Toilet roll isn't the only thing people have been stockpiling during quarantine - skincare has enjoyed a major boost since the world locked down.
British retailer John Lewis reported that sales increased 183pc in April, as many of us stuck at home sought to change up our regimen. But if talk of acid toning still leaves you confused and you can't tell whether your skin is dry or dehydrated, a new book arriving this month will answer all your questions.
Simply titled Skincare, it is the first book from Caroline Hirons, the British blogger and businesswoman who commands an audience of millions on her website and on social media. A trained aesthetician, 50-year-old Hirons stands apart from the majority of beauty influencers thanks to her 20-plus years of industry experience and her no-nonsense advice.
She's been dubbed "the most powerful woman in beauty", and products she recommends regularly sell out worldwide within hours of her posts. But you won't see her pouting in a sheet mask (one of the many trends she bluntly tells to "get in the sea") or swanning about on an influencer getaway to Bora Bora. Instead, she writes and films in her London office, with minimal makeup and hair swept into a familiar bun, her voluminous eyelash extensions the only hint of her line of work.
"I don't really put myself in that arena, purely because I'm older and a businesswoman," she says of the beauty blogger world. "This is something I do for a living, not a competitive role I need to excel at. If I did see it that way, I doubt I'd have lasted, because I'm not about to go on a press trip in a bikini - my kids are the age of most of the big influencers!"
As we speak, Hirons is in lockdown with her husband Jim, a musician, in London. They have four children, Ben (28), Daniel (25), Ava (18), and Max (15), the two eldest of whom are involved in her business. The youngest is keen to get a look in, too.
"They all sort of have different parts to play. Ben generally helps me out if I need editing help, and Max wants to be head of IT but as he's only just doing his GCSEs, we'll see where that leads. He says things like, 'If I'm your head of IT, do I get a new computer?' And I say, 'Nice try, son.'"
After the UK and the US, Ireland is Hirons's third-biggest audience ("the Irish are properly addicted to beauty and skincare!") and when she makes personal appearances here, her followers turn out in droves - in 2017, a visit to Arnotts with seats for 120 saw hundreds of fans spilling out over the beauty hall and first floor. With a blog that has attracted 120m views, plus 18m views on YouTube and 43,000 self-described "Freaks" in her Facebook group, why did Hirons decide to go old-school and write a book?
"My readers were saying, 'I know I can go online and find it all, but my mum doesn't and my little sister doesn't.' It was a lot of comments like that where I thought, writing a book might be useful," she explains. "I didn't grow up thinking, 'I want to be an author someday, I want to be on the Amazon bestsellers charts.' I've never thought like that, but the fact that it's happened is brilliant."
As a child in Liverpool and Mississippi, Hirons says, she didn't harbour dreams of working in beauty, but skincare was an important part of her upbringing. "I had no plans to work in the industry until I was working in the industry, and then it was like the penny dropped and everything made sense. When I was younger, I didn't have much thought of what I wanted to do," she recalls.
"My mum and my grandmother gave me a really good appreciation for skincare. I asked my mum to wear makeup and she said, 'That's fine, but you have to wash your face properly if you do.'"
Hirons remembers glamorous days visiting her grandmother on the Guerlain counter in Liverpool, before she and her parents moved to America when she was four. Her mother followed in those stylish footsteps by getting a job at Helena Rubinstein when they returned to the UK. Years later, after Hirons moved to London and had her first two children, she started working in retail, and joined the Aveda team in Harvey Nichols at the height of its fame.
"It was the golden days. The internet didn't exist, everybody had to go shopping for what they wanted, and the shops were always really busy. It was just a really good laugh," she says.
During staff training for treatments, Hirons made up her mind to qualify as a beauty therapist, and completed an evening course at the renowned Steiner Beauty School while working at Space NK in the day. She set up her own consultation business in 2009 and her blog the following year.
"There was no one really talking about skincare," she remembers. "It was all very makeup-focused, and nails were huge. It was a prime time to do [the blog]. People say, 'How did you plan?' There has never been a plan, literally ever. I don't know if you can plan for that kind of success."
Readers were immediately drawn to Hirons' straight-talking approach. She railed against face wipes (still her biggest bugbear), sung the praises of Biologique Recherche's acid toner P50 (still her favourite product), and was unsparing in describing what a product could and could not do.
"I was one of the first people in the skincare world to talk about things it wasn't popular to say," she says. "I think in the early days, it was more shouty than it is now. I certainly toned down the blog, because once you get an audience, you kind of have a responsibility to just deliver the information and not bring emotion into it."
As Hirons dialled it down, the rest of the beauty blogosphere exploded in response to the internet's insatiable appetite for "tea". Last summer, a feud between YouTubers James Charles and Tati Westbrook made its way into the mainstream, with everyone from the New York Times to this newspaper publishing explainers on the unfolding drama. On Instagram, the anonymous account @EsteeLaundry operates as a sort of industry watchdog, calling out cultural appropriation, fake reviews and workplace bullying. And on YouTube, the current vogue is to film reactions to celebrity skincare routines, but Hirons says that, apart from flagging irresponsible advice, she has no desire to wade in.
