My grandma has taught me many things—how to master the art of tiddlywinks, that being bossy is a rite of passage if you're the oldest child, how to spot a yellow sale sticker from a mile off and the importance of working hard, to name just a few. When it comes to skincare, however, she hasn't taught me a thing. That's because my grandma has what some might call a pared-back skincare routine. (I would call it a totally nonexistent one.)
There are certainly some generational differences in our approaches to beauty—my grandma is 77, and I'm 29. Born in Zimbabwe, my grandma grew up using water, soap and a generous slathering of moisturiser—or Vaseline—to hydrate. And nothing much has changed since she moved to London in her 20s. During her working life as a teacher, her no-frills beauty routine meant that she saved time in the morning and could crack straight on with the job at hand. And in retirement, why change the habit of a lifetime?
I, on the other hand, have a four-step skincare routine if I'm doing the bare minimum—but could happily embrace a full 10-step Korean-style skincare routine if I'm indulging in a Sunday night pamper session. Despite this, however, my grandma has incredible skin—bright, plump and almost wrinkle-free—while I'm treated to blemishes, dry patches and the oiliest T-zone in the world. (Probably.)
So I set us both a challenge—to swap skincare routines and see what happened. Would my grandma become a beauty junkie? Would I quit my career as a beauty editor and embrace a water-only way of life? Spoiler: no and no. To keep things simple (my version of simple, anyway) I gave my grandma a three-step skincare routine for the morning and six-step routine for the evening. She gave me a flannel and a pot of Superdrug-brand moisturiser. Keep scrolling to find out how we got on with the products…
My skincare routine
Unless it's a special occasion—in which case she'll throw on a bit of brow pencil and maybe some lipstick—my grandma doesn't wear makeup. Which means her morning cleanse with water and a flannel is purely done to refresh her skin. I gave her this gel cleanser to try instead which you apply to dry skin, and then remove with a warm cloth or flannel.
It's packed with avocado, broccoli and pumpkin seed oils, and my grandma did note a bit of a tacky residue on her skin. However, with her complexion verging on the dry side, she was pleasantly surprised with how comfortable her skin felt after using it. She told me she has avoided using soap on her face regularly due to the tight feeling it often leaves.
I use a vitamin C serum every morning after cleansing and have found that it's really improved the pigmentation left behind from acne scars and generally gives my skin a boost of brightness—ideal if you're not a morning person like me.
Sadly, this was not a hit with my grandma. I did hesitate about going straight in with hard-hitting ingredients like vitamin C for a skincare newbie, but the hyaluronic acid in this one means it's super hydrating and gentle. To be totally transparent, my grandma said she experienced a bit of stinging with this serum—I would hazard a guess that it was more of a lovely active tingling but can appreciate that any sensitivity on the skin can disconcerting for beginners.
I, however, still swear by this stuff and it's one of the products my skin missed most while on my grandma's water-and-moisturiser routine.
I wear an SPF every day, usually opting for a moisturiser with sun protection. My grandma, on the other hand, never wears SPF. Regardless of her darker skin tone, it's really important for everyone to wear sunscreen, so I handed over this moisturiser along with a lecture about its importance. To be fair, my grandma did point out that sun lotions she had used in the past made her skin look ashy—a factor I've never had to consider when choosing sunscreen as a white woman.
Luckily, this one from Paula's Choice was a hit. Because it's formulated for blemish-prone skin, it's super lightweight and sinks in quickly without leaving behind any white residue. I know that moisturiser is the one product my grandma swears by, so I was concerned that this wouldn't be nourishing enough for her, but even she was happy with the level of hydration. Hooray for sunscreen!
In the evening, I cleanse with Glossier's Milky Jelly cleanser to remove my makeup before following with a lightweight gel cleanser (like the one from Elemis). Although my grandma doesn't need the makeup-removing benefits, I thought that the pH-balanced formula would do a great job at leaving her skin feeling soft.
Unfortunately, my grandma felt that this cleanser left her skin feeling quite tight and stripped—the same feeling that washing with soap can give her. While I think this cleanser is a great option for combination-oily skin types like mine—it removes dirt and grime without stripping every inch of oil away—it might not be the best bet for dry complexions.
This is where the whole experiment nearly went awry. I recently declared my love for bakuchiol, 2019's trending skincare ingredient, and wanted to share the joy with my grandma. Coined as a gentle alternative to retinol, I thought it would be a great entry point into exfoliation for a woman who, well, doesn't exfoliate. I was wrong.
