The 9 Products a Skin-Care Connoisseur Emptied Out in November

Photo: Courtesy Thandi Maqubela

There’s no more convincing testament to a beauty product than using it to the very end of the tube, bottle, or tub. To find out about the products worth excavating (as well as to get the satisfaction of snooping inside someone else’s bathroom cupboard), we occasionally invite friends of the Strategist to tell us about their empties for the month. In this installment, commercial lawyer and skin-care connoisseur Thandi Maqubela tells us what she used to the last drop in November.

This is the OG cleansing balm in my view. The texture of the balm is just right — not too thick (which I’ve found to be the case with other balms I’ve tried). It’s fragranced, but it’s not off-putting in any way. If anything, it reminds me of being in a spa, and I immediately relax when I apply it. I like to apply a thin layer and let it sit for a minute or two. Then I compress a warm flannel to my skin for a few seconds before removing. There’s not much else to say other than to get it — you won’t regret it. A jar tends to last me about two months.

A few years ago, I attended my first facial at Teresa Tarmey. After reading a piece in Vogue in which she was described as being the super-facialist, I wanted in on the action. I’m also not ashamed to admit I was somewhat swayed by Victoria Beckham’s adoration of its treatment rooms. Not only did I walk out with amazing skin, I left with a list of recommended products, and so began my love affair with Neostrata. I’ve since extended the selection of products I use from their range; I started with their Super Defense Antioxidant Serum, then I added this hyaluronic serum to my routine. My skin tends to veer on the dry side, so this gives it the moisture boost it needs while leaving it looking supple and smooth. I recently went without it for about two weeks (for some reason, I kept forgetting to order a new bottle), and I definitely noticed the difference. It’s possible to extend the use of one bottle by using the product sparingly (which some might want to do as it’s on the pricier side of things), but I like to use three to four drops applied to the forehead, neck, and both sides of my cheeks.

Vitamin C has been a permanent fixture in my morning routine for some time. It’s an absolute game changer when it comes to brightening my dry skin. It’s also a really great antioxidant, which is ideal for those of us living in busy and somewhat polluted cities. I initially got a sample of this oil as a gift from the brand. I must admit I was a bit apprehensive about its oily texture as my previous antioxidant by Neostrata was a gel-like serum. But I found this oil to be quite absorbent — it didn’t ‘sit’ on the skin or leave a greasy sheen. In fact, I could apply my day moisturiser immediately after without feeling like it was slipping. There was a definite glow to my skin, so much so that my husband regularly commented on how good my skin was looking (and attentive as he is, he’s not one to notice these sorts of things). I personally don’t suffer from pigmentation, so I can’t speak to how the product fares in that respect, but I can confirm it delivers on its ability to boost a dull complexion — which especially affects my skin in the colder months. I bought a new bottle when I saw I had about a week’s worth left of the one I received. In my view, there’s no better testament to a beauty product than the fear of going without it. A note: I would recommend going for the larger size as the 15-milliliter one ran out fairly quickly.

Niacinamide is a fairly new addition to my routine, a stellar recommendation from Pfeffer Sal (my favorite skin clinic in London). I didn’t think I needed another step in my routine, but in hindsight, I have no idea why I was so late to the party with this product. Niacinamide is known for its ability to strengthen the skin barrier, which is essential if, like me, you’re out here doing the most when it comes to trying new products. Think of it as an agent that locks moisture into your skin, preventing dryness and irritation. It’s also great if fine lines are a concern. In fact, the very reason I’ve overindexed on this product is because retinoids have had to be temporarily shelved during pregnancy and breastfeeding. I use this at night after double cleansing with my Eve Lom Cleanser and Brad Biophotonic Sea Minerals Purify Cleanser (which I also emptied out this month, but it’s impossible to find online at the moment) applied before my night moisturiser. I find that one pump goes a long way.

Despite the above list of serums and oils, I’m all for simplifying routines where possible. Before I received this sample from Westroom Aesthetics, I used a separate day moisturiser and SPF. (I’m South African, so I’m hyperaware of how important SPF is in warding off premature aging.) I haven’t gone as far as to calculate how many seconds I’ve shaved off my morning routine, but what I can say is I now have time for a second cup of coffee in the mornings — make of that what you will. This is a rich moisturising cream (but not greasy), which I prefer when it comes to my day cream. I like to feel that my skin can ‘breathe’ and isn’t caked over. This cream is deeply hydrating and nourishing, mainly working on smoothing fine lines with a broad spectrum SPF 50. It did take me a little while to get used to the somewhat chemical scent, but after about a week or so, it didn’t bother me. (I think this is important to note because the bottle is quite long lasting, so if you hate the smell at first, persevere). It’s a solid moisturiser, and I’m glad I tried it because it exposed me to the brand, but I’m not sure if it’s good enough to pull me away from Skin Medica’s Dermal Repair Cream. You just can’t beat it.

As you’ve seen from the above Neostrata Tri-Therapy Lifting Serum, I’m a big fan of hyaluronic acid. You can use this cream day and night. However, I prefer to use it overnight — so one jar will keep you going for some time. The overriding result is supersoft and supple skin to the point where I’ve had to actively stop myself from touching my face (cardinal sin in skin-care, I know). Though I really like it, I almost feel that by using it, I’m cheating on my usual night moisturiser — the Neostrata Dermal Replenishment Cream. I’m still of two minds about whether I’ll stick with the Sunday Riley Tidal Enzyme Cream (which I got as a sample along with the Vitamin C oil) or with Neostrata on this front.

I’m a huge fan of evening baths, all the better when they’re redolent of romantic hotel stays (something that’s very much a distant memory, having had a baby a few months ago). The scent on this bath and shower oil is incredible but not overpowering — I used it all throughout my pregnancy and it didn’t make me gag once (no mean feat). The oil lathers up really nicely and leaves a faint hint of the smoky oud after you rinse it off. It almost feels like a warm hug you never want to end and is very conducive to a good night’s sleep.

Evidence of my love of skin care extends beyond my bathroom cabinet to my bedside table, where I keep a stash of oils and creams I use just before I go to bed. No one likes dry chapped lips, so this is a nice treat to apply as a last step, ensuring I wake up with smooth, moisturised lips. Is it absolutely necessary? No, but I’m glad I tried it out as a press sample. Will I be getting it again? Absolutely.

If you have thick or textured hair, this is the one for you. This conditioner is so hydrating and is such a treat to use, you’ll be very hard pressed to stick to the ‘50p-size amount’ rule of thumb when it comes to using it. My hair feels so soft and nourished every time I use it, detangling is no longer a nightmare and I genuinely look forward to wash days now — ladies with textured hair will know what I’m talking about. It’s free from parabens, sulphates, minerals, and silicones. It’s also suitable for vegans to use. I have a stash of this in the recesses of my bathroom cabinet, hidden away from my husband because it’s just too good to share.

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9 Products a Skin-Care Connoisseur Emptied Out in November