Body Skincare: My Favourite Ingredients
The products (and ingredients) for creating your perfect body skincare routine
After years of (frankly shameful levels of) neglect, I’ve finally started taking the skin on my body as seriously as that on my face.
Because while I’ve traditionally been someone who’ll happily spend approximately 95 per cent of my income on serums/cleansers/SPF, when it comes to my body I become uncharacteristically mean; turning up my snout at any products so complex they cost more than a tenner.
And if I actually do ever buy a body product a bit fancy, I usually just end up placing it at a jaunty angle round my bath- sort of like a piece of art- rather than actually using it…
But the thing is I had it all wrong: while the skin on the body is both thicker and less exposed to the sun than that on the face (and therefore slightly less high-maintenance), it still ages, still gets hyperpigmentation, and can still look dull- just like the chest, neck and face.
I was also wrong when I assumed great body care had to cost loads. Because while there are some budget buys that can irritate my sensitive skin, there are also plenty of affordable ones that are instead nourishing, hydrating, and all round goodies.
So as well as putting together a list of some favourite body products, I thought I’d also come up with an A to Z of some of the most useful ingredients to look out for when putting together a body skincare routine suited to your own specific needs…As well as some to avoid.
Side note: There are literally hundreds of great skincare ingredients out there, so instead of writing a full (and very, very long) list, I’ve put together some of the most commonly used ones to look out for, as well as some personal favourites. Equally, the ingredients I’ve included below to avoid are simply some of the most common for drying out or irritating skin.
The Best Cleansing Ingredients
While most of us like our shower gels to foam up for a proper clean feeling (plus, let’s face it, bubbles are just fun), there are different types of foaming ingredients- some slightly more or less drying than others. Here are a couple of the very gentlest to look out for:
One of the mildest cleansing agents available, coco glucoside is derived from coconut and sugar and suitable for even very sensitive skin types.
Another mild, vegetable-derived cleanser, lauryl glucoside is both high-foaming and biodegradable, making it kind on both to skin and the environment.
Sodium Cocoyl Glycinate
A creamy, lathering cleansing agent derived from amino acids, it is considered one of the mildest, least-drying surfactants (compounds that reduce the surface tensions between oils and water, allowing them to be broken down and washed away).
The Best Hydrating Ingredients
In contrast to moisturising ones, hydrating ingredients tend to be those that attract water from the air and trap it into skin cells for a plumped, healthy look. That hydration is then sealed in with a moisturiser (although most body creams will contain a blend of both moisturising and hydrating ingredients to get both jobs done at once).
Finding the right body lotion will depend on your skin type, and often the season as well, but broadly speaking dehydrated skin (look out for signs like dullness, itchiness and redness) will need a product heavier on the hydrating ingredients, and dry skin (skin that is flaking, feels tight, looks more lined than normal, or feels rough), will need more moisturising ones.
Here are some of the best hydrating ingredients to look out for:
Algae and Microalgae
Probably my favourite body care ingredients, as well as being seriously hydrating (they do after all live in water), algae also an impressive source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Everyone’s favourite post-sun soother, aloe hydrates, calms and cools skin, and is actually great all year round.
A skin-softening goodie, glycerin is a humectant which can also help to soothe irritated skin.
As well as being a great humectant (an ingredient that binds water from the air to skin cells), honey is also an antioxidant, antibacterial and antifungal; making it something of an all-round skincare hero.
Famous for its ability to retain over 1,000 times its own weight in water, hyaluronic acid is naturally present in our cells and is something of a super hydrator.
Also known as provitamin B5, panthenol is anti-inflammatory and a great redness soother, in addition to its hydrating qualities.
Sugar is also a natural humectant, drawing water from the air to skin cells.
The Best Moisturising Ingredients
Essential for skin health, moisturising ingredients help to prevent water loss (known as TEWL- transepidermal water loss) from cells by strengthening the skin’s natural protective barrier.
One of the most important building blocks of skin, ceramides are fatty acids that can dramatically improve skin’s barrier, helping to reduce water loss and to tackle more serious skin issues like eczema.
Like cetyl and stearyl alcohols, which are naturally present in skin’s barrier and help to prevent loss of hydration.
