Skincare essentials explained

From lotions and creams to serums and oils - they all help moisturise and protect our skin, but do you know the difference between them and most importantly, which one is right for you?

Working your way around the skincare counters these days can often feel like walking through a minefield of lotions and potions. With so many different types of products, not to mention brands and their eagle-eyed sales advisers, shopping for your skincare essentials has become more of a chore than a pleasure.

What's the difference between a cream and a serum? Do you really have to tone twice a day, every day? What is all the hype about face oils? We have outlined what each type of product does, how often you should use them and added a few of our favourites to help you decipher exactly what your skin needs before you head back to the battle field.

Day cream

Giving your skin a daily moisture boost is essential and something our mothers have drummed into us from a young age, but often we forget our necks. Always make sure you give your face and your neck a liberal amount of day cream to ensure both are kept soft, smooth and hydrated.

Most new formulas include an SPF, so there's no excuse not to give your skin extra protection. Ideally opt for one with at least an SPF15, if not 20. Up to 80% of ageing is caused by sun damage, so keeping your face and neck covered up and protected is one of the best anti-ageing tips you could follow. Olay has recently brought out an essentials range, which includes a day lotion with SPF30 for £10.29. While a tenner for a day cream might seem expensive, the lightweight moisturising formula is a great investment and your skin will thank you for it later!

When choosing a day cream you are often given the option of a cream or a lotion. Generally a rich nourishing cream should be used throughout winter when the cold weather can leave skin feeling stripped and windswept, while a lighter lotion is more suited to the warmer months when skin produces more oil.

Night cream

The rate of skin cell renewal doubles overnight while we sleep, so a rich slathering of night cream before bed is a must-not-miss task. If you're concerned with ageing look out for night creams that contain vitamin A (retinol) or fruit acids (AHAs) as these will help speed up cell renewal and slowly exfoliate skin over night.

Hydrating ingredients are also essential for night creams, so look out for hyaluronic acid, which helps skin retain water. You've heard it before, but we'll say it again, make sure you drink plenty of water throughout the day too, this will help boost your skin's rehydration throughout the night!

Night creams we are loving at the moment include Nivea Visage Essential Night Cream (£3).

Eye cream

The skin around your eyes is much thinner and therefore more sensitive. As the first signs of ageing appear around your eyes, investing in a good eye cream is absolutely essential from as young as 20 years old - but if you've missed milestone, just the sooner, the better!

Look out for eye creams that include vitamin C, which will help boost collagen production and your skin's elasticity leaving it looking younger and plumper. Vitamin E's also good, which is well known for its soothing and protecting powers.

Hyaluronic acid is also a key ingredient because of its hydrating ability and as our eyes soak up a lot of moisture from the skin surrounding them, extra hydration is important.

Face Serum

The common confusion surrounding serums is how they differ from your standard moisturising creams. Without delving too far into scientific jargon, all you need to know is that serums have the ability to reach lower layers of skin (all three layers to be exact), while creams have a much thicker consistency and can only get to the first layer.  

Serums are designed to target trouble areas, which include pigmentation, ageing, dehydration etc, and are much richer and more concentrated than most creams and lotions. While each serum will come with instructions of use which should always be followed, the general idea is that they should be applied after your toner and before your cream.

How do you know if you should be using a serum? Generally women over 30 with skin concerns such as ageing should consider using one, even if only at night under your night cream.

Due to the more concentrated formula, serums can be expensive however if you are concerned with hydration Balance Active's Hyaluronic Youth Serum is just £6.95 and a great place to start. For those worried about ageing look towards the big brands like Garnier, L'Oreal Expert and Olay, the serums will set you back around £15, but the supermarket giants usually have offers so make sure you shop around.

Face oil

Oils are great for combination to dry skin types as the formulas and consistency mimic the oils your skin naturally makes and can therefore reach the lower layers of your skin rather than simply working on the top layer alone.

Oils are also easier to massage into skin, which if done properly in circular movements, can increase the blood circulation and make skin look and feel plumper. Generally oils work best as an alternative to night creams or serums as the formulas are much richer.

Some of our favourites include Superdrug's Restoring Skin Care Oil (£6.69) and the more expensive, Sanctuary's Therapist's Secret Facial Oil (£17.40). While some oils might come with a higher price tag it is worth noting that you only use one or two drops, so they do last!


Whether you want a foam or a cream, an all-in-one to remove your eye make-up or a self-heating formula, you can guarantee there will be a cleanser to suit your needs. Finding the right one for you though can also be tricky.

The key to finding a good cleanser to suit your skin type is how it makes your skin feel after you've used it. If your skin feels tight, it means the cleanser is too strong and is stripping away your natural oils as well as the unwanted excess. Usually oily skin needs a foam, dry skin benefits from a cleansing oil and combination skin should use a cream or lotion.

If you can buy a travel size version before investing in the full size product to make sure it suits your skin type or ask at the counter if they've got any samples.


It's always tempting to skip on the toning stage, but it is a key stepping stone to maintaining smooth, healthy skin. The formula helps to remove any excess oil or cleanser left on your skin before you moisturise and also balances your skin's pH level.

Try to avoid toners with alcohol in them as these can strip away your skin's moisture and leave it feeling tight, especially if you have naturally dry skin already.


To get the most out of your skincare creams, serums and oils you need to strip away the dead skin that builds up on your top layer. Not only does exfoliating give you a smoother more even texture, it will also give your complexion a boost of radiance.

Avoid any harsh abrasive scrubs as these can cause micro scars in your skin and increase fine lines and wrinkles. Instead, opt for exfoliators or face scrubs with jojoba beads in. These natural exfoliating beads are perfectly rounded and therefore remove any dead skin without damaging the younger skin underneath.

Face Mask

Ok, so a face mask isn't an absolute can't-live-without skincare product, but if you do have the time to use one once a week or even just 10 minutes every month, you'll reap the benefits as face masks are like stronger versions of your day and night creams, so offer extra nourishment and often give your skin a youthful glow!

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