What’s stopping you from putting your best face forward?
Perhaps you’re skeptical about the beauty industry’s claims that a certain product will instantly erase wrinkles, acne, dryness – and even age itself. Perhaps you feel panicked just looking at the unpronounceable ingredients listed on a tube of moisturizer. Or perhaps your budget simply can’t accommodate the pricey oils, creams, and serums most fashion magazines recommend.
These are all valid concerns. But they shouldn’t stop you from finding a routine that gives you bright, healthy skin.
This article cuts through the beauty industry’s blather, breaks down those mysterious ingredients, and ends the myth that skincare only works if it’s costly. They’re also packed with tips and tricks guaranteed to help you glow.
In this article, you’ll learn
- why you should always wash your face;
- where to scrimp and where to splurge on products; and
- how to decode beauty jargon.
Understanding skin is the first step to understanding skincare.
Ask any skincare obsessive about her favorite serum, and she’ll be sure to tell you all about it – from the brand that makes it and the active ingredients it contains, to whether or not it’s perfumed, organic, and cruelty-free.
But what about the skin on which the serum is applied?
Here’s the thing: Whether you’re new to the world of skincare or you’re a pro who knows your peptides from your retinoids, understanding skincare doesn’t begin with understanding products or regimes. It begins with understanding skin.
The first thing you should know is that your skin is an organ, just like your heart and your lungs. In fact, it’s your body’s largest organ. And, just like other organs, it works hard to keep your body functioning at its best.
Your skin acts as both a barrier that keeps essential nutrients inside the body and as a shield that keeps nasty toxins and pollutants from the external environment outside the body.
It moderates your temperature by opening and closing blood vessels and through perspiration, which also expels bodily waste, like ammonia and salt.
And your skin produces melanin to protect you from sun damage, and makes vitamin D, which is essential for keeping your bones and organs in tip-top shape.
Now that we know what the skin does, let’s consider what the skin is.
There are three distinct layers to skin. The topmost layer is the epidermis, which is made up of skin cells called keratinocytes. Right on the surface are squamous cells, which eventually die and are shed by the skin. But not to worry! Basal cells are constantly generated at the bottom of the epidermis, and they migrate upwards through the epidermis to replace the dead skin. The whole cycle takes approximately a month.
Beneath the epidermis is the dermis. It’s here that we find collagen and elastin, the connective tissues that help skin keep its shape. Then there’s the subcutaneous layer, located beneath the dermis and made up of more fat and tissue.
The tissues in the dermis and the subcutaneous layer degrade with age, leading to wrinkles and dryness. Unfortunately, over-the-counter products that claim to treat these concerns aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. That’s because oils and serums can only ever target the epidermis. The only way to get to the dermis is with treatments like filler and botox.
Clearly, your skin is a complex and hardworking organ. All the more reason to love the skin you’re in!
Learn to decode the language of skincare.
Before doctors graduate from medical school, they need to know their femurs from their humeruses, their tibia from their fibula, much as trainee lawyers need to wrap their heads around terms ranging from alimony to wrists.
The point is, if you want to be a professional, you need to learn the lingo. If you want to be a skincare pro, the same rule applies.
Let’s break down some skincare vocabulary you need to know.
First up we have the acid mantle – the very thin acidic layer across your skin’s surface. It protects your epidermis from bacteria and pollutants, and regulates the skin’s delicate pH balance. Overwashing or over-exfoliating can damage your acid mantle, making your skin’s surface more alkaline. This makes your skin dry and dull.
Another term you’ll come across is active ingredients. These are simply ingredients – such as antioxidants, retinols, and acids – that have been medically proven to address certain skin concerns.
Antioxidants are naturally occurring vitamins and minerals that do some heavy lifting when it comes to protecting your skin against free radicals. What are free radicals? They’re unstable atoms that damage DNA, cells, and proteins in the skin, causing signs of ageing.
You should also know about parabens. These are synthetic chemical preservatives that ensure products have a long shelf life. Some skincare companies make a point of creating their products without parabens.
The same applies to silicone. Although it creates a slippery texture that allows a product to spread easily across the skin, some so-called “clean” skincare companies prefer not to use silicone in their products.