Including coconut oil, squalane (look out for olive-derived squalane if you’re avoiding animal-derived ingredients), marula, mango and capuacu oils.
A really soothing ingredient, great for sensitive or eczema-prone skin, oatmeal (and colloidal oatmeal) can help soothe itchiness, support the skin’s barrier, and prevent TEWL. It is possible to have an allergy to oatmeal, however, (as indeed it’s possible to have an allergy to any other skincare ingredient), so patch test first 48 hours before using.
As the name suggests, these are ingredients that help to form a layer over skin and block water loss. A little heavy for some skin types, they can be a lifesaver for others. Look out for ingredients like petrolatum (think Vaseline), shea butter and lanolin.
The Best Antioxidant Ingredients
Antioxidants help prevent the free radical damage caused by pollution, cigarette smoke and UV rays (amongst other things) that can cause ageing and other cell damage. For more on antioxidants and how they can help keep skin glowing and healthy, take a look at this article.
The ideal body care product will contain at least some antioxidants to give skin a shot of free radical protection. For the best results, try to seek them out in body lotions or SPF rather than just shower gels, since they rinse off and won’t offer the same benefits.
As well as being calming on redness and irritated skin, green (and also black or white) tea also provides impressive antioxidant protection.
A vitamin masquerading under another name, niacinamide is actually vitamin B3; best-known for its breakout reducing, anti-inflammatory properties (particularly useful for acne or rosacea types), as well as its antioxidant abilities.
Tocopherol (vitamin E to you and me)
Another vitamin in disguise, and one of the most commonly-used antioxidants, vitamin E is available in both natural and synthetic forms and works especially well with vitamin C.
Brightening and pretty impressive at tackling uneven skin tone, vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant.
The Best Exfoliating Ingredients
While our skin does a pretty good job of renewing itself roughly every six weeks, we can help encourage the process along by gently removing the dead skin cells that can block pores and create a dull appearance. Here are some of my favourite exfoliating ingredients:
Coffee grounds are not only generally pretty smooth and fairly non-irritating to skin, they also contain caffeine (obvs), which has been show to improve microcirculation of blood, which in turn can help give skin a glowing, healthy appearance.
One of the mildest AHAs (alpha hydroxyl acids- a group of chemical exfoliators), lactic acid is usually derived from milk (but vegan-friendly alternatives are available too) and gently loosens the bonds between dead skin cells to reveal brighter skin.
You can actually get the skin benefits of lactic acid (practically) for free by just adding some powdered milk to your bath (obviously avoiding if you have a dairy allergy).
Most commonly used in skincare for unplugging blocked pores, it’s also used in body care for tackling bumpy skin, blackheads and breakouts and can be particularly useful for acne types.
Anti-microbial and mineral-rich, salt can be a great exfoliator as long as the grains aren’t too sharp. To avoid irritating skin, look for salt scrubs of the less gritty variety, and which contain plenty of oil. Also, use on soaking wet skin to help grains dissolve quicker.
As well as being a natural humectant, sugar also makes a great physical exfoliant thanks to its gritty texture. It’s generally less sharp than ingredients like salt, too, while its easily-dissolvable quality makes it hard to be too rough with if used on soaking wet skin.
Better still, you can quite easily whip up a sugar-based scrub from home by combining equal parts brown sugar and olive oil.
The Best Sunscreen Ingredients
Bis-ethylhexyloxyphenol methoxyphenyl triazine
A high performance, broad spectrum, insoluble sunscreen generally accepted to be safe on skin.
Methylene bis-benzotriazolyl tetramethylbutylphenol
Another insoluble sunscreen that provides broad spectrum (both UVA and UVB) protection.
An opaque white ingredient, titanium dioxide is one of the most common physical sunscreens (also often known as mineral sunscreens) for its abilities to reflect UV rays. It’s generally non-irritating and therefore suitable for even the most sensitive skin types, but it does tend to leave some pretty ghostly-looking white marks in its wake so best used in a tinted formula.
An insoluble active ingredient that cannot be absorbed by skin and which filters both UVB and UVA2 (shorter wavelength UVA rays).