"I can see what kind of posts really drive traffic. It's easy to get a big following if you want to go down a certain road of drama and exposés, and I've never really been interested in that. I'm coming from a much more educational standpoint," she explains. "I see how giving criticism can attract a following - my two biggest posts on the blog are me having a pop at a brand."
In 2018, she reviewed millennial favourite Glossier's Solution, an acid toner, writing that it was "not a sophisticated formula" and "hard to recommend for anyone", rejecting claims it was "better than P50". It's now her most popular post ever. When Glossier's social media team promptly took to Instagram Stories to do a side-by-side comparison with P50, she cringed, and published a follow-up telling the brand: "It's time to grow up."
"That made me realise the power of the blog. I thought if Glossier are taking it that seriously, it must have some effect on the industry," she says, adding that she's "good friends with Glossier now", and has learned to "wield the power" of her voice carefully to lobby brands to reformulate disappointing products and packaging.
"It would be easy to do that kind of thing every day and be reactionary rather than try and be proactive in helping people. That's kind of where my head is at when I'm writing a blog post."
She doesn't shy away from the truth, though, which is what has made her followers so loyal, in a landscape where the credibility of many bloggers is called into question, with readers sceptical about whether they are getting the full story about a product or just another sugar-coated rave. For Hirons, bloggers' reluctance to offer criticism comes down to sexism.
"Because we're women, we're always told to watch our tone and make sure we're seen and not heard. That's the generation I was raised with, though thankfully my mother didn't raise me that way," she says, pointing out that male critics rarely feel such reluctance to speak out. "I think in terms of gaming and restaurant critics, they're revered - there are people who wait to see what a gaming critic has to say about something, and if he absolutely destroys a game, that game is dead in the water."
Now, of course, Hirons is hugely revered, and fans all over the world are waiting to get their hands on her book, a straightforward guide designed to help readers "navigate the world of skincare simply and succinctly".
The bulk is devoted to building a good routine, as Hirons breaks down skincare myths and gives advice on everything from double cleansing to retinoids, with colour photographs to illustrate how much product you should use at each stage.
Elsewhere, she explains the difference between skin types and conditions, how to adapt your routine as you age, and what you should have in your kit, with tips on where to invest and where to save. She also includes a section busting industry jargon, detailing her problems with "clean beauty".
Given the increased interest in all things green, are we set to see a boom in clean brands?
"God, I really hope not," Hirons sighs. "All they do is tell people what's not in their products. Imagine buying a bag of mixed salad that says 'Does not contain banana peel'. It's that irrelevant! 'We don't contain formaldehyde' - why would you put formaldehyde in a serum?! It's not the green industry as a whole, because you'd hope the industry would have some positive effect on sustainability, but if you let them lead with bad messaging, how do they not see this will be seen as a negative by the consumer?"
She also lambasts celebrities who swear they "only ever use soap and water" on their faces: "The jig is up, people."
Understandably, then, when Hirons decided to get Botox and cheek filler last year, she covered her experience comprehensively.
"I just looked in the mirror one day and said, 'Time for some help'. I'd been on hormones and I'd lost some weight, which actually makes you look slightly more gaunt, and then my mother-in-law died so we were grief-stricken as a family for a couple of months. As it got closer to Christmas, I looked in the mirror and thought, 'God, you look tired, you look like you could do with a boost.'
"So I went to see a dermatologist and had some filler around my temple area, just a teeny bit to sort of dabble, and I was really happy with it. I thought, 'You know what, that's made me feel so much better.' That and a combination of being on the right HRT regimen, you can really see the difference in your skin. For me, it was a no-brainer. I'd never said I'd never do it, I thought maybe I will one day, and then I woke up one day and it was one day."
Hirons is adamant that injectables won't negate poor skincare, and must be combined with a good routine to improve the surface as well as the structure of skin. She's also frank about the limitations of skincare - there's only so much you can do without a laser, a needle or a knife. Tweakments, she observes, will "probably become the norm".
"To me, it's no different to people who bleach their hair. Yes, it's more invasive, but only as far as you wanna go," she argues.
One thing she would like to see change is how we talk about injectables. "I'd like the shame to come away from it," she says. "Anyone who has anything to say about what someone does with their body just has a monumental nerve, to be honest, especially if it's a man talking about a woman. And other women do it too. It's no one else's business, full stop."
She hopes that her book will encourage people to "take skincare seriously", and laments those who dismiss it as a frivolous enterprise.
"Very shortly after lockdown happened, people were saying, 'You shouldn't be encouraging people to buy things online, what about the postman?' I was immediately saying, 'No, no, no!'" she cries. "You shower every day, you brush your teeth every day, you wash your hair every day, and you take care of your face every day. Skincare is self-care."
'Skincare' by Caroline Hirons is published on June 25 (HQ, HarperCollins) in paperback, eBook and audiobook.