How to build a satisfyingly decadent body care routine

Written by Meena Alexander

Meena Alexander is Stylist’s sub-editor. She prides herself on her ability to spell big words, her vinyl collection and her photographic memory for every outfit Rihanna has ever worn.

It takes 21 days to change a habit according to science. So, to put this theory to the test, we’re trialling various beauty trends, treatments and techniques for 21 days. Here’s what happened when sub-editor Meena Alexander extended her daily skincare routine beyond her face.

I’m into skincare – working at Stylist and reading about the latest and greatest treatments every day, it’s hard not to be. I religiously remove my makeup every night, cleanse, tone, moisturise and occasionally exfoliate my face. I buy into every rave review for the latest skin-transforming serum or glow-enhancing scrub. But this enthusiasm fizzles out somewhere around my collar bones. The rest of my body is pretty much ignored, save a blob of whichever shower gel was on sale at Asda and a quick smear of lotion on the parts that aren’t covered by my clothes (as someone who was diligently doused in thick cocoa butter every day as a child, I fear this confession may lead to me being disowned).

This neglect doesn’t seem to make sense, since the majority of my skin is not, in fact, on my face. Yet I’ve always chosen to focus on facial skincare simply because looking at or focusing on the rest of my body for too long can bring about a serious hit to my self-esteem. Now, if you’re one of those people who can stand proudly naked, admiring yourself in the mirror, I commend you – but I don’t think I’d be alone in stating that this is basically my worst nightmare. And that’s just sad. So I’m hoping that giving my body a little more TLC might pay dividends when it comes to feeling good about myself. I deserve it.

WEEK 1: This feels extravagant… 

I’m not one to do things by halves, so I begin with a fully stocked bathroom cabinet and a vow to get up earlier each morning to give this full-body routine a go. I get recommendations from the all-knowing Stylist beauty desk, then spend a happy half-hour doing some skincare research (being a sub means I’m well-practised at falling down information rabbit holes – Google? Completed it mate). Right off the bat, I learn that one of my favourite morning rituals is for the chop: languishing under a very hot shower. Research shows that standing under steaming water for too long can actually dry out and irritate skin, worsening the effects of conditions like kerastosis pilaris (those little red bumps that appear on the backs of your arms and legs) which I have a hint of. Boo.

On the first morning I stumble into the bathroom bleary-eyed and turn on the shower, grumbling to myself. While it ‘warms’ up (can you tell I’m bitter about the ‘no hot showers’ thing?) I grab Champneys’ dry body brush, £8.50. I’ve heard just three minutes of brushing works wonder for the skin, exfoliating dry patches and waking up the lymphatic system, which in turn detoxifies and increases circulation. I work in upwards strokes, feeling ridiculous as I catch my reflection in the mirror grooming itself like a prize racehorse. However, by the time I hop into the shower I’m feeling strangely energised and my skin is pleasantly tingling like I’ve just been for a brisk walk.

In the shower I cleanse with a foaming gel and get my scrub on, which all takes much longer than expected. Making sure my entire body gets the attention it deserves – knees, elbows and all – is actually very time-consuming. By the time I get out and slather myself head to toe in lotion, I figure I’ve paid more attention to my arms, legs and torso than in the last six months combined. It feels sort of indulgent, but also like I’ve properly taken the care and time to get myself ready for the day. I feel well-groomed in the same way you do as a child when your mum has scrubbed and polished you before a family event.

WEEK 2: “A little bit of luxury never hurt anyone” 

After a week I’m still going strong with the morning routine and I’ve become pretty protective over my products. “I will KNOW if you use any of that Rituals shower gel,” I call to my boyfriend as he heads into the bathroom, finally vacant after my pampering and preening, “because you’ll smell .” The pomegranate and watermelon scent, £8.50, is a true joy and the foam feels so luxurious that it’s hard to be grumpy – even on a Monday morning and even with a pilfering boyfriend. 

My stand-out favourite product, though, is Ouai’s Scalp and Body Scrub, £32, which I’ve been using twice a week. With sugar crystals and a dose of probiotics, it deep cleans, detoxifies and exfoliates skin while working up a satisfying lather. My skin looks smoother and less dull, particularly on my legs, after the first use. I love this stuff.

Although I’ve been using Lumene’s Nutri-Recharging lotion, £19.90, as a daily moisturiser (hydrating without being sticky, major win) I decide one evening in week two that it’s time to bring out the big guns – body oil. I wasn’t keen on the idea of being covered in oil, partly because I would never put it anywhere near my face and partly because it feels like something that belongs in a luxury spa, not my drafty bathroom. Elemis’s Frangipani Monoi Body Oil, £38.50, comes in a serious-looking bottle – heavy glass and a little metal stopper – which needs to be warmed in hot water so the solid product inside melts and can be easily applied. Forward-planning is not my forte, but this is a weekly treatment so it should be easy enough to make a habit of it. The feeling of rubbing warm oil all over yourself is extremely lavish, and so novel that it forces you to focus on what you’re doing rather than mulling over your to-do list. The smell is amazing and lingers for a full day afterwards, not too overpowering but noticeable now and then. I feel expensive!

The only thing I find difficult is getting dressed afterwards – it takes a while for the oil to absorb and even then my skin is so dewy that I don’t want to dry it out by flinging on some old cotton pyjamas. Conclusion: there’s a reason the rich and fancy among us wear silk to bed. 

WEEK 3: “Why didn’t I start this sooner?” 

Ok, I admit, there have now been a couple of days where I haven’t done my routine (read: didn’t wake up in time), but I’m still pretty much on the straight and narrow. On top of my morning skincare and weekly oil treatment, I’ve been using Chanel’s Le Crème Main, £40.50, to keep my hands and nails hydrated throughout the day. A gloriously scented treat that somehow makes me feel very grown up.

Overall I am seeing results I really didn’t expect. The backs of my arms and thighs, where I had what I once thought was permanent kerastosis pilaris, are almost completely smooth. There’s no hint of dryness in the usual problem areas, like my elbows and heels, and my skin looks healthier, brighter and more cared for. And this isn’t something I want to keep to myself. “Feel how soft my back is!” I demand of my boyfriend. I also opt for an uncharacteristically skimpy dress when getting ready for my friend’s birthday – and feel great in it.

As I exfoliate my legs slowly and deliberately on the 21st day, I think about how strange it is that I’d paid so little attention to my own limbs. This is the body I live in and it allows me to do all the things I love, and looking at myself in the mirror now, I don’t feel any shame or discomfort. It may be because my body and I have become so much more familiar with each other over the past three weeks, or it may be something to do with that glow…

Verdict

Although my new-found appreciation for my skin – all of it – is partly down to the luxurious products I’ve pampered it with over the past three weeks, it is the simple act of carving out time in my daily routine to care for my body that has had the most noticeable effect. Being deliberate about how I look after my skin makes showering enjoyable and valuable rather than just necessary. As our lives gets busier and we struggle to find time for ourselves, why not make the best use of time that is already set aside for solitude and self care? Everyone, I seriously recommend upping your skincare game – your body and your brain will thank you.

As for the top tip I learned along the way? For the ultimate full-body moisture hit – perfect for the drying effects of winter weather – put a few drops of any body oil (coconut oil works too) into a warm bath and let your skin soak up the goodness. Then when you get out, apply a light body lotion while your skin is still damp to lock it in. Granted, for a few minutes you’ll resemble a seal/LL Cool J’s abs circa 1998 – but the ensuing dewiness and radiance will be well worth it.

Images: Meena Alexander/courtesy of brands

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