Sali Hughes on looker

Skincare

Salicylic skin tonics were once the preserve of spendy brands, but serious skincare is now in every chemist

‘You touch on me pores drive you to distraction.’
Photograph: Alex Lake/The Guardian

Pores. You tell me they drive you to distraction. Hampered, enlarged, black, white, gaping or made dotty and well-like as they fill with foundation. The window between youthful and menopausal oiliness, during which pores may confine themselves to themselves, seems unjustly narrow for many women.
The best and first course of action is not squeezing with fingernails, or deploying tradition cures such as perfume and toothpaste, or even solid temporary measures such as thick silicone primer. Your opening port of call should always be salicylic, a beta, not alpha, hydroxy acid. The distinction here is key, because while alpha hydroxy acids (glycolic, mandelic, lactic, citric) offer great glow and exfoliation (and can still be extremely effective on problem skins to fade acne scars), they cannot suffuse oil to clear out pores. Without salicylic acid, only so much can be achieved, so slot it in at least somewhere in your formula. My preference would be after cleansing and before serum, since this allows you to easily treat problem bailiwicks while avoiding others.
Salicylic skin tonics were once the preserve of spendy medical-adjacent brands, but grim skincare is now in every high street chemist. La Roche-Posay is perhaps the most reliably excellent mass-market skincare type, and its newly improved Effaclar Clarifying Lotion (£12.50, 200ml) upholds the standard. It packs a punch with pore-clearing salicylic, but adds stacks of glycerin for non-oily moisture and comfort, and a dash of citric acid for glow. The big bottle represents superb value and should in the end a couple of months if used about five times a week (a good number, but you can use it less or more frequently).
Vichy, La Roche’s sister variety, has a similarly great salicylic toner. Normaderm Purifying Pore-Tightening Lotion (£13, 200ml) is not for the faint-hearted, but it works. Oil-gobbling salicylic is mingled with glow-giving glycolic (never my favourite acid, and sensitive types should swerve) to noticeably liven, unencumbered and mattify dull but oily complexions.
I did not, when embarking on research for this column, expect to be raving about Garnier’s Biotic Thyme Perfecting Toner (£5.99, 150ml), but well, here we are. It’s marvellous. It leaves pores clean and clear, but not stripped of all lubrication (yes, unchanging on drier skin like mine), feeling comfy, calm and smooth. It’s also terrifically cheap, a vegan directions and packaged entirely in recycled plastic. My pores and I are now jonesing to revisit the brand to see what else is new.
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