One of my favourite podcasts is The Guilty Feminist, which hilariously explores our lofty goals as modern feminists, and “the insecurities, hypocrisies and fears that undermine them”.

Each episode starts with “I’m a feminist, but…”. So here goes mine.

I’m a feminist, but every time someone mistakes me for being younger than I am, it gives me a warm glow inside.

I know, I know. We shouldn’t fetishize youth, and all that. But I’m only human.

Anyway, it’s on my mind because one of the things that takes a significant chunk out of many women’s budgets is our face.

As much as we’d like to rise above it, most of us worry about how we look. Whether it’s my 20-something friends getting botox or my 40-something friends considering fillers, we exist in a world where we believe our looks matter. And we spend accordingly.

Here’s where I’ve landed on it. The best investment you’ll ever make is learning to love yourself. It’s difficult and endless work, but it’s important.

The second best investment you’ll make is sunscreen and a good retinol.

At which point I’d like to introduce my amazing friend Whitney Gunn, skin guru and all-round Fierce Girl. She’s a Dermal Clinician, which is a degree-qualified profession focused on skin health.

She recently introduced me to retinols (late to the party, I know) and holy moly, what a discovery. So, I wanted to ask her about what we should – and shouldn’t – do when it comes to looking after our beautiful faces, and not throwing money down the drain.

  1. Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s good: get your own skin prescription.

Whitney says clients come to her with one of two requests.

The first is fixing an acute problem, like acne, rosacea, inflammation or pigmentation. This usually requires quite an investment of time and money at the outset. But she is adamant that even these problems can be treated effectively with the right approach.

The other request is more about optimising what the goddess gave you.

“I don’t like the term anti-ageing, it’s so negative. I think of it as age management – looking after the cells and structures and keeping your skin nice and glowy,” Whitney says.

To do this, the spectrum goes from buying a good retinol, through to clinic treatments like laser and skin needling, all the way up to botox and filler. You don’t necessarily need to jump straight to injections!

“Retinol is a game changer – skin cells need it to function correctly, and we need it to treat pretty much everything. It regulates and gets things moving, healthy and happy.”

But you still need a professional to recommend the right products. Just using what your friend uses isn’t a strategic approach.

Personally, I get skeptical of the whole ‘get a facial and get recommended a bunch of expensive creams by a beautician with a Cert IV in waxing’.

Whitney says (unsurprisingly) that a proper Dermal Clinician is the best bet (you can look for them here). Otherwise, it’s a matter of asking friends or looking at reviews online for skin specialist clinics.

In a pinch, there are some online tools to find yourself a regime, which I guess is still better than standing at Priceline and picking what’s on sale. (I hear that’s a thing).

Ideally, Whitney recommends that you consult with a professional and build a relationship  over time, so they get to know your skin.

  1. Sunscreen is your best friend

Whitney is that friend who wears a hat to brunch just in case we sit outside. She’s obsessed with sunscreen.

Here’s Whitney (with me) wearing a hat at the pub and looking glowing even thought it’s the day after Mardi Gras.

Sun is the number one culprit of ageing, and of course there is the whole cancer thing. But as Whitney points out, sunscreens these days can do double duty, giving you moisture, coverage and other useful things your skin might want.

It’s not a matter of the most expensive being the best – as per rule number 1, it depends on what your skin needs.

So, wear it every day, everywhere. No excuses.

  1. Think of it as a long-term ‘skinvestment’ – not a quick fix

Well, my retinol-fuelled skin is glowing after a month or so. But the point is that if you look after your skin properly and consistently, it will reward you.

Whitney talks about ‘hero’ products that you spend more on, supplemented by less fancy ones. For example, she recommended me a $120 overnight retinol serum, but a $30 daytime one from The Ordinary. And a QV cleanser from the chemist. Now this is my plan, yours is probably different. See rule no. 1.

It’s like eating and exercise and saving. The reason I look younger and have money is because I meal prep every week, exercise every day, save money from every pay, and cleanse/serum/moisturise/sunscreen every damn day. It’s dull but it works.

  1. Skin is an ecosystem – your overall health will influence it

“Your skin tells the truth, even when you don’t”. That’s some tough love from Whit right there.

Her point is that you can do your best with skincare on the outside, but since skin is our biggest organ, it doesn’t forgive our lifestyle sins that easily. Also, it can be a waste of money throwing money at injectables while you’re stressed out, partying hard or eating crap. And not following the skincare basics.

“Healthy skin with wrinkles looks better than non-looked after skin without wrinkles,” she says. So, maybe take your makeup off every night before you reach for the botox.

“You need to ask: is my mind healthy, is my body healthy, is my skin healthy? Things like nutrition and stress have a big impact on looks on how skin looks.”

Here is one more reason for you to put that glass of wine down and do some yoga!

  1. When it comes to treatments and injections: if in doubt, don’t.

If you go down the injectables route, do it thoughtfully and intentionally. Be clear on the outcome you’re after. Err on the side of having a little bit then building over time.

“When it comes to changing the structure of the face, you need to think about it and plan it. And get your skin right first.  If you aren’t looking after your skin and go and fill your face, it can accentuate the parts of your face you don’t like,” Whitney says.

Remember that some clinics are incentivised to sell more product, so it’s in their interests to sell you two units of filler, not one. That doesn’t always mean you need it.

And of course, do your research – ask around, look at their work (usually on Insta) and if it feels a bit dodgy or salesy, don’t proceed. It’s an industry with appallingly low regulation, so it’s really a matter of buyer beware.

Invest in yourself

If I had to summarise all this I’d say it’s similar to finance. Get the basics right and be consistent. Work with a professional you trust. Invest in line with your goals.

The big difference is that the tax office can’t tax the joy you get from being an amazing, glowing goddess. Ha, take that ATO!

Go give my home girl Whitney a follow over at Insta – She works in Sydney and the South Coast if you want some of her skin magic. 

Dermal Clinicians like Whitney have an actual degree, which is how they know so much.

Headline photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels