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Basic skincare

Using the wrong skincare product is not only a waste of money but can also lead to problems such as acne. In order for you to choose the most appropriate products for your skin, you need to analyse your cosmetic skin type. Do this at least 2 hours after washing the face with a lathering cleanser so as to allow oil time to return to the skin. Examine your skin in a mirror under good daylight or a white-light.

Cosmetic skin types

  • Dry skin
    Pale in colour, thin epidermis, rough to touch, flakiness and tightness, especially after washing, underactive oil glands, fine lines around the eyes prematurely, tendency to develop telangiectasia (broken capillaries), and rarely breakouts.
  • Combination skin
    Oiliness in the T-zone (forehead, nose and chin), dryness on the cheeks, occasional breakouts in the oily areas.
  • Normal skin
    Looks clear, even colour, soft and supple to touch, average thickness epidermis, feels neither greasy or tight, high degree of elasticity.
  • Oily skin
    Sallow complexion, thick epidermis, overactive glands causing a shiny appearance, open pores especially down central portion and prone to whiteheads and blackheads.

The category cosmeticians refer to as sensitive skin type actually refers to eczema (either seborrhoeic eczema or atopic dermatitis) or contact dermatitis. Both need to be treated by a doctor. Contact dermatitis is caused by allergy or irritation from skincare products and may require patch testing to determine the cause.

Basic skincare

The dead outer layer of the skin or the stratum corneum is meant to be shed off. Proper skincare is necessary to facilitate the removal of these dead cells as well as clean and protect the skin. Unfortunately, there is such a bewildering range of products on the market that many people are very mixed-up about what are their basic skincare needs. To add to the confusion, every celebrity and model seems to have her secret formula to protect the skin. So who or what can you believe? The truth usually is that these individuals often have good skin to begin with and this is why cosmetic companies choose them to showcase their products. But let’s face it, if you have or want to have good skin, you have to treat it well. Remember that every regimen has to be tailored to your skin and as the condition of your skin varies from time to time, so too does you skin care regimen.

Skincare need not be complicated so let’s clear the confusion and debunk some myths. There are basically four main objectives in skincare - cleansing, toning, moisturising and protecting. Protecting, however, means protecting against the sun's UV rays which are very damaging to the skin and not against dirt in the environment.

1. Cleansing

Cleansers remove dirt, dead skin cells and oil or make-up. There are many cleansers on the market so it is important to understand how they work. They can be divided into 2 main categories:-

  • Non-lathering cleansers
  • Lathering or foaming cleansers

Non-lathering cleansers

The first non-lathering cleanser was formulated as early as 100AD by a Greek physician called Galen. His formula contained olive oil, beeswax and rose petals. Olive oil was the oil, beeswax acted as an emulsifier to combine oil and water and rose petal provided the fragrance. The closest modern day equivalent of Galen's cleanser is the cold cream (so-called because it produced a cooling sensation). Cleansing creams are essentially variations of Galen's formula. Cleansing milks are similar to cleansing creams except that extra water has been added to make them more liquid. Non-lathering cleansers may be tissued-off with tissue or facial cotton or rinsed-off with water. Make-up contains oil or wax so it needs a wax or oil-based formula to dissolve it in order for it to be wiped or rinsed away. Non-lathering cleansers are therefore, also used as make-up cleansers. Remember that toners may not adequately remove all traces of the make-up cleanser so it is advisable to use a lathering cleanser if you have acne-prone or oily skin.

Lathering cleansers

 Lathering cleansers may come in lotion, gel or bar form. They also contain oil to disperse dirt, dead surface cells and skin oils together with a detergent to wash them all off. Lathering cleansers may be soap-based or soap-free, depending on the type of detergent used. Soap is a mixture of animal or vegetable fat and alkali salt, for example, sodium cocoate or sodium taloate. Unfortunately, soap-based cleansers are alkaline and tend to leave behind a residue with hard water. Examples include the older varieties of toilet soap. The soap-free cleansers, also known in the skin trade as "soapless soaps" use "syndets" or synthetic detergents which are petroleum derivatives. They are less alkaline and many are labelled as "pH-balanced". They work equally well in hard water as well as soft water and are generally efficient cleansers. Most modern day lathering cleansers use syndets. Fats may be added to lathering cleansers to make them less drying (for example, superfatted soaps), oatmeal may be added for its soothing properties, peeling agents such as benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid and sulphur (for example, acne soaps), antibacterial chemicals such as triclosan and ingarsan (for example, deodorant soaps), abrasive agents such as polyethylene granules, aluminium oxide, ground fruit pips, sodium tetraborate decahydrate granules (for example, cleansing scrubs) and so on.

Avoid rinsing with hot or cold water as extreme temperatures encourage the development of telangiectasias (broken capillaries) and dry skin. Use tepid water and rinse off lathering cleansers thoroughly. Cleansing scrubs may be used if you have oily skin but don’t overdo it as that only stimulates the oild glands to produce more oil. Generally, never use scrubs more than twice a week. Alkaline soaps are drying and irritating to sensitive skin, use pH balanced soap with pH near to that of the skin, normally pH 5.6 - 6.8, i.e., slight acidic.