Sebum is an oily substance that keeps the skin lubricated. It can get trapped in pores, which are the openings in the skin that release oil and sweat. When this happens, it creates comedones – or, more simply, blocked pores.
Whiteheads are closed comedones, while open comedones are blackheads. You may notice products being described as comedogenic. This simply means that it blocks the pores and is, therefore, something you want to avoid if you’re prone to breakouts.
As this small sample makes clear, skincare has a language of its own. The better you can understand it, the more informed your skincare purchases will be.
Nailing the basics is the best route to good skin.
Have you ever read an article in which a glowing celebrity reveals her skincare secrets?
It can be disheartening to find out that the so-called secret to that luminous skin is an expensive product only sold in one Parisian boutique. Or a cream packed with rare ingredients. Or access to the latest treatment from the world’s best facialists.
Don’t despair! High-end products and expensive facials are fine if you can afford them. But the basics of excellent skin? They’re simple, budget-friendly, and easy for anyone to master.
Your skin is a mirror that reflects your body’s overall health. This means there’s no point in slathering your face with expensive creams morning and night if you’re also drinking to excess, smoking, or sitting on the couch all day. These bad habits show on your face, and an ocean of moisturizer won’t hide their damaging effects.
Gut health, in particular, has been linked to skin health, so it’s a good idea to cut back on the sugary foods and start taking a probiotic to promote digestive health. Also, because healthy skin is hydrated skin, make sure you drink plenty of water throughout the day.
Another thing to consider is how much stress you experience and how much sleep you get. More specifically, if you regularly manage your stress levels during the day and sleep for eight hours at night, you’ll see the difference in your skin.
In a study published in the journal Clinical and Experimental Dermatology, researchers found that people who slept seven to nine hours a night had more moisturized skin and were able to heal themselves better after being exposed to ultraviolet light than those who slept five hours or less.
In a self-evaluation, the well-rested participants also rated themselves as more attractive.
The ability of the skin to retain moisture, protect, and heal combats the signs of ageing. As you sleep, your skin undergoes much of its restoration. When you don’t get enough sleep, your skin has less time to repair, which can negatively affect your appearance.
However, nearly 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders, according to the American Sleep Association. Short-term insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, affecting 30% of adults. About 10% of people suffer from long-term insomnia.
If you require a little extra help to get a good night’s sleep, you might consider trying natural sleep-promoting supplements.
It contains melatonin as its first ingredient. Research shows that your body naturally produces melatonin, a hormone that tells your brain it’s time to go to sleep. In other words, the primary function of this hormone is to let the body know when it is time to go to sleep so that it will relax and sleep easily.
Although more research is needed, current evidence suggests that melatonin can be useful in helping people get to sleep. When taken for short or long periods of time, melatonin supplements appear to be safe for adults, according to studies.
Resurge supplements might allow your body to absorb enough melatonin to maximize your natural melatonin production. Apart from that, it is also marketed as a weight-loss supplement because epidemiological studies show that insufficient sleep is associated with a higher risk of obesity.
However, since the supplement industry is barely regulated, you might want to read some Resurge reviews before making any purchase of the supplement.
One non-negotiable for good skin is washing your face twice a day. Cleansing in the morning gets rid of any sweat and dirt that built up while you were asleep. It also preps your face for any products and cosmetics you’ll use. Similarly, cleansing in the evening clears away grime, pollution, and the products you applied during your morning routine.
It’s best to use a flannel washcloth when you cleanse. It targets dirt better than fingers, and provides light exfoliation, too. It’s also a good idea to be kind to your skin by rinsing off with water that’s lukewarm, not boiling hot. So, unless you prefer tepid showers, it’s best to wash your face at the sink.
Finally, if you want to fight the signs of ageing, take advantage of sunscreen. It’s your best defence against sun damage and is one of the most accessible and effective anti-ageing products on the market. Use one with a sun protection factor (or SPF) of 30 or higher. And don’t opt for a hybrid SPF-moisturizer. These products simply don’t provide enough protection.
Consistency is king! Find a skincare routine and stick to it.
What does your morning look like? Do you ease into the day with yoga and journaling, or do you frantically rush out the door and get your commute underway?
What about your evenings? Are you out socializing with friends, or do you kick back on the couch with the latest television show?
Whatever your routine, if you want glowing skin, you need to make time for skincare.
