The skin is the body’s largest organ, with numerous functions far deeper than simply being our outside selves. Through its network of sensory nerves, the skin communicates pressure, pain, temperature, odour and sexual stimuli to the brain, which responds via the blood system to maintain relatively constant body temperature and water content.

Most of us know that fresh, bright and healthy skin can shift that ‘just OK’ feeling up a gear to one of real self-assurance and confidence. However, for many that ‘just OK’ all too easily becomes our every day. But we can change this: all it takes is a little effort and a combination of skin-nurturing foods, the best skincare advice and regular treatments to rejuvenate dull, lacklustre skin, leaving it deeply nourished and glowing.


Like a freshly ironed sheet covering a newly sprung mattress, the skin of a newborn is soft, smooth and entirely blemish free. As the mattress ages, the sheet starts to sag. This sheet is the skin’s epidermis. Just 0.02 mm thick on the face, it comprises cells called keratinocytes glued together by an extracellular matrix. The epidermis is continually regenerated by stem cells at its base that spawn new keratinocytes, which migrate through the epidermis before sloughing off to reveal even fresher cells underneath.

The thick mattress beneath the epidermis is the dermis, a chunky, gelatinous sea of matrix and cells. Woven though this mesh are rope-like protein fibres of collagen (giving skin its firm, tensile strength) and feathery coils of elastin (to maintain resilience). While this network of collagen and elastin provides strength and elasticity, the stuffing is made of large molecules of glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), the most common of which is hyaluronic acid. These absorb water to give the dermis of young skin its jelly-like consistency and smooth, plump feel.


Daily care for the skin is everything and if you are not prepared to spend the few minutes it takes to effectively cleanse, tone and nourish your skin every morning and night, then read no further. Experts recommend starting age maintenance in the late twenties/early thirties (see Skin through the Decades here) rather than age restoration ten years later.

All skin is different so finding a product that works is entirely personal and can entail much trial and error. Bear in mind too that our skin’s needs vary with hormonal fluctuations and the seasons, with richer and more nourishing creams and oils needed during colder, drier periods. So while sticking to some form of routine is wise, it’s also good to switch up your regime from time to time. Our skin changes with age too, so what works now might not be as beneficial in the future.

All of this said, the following guidelines are based on three simple steps: cleanse, tone, nourish. When performed twice daily, without fail, this will help us all, regardless of our age and skin type, to look and feel radiantly fresh and bright. It goes without saying that daily sun protection is the final piece of skin armoury (see here).


Cleansing the face every morning and night is an absolute must for healthy skin. For most experts, a thorough cleanse – rather than a quick wipe – is regarded as the most important step in an effective routine. Wipes generally just move the dirt and grime from one part of the face to another, so applying expensive serums and creams over that is just a waste of time and money. Even when time is precious, this step is non-negotiable. Use a cleanser suited to your skin type and how your skin is feeling. If, for instance, your skin feels dry and parched, an oil-based cleanser will give the best cleanse while also locking in moisture.

A few tips to get you started on your journey to better skin:

  • MORNING CLEANSE: A quick clean using a small amount of cleanser (oil- or water-based) will suffice as there should be no make-up, sunscreen or grime to remove.
  • EVENING CLEANSE: This is most important to remove make-up, dirt and sunscreen remnants from the day. Oil-based cleansers are generally better at removing oily make-up and sunscreen, as the oil in the cleanser attracts the oil or excess sebum on the skin. Avoid mineral oil, which is a by-product of petroleum distillation (often called paraffin oil or liquid petroleum) – it is of absolutely no benefit and can clog pores. (See Skin Oils, here.) Use a clean cloth that has been held under warm water to wipe away cleanser. Rinse and repeat until all traces of make-up and grime are removed.
  • DOUBLE CLEANSING: This generally works on a two-product system – first, a thick balm is applied to the face to remove make-up and stubborn grime. After washing off, a lightweight gel cleanser is applied, ideally with a cloth, to complete the thorough cleanse. This is especially beneficial for those who wear heavy make-up during the day or live in highly polluted cities, as although specialised make-up removers will take make-up off, they generally don’t cleanse the pores quite as well.


A deep, yet gentle, exfoliation once or twice each week helps slough stubborn dead skin cells, encouraging fresh cell renewal, while also allowing the skin to breathe and function more effectively. Choose an exfoliator that works for you, is not too aggressive and has no harsh ingredients. For example, if your skin is hormonally aggravated, choose a creamy or oily product that is gentler on the skin. For sensitive and very dry skin, a gentle exfoliation once a week will generally suffice, while oily and combination skin types should exfoliate two to three times a week using a gentle enzyme- or granular-based product.

