The intelligent consumer: The appliance of science

Cleanse, tone and moisturise - Thirtysomething skin needs special care. Annalisa Barbieri finds high-tech serums to counteract those mid- life vices

MOONS ago, when I was maybe 18, I would notice age-specific jargon on pots of creams: "for the woman over 40", it would say. Or the girls behind the counters would say "Oh no dear. You're too young for that. We recommend it for women over 30." How long to go, it seemed. Until then, you had three or four pots on your bathroom shelf, but after 30 you could have bottles full of lotions and boxes full of little pods containing an expensive mixture of age-defying ingredients.

When you hit 30, you do need to be a little bit more scientific about your skin care. In your teens you don't really need to bother much (anyway, you should be too busy snogging strange boys and girls to worry about cleansing). But I would recommend use of an eyecream from about age 14 - yes really - something light and not too expensive because the skin around your eyes is the first to go, being the thinnest; and protecting your skin from the sun. I once read that 50 per cent of sun damage is done before the age of 18; quite how these statistics are arrived at I don't know, but it does make sense to avoid excessive baking of young tender skin. In your twenties is a good time to establish a good skincare routine, interspersed of course with regular bouts of going out and drinking/eating/talking too much, since these all aid skincare too, in their way. But sadly, when you say bye bye to 29, strange things happen to your skin. The first few wrinkles appear, and you start to look less bloomy. This is when high- performance moisturisers, serums and nutrient-rich potions should be making an appearance in your life.

Your cleansers and toners don't need to change, but moisturisers really should be as good as you can afford, and it's also time to start thinking about those serums. These are fantastic things stuffed full of nutrients that come in bottles with pipettes or other dispensers that allow just a few precious drops, because serums cost lots. Generally, they are for application under your regular moisturiser, and I would advise applying serums and moisturisers right down to your decolletage. All the serums mentioned in this article are excellent, it's just a matter of what brands you like and how much you can afford. My favourite is "Night Nutrients" by Aveda, pounds 35. As it sounds, this is for bedtime application and I particularly like it because I hate applying creams at bedtime. It's fantastically nourishing but not at all heavy, just gloriously moisturising. Mmmm. Aveda have a daytime equivalent "Firming Fluid", pounds 30, which you put on under your moisturiser - and you could never not apply a moisturiser because it does leave your skin feeling a bit tight. Jo Malone does her "Protein Skin Serum" in a little bottle with the aforementioned pipette: you need about three drops to feed your skin and regular readers of this column will know that I rate Jo Malone somewhere up there with Dino Zoff (General Manager of Lazio football club) and Leonardo da Vinci for genius.

La Prairie do some fabulous products but they are really too expensive for me. Skincare is a bit like hifis, there are the cheap ones which are okay but you can tell they're cheap; you get expensive ones which are worth the money - better looking, smoother and altogether nicer - and then you get ones which are so costly that the price difference just doesn't seem worth it. La Prairie "Age Management Serum" costs pounds 95 and it is very good - but at three times the price of the others. However, one of my more mature testers went potty about their "Cellular Face Ampoules", pounds 185, which are meant as an intensive treatment that you would use, say twice a year. "My skin looks and feels better than it has in a long time. The lines around my eyes and mouth are certainly fainter," my tester gushed. (And her daughter told me that her mother looked "amazing and fantastic".) I think this would be a nice treat in the run-up to a special event, perhaps if you are soon to be the mother of the bride etc.

Another product that received glowing reports (it was tested by two people, but sadly not by me) was Elizabeth Arden's "Ceramide Time Complex" capsules for face and throat (60 capsules, pounds 43.50). "The best thing I've ever used," was one report. Lancome's Oligo Major, pounds 29.95 in a square brown bottle with a pipette, is also a long-time favourite. If you like your Chanel, then they do a light blue serum which you pump into your greedy little hands to delicately apply it to your tired-out old skin. It costs pounds 34 and it cannot be faulted. The tester said it was her favourite product of all, although she used it when her skin felt dry, which was not really the point as you are meant to use serums every day. Tut! And if your skin is really dry, like my pixie Zoe Brown's is, then you'll like Chanel's "Source Extreme Anti-Wrinkle and Anti-Dryness Cream", pounds 35. "Brilliant", Miss Brown said. Two more serums I'd like to recommend are Clarins "Double Serum 38", pounds 39, two bottles of different serums joined together, which squirt out at the same time to give you a cocktail of goodies; and Remede, who do excellent products all round, have a stimulating "Rescue Serum", pounds 31, which I find good to use about three times a week when my skin needs particular... um stimulating. Finally, Superdrug, who make the best skincare preparations at the cheaper end of the market do a fabulous moisturiser in their "Optimum" Range, the "Wrinkle Control Cream", pounds 4.99. I don't know how good it would be at controlling wrinkles, but it came back with top marks from our testers: "A lovely thick cream that goes on beautifully." And ignore all those silly peeps who say drinking your own - or anyone else's urine - is a good way to avoid wrinkles. Champagne is much better.

For stockists call: Aveda, 0171 410 1600; Chanel, 0171 493 5040; Clarins, 0171 629 2979; Jo Malone, 0171 720 0202; La Prairie, 01371 469222; Remede, 0171 734 1234 extn 2444; Superdrug: 0181 684 7000. Lancome and Elizabeth Arden are available from major department stores.

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