'You have a lovely fat face,' super-facialist Kate Kerr tells me, pinching my cheeks and analysing my skin under an oh-so unforgiving spotlight. 'It's plump to touch, which indicates it's full of healthy collagen.' Then she floors me: 'But I can tell just by looking at it that your skin is lazy.'
This is a very fair analysis of my favouring food and box sets over the gym. But my face? I've spent years putting in daily groundwork, following strict routines and trying out every miracle moisturiser in the book - I'm a beauty editor after all. So how can it be lazy?
I can tell just by looking at it that your skin is lazy.
Kerr explains that when it comes to skincare, too much of a good thing can actually be quite the opposite. By plying our faces with products that do all the hard work for us, such as thick moisturisers and oils, our skin becomes lax and complacent. What we really need, Kerr argues, are products that give our skin the tools it needs to do a better job on its own. Or rather, to stop giving our skin everything on a plate and give it a kick up the epidermis.
'It has been ingrained in us from a young age to supplement our skin with excess moisturisers,' Kerr notes. 'We think all skin types need this, but in most cases, the skin is capable of maintaining its own hydration levels. Over-moisturising our skin's surface sends a signal to its water reservoirs to halt production. When that happens, the skin becomes sluggish and actually lacking in moisture, which makes us reach for even creamier formulas, exacerbating the problem.'
Medical doctor and specialist dermatologist Dr Stefanie Williams agrees: 'Overloading the skin with too-rich, heavy and occlusive textures [which form like a film on the skin] can clog pores and slow down the skin's vital, natural surface renewal.'
Telltale signs of lazy-skin syndrome include tightness, dryness, dullness, congestion and reactive, breakout-prone skin– all symptomatic of sluggish cell renewal (when old cells linger, preventing shiny new cells from coming forward). I can best liken this to my own 'hangover skin' - when it appears tired and lacklustre but I put it down to overindulging the night before. When the problem lingers, I realise my skin is not hung-over, it's lazy. You might not even notice at first, but these dead cells create a layer of tiny blockers that stop your skin from reflecting light, meaning they basically steal your glow.
Over-moisturising our skin's surface sends a signal to its water reservoirs to halt production.
On the other hand, skin that's well balanced, calm, strong and working hard to keep up healthy cell renewal looks lit from within. If that's the ultimate end-game, Dr Williams recommends assessing your routine and going back to basics.
'Applying too many products with different textures suffocates the skin, so I'm skeptical about the current trend of applying layer upon layer of skincare- sometimes more than 10. This will compromise optimal absorption of active ingredients and could put the interaction products at risk.' Instead, Dr Williams advises sticking to three layers, especially if you have oily, reactive skin. 'Always use the lightest formulations you can get away with without your skin feeling dry.'
With this approach thick, heavy creams are counterintuitive and oils (which Kerr believes congest skin, upset moisture processes and prevent product penetration) are a no-go. To get the hydration boost your skin needs, look to a product with naturally occurring ingredients such as urea, low-to-medium levels of glycerine and hyaluronic acid – ZO Skin Health, La Roche-Posay and The Ordinary are just some proponents of these.
'These ingredients are already part of our skin's natural moisturising mechanisms, so they don't upset the skin's functionality when applied topically' Kerr promises. 'Remember that, even without a heavy moisturiser, the skin is not bare- if you use active serums that help prevent and correct skin conditions and skin ageing.'
That said, there is one particular skin type that both Kerr and Dr Williams agree definitely benefits from these heavier formulations: true dry skin. The problem is that lots of us think our skin falls into this category, when really it could be those dead skin cells getting comfy.
'Only 10 to 15% of the population have genetically dry skin because their skin's moisturising processes aren't able to function effectively,' explains Kerr. 'They have always had dry skin, have never had any problems with acne or excessive oil flow, and are often prone to eczema and dermatitis. For them, a moisturiser with a perfect ratio of lipids, protein and water, such as SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore 2-4-2, £129.15, is needed.'
