When beauty editor Katie Service set out to write a book about skin care, corona was still just a beer and social distancing didn't have a name, but was the thing you chose to do when you didn't feel like getting on the tube to go out again after a long day at work. She had no idea that the stress and mask wearing that comes with a global pandemic would cause millions of peoples' skin to, put it bluntly, freak the f*ck out, and lead to a massive boom in the skin-care industry — the exact topic she had spent over a year writing about. With people desperate to treat the dryness and angry cluster of spots that took up residence on their chins, skin-care sales skyrocketed, virtual facials were booked, and cute terms like maskne were coined to help soften the fact that our world, and our faces, were falling apart in front of us.
But whilst Service — who is currently the editorial beauty director at Harrods — didn't write The Beauty Brief: An Insider's Guide to Skincare (Thames & Hudson) because of the pandemic, the fact that it's hitting shelves at the beginning of 2021 couldn't be more timely. Smartly written, extensively reported, and beautifully illustrated, the book is a comprehensive guide to everything you need to know about skin care, from explaining popular science-y ingredients and teaching you how to read a product label to what you need to know before making a dermatologist appointment. Like an encyclopaedia for skin care, Service has touched on every aspect of the category that someone might have a question about.
"It's been a really interesting year for skin care," Service told POPSUGAR. "I think people have felt like they want to invest in skin care, but they are more lost than ever because they're either overwhelmed by all the choices, or they're just coming against all these problems in their skin that they've never had before."
And whilst Service may be an industry insider, reporting on skin care for over a decade, you don't need any prior knowledge before diving into this book, part of what makes it so appealing. "There are books for the major skin enthusiasts," said Service. "Compare this book to Caroline Hirons', for example, and she goes a lot deeper than I do. But I wanted The Beauty Brief to be a resource and a starting point for someone who needs a little bit of help navigating the world of skin care."
Broken up into seven chapters, The Beauty Brief includes a glossary section, a section about going to the dermatologist (explaining terms like Ultherapy and Baby Botox), and a section all about decoding the INCI list, the latter of which is the most extensive chapter of the book. "It's impossible to understand the INCI completely," Service explained. "It's not clear, and that's not entirely the skin-care brands' fault — they've got a lot of information to put on there. My goal for including this was to help people navigate it, so that you can tell a few things instantly when you look at the back of the bottle."
Service does this by not only deciphering common ingredients found on INCI lists, but also by highlighting iconic products like Charlotte Tilbury's Magic Cream and Weleda Skin Food and combing through their INCI lists line by line. One of my favourite parts of the INCI list chapter are the two pages that depict all the different symbols you may encounter on a skin-care product label, like that mysterious little open jar with a number in it (spoiler alert: it's the number of months the products should be used for after opening it).
Sandwiched in between all of the glossaries and cosmetic case studies are four chapters that discuss everything you need to know about putting together a skin-care routine throughout each part of your day, from morning to evening, and even what to do if you're on the go. And if you're thinking wow, that's a lot of information in one book, well, it is, and that's the point. This is meant to be a guide on all things skin care. A helping hand when you're shopping online for a new serum, looking into getting filler for the first time, or trying to figure out the difference between a chemical and physical sunscreen. "The thing about this is you can just pick it up and dip into a section — you don't need to read this cover to cover, although you can if you'd like," said Service.
Like any beauty editor worth her weight in lipstick, Service consulted a long list of beauty experts for the book, and you can find their advice sprinkled throughout the chapters. Part of what makes this book such a good investment is the amount of industry A-listers featured throughout the pages, a majority of whom Service has worked with over the years as a beauty editor at ES Magazine, Sunday Times Style, and InStyle. "I'm a journalist, I'm not a doctor or makeup artist, so it was important to me to include experts so it's not just me waxing lyrical," said Service. You'll spot tips from makeup artists Charlotte Tilbury and Hannah Martin, facialists Nicola Joss and Teresa Tarmey, dermatologist Yannis Alexandrides (the founder of 111Skin), cosmetic chemist Florence Adepoju (founder of MDM Flow), cosmetic surgeon Dr. David Jack, the CEO of the British Beauty Council Millie Kendall, and beauty trend forecaster Victoria Buchanan, to name just a few.
Skin care might be a daunting topic, but everything about this book — the gorgeous, Matisse-like illustrations (by Australian artist Constanza Goeoppinzer), the soft cover and flippable pages, the easily-digestible explanations — feels welcoming and inviting. It makes the task of tackling your skin-care routine something positive and uplifting, versus something negative and scary, and I think we can all agree that positivity is something we could use more of right now.
"That's the one thing that I'm really pleased about with the timing of this book — is that I feel like it can be a guide for people this year who're just trying to get their life back on track through something as wonderful as skin care, which really can help you feel like you've got a grip on your life," said Service. "If I have a good morning skin-care regime, I feel like I can tackle my day really well. That's what this book, I hope, does."