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My skincare routine is the same as my grandma’s, this is why

WORDS BY MAEVE GALEA

“As I brushed my teeth I would watch her applying her various night creams, serums and lotions to her face, enthralled by these rites and rituals of femininity.”

It’s often said that the best beauty secrets are those handed down from generation to generation. Mostly these are rooted in culture and history. They conjure sweet, nostalgia-inducing images of, for example, an elegant Chinese matriarch showing her granddaughter how to use a gua sha for the first time or an Italian nonna smothering her grandchild in olive oil to keep their skin supple.

In my house, the absence of a mother interested in skincare and makeup meant I too turned to my paternal grandmother for guidance. Nanny is a level of put-together that inspires awe among everyone she meets. She always has perfectly manicured hands and feet and wears her cropped hair in hot rollers to bed every night to achieve the voluminous, Lady Di-esque helmet of hair that frames her perfectly powdered face and painted lips.


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Once when she visited me at my work a colleague emailed me, and without an ounce of irony asked why I was touring Ita Buttrose around the office. As a child on visits to my grandparents’ house, I would sneak off to rifle through her bathroom drawers. With the excitement of an archaeologist who had just uncovered an ancient artefact, I would examine her golden tubes of lipstick, carefully placing them back inside the drawer exactly as I found them.

In the evening I would follow my grandma into the bathroom as she prepared for bed. As I brushed my teeth I would watch her applying her various night creams, serums and lotions to her face, enthralled by these rites and rituals of femininity. “This is supposed to make me look younger,” she would joke, as she tapped cream under her eyes and sealed the moisture in with a dollop of thick, bright white Nivea creme, before adding “not that that’s something you need to worry about, my darling”. 

But while she was right that I had the youthful complexion that is wasted on children (jk, jk), throughout my childhood I dealt with painful eczema flare-ups all over my body. This continued into my teenage years but became even more worrisome as the condition spread to my face and neck. While my friends were dealing with acne and breakouts I was dealing with redness and irritation of another kind.

Patches of rough, red skin, especially around my eyes and on my neck became as much a fixture of the cooler months for me as my school fleece. Nothing I tried seemed to soothe or moisturise my drier-than-the-Sahara-desert skin to the level that was required. Actually, oftentimes it would make it worse, causing irritation that would lead to red-raw skin that would sting when the wind blew against it. 

This continued into my twenties. When I got a job at a glossy magazine and befriended the two beauty editors who sat beside me I regaled them with tales of my struggles with dry skin, hoping they might have a solution for me. They would present me with every ‘nourishing’, ‘gentle’ and ‘intensely hydrating’ product that landed on their desks. Sadly, none of them worked long-term.

A trip to the department store

Having tried every sensitive and dry skin-friendly product under the sun, from natural balms to prescription steroid creams, I resigned myself to my dry-and-scaly-skinned fate. This, I thought, was my lot in life. Then one day I found myself living in a country without a Mecca or Sephora in sight and very few options in the realm of beauty and skincare that extended beyond brands you could buy at the pharmacy.

As winter arrived and harsh winds took hold, my skin ​​– which had been enjoying the humid climate up until this point – began to deteriorate. The skin around my eyes looked like crushed-up tissue paper and a patch of angry red skin reappeared on my neck. 

Desperate, I asked a friend for a recommendation. She sent me to a department store frequented by her grandmother. Surrounded by septuagenarians, I perused the shelves lined with the same products and brand names I recognised from my nanny’s vanity all those years ago, ‘counter’ brands like Clinique, Clarins, Estee Lauder, Biotherm and Elizabeth Arden (to name a few). 

The inability to source anything else meant I was forced to resort to using the same products from old-school brands that my grandma has used for years. I left the store with the iconic brown bottle that houses Estee Lauder’s Advanced Night Repair Serum and a gold tub of Revitalising Supreme+ Youth Power Soft Creme Moisturiser.

Within days of using these products – both of which are billed as anti-ageing products – the red patches had disappeared and my skin had started to appear less dull (and there was a noticeable increase in plumpness). Weeks later, after fielding compliments from friends and strangers, I was shocked to realise that not only had these old-school anti-ageing products cured my red, angry patches of skin, but they were giving me a noticeable glow that I previously had thought was unavailable to me.

My skin was drinking them up. Encouraged by the results I have continued to use these products with an almost religious regularity for two years. While they do come with a hefty price tag, last winter was the first I can recall when my skin didn’t break out in itchy, red patches. 

Making room for some new additions

This year I’ve not only taken another cue from my grandma by applying lashings of thick bright white Nivea creme over my nighttime routine to lock in the moisture, but I’ve also begun incorporating some more ‘new age’ anti-aging products into my skincare routine. I’m now a diehard fan of Sunday Riley’s cult-status retinol-infused facial oil Luna, which I apply as the base of my bedtime routine. It leaves my skin looking clear, smooth and radiant when I wake up.

Another trick I have picked up is mixing a pump of Sunday Riley’s lactic acid treatment Good Genes into my Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair every second night to gently exfoliate away any dull-and-dead skin. I’ve also branched out and will sub-in my Revitalising Supreme+ Youth Power Creme Moisturiser for Dr Dennis Gross’ Intense Wrinkle Cream or Kate Somerville’s Age Arrest if I want to change it up.

I’m not averse to trying new things but my new rule of thumb is that if it’s going on my face it’s got the words anti-ageing on the bottle and at least a 4.5-star rating on Mecca. My skin has never looked better. Obviously, I’m not a dermatologist. Hell, I’m not even a beauty editor! But using anti-ageing products on dehydrated, winter-worn skin kind of makes sense.

The qualities of ‘young skin’ that these products – with their active ingredients, acids and technology – are trying to retain and restore are the same qualities that dry, moistureless skin craves. As products formulated for anti-ageing are designed with older skin (often dealing with dullness and dryness) in mind they often combine active ingredients in combination with a heavy dose of hydration.

These products contain hard-working ingredients that penetrate the skin’s barrier, and you can feel it during application. While most moisturisers I used in the past simply sat on top of my skin, when I use an anti-ageing moisturiser packed full of antioxidants I can feel the cream actually permeate the top layer and sink deep into my skin. It’s hydration on a molecular level. 

While the purpose of this routine (for me, anyway) isn’t to turn back the clock and reverse the signs of ageing, there is evidence to suggest that using anti-ageing ingredients like retinol, vitamin c and ferulic acid in your twenties can be a preventative measure that can help slow the signs of ageing.

Funnily enough, not only does my routine now consist of many of the same products my grandma has used for years, but I have even put her onto some of my new favourite anti-ageing products as well. She’s now using (and loving) Luna Oil and Good Genes, just like me. 

The other day during a visit to her house I was washing my hands at the basin and my eyes were drawn to the familiar golden pumps, glass jars, brown bottles and silver tubes sitting next to the sink. I realised with a thrill that my skincare routine is now the same as my grandma’s. And honestly… we’ve never looked better. 

For advice on building a skincare routine that works for you, try this.

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