So, which steps should your morning and evening skincare routine include? Let’s take it from the top.
In the morning, your focus is on protecting your skin from the elements and prepping it for any makeup you wish to wear.
The first step is to cleanse. Use a grape-sized amount of non-foaming cleanser, massage it into your face with your flannel washcloth, then rinse with lukewarm water.
Follow your cleanse with exfoliation. Those grainy exfoliating scrubs that were all the rage twenty years ago are harsh and can cause tiny tears across the epidermis. So it’s better to opt for an acid toner instead.
Don’t be put off by the word “acid.” These toners contain gentle acids that promote skin-cell renewal and clear away dead cells to reveal brighter skin. If you’re new to acid toning, you should introduce it into your routine gradually – no more than once or twice a week to start.
Next, use a refreshing hydrating spray, and eye cream if you want. Then apply any serums and oils that you use. Finally, it’s time for moisturizer, followed by a teaspoon-sized amount of sunscreen to protect you from the sun.
In the evening, your focus is on repairing the skin. Your routine should follow the same steps as your morning routine, with a few tweaks.
Start by cleansing twice – first with a balm or oil to loosen dirt, and then with a milk or clay cleanser to wash away the day’s dirt.
If you’re using a retinoid or a vitamin A treatment, apply this at the “serum stage.” These products can make the skin more sensitive to sun damage, so it’s critical that they be applied only at night.
As with acid toners, introduce retinoids into your routine gradually. Your patience will yield results and save your skin from irritation.
Acids, serums, and retinoids are all effective additions to your routine.
Back in the day, most people cared for their skin with little more than facial cleanser and moisturizing cream. Now, beauty and skincare retailers have shelf after shelf of acids, serums, retinoids, and more.
Many people find it too overwhelming, and prefer to stick to their two-step cleanse-and-moisturize routine. But if you want to level up your skincare, you have to go beyond the basics.
So, what are these products and what do they do?
Let’s start with acid toners. In the previous section, we explained why acid toning promotes skin-cell renewal to reveal brighter skin. But which acid is right for you?
There are three types of acids. Alpha hydroxy acids, or AHAs, are best for resurfacing skin and targeting signs of aging. Examples here include glycolic acid and lactic acid.
Next we have beta hydroxy acid, or BHA. It’s oil-soluble, which means it can penetrate clogged pores and is great for clearing blackheads. There is only one BHA – salicylic acid.
Last but not least are polyhydroxy acids, or PHAs. These are gentle and moisture-attracting, making them an excellent option for dry or sensitive skin. An example here is gluconolactone.
Now let’s consider serums.
A serum is a water-based oil, gel, or lotion that’s made with active ingredients and designed to target specific skin concerns. It’s the most potent step in your routine and should be applied after toning but before moisturizing. Just choose a serum that matches your concern. For example, if your skin is dull, try a vitamin C serum. And if you need moisturizing and plumping, a peptide-packed serum might do the job.
Finally, you need to know about retinoids.
They all contain vitamin A, which the US Food and Drug Administration recognizes as anti-aging. The only other substance to receive that recognition is sunscreen. So, if you want to minimize lines and improve skin texture, retinoids deliver results. They’re generally sold as creams, with tretinoin being the strongest retinoid and retinol being the most commonly available.
Be sparing when you start using retinoids. At first, they can cause irritation, flaking, and dryness before you see results. Mix the cream with moisturizer, and only apply it once or twice a week initially. Based on how your skin responds, you can work your way up to the recommended number of applications.
Learn the right way to deal with blemishes, and your skin will thank you.
No matter how diligent you are with your skincare routine, one thing’s for sure: You’ll have good skin days and you’ll have bad skin days. But why do the clear-skinned days always seem to coincide with a rainy weekend spent at home, while the days you wake up with a throbbing pimple invariably coincide with that important presentation at work?
Here’s the truth: blemishes are part of life. Breakouts can occur due to fluctuations in your stress levels, your hormones, and many other factors. Also, everyone gets them, so there’s no need to feel embarrassed or to cover them up if you don’t want to.
But if you do want to get rid of zits – and that’s certainly understandable – make sure you do it safely.
The kind of occasional pimples that pop up randomly will go away if left alone. But if you want to pop one, make sure you follow these steps.