Equally, just because you feel your skin is dry and tight, it doesn't necessarily mean it is; chances are it's just dehydrated. 'This feeling can also be a sign of micro-inflammation, as we often see in rosacea-prone skin,' explains Dr Williams. 'In these cases, slathering on rich moisturisers is detrimental as they might make the rosacea worse.'
Just because skin feels dry and tight, doesn't mean it is. Slathering on rich creams could make skin conditions worse.
I have recently developed rosacea myself. I get hot, flushed cheeks that can be sore, and while make-up covers, the underlying issue needs to be addressed. For both rosacea and acne-prone skin, it's imperative to treat the inflammation, rather than simply soothe the sensation with skincare that causes trouble down the line. 'I sometimes hear advice to apply coconut or other oils on acne-prone skin, which actually makes me shiver! That's the worst thing you could do, as it will clog pores and aggravate the acne,' warns Dr Williams.
But what about those with lucky skin? Or rather 'normal' skin that doesn't cause much bother and just gets on with it, no matter what you throw its way? If it still looks a little lacklustre and dull, it's most probably a result of stifled cell renewal leading to lazy skin behavior and dehydration. In other words, no skin type gets away scot-free.
Give skin the motivation (and aforementioned kick) it needs to get moving optimally with a topical regime that focuses on cell renewal (shedding the old and revealing the new). Vitamin A derivatives such as retinol and retinaldehyde stimulate cells making them behave as fresher, healthier, younger versions of themselves.
Vitamin A derivatives such as retinol and retinaldehyde stimulate cells making them behave as fresher, healthier, younger versions of themselves.
Equally, topical exfoliators such as Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting Exfoliant, £25, and SkinCeuticals Retexturing Activator, £82.95, will help get rid of the surface glow-thieves and reveal brighter skin underneath. AHAs (such as glycolic or lactic acid) or polyhydroxy acids/PHAs (which are larger molecules and gentler on skin) will get things going in the right direction (such as Zelens PHA+ Bio-Peel Resurfacing Facial Pads, £65). For moisture, go for that hearty dose of hyaluronic acid, and always use an protective antioxidant and daily SPF, or regret it later.
If you want to pull out the big guns, try a dermatology grade facial to get you going. Eudelo's Fit Skin Forever involves a combination of a mild chemical peel, advanced microdermabrasion and extraction of blocked pores. Treatments like this will speed up the process, but be warned: rebooting your skin with an effective skincare routine won't happen overnight. This is a longer-term investment with long-term benefits, which you'll need to commit to in order to reach your goal. Think of it as a skin marathon, not a sprint.
'Expect notable difference within 6 weeks- and a big one within 18 weeks, once three skin cycles have taken place. During the transition period, you might notice your skin feels tighter, perhaps a little flaky, and products may tingle very slightly. But don't quit- that means it's working,' promises Kerr.
Clearly, the anti-cream stance has serious science to back it up, but it's important to note that rich formulations feature in almost every big-name brand at beauty counters around the world- and many have earned their status because women love what they do for their skin.
It's a skin marathon, not a sprint.
One such devotee in the ELLE office agrees: 'You can give me all the scientific serums and lotions you like, I'm never going to give up my thick, buttery moisturiser. It's like a comfort blanket for my face and it hasn't failed me yet.'
Then there's make-up (because there's make-up). The rallying cry of the world's best backstage artists is 'great make-up starts with great skincare'. These experts line their stations with pots of thick cream, tins of silky balms, bottles of sunshine-tinted oils and tubes of French-pharmacy classics. Why? Because these formulations give skin instant results- immediate slip, slide and hydration that allows make-up to glide on seamlessly. There's no doubt they deliver in the moment, but long-term, what makes them so effective could potentially be their downfall.
Ultimately whether you favour long-term skin balance or an instant selfie complexion, your skin is an incredibly clever organ and it will tell you when it's not happy. If it's giving you what you want (within reason – perfect skin is a myth), keep on doing what you're doing. If it's easily agitated, congested and duller than you'd like, there's a good chance you're experiencing lazy skin and it's up to you get it moving and motivated again.
Going back to basics and choosing renewing formulations that get your cell-turnover into bootcamp mode is the best place to start.