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Kate Somerville
Courtesy of Kate Somerville

Kate Somerville: Peptides and goat’s milk are the best skincare ingredients

The celebrity facialist shares her top skincare tips, including why peptides are the best and most underrated ingredient, and how emotional distress impacts the skin

Kate Somerville takes credit for putting eyelash extensions on the map. One day, in the early 2000s, a woman came into her skincare clinic with amazing lashes. “I said, ‘what is going on with your eyelashes, they’re incredible!’ There was no strip, I couldn’t see anything and I’m doing a facial on her so I had her under a light,” Somerville tells me over Zoom from her house in California. When the client told her that she had had individual lashes put on in Koreatown, Somerville went down and found out all about it. 

Paris Hilton was one of my biggest clients at the time, so I said, ‘Paris I found this new thing, would you let me do one eye and then send it to People magazine?’ It took off so fast. When that story hit, our phone rang off the hook. And then it became mainstream.”

For those not in the know, Somerville is a skincare aesthetician beloved by Hollywood. In 2004 she opened her own Kate Somerville Clinic on Melrose Place and it was soon the place to go for young 00s stars like Nicole Richie, Kirsten Dunst, Lindsay Lohan, the cast of Grey’s Anatomy and, of course, Hilton. When Kendall Jenner needed help with her acne, it was Somerville she visited, and it was these celebrity clients who pushed her to create the products that would become Kate Somerville Skincare in 2005.

With over two decades in the industry, Somerville has seen trends come and go, and witnessed the rise of new innovations – many of which she has been pushing forward herself. “I’ve been on the forefront of a lot of things: LEDs, different types of laster, different injectables,” she says. “I had LEDs 10 years before they became huge… it takes a while for things to get mainstream.”

Another Somerville innovation: self-tanner towels. “It was Paris again, because she was into everything new. She’d have this woman coming to her house and doing this spray tan. One day I couldn’t get this, like, orange dirt off of her neck and I was like ‘what is going on!’” Somerville says. “I came up with this towel that she could use on the road and we sold millions of those tanning towels. Unfortunately, they discontinued them. I don't know why they don’t bring them back because they’re so brilliant.”

Fresh off the launch of HydraKate, a new hydrating collection inspired by her son, Somerville shared with Dazed all her top skincare advice.

GET THE BASICS DOWN AND BE CONSISTENT

The first thing Somerville does when she starts seeing a new client is put them on a regimen of what she calls the “five daily do’s”: cleanse correctly for your skin, exfoliate, hydrate, moisturise and sunscreen. 

“When I’m looking at somebody’s regimen, I’m really looking at what holes I need to fill,” she says. “A lot of the time they’re using a lot of different things and a lot of different brands and it’s all over the place. They don’t know what to use and when or why.” Instead of buying products because of a buzzy ingredient – for example, caviar, as Somerville says – be consistent with your five steps and concentrate on maintenance.

For younger people in their 20s, she says, apart from using a retinol or vitamin C if there’s damage to repair from acne, she won’t introduce any actives into the routine. “The five daily do’s is going to keep their skin looking great for a lot of years,” she says. “Then when they get into their 30s we can start talking about peptides and vitamin Cs and retinol. But unless I’m correcting something I don’t add those actives. You don’t need retinol at 20. I keep it basic, making sure the skin is hydrated, exfoliated and protected from the sun. If you’re doing those things, you’re doing a great job.”

DON’T OVERUSE EXFOLIANTS AND ACTIVES

One of the biggest mistakes Somerville sees people making with their skincare is overusing products, particularly actives and exfoliants. When you overdo things, it can cause damage to your skin barrier and even conditions like contact dermatitis, both of which can take a while to repair. 

When this happens, her advice is go really basic. Get a sulphate-free cleanser and use products with ceramides. “When you’ve compromised your barrier, your skin is really irritated,” she says, adding that because she has eczema her barrier is always compromised. Because of this she often uses the ‘DeliKate’ collection from her brand which is designed to create a “second skin” to calm things down and allow your body to heal itself.

