I’m A Skincare Virgin: Where Do I Start?

On a quest to start your skincare journey on the right foot? You're not alone.


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Skincare became the new glam in 2020, when we had fewer reasons to wear makeup but spent more time looking at ourselves (cheers, Zoom). So if you weren’t into skincare before or didn’t really have the time or interest, this may well be the first time you’re really thinking about products and looking after your face. The combination of the pandemic and hurtling into my late twenties means I have finally decided to care about my skin, instead of just washing it with warm water and maybe a cleanser if I’m wearing makeup or being good.

But the problem is there are SO many brands, products, opinions and most importantly, skin types. So where the feck do you start? I am lucky enough to not have terrible skin, but it’s super-sensitive which is a big reason why I’ve avoided buying expensive products for so long.

I spoke with one of the top skincare experts in the country to try to figure out where we should all start and what we should be using. Corinna Tolan is Ireland’s only second-generation skincare expert having learned it all from her mother, Monica. She opened her first clinic in 1982 and Corinna now runs two clinics and has a whole host of well-known clients, including Suzanne Jackson.

The first thing Corinna tells me is how skincare means something different for everyone and this can be a factor in finding the right products. “It’s really important that you outline what it is that you can expect from skincare because one person may expect that one line on their forehead to disappear, and another might expect that one spot to clear up and never come back, or that grey mark to go, you know.”

Corinna explains that a skincare consultation with an expert is the best way to start, and saves you from buying countless products that might not be right for you. She also explains that health is at the root of genuine skincare, and while it might not sound super glam, it is the fundamental part of it.

“So we basically take your skin, address your concerns, and we make it healthy. Our first and primary concern is to ensure you don’t get skin cancer – our first job is to keep you alive. So that is the worst thing that can happen to your skin. It just so happens that in our pursuit of healthy skin: skin that’s well protected, resilient to skin cancers and with that, a beauty does emerge. And a client gets that without realising it was what she was looking for all along.”

While I was hoping to garner a list of skincare products that everyone needs, that’s not the way it works, it seems. Corinna is more focused on realistic long-term changes that can have positive effects on the way you look.

“We work in the mindset that there’s a direct correlation between the gut and the skin. Typically, our clients have presented us with inflammatory skin conditions which are often linked to that,” Corinna explains that for this reason, supplements and vitamins are often more effective to start off with. “We have to remember that the skin’s primary function is defence so it’s not meant to be transported through. It’s a struggle for us to get topical formulations in there, which is why we only work with the very best medical grade.

“But when you swallow something, it goes directly to your blood and your blood is feeding all of your cells. Capsules are so easy to swallow and it isn’t a big routine in the morning, you can take it before you run for a bus. And when you swallow a capsule you’re feeding every cell in your body, not just where you’re applying the cream.”

While capsules and a good diet might be the most effective way to improve your skin, of course, the outside does need looking after too. So what does every person on a skincare journey definitely need? Well, first of all, SPF. It’s absolutely crucial to wear daily, and also find one that works for your skin. If you’re prone to blemishes, choose an oil-free formula. Do you burn in the sun? Minimum SPF50 for you!

When it comes to keeping your face clean and clear, Corinna is all about double cleansing, aka cleansing twice to first remove dirt and makeup and remove anything on top of the skin, and then to clean the bare skin.

Our editor Vicki dishes that cleansers have a lot to do with your skin type, which is easily identifiable. “You can have oily skin that’s dehydrated and dry skin that’s inflamed, but essentially your skin is either oily, dry or combination. Oily people like myself should look out for oil-free creams and serums, and cleansers with salicylic acid. Dry skin needs glycolic acid and Vitamin C. Both need hyaluronic acid and also good fats – you can get these through a decent lipid comfort cream and your own diet by eating things like avocados, olive oil, nuts and seeds.”

As for a more active ingredient, Corinna is a big believer in Vitamin A, aka retinol. “Vitamin A is difficult for skincare brands to work with because you need it in high doses but it can be very irritating. So you have to start in low amounts and consistently knock on that door. I also love hyaluronic acid because it attracts moisture and we don’t need to be concerned about tolerance.”

So while we know which ingredients are generally useful for everyone, it’s important to know if there are particular brands we should stock up on. While she rates Environ and Clinicare among the best brands, she’s also a fan of Skingredients. “It’s a brilliant brand that Jennifer [Rock] created, and there is Vitamin A in one of them so that’s a good one if someone was looking to try it out.”

Vicki swears by IMAGE Skincare and Skinceuticals but there are lots of sophisticated brands readily available now for varying budgets – Neostrata, Ultraceuticals, Obagi and The Ordinary to name a few. Or if you’re sensitive and want something a bit gentler or more natural, Avene, Vichy and La Roche Posay are all great.

How do we know if it’s working or more importantly definitely not working? “I would say listen to your skin, if your skin is telling you it doesn’t like a product, you have to pull back. Instead, you drip feed the skin every second day or just twice a week, and see if in that case, you start to increase tolerance.”

In putting together this piece, I had hoped to get a simple list of things we all do and don’t need and where to start, but as Corinna points out, it’s not all about the prettiest or most popular products, and like many things, is a science.

“There is no magic want for healthy skin, it just doesn’t exist. The industry has been made more superficial but it’s not about being cool or sexy’ I focus on getting great results and it’s all science.” Thankfully, however, it’s a science we can all follow. “I often say to people, you might think I’m your best skincare advisor but I’m only a close second to your actual skin, your skin will tell you if it likes something and you can stick with it.”


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