Another physical sunscreen, zinc oxide works by scattering UV rays so they can’t penetrate skin. It also has a similar white cast problem, so again, look out for tinted formulas.
Some Ingredients to Avoid
Specifically the drying varieties (not the fatty alcohol kind which are, confusingly, actually good for skin). Watch out for ingredients like alcohol denat., ethanol, ethyl alcohol, isopropyl alcohol, SD alcohol, and benzyl alcohol which can sensitise or dry skin.
While I personally love essential oils in my body care for their general spa-like, zen vibe, many essentials oils are common allergens. These (sadly) include some of the absolute loveliest, like lavender, rose flower extract, citrus, peppermint, eucalyptus and cinnamon oils.
For sensitive skin types the results of an essential oil reaction can be symptoms like redness, bumps under the skin, itchiness and flaking.
I think whether or not you use these ingredients will come down to your own particular skin type and views on the risk-reward payoff. If you do use them though, patch test a product first somewhere inconspicuous between around 48 hours before use, and avoid using further if you notice any skin reaction.
And if you’re a particularly sensitive skin type but don’t want to ditch the soothing scents, either keep the essential oils to a diffuser or candle, or alternatively stick to ingredients that naturally smell great and are also brilliant for skin. These (happily) include cucumber, almond, mango, and melon extracts, as well as shea butter.
While some skin types can tolerate small amounts of artificial fragrance better than others, parfum (as it’s often listed on the label) is one of the most common sensitising ingredients.
Again, taking into account the risk-reward balancing act, I personally use a mixture of fragrance-free products interspersed with occasional perfumed ones. I find this tends to keep my own skin redness and dryness-free but still gives me some fun (and yummy-smelling) options to play around with.
But if you find your body lotion/shower gel/exfoliators leave skin irritated, hot-feeling, red, blotchy or drier than before, it might be worth making a switch to fragrance- free options (check out some favourites listed below), to see if artificial fragrance could be the cause.
Again, sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS)- a foaming agent commonly used in shower gels- can be tolerated better by some skin types than others, but drier, eczema or sensitive skin can find it drying.
So if you find skin routinely feels tight, blotchy or itchy after showering, it might be worth taking a look at some of the alternative ingredients listed in the Best Cleansing Ingredients list above (or some suggested products at the bottom of this article).
Not to be confused with sodium laureth sulphate (SLES), a similar cleansing agent, but generally considered to be less drying than SLS.
And Some Product Favourites
The Shower Gels
Similar to my approach to facial cleansers, I tend to go pretty gentle when it comes to body washes, and generally stick to either oil-based or creamy varieties. Favourites include Drunk Elephant’s fragrance and SLS-free Kamili Cream Body Cleanser or a bar soap like Herbivore’s Pink Clay Cleansing Bar Soap.
For a fragrance-free body wash containing salicylic acid to tackle body breakouts, Cerave also makes the excellent SA Body Wash for Rough & Bumpy Skin
Another favourite (this time of the gritty exfoliator variety and containing some fragrance), which I return to again and again is Frank Body’s Original Coffee Scrub, which noticeably helps improve the tone of my skin when used consistently over months.
For everyday body care, you can’t go far wrong with beauty editor and dermatologist favourite Cerave, and their ceramide-rich, fragrance free Moisturising Lotion.
But when I do go for something fragranced, my absolute favourite of favourites are cult Portugese brand Benamor’s light as air (and absolutely amazing-smelling) Body Creams. With a high proportion of natural ingredients (although, yes, some artificial fragrance), these metal tubed creams have a lightweight, whipped texture which applies and absorbs beautifully and leaves my skin insanely soft and glowing for at least 24 hours after. Romantic types will love the Rose Amelie Milky Body Cream, while warm, cinnamon-y scent fans will enjoy the Nata version, scented like Portugal’s famous creamy dessert, the pasteis de nata.
I’m something of an SPF junkie, and I’m also something of a body oil junkie…happily these two products happen to coincide beautifully when it comes to sun protection and one of my favourite results is Mimitika’s Sun Oil SPF 50. For those not averse to a little parfum, I also really love the scent of Sol de Janeiro’s Bum Bum Soil Oil SPF 30.
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