Dermatologist Dr Leona Yip has a deep understanding of the complexities surrounding skincare formulations and sunscreens. She shares with Retail Beauty her application guidelines, such as layering and regimes, plus top tips on how to de-code key active ingredients as well as sunscreens.

Skincare recommendation principles

When recommending skincare to consumers, products labelled as ‘Natural’ and ‘Organic’ skincare products are not the best or safest. These products often contain highly allergenic fragrances and essential oils including cinnamal, balsam of Peru, limonene, linalool, sandalwood, lavender etc. It is up to the beauty advisors to debunk the myth that choosing these options is better for the skin. Instead, it is important to recommend products that are hypoallergenic, fragrance-free and non-comedogenic. Always research the brand’s reputation and quality of scientific research behind the products. Look at the product formulation as well as the packaging innovation –  there are less need for preservatives if the product formulas are manufactured and packaged to a high standard.

De-coding the ingredients list

The full ingredient list is typically listed on the packaging from the highest to lowest concentrations. Ingredients are usually listed by their approved chemical name so may be different to the packaging or marketing. Examples:


Remember, less is more! Each active ingredient has its optimal concentration. More isn’t always better as there is a balance between efficacy and tolerance.

Choosing a facial moisturiser

The basic rule of thumb is that you should choose a moisturiser based on the customer’s skin type. Measure the extent of skin dryness – if they have very dry skin, eczema and/or rosacea skin, then choose a greasier cream or ointment for them. If the customer has the presence of greasy skin and acne, then recommend a gel or lighter lotions. Also consider the climate. You should be recommending a lighter moisturiser in warmer months, and greasier moisturisers in colder months. Enquire about their current regime and the types of corrective serums and creams they are using. If the client is  using retinoids and AHAs, always moisturise when using these active ingredients to avoid stripping the skin of its natural barrier.

Top hero ingredients in  skin cosmeceuticals

  • Hyaluronic acid –HA is a naturally occurring substance in body connective tissue including the skin, eyes, joints, etc. It has a number of biological functions in the skin including  drawing moisture into skin (a humectant),  maintaining skin plumpness and fullness to give the  appearance of youthful skin, as well as cushioning of blood vessels, nerves and skin appendages. Natural HA levels dramatically deplete with age leading to signs of skin ageing that include loss of skin elasticity and volume, fine lines and wrinkles. Using a topical HA can improve skin hydration and plump superficial lines and wrinkles.
  • Retinol – Is known as the ‘holy grail’ of anti-ageing skincare. Retinol is the commonest form of a mild retinoid (vitamin A derivative) used in over-the-counter skincare. It requires a two-step conversion to the active form (retinoic acid) within the skin.  It binds to retinoid acid receptors (RARs) in skin to exert effects and is less irritating so is better tolerated than prescription retinoic acid. Retinol deteriorates when light-exposed, so it needs to be stored in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. It may increase the risk of sun sensitivity so should be applied at night.  Skin irritation and flaking are common due to the effects on the skin barrier, especially with initial applications. Always recommend your client builds up use slowly and ALWAYS moisturise after application. Avoid or use cautiously in sensitive skin and rosacea. Daily use is not essential to see the benefits of retinol. For better tolerance, apply three to four times per week. Avoid use in pregnancy.
  • Niacinamide (Vitamin B3) – There are many benefits of niacinamide in skincare. For acne-prone skin it is soothing and sebum-balancing, for sensitive or dry skin it improves hydration and skin barrier function, for rosacea it calms inflammation and redness and it also has anti-ageing benefits by improving skin pigmentation and blotchiness. It is an ingredient well-tolerated by all skin types, including sensitive skin and is a good ingredient to pair with irritating actives including retinol, AHAs and BHAs.
  • AHAs and BHAs – AHA stands for alpha hydroxy acid and BHA stands for beta hydroxy acid. AHAs are water-soluble acids made from sugary fruits, with glycolic acid being the most common. They help exfoliate the surface of your skin so that new, more evenly pigmented skin cells may generate and take their place. Lactic acid is another common AHA. BHAs are oil-soluble. Salicylic acid is the most common BHA. It’s a trusted source as an acne treatment with anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory activity, as well as its ability to refine skin pores.
  • Antioxidants – The most common anti-oxidants in skincare are Vitamin C, Vitamin E, ferulic acid and resveratrol. Vitamin C is commonly combined with Vitamin E and ferulic acid to improve formulation stability. Vitamin C is extremely sensitive to light and air, so oxidises quickly. Skin benefits of antioxidants include reduce skin oxidative damage such as UV, pollution, screens and devices,  brightening of the skin complexion and improves discolouration and improves fine lines and wrinkles by stimulating collagen synthesis.

Skincare application order

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