Our current obsession with skin peels in their many guises (think peel pads, peel enriched toners, alpha hydroxy acids [AHAs] and so on) can leave skin thin and fragile. Yes, peels have a place, but they are not for everyday use and not for every skin type. So ease off on the scrubbing – be gentle. For specific advice ask your dermatologist.


A spray of mist or toner on thoroughly cleansed skin gives a dose of moisture to support the skin’s protective barrier. Always choose alcohol-free toners (alcohol dries the skin). Those containing natural disinfectants like witch hazel can help remove residual bacteria and are especially useful for oilier and acne-prone skin. Keep a toning mist handy to spritz the skin during the day – while at work, after exercise or when travelling. Let the toner sit on the skin. Don’t wipe it off.

Exfoliating toners are a relatively new category of toner, applied in the same way as more traditional types. Often called acid toners, they use acids like glycolic and salicylic to delve more deeply into the skin to slough away grime. These should not, however, replace traditional toners, but can be used, as needed, for a more intensive tone. As with exfoliators, above, they can strip the skin, leaving it very fragile, so be gentle.


Traditional skin creams (as our mothers’ generation called them) worked in a superficial way, as the cream simply sat on the surface of the skin creating a barrier that retained moisture. The advent of cosmeceuticals in the 1980s brought cosmetics into the medical science arena, with ingredients scientifically formulated to delve deeper into the skin to nourish and tackle wrinkles, spider veins, pigmentation and many other issues. (See What Skin Needs, here.)


Serums are generally more active than moisturisers and are specifically designed to treat and repair the skin. An effective serum will contain the highest level of active ingredients possible, clearly matched to the problem they are trying to address (for example, peptides, hyaluronic acid and vitamin A derivatives in serums designed for ageing skin – see What Skin Needs, here). Think of it as a concentrated supplement boost for the skin. They should not be overloaded with additional ingredients (like sunscreens, for instance) as these can weaken the activity of the key ingredients and thus compromise overall performance.

From a practical perspective, one of the benefits of serums is that they are light in texture and absorb almost instantaneously into the skin, making them especially popular in hotter climates. While heavy creams can leave the skin feeling oily and weighty, serums feel luxuriously soft and smooth.

Serums generally fall into two categories: those packed with antioxidants to protect the skin during the day and those designed to repair the skin overnight. While it is worth investing in both, it is equally important to think about what your skin really needs, as this alters with the seasons and life changes. For example, for a boost of hydration, try a hyaluronic-acid-based serum, and for acne reduction and prevention use retinol and vitamin C. Always check the labels, as many poorer quality serums contain large amounts of silicone, a relatively cheap ingredient that lends a silky texture but no added skin benefits. If what you are being sold sounds too good to be true – then it probably is! Read product labels and buy from a trusted manufacturer.

Emollients are lubricating agents that help keep skin hydrated by creating a barrier to lock moisture in and keep environmental aggressors out. Mineral oils and squalene are emollients, while more natural emollients include butters (cocoa and shea) and lanolin, which are the recommended options. Emollients are especially beneficial for those with dry complexions, as they keep the skin soft and supple. However, those with oily, congested skin may find this barrier function exacerbates congestion and blocks pores, especially if the product is rich.

A humectant is a substance that bonds with water molecules to increase the water content in the skin itself. Examples include glycerin and hyaluronic acid (see What Skin Needs, here). Humectants typically draw water into the skin from the environment, while also enhancing water absorption from the outer layers of the skin. Many humectants can also have emollient properties (hyaluronic acid, for instance) but not all emollients are humectants. The best skin moisturisers will include a combination of both on their ingredients list.


Facemasks are ideally used once or twice a week, after a thorough cleanse, when enjoying a bath or long, hot shower, as the steam generated enhances the absorption of the essential ingredients. Quality masks combine repairing and nourishing actives (think vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, nicotanamide and so on – see What Skin Needs, here) with deeply nourishing plant oils. Many of today’s masks can be kept on the skin overnight (in place of a night cream) to sink deep into the skin. Choose a brand you trust and use as directed on the product. When applying a mask, always include the décolletage, as it is especially sensitive and if not cared for will quickly show the signs of age.


From the moment we are born we begin to age, but it’s only in our twenties that the effects start to become visible in the skin. Skin typically works on a twenty-one-day cycle that begins to slow as we grow older.

  • INTRINSIC AGEING is the natural skin-ageing process where collagen production slows, skin loses firmness, dead skin cells take longer to shed and skin cell turnover is diminished.
  • EXTRINSIC AGEING is caused by external factors like sun and lifestyle stressors that exacerbate premature ageing.

While a comprehensive anti-ageing skincare routine is not necessarily needed until the late twenties/early thirties, it is never too early for preventive measures like sun protection, meals overflowing with skin-nourishing ingredients (as in the recipes in this plan) and regular exercise.