2. Toning

Toners contain water, alcohol, witch hazel (which is also an alcoholic solution made from the Hamamelis plant) and a moisturiser. They remove traces of cleanser and produce a tight refreshed feeling when they evaporate. Toners can only tighten pores temporarily not close them permanently. They are generally drying on the skin because they usually contain 20 - 60% alcohol. Fresheners are similar to toners except that they contain little or no alcohol (0 - 20% alcohol contain). Alcohol-free toners usually contain glycerol or rose water. Clarifying lotions and astringents are toners with more alcohol and are more drying. Glycolic acid and salicylic acid have also been added to toners for exfoliation. Don’t worry if you don’t use toners because it doesn’t mean that you skin is going to loose all its tone and drop to the ground. Remember that toners may not adequately remove all traces of a make-up cleanser so you should use a lathering cleanser first, especially if your skin is oily.

Skincare for different skin types

Skin type






Lathering cleanser.

Astringent toner

Skip moisturisers during the day (use sunscreens which provide some moisturising) and use an oil free moisturiser at night.

Use a sunscreen for oily skin during the day. It also helps to moisturise the skin and can serve as a base for make-up. If the skin is very, very oily, a gel formulation may be more appropriate.


Lathering cleanser.


Light moisturiser during the day. Creamier moisturiser during the night.

Sunscreen during the day.


Non-lathering cleanser and then tissue or rinse off. Alternatively, if you like some suds on the face, use a lathering cleanser formulated for dry skin. These usually have added fats so as not to dry the skin.

Mild non-alcoholic toner.

Not necessary if you are using a tissue-off non-lathering cleanser.

Use lighter moisturiser during the day and a creamier moisturiser at night.

Use sunscreen during the day.


Use cleanser for combination skin

Astringent for oily area and non-alcoholic toner for the dry areas.

Oil-free moisturiser to oily areas and creamier moisturiser to dry areas.

Use sunscreens during the day.

Sensitive *

Use fragrance and preservative free soapfree cleansers.

Skip the toner or use a mild non-alcoholic toner.

Creamier moisturiser day and night. Avoid heavily scented products.

Use sunscreens during the day.

* Sensitive skin may mean you have a skin problem such as eczema. You should consult a doctor first.

3. Moisturising

Many so-called anti-wrinkle, rejuvenating and cell renewal creams are essentially, just good moisturisers. They reduce flakiness by making the stratum corneum cells stick together and make the skin appear smoother by plumping up the stratum corneum cells. The smoother surface also allows more light to be reflected so the skin looks brighter and less dull. Moisturisers also provide a smooth base for make-up to go on, further enhancing the smooth appearance. Although moisturisers may contain “special” ingredients such as collagen and elastin, supposedly to replace those damaged, the truth is these ingredients are much too large to be able penetrate the dermis. Collagen and elastin, however, have very good water binding abilities and are therefore, very good moisturisers.

Moisturisers can be divided into two main types - day-time moisturisers which contain less oil and soak quickly into the skin and night-time moisturisers which contain more and help to reduce water loss during the night. Night creams are essentially night moisturisers. Cosmetic manufacturers make a lot out of dry skin lines and claim that untreated, they will lead to wrinkles. This is not true because dry skin lines are caused by a dehydrated stratum corneum and the remedy is moisturisers. Wrinkles on the other hand, are caused by the degeneration of collagen and elastin fibres in the dermis. The only way to improve wrinkles is to stimulate, in particular, collagen production. The only product that has been proven to do that is tretinoin (vitamin A acid), although there is some evidence that alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) and vitamin C may have some effect.

Moisturisers do not prevent wrinkles because they cannot penetrate into the dermis to stimulate collagen synthesis. What moisturisers do is to plump up the stratum corneum (dead cell layer) making the skin appear smoother, almost immediately. Be careful about so-called “anti-wrinkle” creams that claim they can reduce wrinkles overnight! The truth is you cannot bring back the collagen overnight. What these creams do is to hide the lines. In other words, they are very good moisturisers.

With that out of the way, let us turn our attention to what moisturising is all about. Firstly, when we speak of moisturising the skin we are really talking about is moisturising the stratum corneum or the dead horny layer of the skin that is visible. Secondly, it is water that moisturises the stratum corneum. When you get out of the bath, the stratum corneum is moisturised but it doesn't stay this way for long because the atmosphere quickly dries it up. In order to moisturise the skin, one has to put water into the stratum corneum and keep it there. This is exactly what moisturisers do. In medical terms, they reduce "transepidermal water loss" (TEWL). There are two groups of ingredients in moisturisers that can do this. The first are lubricants (mineral or vegetable oil, lanolins and silicones) which reduce water loss through evaporation by occluding the skin with a waterproof layer. The second group of ingredients are humectants which attract and hold water in the stratum corneum. Examples of humectants include lactic acid, urea (the urea found in creams is synthetically produced by combining one molecule of carbon dioxide with two molecules of ammonia and not obtained from urine), hyaluronic acid (able to retain 1000 times its weight of water), propylene glycol, glycerin, sorbitol, gelatin, lecithin, sodium pyrrolidone carboxylic acid (Na-PCA), and butylene glycol. Humectants are often used in so-called "oil-free moisturisers". Emollients are products that make the skin softer but there is so much overlap between emollients and moisturisers that they can be considered almost synonymous.

