The Panel: So balmy
Proof of the havoc the winter weather plays with the complexion is always visible in the Christmas photos. You're all dressed up, primped, preened and made-up, and yet nothing can distract from the essential ruddiness of your complexion, ravaged as it is by the cold weather outdoors, and the wretched air-conditioning of most work environments.
And it's not even that the skin dries out -- nothing as straightforward as that. Instead, it's that skin becomes sensitised at this time of year, thanks to the fluctuating temperatures, the wind-burn and the central heating. It's that creeping, vaguely itchy feeling, and simply switching to a heavier moisturiser won't really address it.
Swimming the Channel calls for a layer of grease, but your moisturiser needs to include cooling and soothing ingredients so that you don't look like a rosy-cheeked Santa come Christmas Day. We were surprised at how many of the hard-working moisturisers weren't also horribly heavy, and how effective they were without being oily. These are the best we tested.
Clarins HydraQuench Rich Cream, €47, Clarins counters nationwide
Designed for either dry skin or skin exposed to the cold weather and, unless you go around in a balaclava, the latter refers to most of us. Surprisingly, though, this is not a thick barrier from the cold, but a refreshingly light-feeling cream that sinks in swiftly, and softens and protects wonderfully. "In terms of texture, this wasn't wildly different to my usual moisturiser," said a panellist, "but it made a noticeable difference to my skin. It was very soothing, and just right in terms of richness."
Best Classic Comfort
Nivea Creme, €3.65, available nationwide
Almost everyone enjoyed this classic product, which acts almost as a balm to sensitised skin. It's perhaps a bit heavy for under make-up on all but the driest skins, but the bland goodness of this proved very appealing and a great defender against dehydration. "I like that this cream just soothes and makes no big anti-ageing, gobbledygook promises," said a panellist. "I found it brilliant as a night cream, when I could load it on and give it hours to soak in."
Best Light Option
Pai Chamomile and Rosehip Sensitive Skin Cream, €29.95, Nelson's Homeopathic Dispensary, 15 Duke St, D2, tel: (01) 679-0451
A thin cream that seems far too liquid to do any heavy-duty work, but the seven kinds of oils and the other skin-nourishing ingredients -- almost all of them are organic plant extracts -- immediately create a lovely layer of moisture. Instantly soothing and cool on the skin, this is a real find. "It's hard to find really moisturising creams that aren't just for very dry skins, so this is a marvel," one panellist said. "I'm not sure how it's so light and yet so luxurious, but it is."
Best Soothing Salve
Decleor Nutridivine, €57.70, selected department stores, pharmacies and salons nationwide
This is described as a "cocooning cream", and that's exactly what winter calls for, and exactly what this does. Possibly best suited to older skins, this cream goes on thickly and melts in slowly, but it's not greasy and it is wonderfully comforting. "This goes on quite thickly, and then it soaks in very well," said one panellist. "It leaves a nice sheen of moisture without greasiness, which suited my dry skin, but maybe not less-parched skins."
Best Ocean Unguent
Elemis Pro-Collagen Marine Cream, €105, Harvey Nichols, Dundrum Town Centre, D16
They say it's the marine extract, Padina pavonica, that sets this cream apart from other moisturisers, and there's certainly something in it that strikes a remarkable balance between a light feeling and intense hydration. "I love this," a panellist said. "You can feel it healing your skin the second it goes on, and my skin was noticeably nicer, smoother and calmer after a week of use."
Pictured, from left: Decleor Nutridivine; Pai Chamomile and Rosehip Sensitive Skin Cream; Elemis Pro-Collagen Marine Cream; Clarins HydraQuench Rich Cream (on top); Nivea Creme