Skin Defense Tactics:
Reversing Regimen Overkill
Beauty has gotten harsh, and when the weather gets colder and dryer, skin reaches a breaking point. Literally. New and improved, deep cleaning, super-exfoliating and oil-sopping products are everywhere, and as a result, a new class of modern-day "skindromes" that have turned up on the faces of over-zealous skin-regimen devotees. In my work, I now see more women with skin complaints that result from the very products that were intended to beautify their skin, than from problems dealt by the hand of nature.
Year round, skin needs a sanctuary from this harsh new world, and that sanctuary begins by rejecting the "do-something" mentality that leads to aggressive, often destructive skincare choices. Sometimes it's what we don't do that makes us beautiful, and with regard to skin, that clear glow we're after starts with restraint, when it comes to what we put on, and in our bodies. Winter is the best time to change how you wash your face; particularly if you're an "oil-phobe" or an exfoliation-aholic that has grown used to that tight, squeaky-clean feeling. Once you've stopped the over-washing and scrubbing assaults and have recovered your skin's natural barrier and anti-bacterial function, you can delve deeper into the body's internal ecology, where more chronic and stubborn head-to-toe skin and scalp issues often originate, by reading "Probiotics and Your Skin" as well as additional articles upcoming at InformedBeauty.com. For many people, including many men who've done this intuitively (men have not been as successfully programmed to ignore their instincts when it comes to their skin, believe it or not), discontinuing washing regimens that strip the skin gives them a clearer, less troubled complexion than any product addition ever has. It is amazing to me how many men have told me over the years that they stopped using products to wash their skin and their acne or rosacea dramatically improved.
First, stop the surface assaults
Just as "medicated" lip balm makes us somehow more frantic for the next lip balm "fix" (because the chemicals are drying), the skin behaves the same way when we assault it with harsh detergents, exfoliants, drying alcohols and synthetic oils. The skin is always working to normalize its own surface moisture and pH level. Harsh skin tactics leave skin ravaged and tie its energy up in recovery. And the skin is prone to rebound from harsh treatment with inflammation or excess oil production. And what's even worse -- though all too common -- is when the surface barrier of the skin becomes compromised, causing a cascade of problems. Before you know it, you're caught up in the vicious cycle of assault-recovery that requires increasingly harsh and unnatural maintenance tactics. So how do we escape this merry-go-round of regimen overkill? By getting hip to harsh products and choosing smarter strategies. Here are the common skin culprits and some truly winning alternatives:
Over-exfoliating with alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) as well as other, physical exfoliants like cleansing grains and scrubs, ages and sensitizes the skin. Today, as I write this, the FDA is investigating concerns that AHAs -- which have never been studied long-term, might damage DNA by increasing sun exposure and promote skin cancer. Other experts have suggested that continued use of AHAs could tire out the fibroblasts (collagen-producing cells) of the skin or disrupt the skin's natural bio-rhythms.
Skin-Saving Strategies: Topically applied vitamin C, in high concentrations, is proven to fight wrinkles and rebuild collagen. A more recent wrinkle-fighting discovery, Kinetin, is also widely recommended by dermatologists as an alternative to popular products like Retin A. Products like Age Advantage High Potency Vitamin C Ester Serum and Age Eraser with Kinetin, both by Age Advantage Laboratories, and Hyper C Serum by Jason Natural Products, give you science-backed wrinkle reversal without acids and exfoliants, and without the "soup" of synthetic chemicals found in most wrinkle-fighting serums.
In addition to the above topical anti-wrinkle tactics, be sure and avoid drying skin products, such as those mentioned below, and heavy, mineral oil or petrolatum-based moisturizers, which can smother the skin. Taking essential fatty acid supplements can help the skin retain more moisture and thus resist wrinkles over time. Installing a shower filter will spare your skin daily chlorine assaults, which really helps, too.
Harsh Acne and Drying Regimens
No amount of blotting and sopping will "conquer" the skin's oil production, and many of us sacrifice the beauty of the skin in pursuit of clarity. The skin has a mechanism to regulate its own moisture. Drying the heck out of it with o il-stripping, foaming cleansers containing detergents and de-greasers like soap and sulfates, or alcohol-based toners that leave the skin feeling tight (always a sign it's been stripped), will only cause the skin to "rebound" with excess oiliness and destroy its protective and anti-bacterial "matrix," leaving it sensitized. And by stripping the acid mantle of the skin, these deep cleaning products actually make skin more vulnerable to bacteria and inflammation. Dabbing benzoyl peroxide often destroys the beauty of the skin by causing flaking, while more aggressive treatments, such as antibiotics or Accutane can cause a cascade of side-effects. Before going that route, you might explore some promising alternatives.
Skin-Saving Strategies: First, understand that it is possible to purify your skin without stripping it, by choosing essential oil-based cleansing milks, and aloe or witch hazel-based toners. The former are easy to find at any natural product store, and the latter are there too, but harder to find. If you must use a toner, choose alcohol-free toners with nourishing benefits for the skin. Regarding the benzoyl peroxide dabbing, both tea tree oil and azelaic acid -- a natural compound sometimes prescribed by dermatologists (as Azelex) instead of topical antibiotics -- have shown comparable effect to topical 5% benzoyl products in published studies. "Zit sticks" containing tea tree oil and other ingredients like zinc, sulfur or salicylic acid, such as those by Desert Essence and Reviva and others mentioned in The Truth About Beauty , are convenient alternatives that won't cause the skin to flake.
Additional issues like mineral oil-based products, stress, hormonal fluctuations and the refined and hydrogenated Western diet have all been linked to acne. Some of these factors are within our control, while some, obviously, are not.
Balancing Act: Apply the power of essential oils to every skin type
There is a growing body of scientific evidence for the many skin benefits of essential oils. Dr. Pratima Raichur, author of Absolute Beauty , (Harper Collins, 1996), points out that nearly all essential oils are anti-microbial and recommends them as part of her Ayurvedic approach to each skin condition, which, according to Ayurvedic principles, is determined by one's specific body type, or "dosha." For most oily or "Kapha" skin, she recommends lavender and clary sage to normalize oil production. For sensitive, "Pitta" skin, and acne rosacea, sandalwood, rose and jasmine to calm the skin. For dry, "Vata" skin, neroli, sweet orange and geranium to balance and hydrate. In addition to their balancing effects, using essential oils and products made from them instead of conventionally scented skin and bath products, will spare your skin the stress of the number one ranking skin irritant: synthetic fragrance. Essential oil blends for a variety of skin types that also include super-antioxidants and marine extracts in their formulas such as products by Eulara, Benedetta, Pratima Skincare, Dr. Hauschka, Decleor and Spa Technologies and several others all offer balancing oils that actually can detoxify, regenerate and balance oil production in the skin. See The Truth About Beauty for more such products, as well as updates in my ever-changing story "In Pursuit of Purity" in the Makeupless Makeover section here at www.InformedBeauty.com.