From the application to the results—the pads are too small, apparently, and she felt the same stinging sensation as with the vitamin C—these were an utter flop. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say this might have been too much, too soon for my grandma. And admittedly, some of the main benefits of bakuchiol are the improvement in fine lines, pigmentation and elasticity—none of which my grandma really needs help with—so this trending ingredient won't be making a permanent home in her bathroom cabinet.
I use this a mist every evening after my cleanser and toner and before my moisturiser. Aside from any of the skin benefits it might claim, I just enjoy the ritual and moment of calm that a good spritz provides. This one is fortified with antioxidant-rich superfoods to refresh skin and impart a dewy glow, and—guess what—my grandma loved it. Her skin was feeling a little irritated after bakuchiol-gate, and she remarked on how this mist immediately calmed and soothed her skin. A somewhat bougie skincare step I didn't know if my grandma would take to, I'm delighted to say that she's nabbing this for her own stash.
Again, I'd like to reiterate here that I have oily, blemish-prone skin, so I use moisturisers tailored to this. This one from Caudalie uses natural silica powder to absorb excess oil, and organic rose water to calm and soothe. I was sceptical about giving this to my grandma, but it turns out she really enjoyed using it.
One thing to note about this product is that it has the most incredible smell—it's fresh and uplifting, and really makes even the most basic of skincare routines feel a little more like an indulgence. Despite being tailored towards combination and oily skin types, my grandma enjoyed using this for a basic level of hydration but layered it with the next product for a more intense hit of moisture.
Let it be noted that when I told my grandma the price of this product, she nearly keeled over in shock. This is a woman who will only buy something when it's on offer and resents paying more than a fiver for a moisturiser. I think it genuinely pained her to enjoy using this oil—but enjoy it she did. A 100% pure blend of marula oil, this is an incredibly rich product naturally packed with nourishing omegas and antioxidants. My grandma smoothed a few drops of this over her skin before bed and was happy to report that her face felt lovely come morning—soft and plump. I can't say that she would rush out to buy it again, but I'll definitely earn some granddaughter points by letting her keep the rest of my bottle.
My grandma's skincare routine
This image is for illustrative purposes only—my grandma would never spend £1 on a bottle of water when you get it "free" out the tap. Anyway, yes, water is the one product my grandma uses every morning and night to wash her face. For me, this was tricky, and I had to make some exceptions. For one, I wear makeup during the day, so keeping makeup remover in my evening routine was non-negotiable (I'm currently using the Glossier Milky Oil), but I was willing to give it a go for the morning.
To be fair, there was something lovely about not having to reach for multiple bottles and pots while bleary-eyed in the bathroom of a morning. Genuinely, I think I could probably stick with the water-only approach to cleansing in the a.m. as long as I was allowed my full evening skincare routine. But as far as an around-the-clock approach goes, I'd miss the ritual.
To comply with my grandma's skincare rules, I had to wash my face with a flannel—not a muslin cloth, not a magic makeup eraser but an old-school flannel. Again, she would not condone spending £25 on flannels when you can pick them up in bulk from the supermarket, but I'm a beauty editor, so allow me some luxuries.
I have to say, I'd forgotten the joy of a good scrub with a flannel. There's something about the slightly rough texture that means they're genuinely good at getting into all of the nooks and dislodging dirt and grime leaving skin with a kind of baby-faced brightness. I have to say, I'll be swapping my muslins for a basic flannel immediately. Who needs chemical exfoliators and fancy acids when you've got a square of 100% cotton? (Me.)
I'm sure this classic cream is probably a favourite with grandmas up and down the country. It's been on the shelves since 1911, so there's no denying that this moisturiser must be doing something right. Apparently you can use it on your body, hands and face, and it uses glycerin to intensively moisturise. First up, this doesn't contain an SPF (obviously—it's only £3), so I did have to apply one before using this in the day.
Yes, it does do a good job of moisturising, but for my skin, it felt a little heavy—and a little bit slip-and-slide-y. I'd use it as a night cream, but it definitely didn't make a good base for makeup with my oily skin. However, there's no denying that for less than the price of a cup of coffee, this is a solid option if you're looking for a cream that will get the job done. However, I love testing and trying new things, so I'd be genuinely sad to stick to one no-frills product for the rest of time.