Some tips on the use of moisturisers

Oily skin 
Oily skin may not need moisturisers in the first place. If you need moisturising, choose an oil-free moisturiser that contains humectants such as glycerin, Na-PCA and hyaluronic acid, et cetera (see ingredients table in the feature article of cosmetics). Humectants trap water and plump up the stratum corneum, making it softer and smoother without adding oiliness or shine. Use the moisturiser only at night because the sunscreen applied during the day provides sufficient moisturisation.


Start with an oil-in-water moisturiser, i.e., one that lists water first in the list of ingredients. Use a lotion formulation during the day and a creamier formulation at night. If you find that the skin is too dry, look at the next category and if your skin is getting breakouts, look at the category above.

Dry skin

Follow the recommendations for normal skin. If the skin gets too dry, switch to one that contains more oil than water, that is, a water-in-oil emulsion. These have a thicker consistency and will list the oily compound high up in the list of ingredients. Use this from the very start if your skin is very dry.

Combination skin 

You can treat the oily and dry areas with the respective formulae or leave the oily untreated and treat only the dry areas with the appropriate formula.

4. Protecting

Protecting is more necessary than moisturising. Not everyone needs moisturising especially if the skin is oily but everyone needs protecting and this does not mean protecting the skin against dirt or the entry of germs because the skin is quite capable of doing that without any help. Protecting means protecting the skin against sun-damage which you may remember is the main cause of ageing. In skin care terms, this means using sunscreens and this very important topic is discussed in greater detail in the feature article on sunlight and your skin,

Extra treats - the salon (or home) facial


Earlier on we discussed the basics of skincare. However, from time to time you may feel that you want to give the skin and the extra treat. This is usually done in the salon but you can do this equally well at home. There are essentially six steps to the facial. Before beginning, remove your make-up with a make-up cleanser.

       1. Cleansing
       2. Steaming
       3. Exfoliating
       4. Masking
       5. Toning
       6. Moisturising


Use a non-lathering cleansing. Massage in circular movements over the face and neck. Leave on for 1 - 2 minutes to dissolve grime and old make-up. Then gently wipe off with cotton swabs. . Be careful not to drag the sensitive skin around the eyes. Rinse off with tepid water. 


Gently massage a facial scrub using your finger tips. Scrubs contain abrasives such as polyethylene granules, aluminium oxide, ground fruit pips, sodium tetraborate decahydrate granules in a cream or detergent base. They scrub away dead cells that have built up on the surface, making the skin appear dull and lustreless. Scrubs for acne or oily skin are usually formulated in a detergent base whereas those for dry skin are formulated in a creamy base with some added oils. Scrub gently in circular motions for about 1 - 2 minutes. Rinse off with tepid water.


Steaming hydrates and softens the stratum corneum and helps to soften the plugs that cause whiteheads and blackheads so that they can be more easily removed with a mask. Resist the temptation to squeeze or extract them. You can do this at home by draping towel over your head held about 20cm from a bowl of hot water (not boiling in case of spillage). Steam for 10 minutes. You can add chamomile of some other fragrance that you like. Pat the face dry with clean tissue or a soft towel. Electric facial steamers can also be used.


Masks also help to remove dry dead cells from the surface and skin pores, making the skin appear smoother and pores less prominent. Masks come in 2 forms - "wash-off" or "peel-off" masks. The former usually contain clay products such as kaolin or bentonite and dry the skin. Hence, they are more suitable for oily or acne-prone skins. Some of the wash-off masks recommended for people with acne or oily skin contain benzoyl peroxide and sulphur. Wash off masks are applied and left on for 15 - 30 minutes before rinsing off. Peel-off masks (also called "Film masks") contain polyvinyl alcohol or vinyl acetate and are applied in liquid or gel form and are peeled off after  15 - 30 minutes. Peel off masks are less drying and may be used by most skin types. If you have dry skin, you can use a moisturising or hydrating mask. These masks are applied thickly to sensitive skins.


Moisten a cotton swab with a toner or freshener and apply to the skin. If you have dry skin, you can use a non-alcoholic toner. If you have combination skin, you can apply the toner on oily areas such as the T-zone on the forehead, nose and chin.


Dot the skin with moisturiser and gently massage it in circular movements smooth. Try to do this slowly as it allows you to massage the skin and relax yourself.