By now we know the perils of pollution, such as dullness, pigmentation and inflammation, as well as UV damage, like skin cancer, dark spots and fine lines. But as we adjust to lockdown life indoors, should we bother with our typical protective routines if we aren't facing the same environmental onslaught?
Cramped commuting on the Tube and smog-ridden strolls may be a distant memory but according to skin experts, it’s business as usual. "Although all the days spent indoors may feel like time is standing still, it sadly isn’t and therefore isn’t an excuse to forget about your skincare routine," says Dr Shereene Idriss, board certified dermatologist. Even at home, we are exposed to various pollutants and environmental triggers that induce stress on our skin, with central heating and lack of fresh air being the worst offenders.
Free radicals – molecules in the atmosphere which damage the skin – are just as prevalent indoors as they are outside, and applying topical antioxidants is the best way to neutralise them. Vitamin C in particular is a complexion-boosting hero for brightening lacklustre, uneven skin, Dr Idriss explains. "Vitamin C is a potent agent and it also reduces pigmentation, particularly when combined with vitamin E and ferulic acid." Try SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Serum, £135, or Pixi Vitamin C Serum, £26. Apply a couple of drops every morning after cleansing and before SPF for a much-needed healthy glow.
If we’re susceptible to pollutants in our homes, where does that leave us in terms of wearing SPF when we’re cooped up indoors? According to Victoria Hiscock, medical communications manager at AlumierMD, sun protection is still an everyday essential inside. "Glass doesn’t block UVA rays (which cause things like fine lines, wrinkles and pigmentation), meaning it penetrates through windows into our skin and reaches the lower layers. We’re not at risk of burning through windows, because UVB rays (responsible for sunburn and skin cancer) are blocked by clouds and glass, but we’re still at risk of long-term sun damage, which accounts for approximately 90% of skin ageing."
With more daylight hours, it’s as crucial to use sunscreen (SPF 30 or 50) inside as it is during your daily outdoor quota. But ultraviolet radiation from the sun isn’t the only reason to use SPF. "Blue light, also known as high energy visible light, is emitted from laptops, phones and tablets," explains Hiscock. Between Netflix (yes, we are still watching!) and copious social media scrolling, our screen time is at a high. Both Idriss and Hiscock advise using a physical sunscreen with zinc oxide as it protects against both ultraviolet and blue light. Try AlumierMD Sheer Hydration SPF 40 Versatile Tint, £37.50, which is tinted for extra protection; Drunk Elephant Umbra Sheer Physical Daily Defence SPF 30, £29, a lightweight SPF that makes skin dewy; or COSRX Shield Fit All Green Comfort Sun SPF50+, £16, which leaves skin matte and fresh, not heavy or chalky.
While we are stuck indoors, consultant dermatologist Dr Anjali Mahto says that now is an ideal time to introduce a retinoid (otherwise known as vitamin A) into your routine. "Vitamin A can help with fine lines and pigmentation alongside boosting collagen production," Dr Mahto tells R29. "Early use can often cause some irritation and skin flaking as well as sensitivity to the sun. But being indoors, having more time to care for the skin is a good time to introduce vitamin A and see what you tolerate."
Pamela Marshall, clinical aesthetician and founder of Mortar & Milk clinic agrees that retinol is a good ingredient to try during lockdown but adds that it doesn't suit all skin types. "In fact, most people overuse it," she says. If your skin is congested, perhaps try exfoliating acids such as glycolic and lactic acid instead. They also make skin sensitive to sunlight, so Pamela’s advice is to treat them the same as retinol and not overdo it. Also, SPF is a must during the day if you're using them. If your skin is on the more sensitive side, polyhydroxy acids (PHAs) may be a better solution as they provide similar results over time but don't penetrate the skin as deeply. "PHAs are much gentler on the skin but still very active, and while they do exfoliate, they also hydrate and reduce inflammation," explains Pamela. R29 recommends The Inkey List PHA Toner, £9.99, as a leave-on treatment or Zelens PHA+ Bio-Peel Resurfacing Facial Pads, £65, pre-soaked pads which exfoliate the skin gently.
Lockdown might be a great opportunity to experiment with makeup, nails and hair but it might not be the best time to go wild with your skin due to heightened stress levels. Pamela tells R29 that when stressed, our bodies produce higher levels of hormone cortisol, which could result in breakouts. Megan Felton and Ksenia Selivanova, founders of bespoke skincare consultancy Lion/ne, warn that it’s not just spots that can arise. "Skin picking can dramatically increase while working from home simply because we’re not going anywhere and feel more comfortable having a little scab, knowing that nobody will see us. Equally, studies have shown that when dealing with stress, anxiety or negative emotions in general (which many of us are currently experiencing), we tend to pick more at our skin which can become a habit or in more serious cases, a disorder." Rather than reaching for harsh spot treatments and clarifying cleansers, the Lion/ne founders advise using a gentle BHA (beta hydroxy acid, such as salicylic acid) to ease congestion and prevent further inflammation. Try Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant, £28.
Whether or not you’re getting through the day with quarantinis, hydration and nourishment are key factors in keeping skin healthy, particularly as indoor air tends to be drier. "Keeping skin hydrated is as much about cleansing as it is moisturising," advises Paris-based facialist and acupuncturist Elaine Huntzinger. "If the cleanser you use is too strong, it will strip your skin. A key way to test this is whether your skin feels tight after you wash it." Use a gentle cleanser, such as CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser, £9.50, or iS Clinical Cleansing Complex, £29.99. Dr Mahto confirms that cleansing the skin morning and evening removes dirt, sweat, grime and bacteria from the skin surface. "Cleansing twice a day also allows for better penetration of any actives applied onto the skin afterwards,” she says.
Slathering on hyaluronic acid-packed serums layered with essences is Elaine’s recommendation for sandwiching moisture into the skin. Try Jordan Samuel Skin Hydrate Facial Serum, £26, over Kiehl's Iris Extract Activating Essence Treatment, £38.50, after cleansing and before SPF.
We may have forsaken bras and trousers with non-elasticated waists, but skincare isn’t getting shelved while on lockdown. Sticking to a steady and uncomplicated routine will not only keep skin healthy but is an act of positive self-care and a good method of maintaining some sense of normality in current circumstances.