when combined with Lierac’s Mesolift cream (which is similarly orange-juice scented). The main problem is that if you’re as pale as I am (or have a tendency to look sallow), these products do leave a very faint yellowish tint behind – so I tend to use them on days I’m not planning on going out or at night.

5. Vichy Idealia Life Serum. Noticeably perfected skin after just one use – instant new favourite. This has just been added to my favourites (despite the somewhat overwhelming scent) as it really does perk your skin up and thankfully lacks the excess silicone-itis that so many serums suffer from. I would suggest night-time use purely because of the scent but if that doesn’t bother you, it would also make a great all-rounder.

I hope you enjoyed this post and if you have any serums you’ve known and loved, do tell me in the comments!

The Unwritten Fractal Redstone Chamomile

The Redstone Diary, Klorane Chamomile, Bioderma micellar water, Hannu Rajaniemi, Unwritten Mike Carey Peter Gross… or “my recent purchases”.

I’ve been talking about Klorane a lot so I won’t go on about it now, but I’ve just re-stocked on the Chamomile shampoo and conditioner (and decided to give the much-talked-about Bioderma micellar water a go at the same time – Escentual.com is running fantastic French Pharmacy brands promo in June which seems to have been designed just for me).

I’ve wanted a Redstone diary for a while. It’s tactile, chunky; has a weekly view and interesting photos, quotations and poems. I have slightly peculiar diary habits (I am currently using one for work and made my own for personal use from an A4 hardback notebook).

Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi is a follow-up to his debut science fiction novel The Quantum Thief (which I enjoyed immensely even though his use of Finnish words for names kept irritating me because it pulled me out of the world every time; won’t be a problem for most readers, though). Hannu has great ideas and handles them deftly.

The two graphic novels at the bottom of the pile are books 6 and 7 in the Unwritten series by Mike Carey and Peter Gross. It’s a story about the nature of stories and beautifully told. Apparently they are doing a cross-over with Fables, another series I’ve enjoyed, so that’s something rather exciting to look forward to. I don’t want to spoil too much about Unwritten if you haven’t read it yet, but it has great ideas and blends fantasy and reality in an enticing way.

Nostalgic Cosmetics

A selection of nostalgia-inducing cosmetics that are popular in Finland

Lately I’ve been feeling a little home-sick for Finland and nostalgic for childhood summers spent frolicking on fields and swimming in lakes. Ignoring the part where a large proportion of my childhood summer holidays were spent sitting under the shade reading, I did genuinely have a great time at my grandparents’ summer cottage in Jaala. In my late teens it was also a welcome break from my part-time job behind the beauty counter.

There are a few products and brands I remember very fondly from Finland. Even now, in the big wide world, surrounded by all the choice of an over-saturated cosmetics market (or perhaps because of it), I get a lot of joy and comfort from using some things from way back when. I’ve gathered a little selection of products that I use or stock up on when in Finland.

1. My grandmother’s favourite hand cream – Lemon Juice & Glycerine (and that’s pretty much all there is to the formula). It’s inexpensive, widely available in Finnish supermarkets, smells delicious and a little goes a long way. My gran had not just a green thumb but ten green fingers. Her cottage garden was magnificent. She would use this cream after a day’s hard work outdoors and her hands were always soft.

2. Berner’s XZ-shampoos and conditioners are some of the best mass-market products you can get for your hair. The formulas are decent, as are the scents and if I forget to pack shampoo when I travel to Finland (as I did last time), this is the brand I look out for at the supermarket or chemist. I’ve tried a few of them now; the sea buckthorn range was a particular favourite.

3. When did I start using these? Late 80s, I think. The Deborah Hydracolor tinted lip balms are probably my favourite tinted lip balms, ever. I did stop using them when I came to the UK (as they don’t seem to be available here) but I bought four different shades on our last trip to Finland and they are all lovely. The flavour alone takes me back.

4. Louis Widmer, how do I love thee? There’s an interesting element to the Finnish cosmetics market. The Boots-type pharmacy/drugstore doesn’t exist; instead you have very sterile and serious pharmacies in which you can find a (growing) selection of (usually quite) earnest cosmetics. Hypo-allergenic, cosmeseutical; as long as it could be marketed by a man in a white lab coat, it gets in. The self-selection drugstore cosmetics are found in supermarkets, department stores, Anttila stores and standalone cosmetic stores (of which there are now many, many more than 20 years ago).The Swiss Louis Widmer brand has been a staple in Finnish pharmacies for decades. I first tried the products when I was working in one of the first standalone cosmetic stores in Finland and on my last few trips back I’ve been stocking up on the eye cream and vitalising night cream; the textures are rich and soothing (I use them in winter or at night if my skin feels very dry) and the scent is Nivea-like, comforting and old-fashioned.

5.Ô de Lancôme was one of my go-to summer scents 20 years ago. I first learned of it when working in that cosmetics store and I fell hard for that 70s-style cologne and for Givenchy III, a bitter citrus chypre that I couldn’t get enough of. If you think these are odd choices for a teen, it may be comforting to know I also adored Balahe (an oriental spicebomb with a boozy vanilla and eugenol accord), Jardins de Bagatelle (a sugary tuberose garden writ large which could give today’s fruity florals a run for their money) and even Elizabeth Arden’s Red Door. Ô de Lancôme was a great summer scent, though, and smelling it now takes me back to those days.

6. Yves Rocher was and still is popular in Finland. I mentioned the Chevrefeuille products I’ve been using recently and the Hamamelis-range is something we always seemed to have in our bathroom when I was growing up.