While every skin is different, the following is a general overview of some of the typical changes our skin undergoes as we move through the decades. None of this is predestined, but, without a doubt, the more we protect and nourish our skin during the earlier years, the better our skin will look and feel as we grow older.


Regardless of skin type, once we reach adulthood, skin becomes a little drier every day. For people with naturally dry skin, some dullness, rough texture, flaking and skin tightness may be evident even at this young age. During the latter part of the twenties, natural biological ageing slowly sets in with biochemical changes in the skin’s collagen and elastin fibres and the once neat architecture slowly starts to degrade. Excessive sun exposure during these earlier years will exacerbate skin ageing and can leave young skin looking and feeling at least a decade older.


Thorough cleansing and adequate sun protection are non-negotiable. Choose light, natural products that are gentle on the skin. Invest in a gentle, light and pure face oil and apply it over cleansed and toned skin and around the eyes at night (See Skin Oils, here). Eat enough healthy fats and essential fatty acids (see The Plan, here). Drink plenty of water and, if you really want to care for your skin, limit alcohol intake and get adequate sleep and rest.


Subtle changes occur throughout the thirties, which can become more pronounced with stress, late nights, alcohol, lack of exercise and so on. The skin under the eyes slowly starts to thin, leaving fine lines and puffy dark circles.


The natural rate of skin exfoliation starts to slow, with a reduction in collagen and elastin fibres. Skin starts to lose water and its natural protective barrier weakens. Sun-induced damage can become more apparent, with an increase in dark sunspots and damaged pores.

Keep skin well hydrated with nurturing foods, water and appropriate skincare – think natural healing skin oils and targeted serums (for example, hyaluronic acid or niacinamide – see here and here), especially at night, to repair and nourish while you sleep. Vitamin C-enriched products can protect skin from daily environmental aggressors and used in masks it can help bring back the glow. This is a good time to consult a trusted cosmetic dermatologist rather than relying on the sales representative at the local beauty counter. Get it right now – reap the rewards later.

40s AND 50s

For many women approaching their perimenopausal years, the hormone-induced changes to the skin can be quite disturbing, with loss of collagen, slackness, dryness, increased sensitivity and overall skin thinning. The skin’s protective barrier grows weaker, leaving skin drier still and more vulnerable to environmental aggressors.

From the age of forty or thereabouts, it’s estimated that the skin thins by 1 per cent per year, with a projected 2 per cent reduction noticed in collagen and elastin, while further damage is incurred by skin cells simply drifting into ‘senescence’ – in other words, just shutting down.

This is also the decade in which existing fine lines begin to morph into deeper wrinkles and the density of the skin decreases, resulting in a loss of overall facial volume and a drawn look. By the fifth decade, this process becomes even more exaggerated.


Sun avoidance is essential, as is daily use of moisturisers and products enriched with antioxidants, active retinoids, collagen-stimulating peptides and AHAs (if used) to adequately repair, nourish and protect the face and neck from the ravages of hormone loss. More than ever before, essential fatty acids come into their own to deeply nourish even the driest of skin. Think natural, nourishing oils overflowing in essential fatty acids – eat them, drink them and apply them! Use targeted serums and masks, especially at night, to aid repair and deeply nourish.

NOTE: During these years, the increased energy demands of intense exercise can give rise to a skeletal, bony face, or ‘runner’s face’ as it is often called. This is the result of a marked loss of fatty tissue beneath the layers of skin, leading to the deepening of wrinkles, loss of elasticity and the pronounced appearance of facial bones. To make matters worse, hours spent training outdoors exposed to harmful UV radiation incurs further damage on already compromised skin. To help prevent this bony look, ensure your overall energy intake is enough to meet the demands of your exercise routine, follow the daily skincare recommendations outlined here and always protect your skin with broad-spectrum SPF30+ sunscreen, regardless of the weather.

60s +

Through the sixties and beyond, skin succumbs further to age and gravity. It is estimated that a woman will lose up to 30 per cent of facial collagen during the five years after menopause, while hormone-induced facial bone loss can be up to 20 per cent, lending a very dull and shrunken look. The skin’s natural protective barrier deteriorates even further, leaving skin drier, more sensitive and susceptible to bruising. While wrinkles and fine lines generally start to settle, gravity takes its toll and skin tone can become increasingly lax with the appearance of jowls and excess folds.


Ageing skin needs a daily supply of essential fats and naturally nourishing oils, so continue to eat them and apply them liberally. Exfoliate regularly to brighten the skin and to allow better absorption of essential oils and other active ingredients. This is also the time to layer targeted serums rich in antioxidants, peptides, hyaluronic acid and so on, with oils and rich creams, one over the other, especially at night, to aid repair and deeply nourish. Lastly, maintain regular exercise – brisk walking, yoga or whatever you enjoy – which will increase blood flow to the skin and throughout the body.