I Have Stressed, Tired Skin But These Holy-Grail Products Make All the Difference

My love of skincare began as a teenager—plagued by sore, painful acne, I spent hours of time scanning the shelves of my local Boots store, spending my (hard-earned) pocket money on cleansers and face masks, and desperately trying literally every "DIY acne cure" I could concoct with the contents of my parents' kitchen (sorry mum). 

Since then, I've managed to turn my love of testing and trying products and researching ingredients into a career. I've been fortunate enough to try some of the best beauty products on the market, get face time with skincare experts and dermatologists, and try out some pretty impressive facial treatments. I've learned that my skin needs more moisture than I think, that SPF is the best thing for fading hyperpigmentation, and that prescription-strength retinoids are what it takes for my acne to lay low. So I've managed to find a routine of products that my skin both needs and loves.


(Image credit: @THATGRACEGIRL)

The thing is, testing beauty products is quite literally my day job—so sticking to the same routine day in and day out is pretty impossible. While I try to maintain balance (I have a strict one-in-one-out process), there is the occasional instance where my skin freaks out. Whether it meets an ingredient it doesn't like (cue: breakouts) or if I've simply overdone it with too many active ingredients (goodbye skin barrier), despite all the best intentions in the world, stressed skin is the occupational hazard I'm faced with.

As a result, I've learned to keep a SWAT team of products to hand that I know I can rely on when my skin is stressed; when breakouts appear, or when I experience a flare-up of redness or sensitivity. In my time of need, these are the holy grail products I use to get my skin back on track.

The best products for breakouts & congestion:

Like I said, thanks to a rather magical ingredient called tretinoin, I manage to keep my acne-prone skin relatively under control. On occasion, I'll still experience the odd hormonal breakout on my chin or jaw, and (if I've used a moisturiser that's a bit too rich for my skin) I may notice a few small flare ups. These are the products I reach for when that happens.

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The best products for a damaged skin barrier:

As a teenager, my approach to dealing with acne was to inflict my skin with stripping products and active ingredients. I shudder to think about the days when I used face scrubs (you know the ones) twice daily, plus nightly charcoal masks, pore strips, and an acid-soaked exfoliating pad. The result was sore, red, tight skin and even more breakouts... Essentially I had a damaged skin barrier—in fact, I probably didn't even have a skin barrier—and given that the skin barrier is essential for keeping moisture in (hydrated skin is healthy skin) and bacteria out, it's easy to see why I was stuck in an endless cycle of painful breakouts and lingering red hyperpigmentation.

These days I wouldn't dream of using an acid toner on the same day I use a retinol serum, I only exfoliate once a week, and I avoid scrubs in favour of enzyme-based exfoliators. I'm also religious about layering moisturising products, and always seal in my nightly routine with a facial oil. These are the products I use to keep my skin barrier intact.

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The best products for sensitivity & redness:

This one ties in slightly with a damaged skin barrier because when the skin barrier is damaged, skin is much more sensitive and will react more easily to active ingredients like vitamin C or retinol. So often these concerns go hand-in-hand. Everyone's skin has a certain degree of sensitivity and this can be aggravated by things like seasonal and climate changes, your environment, and of course, the products you use. Personally, I find my skin can be much more sensitive in the winter months. I notice redness appears first around the bottom of my nose—this is actually the most sensitive part of the face, so it's a good indicator of sensitivity. When that happens, these are the products I add to my routine.

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This story was previously published at an earlier date and has since been updated.

Freelance Beauty Editor

Grace Day is a beauty editor and content creator. She has over 10 years of beauty-industry experience, spanning editorial, retail, and e-commerce, which gives her a unique understanding into how people shop for their beauty routines. While studying for a history degree (specialising in the history of beauty) and working as a beauty adviser in department stores, Grace started writing her own beauty blog in order to share the products she discovered while dealing with acne. After graduating, she moved to Beauty Bay as beauty editor and content manager. Grace is currently a beauty contributor to Who What Wear. She has also written for Hypebae and PopSugar and works as a brand consultant and copywriter.