7. I wonder if there is a single Finnish cosmetics-using female who doesn’t own at least one Lumene product? A home-grown brand owned and manufactured by a pharmaceutical company, Lumene caters for the needs of Nordic women and uses some interesting local materials from arctic berries to peat. I’ve never visited Finland without buying at least one Lumene lipstick. There are many really flattering shades for pale complexions and the formulas are easy to wear – they don’t tend to feel heavy, drying or sticky.

8. 4711 was one of my gran’s staples along with the lemon hand cream and a touch of face powder. The cologne was more of a summer cottage thing; in town she preferred Arden’s Blue Grass. The smell of 4711 is very nostalgic; I love cologne, full stop – and it’s a great product to carry with you on summer travels. Something to rinse your hands with instead of alcohol gel, or to splash on after a shower. It’s nostalgic but still relevant.

9. I told you Lumene uses peat – here it is in all its glory; a deep-cleansing peat mask. I find this absolutely marvellous for my awkward ageing combination skin. I use this on my t-zone and buy two or three tubes to take home when I visit Finland.

10. Lumene Hydra Drops is a very lightweight foundation made with oatmilk and fluffy clouds. At least that’s how it feels on your skin. It’s one of the few liquid foundations that comes in a shade light enough for my winter skin and doesn’t settle into pores. I tend to prefer powder foundation overall, but when my skin is feeling dry, dehydrated or a bit cranky, this stuff is magic.

A Finnish lake view

A little London perfume tour (featuring tea and cake at Fortnum’s)

One of the best things about the internet is how it’s brought fellow fragrance nerds together and allowed us to get to know each other. People from all sorts of backgrounds can become fascinated by scents and it’s great to have the opportunity to hang out with such an interesting bunch. I’ve been running small perfume tours in London for a few years and yesterday I met up with a few friends in Spitalfields and visited Angela Flanders, Bloom and Patisserie Valerie (yes, cake is an essential part of any decent perfume tour). Then we headed to Piccadilly Circus and walked to Geo F. Trumper’s perfumery and had afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason. Fortnum’s perfume and toiletries department is opulent, old-fashioned and a must-see for any perfume fan heading to London. I bought Angela’s Precious one and Trumper’s Ajaccio Violets (which sounds like a spell from Harry Potter). I might write about Angela Flanders and Bloom a bit more in the future, but here are some photos!

My French Love Affair

A French beauty product love affair, part oneWhat better time than spring to have a French love affair! In this case, my love affair is with French cosmetics. Many of the effective and beautiful products I love happen to be French. We’re spoilt for choice these days. The cosmetic market is over-saturated. There is something very indulgent about French beauty products. They are for pleasure-seekers and not just focused on utilitarian necessity, or the Birkenstock-wearing earnestness of many natural brands. Using them feels like flirting and giving into something a little frivolous but ultimately good for you.

1. Obviously I am going to start with the ultimate frivolity of a fleeting but beautiful spring perfume. Le Chevrefeuille by Annick Goutal focuses on the green flower-stem accord typical of “honeysuckle”-type scents. It’s a wonderful, uplifting fragrance but does not last very long on the skin.

2. Cheap and cheerful Chevrefeuille from Yves Rocher to the rescue! There’s an affordable cologne spray, shower gel, deodorant and a body lotion to get a bit more of this fresh, green smell into your life.

3. Klorane is a wonderful botanical beauty brand. The blue cornflower eye-make-up remover is a cult product and so is their dry shampoo. I’ve been growing out my over-bleached ends and using the Chamomile hair products to bring some life back in. The product scents are very well done and convey nature and nurture. If you’ve never tried any Klorane products, I urge you to correct this oversight sooner rather than later.

4. Decleor is one of my favourite skin care brands of all time. I’ve stayed loyal to the facial oils and the cleansing water for years – they also do a beautiful range of soothing face creams and luxurious body products. Not the cheapest of lines to love, but when you can afford it, it’s worth treating yourself. I use the neroli facial oil a couple of times a week instead of night cream or serum.

5. Vichy is affordable, easy to find and has a few star products. The Liftactiv Serum 10 is one of them. A watery, hyaluronic-acid-rich texture that sinks in beautifully; a delicate inoffensive floral scent. Unlike many other serums, Liftactiv 10 causes no breakouts or irritation. The serum will boost your skin’s hydration levels and make you look well rested and fresh. It’s not a miracle product (nothing is), but it’s one of the best basic hydrating serums out there and performs as well, if not better, than some competitors at nearly twice the price. I use this underneath a day cream or a night cream when needed.

6. What do you turn to when you’re getting older but still suffer from spots? This. Vichy Normaderm Anti-Age is the Holy Grail of treating ageing combination skin. Why? Because the ingredients in it have been designed to stimulate your skin to look fresher and younger and to dry out spots at the same time. It’s a lightweight, green lotion that you can use day or night when needed. I alternate between this and a different day cream. You will need to use SPF when treating your skin with any product like this, so do remember to add a sun screen. I’ll do A French Love Affair Part Deux soon, in which I’ll tell you about the best everyday sun screen product I’ve found.

7. We started with perfume, so let’s finish with one, too. Melvita’s Orange Zest Eau de Toilette is not exactly a perfume in the truest sense; it’s a fresh orange water that makes you smell as though you’ve just peeled a hundred oranges, lingers for an hour or so and then disappears. It is, however, a wonderful travel companion; a breath of fresh air when you don’t feel like using perfume but want to refresh yourself – and completely natural to boot if you worry about that sort of thing. Spraying some on a scarf will let you enjoy the zesty scent for a little longer. Melvita is generally a brand that’s worth exploring and you can shop for it online or find it at the Wholefoods Supermarket in London.