3 Best Beauty Buys: SOS Skin Creams

Something very odd happened to my skin the other week; I haven’t managed to get to the bottom of the cause because it could have been one of so many reasons (we’re on the “school germs carousel of illness” round here) but I have managed to do some pretty extreme SOS face cream testing. Which obviously makes for a great “best beauty buys” post, so… every cloud, etc.

A brief word on what happened to my skin before I dive into the three best SOS face creams I tried: it was suddenly bumpy, one morning – the sort of texture you’d have if you were suffering from breakouts that hadn’t come to a head yet, but all over my face from the cheeks down. Not small raised bumps or spots, but the sort that almost feel like crocodile scales. There was some visible redness. All of this manageable, but then the dryness and itching started.

The dryness and itching felt very much like a reaction to a strong retinoid, but I hadn’t tried or done anything new and so that was unlikely. Anyway, I wasn’t going to spend my week being all Poirot about it – I would obviously take more notice if it happened again or on a regular basis – I just wanted to get my skin back on an even keel.

And so I implemented my SOS Skincare routine, which is just a very pared back version of my usual one, minus the “actives” (no acids, no retinoids, no super-strength antioxidants) and with a gentler approach to cleansing. I tend to use creamier textures, soft washcloths and moisturisers that intensely hydrate as well as aiding skin barrier function.

(If you keep hearing the phrase “skin barrier” and wondering what an earth everyone is banging on about then let me briefly enlighten you with an explanation cobbled together from bits of information from own mind and some basic facts from Wikipedia. The skin barrier is sort of like the brick wall between the outside world and the inside of you. It’s the very outermost layer of the skin, it’s watertight and it protects your skin from – buzz phrase incoming! – external aggressors. “Raaaaah!”

For some reason I’ve always imagined these external aggressors as angry people trying to get into a pub that closed half an hour early with no explanation. They’re all carrying rounders bats and trying to smash the windows. In reality the phrase refers to things like pollution and cigarette smoke and UV rays – anything on the outside that your skin is not so keen on having on the inside.

Anyway, it’s massively important to keep the skin barrier healthy and functioning – if it isn’t, problems can mount up because it all goes a bit haywire. Redness, itchiness, tightness, dehydration, breakouts: an absolute circus of skin concern delights to deal with.)

I’m going to go more into my whole routine in the upcoming Current Skincare Routine: Autumn 2021, because for this post I wanted to focus on the SOS face cream saviours. Great for skin that’s suddenly very sensitive and needs some serious care and attention, they all moisturise deeply and give a helping hand to the skin barrier so that faces that feel as though they’re falling off can piece themselves back together.

The three best beauty buys I’ve picked are all amazing for skin that’s been through the mill – perhaps you’ve overdone it with your retinol products, or you’ve used a glycolic peel too often – and equally effective for bringing life back to dry, flakey skin that is rebelling against the changes in weather. You can watch the video version or scroll on down to keep reading…

1. DR. JART+ Cicapair Cream, at Amazon*

This is the most affordable – and user-friendly – of the three. It’s the lightest in texture and sinks in quickly with no greasy residue. Great beneath makeup, it is instantly soothing on itchy, tight skin and the perfect choice if you want a powerful rescue remedy without the rich texture.

2. Medik8 Ultimate Recovery Intense, at Amazon*

This is far richer and more intense in feel but I think it’s my favourite of the three favourites! The tube is user-friendly with a hinged lid, the cream is easy to apply and not stodgy but gives an instant, satisfying feeling that you’ve been basted with something miraculous. It has been formulated for post-treatment skin so it’s a no-brainer option for those who have overdone it with their peels or have started on a new strength of retinoid.

3. Murad Intense Recovery Cream, at Amazon* 

This beauty of a skin repair cream has the firmest, most buttery texture and those with the driest skin (think Jacob’s Cream Cracker dry) will love it. It has the reassuring colour of some sort of 1950s hospital ointment but I do find it slightly annoying scooping it from the jar as it’s so firm, it goes straight under my nails. A non-idiot would find and use one of those plastic spatulas to make life easier but I’m too lazy to rootle through my weird-things-I’ll-never-use-drawer.

Budget-friendly option:

Eucerin Aquaphor, at Feel Unique*

If your skin feels rough and dry and vulnerable and you just want to shroud it in the equivalent of a suit of armour then Aquaphor is your friend. It’s slightly less refined than the above options, because it does leave a residue, but quite often that top layer of slick is very comforting, especially if your skin is so tight it feels as though it might crack. (We’re talking quite extreme skin situations today, aren’t we?) You get a 45ml tube of this for £9 – they also do a huge tube – which makes it a great all-rounder rescue cream to keep in the bathroom cabinet.


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  1. Naomi
    October 28, 2021 / 11:52 am

    Hi Ruth this is very timely for me. I started using the new kiehl microdose retinol (the one that is supposed to be super gentle and anyone can start using it every day straight away). After a positive start at the beginning it is now a month on and my skin is now red and reactive. I don’t have any dryness but it has that ‘prickly’ feeling and feels sensitive especially when I wash my face. I’m wondering if I should stop using this product completely for a while or just pare back on its use for a bit. I really want to give retinol a go for my open pores and ageing (I turn 40 this year). As someone with more retinol experience than myself I’d love your advice (half term time juggling permitting!) Much love xx

    • October 30, 2021 / 6:22 pm

      How often are you using it? xx

  2. October 25, 2021 / 10:05 am

    I know that feeling all to well, product testing has wrecked my barrier more than once. Yet somehow I never managed to try any of the creams you mentioned here, I always end up distracted by other stuff.

  3. October 22, 2021 / 9:41 pm

    I need to try all of these out!

    Danielle | thereluctantblogger.co.uk

  4. K.
    October 21, 2021 / 12:05 am

    Lovely! I’ve been suffering from rosacea since turning 50 and I’m always looking for soothing creams to bring down the redness. Unfortunately my skin hates almost everything anymore, especially everything Dr. Jart (sob!). The Murad cream looks wonderful, though. I’ll have to give it a try. Also, although I am a fan of Aquaphor, I’m even more of a fan of Cerave’s healing ointment. Same base, but with ceramides added to help the skin barrier. I’m not sure if it is available in the UK though. In the US it is cheap and readily available at most drug stores. Definitely nice on those days you feel like you just need a thick layer of protection from, well, everything.

    • October 21, 2021 / 12:52 pm

      Ooh how funny, that was the other option I was going to pop in, but I hadn’t actually tried it properly yet, for shame! Good to know it’s a winner, I shall try that this weekend!

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