The Ultimate Skincare Chat with Caroline Hirons

The U.K.’s Skincare Queen on her go-to ingredients and why you shouldn't be wearing makeup under your face mask

Caroline Hirons is a household name in the United Kingdom. Her book, Skin Care: The Ultimate No-Nonsense Guide, was the first beauty title in over fifty years to hit the top slot on the Sunday Times best-seller list, a coup for a beauty maven who says she never had any desire to write a book at all. With over 125 million views on her 10 year-old beauty blog, 51-year old Hirons has become a global go-to for skincare advice.

With a career that started at a beauty counter (fun fact: she worked as Chantecaille’s Director of Spa Operations in Europe in 2001!), Hirons’ obsession with skincare led her to become a certified aesthetician with knowledge that spans seemingly every single skincare product on the market. While she’s a familiar face on television, it’s the real-time chats she started doing on Instagram Live during Covid lockdowns that have made her a household name. It was a thrill to Zoom with Hirons in her home studio and dish on her rise to skincare stardom.

First things first. Why and when did skincare kind of become your obsession? How did that happen?
I feel like I've been in skincare my entire life because my mother and grandmother were in the industry. My grandmother worked for Coty and Guerlain in the sixties, seventies and eighties, and my mother worked for Helena Rubenstein. I was always into it but I never thought of it for myself; it just didn't occur to me. I didn't know what I wanted to do and just figured I’d have a couple of kids. And I did that. And then I called a friend of mine and said, the boys are both gonna be in school, what am I going to do? She was working at Aveda and asked if I wanted to come in for an interview. And I went and got it. And that was it, really. Once I did that, I thought, Oh, I love this. I'm good at it. I love meeting people—though that soon fades when you've done years of retail!

Your book has been a giant success. Was it always something you wanted to do? 
No, never ever. What happened was my blog readers were saying, “Caroline, you should do a book because I'd love to have it on my coffee table, or at my bedside.” Or, “My mum isn’t online and she really needs this and she doesn't know how to read blogs.” So I did it for them. The week it launched, it went straight to number one. It’s now sold over 100,000 copies. People keep asking if I’ll do another, but I think since it’s called “The Ultimate No-Nonsense Guide” I can’t exactly say “Oh, there are some bits I forgot to include,” can I?!

What do you hope people take away from the book?
Well, it's a mixture. It's either a complete encyclopedia of how to care for your skin from A-Z, you know, from teen years until menopause, or it's debunking myths. The most popular chapters I've seen people talking about are me taking the “clean” industry to task and how to pop a spot [pimple]—that chapter is so popular! Because we all do it, and you need to know when you can and when you can’t. People seem to find these sections really funny  ‘cause they're very me. I suppose the biggest takeaway is how to be a bit wiser when you're spending your money. 

Does your blog audience have a wide age range?
Oh yeah. And I've got, you know, a high percentage of teenage girls who find me and all want help with their pores and spots—as if you're not supposed to have pores and spots when you're a teenager. And they're not the women who say I'm 60, I've never done anything to my face, please help me because now I can see that I've never done anything to my face! It’s really all age groups, all demographics, all colors. 

In these last few months, during COVID, you’ve been doing lots of chats on YouTube and Instagram. How did connecting on social media feel to you?
To be honest, the blog and Instagram have been far more beneficial to me than YouTube ever has. There are huge UK influencers who use it, don't get me wrong. But for me, I went live to test the waters. You can put me in front of anyone and I'll just answer questions. So when COVID hit and we were on lockdown, I just started going live at 5:00 PM, UK time, every night, and it just became huge. But the blog is still my home planet.

What is your most often-asked skincare question?
Oh, there's loads. If they're older it’s usually “How do I help my pigmentation?” And then if they're younger, it's always about spots and pores, always, always. For pigmentation, if they're older, I tend to say it's hormonal. You can have it lasered, but it will come back. It's heat-generated, so even if you're keeping out of the sun, if you’re in a warm climate, you're still at risk. Most people have no idea about that. You have to just live with it and try and suppress it with ingredients like niacinamide and azelaic acid, tretinoin and SPF 50, at a minimum.

Ok lets talk about your personal skincare routine. How do you handle transitioning between the seasons? What are you doing now that it’s getting chilly?
It depends on what my skin's like. Either a slightly thicker moisturizer, or I'm more than likely to just add in another layer of serum, to be honest. Everyone doesn’t actually need a rich cream. What we actually need are sophisticated formulas that are super lightweight and can penetrate the skin. So it depends on my skin. And I've definitely amped up the prescription side of things. I use an online prescription service here in the U.K. and they send me a cream every month. It's a mixture of tretinoin, azelaic acid and niacinamide. So I do that and I just take good care of my skin and I don't really wear a lot of makeup.

Has your beauty routine changed during the pandemic?
The good thing for me with lockdown was it was very freeing. For the first few days when I was live on Instagram, I still had my lash extensions, my hair wasn't too gray. I would still wear some makeup like tinted moisturizer and some highlighter to make myself look glowy. But then by the end of it, I was totally gray, my bun was in every day, my lashes had gone, my nails had gone. The more I started to look haggard, the more views I got ‘cause people were like, “Oh thank God, here is someone who looks real!” I would start the live sessions by saying, “I'm just going to fix my concealer here in the camera while we’re waiting on people to join us.” Because, you know, we're in a pandemic. This is not the time for vanity. Don't get me wrong, though—I was in the hairdressers at midnight the day they opened!

"I love Stress Repair Concentrate, and the original Water Flower Fluid is such a beautiful, easy product. The product I use the most is probably Jasmine and Lily Healing Mask…. I mean, I could go on all day!"

Do you have any tips for dealing with maskne?
Number one: Don't wear makeup under the mask. Just wear eye makeup and make your forehead a bit glowy. Put your lipstick on when you take your mask off. I see so many women do their lipstick and then they put a mask on and all you're doing is just spreading it all over your mask! If the breakouts are bad,  you have to treat it when you're not wearing the mask. There's not much you can do while you're wearing it. Because if you put any kind of barrier on, you're going to break the seal with your mask and that leaves you open to germs. Just do a good cleanse, treat the spots with something gentle, but don't dry your skin out completely. One thing that most people don't think to do is check and change their toothpaste. Most people use toothpastes with sodium lauryl sulfate and it really aggravates periodic dermatitis around the mouth. And once you've got it, it's so hard to get rid of, especially behind the mask. A cleanser with a mild salicylic acid is a good one for the areas where you’re seeing breakouts because of masks.

Can you tell us what your favorite Chantecaille products are?
Of course. Just Skin I've used pretty much since it launched. I have shades I use to match my skin throughout the year—Glow and Tan are my go-to shades. I’m partial to the skincare, because that’s why I went to work with Chantecaille. You’d be hard pressed to beat the Bio Lifting Collection—I remember when it launched with the first product and the counters were just insane. I love Stress Repair Concentrate, and the original Water Flower Fluid is such a beautiful, easy product. The product I use the most is probably Jasmine and Lily Healing Mask…. I mean, I could go on all day!

All of a sudden we’re seeing a surge in people clamoring for our Retinol Intense+—we can’t keep it in stock! You’re partly to thank because you’ve talked about it a bit. Thanks! What is it about that product that you like so much?
Traditionally with a retinol, you would need to be careful that you don't overdo it and sort of start to peel and get redness and irritation, but you won't get that with Retinol intense+ because it's built on a basis of keeping the skin calm with the flower waxes and the Magnolia Bark. When it became Retinol Intense+ it became even more gentle because they added the niacinamide, which was a stroke of genius because that's one of my favorite ingredients. I like this mantra: if you're in your thirties, do it three times a week. If you’re in your forties, do it four times a week. If you're my age, never take it off! Ha.

Lastly, you’ve talked a lot about niacinamide. Can you give us a two-second review on why it’s your favorite?
Any dermatologist will tell you that most of the sun damage on your skin is done by the time you're 20, but it only comes out when you're in your thirties and forties. So with niacinamide, it has this brightening effect that really counteracts the dullness you start to see (as you get older). Also, when you are menopausal and post-menopausal, your skin goes more sallow,  and you lose the color in your cheeks. It’s the first ingredient I go to when people ask about what to do when they see dullness or pigmentation. It's just a no brainer.

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