“I really made it for after we do treatments at the clinic but it became one of our biggest selling products,” she says. “The body is an amazing machine, it’s unreal how it can heal itself once you give it the opportunity. But if you’re constantly going after your skin with actives, your body can’t go into repair mode. It’s good to give your skin a break and let it act as it should.”

PEPTIDES

One of Somerville’s favourite ingredients, which she says compared to things like retinol or vitamin C is hugely underrated, is peptides. “I’ve been doing this a very long time now, going on 30 years, and honestly I should have worse skin than I do – and I attribute it to peptides.” 

Calling them very gentle and great for sensitive skin including eczema, Somerville explains that peptides help with collagen production and are a good anti-ageing ingredient. “I don’t know why it doesn't get as much play in the press, maybe because it’s so gentle. With Vitamin C I’ve noticed that a lot of my friends are sensitive so we have to buffer it or it can be irritating, but I never have an issue with peptides.”

GOAT’S MILK

Another favourite, which has become a signature for Somerville’s brand, is goat’s milk. A very personal ingredient to her, Somerville first discovered it when her mum put goat’s milk in her bath to try to help her eczema. The change was so significant that when she started making products she knew she needed to use goat’s milk in them. The Goat Milk Moisturiser has since become the brand’s number-one cream in the UK. 

“It helps repair your barrier, it has a lot of proteins, it has natural lactose so it exfoliates the skin gently. It’s really healing,” she says. “It’s light but it’s super moisturising and it really helps with rosacea.”

THE EMOTIONAL IMPACT

The mind-skin connection is stronger than we sometimes think and conditions like eczema, psoriasis and acne can often be exacerbated by stress or emotional distress. “Every major stress or issue in my life I’ve broken out either in eczema or breakouts,” says Somerville. “I went through a divorce, I’ll never forget my whole forehead was just blackheads which I’ve never experienced.” 

One of the reasons she went into skincare in the first place, Somerville shares, is that she had a really rough upbringing which exacerbated her hereditary eczema. She sees the same thing happen with the clients she works with – when they are stressed or going through a divorce, she can tell. “I deal with a lot of people going through a lot of stuff, and when they’re stressed I for sure notice the difference.”

Emotional distress was at the heart of her latest range, the HydraKate collection. During the pandemic, her son went through a really tough time after he was sent home from university to isolate and his classes moved online. “The poor guy was just on screens from eight in the morning until 10 at night. I noticed his skin changed, he got that fatigued skin, he suffers from breakouts so his skin was dry and crusty.” Realising there was nothing in her line to help him, she set out to create new products that would be super hydrating and the HydraKate collection was born.

DEHYDRATED SKIN

What many people don’t realise, Somerville says, is that there is a difference between dry skin and dehydrated skin. Dry skin, she explains, doesn’t have enough oils and its barrier is compromised whereas dehydrated skin has a lack of water and can be treated with ingredients like hyaluronic acid. 

It was dehydrated skin that Somerville set out to help with her new range, and when she went to her chemist she asked him to create a light hydrating moisturiser that also protected against blue light. The result was a formula that contains Nobel Prize-inspired AquaPort Technology, which increases the levels of hyaluronic acid going to the skin cells, as well as blue algae, marigold flower extracts and peptides.  

“It’s not going to help with deep, dry skin,” she says, but for people who are in their 20s and 30s, who don’t need to use harsh actives, it’s perfect. “It’s going to keep your pigment really even, it’s going to hydrate your skin, it helps with redness and keeping the skin barrier healthy.” 

STEM CELL SKINCARE

Always looking out for the next innovation in skincare, Somerville says what she is excited about at the moment is what the future holds when it comes to stem cells and exomes. A self-described “huge, huge believer” in the technology of stem cell injections because of the part it played in helping treat pain from a neck injury sustained in a “pretty bad” car crash, Somerville is now working on how to incorporate it into skincare.  

“I feel like that is going to change skincare, that is going to be the next generation. I just think the world has to catch up to it,” she says. “I know it’s only a matter of time though. We’re already using stem cells – you know we give the vampire facial, so we’re already doing it. This is exciting, it’s going to be expensive though, so I don’t know if it’ll be for the masses, but it’s definitely starting out in the clinic, and then we’ll see where it goes.”