First, wait until the pimple is ready to be popped. It should appear white at the tip and it shouldn’t be painful to squeeze. Remember, the goal is to pop, not to pick. Gouging your blemishes repeatedly is a recipe for facial scarring.
After washing your skin, make sure you have clean hands and a clean, acid-soaked cotton pad nearby. Wrap a scrap of tissue around each forefinger, place your forefingers near – but not directly next to – the blemish, then gently apply pressure at a 90 degree downward angle. Once the pimple is popped, quickly apply the acid-soaked cotton pad to the skin to kill any nasty bacteria. Then massage the spot with facial oil to finish.
Some skins are prone to acne, which usually presents as a mixture of pimples, blackheads, whiteheads, and pustules, which form when pores are clogged with fluid or pus. If you suffer from persistent acne, popping won’t help.
Acne can be caused by hormones, bacteria, or inflammation, and the treatment depends on which type of acne you have. That’s why it’s best to see a dermatologist who can figure out what causes your acne and prescribe a course of treatment that’s best for you.
As your hormones change with age, so does your skin.
As we grow, we change. You might go from collecting beanie babies to collecting prize bottles of wine. From listening to teeny-bopper-pop to enjoying mellow jazz. From eating pizza to . . . well, probably still eating pizza.
The point is, you don’t stay exactly the same throughout your life. And neither does your skin.
Hormones, and hormonal shifts, are responsible for a lot of the fluctuations in our skin. For example, as our levels of estrogen and testosterone go up and down, they trigger changes in the skin. And while we can go through periods of life when our hormones are relatively stable, at other times they run wild.
The first time hormones might wreak havoc on your skin is during puberty. So if you’re a teenager experiencing a change in your skin, or an adult buying products for a teen, remember that gentle products are best. Young skin doesn’t need products packed with tons of active ingredients. It needs simple products used on a regular basis.
When looking for treatments for blemishes, choose one that contains salicylic acid. But if the problem is acne rather than the occasional pimple, make an appointment with a dermatologist. It might also help to change your pillowcase regularly to guard against a buildup of bacteria and oils.
Another important life stage is pregnancy, which can feel like puberty all over again, with raging hormones affecting the skin. During pregnancy, the skin may become dehydrated. If that’s you, an acid mist will keep your face feeling fresh.
Salicylic acid is, once again, a good option for treating pimples. Just make sure it has a concentration of less than two percent, which is what doctors recommend during pregnancy. Also, because retinoids are unsafe for use during pregnancy, bakuchiol is a great natural alternative.
Finally, there’s menopause, when signs of aging become more pronounced. You may even find that your skin is more prone to bruising. This is due to falling levels of estrogen and the fact that your skin is thinner. Now’s the time to make sure you’re getting regular check-ups for skin cancer and keeping a watchful eye on any moles.
It can be tricky adjusting to new phases in life, especially when your skin stops behaving like it used to. But don’t let hormonal changes and skin fluctuations stop you from embracing the life stage you’re in.
Be a skincare skeptic.
The luxury automobile industry would like you to believe that purchasing a sportscar is a shortcut to good looks and sexual charisma. The diamond industry would like you to believe that presenting your beloved with a massive gem will ensure a long, happy, and faithful marriage. And the fashion industry would like you to believe that this season’s hot item is all you need to be your best self.
All of these claims are, of course, nonsense. And yet we still fall for them, time and time again.
It’s the same with the skincare industry, which makes big claims about moisturizers that can “turn back the clock” and serums that will “fade wrinkles forever.” These promises, like all advertising claims, should be taken with a grain of salt.
A good skincare routine can clean and brighten the skin. It can prevent signs of aging and even ease existing age-related damage. But there are certain things it simply cannot do.
First, skincare can’t be hypoallergenic. A product marketed as hypoallergenic is usually made without fragrances and other well-known allergens. Are such products a good choice if you have sensitive skin? Sure. Is there any guarantee that you won’t react to one of the ingredients in its formula? Absolutely not.
Another thing skincare can’t do is shrink your pores. While a beta hydroxy acid toner can minimize the appearance of your pores, no product can change your pore size permanently.
Many products these days claim to be natural, as opposed to chemical and synthetic. Sounds good, right? In truth, it’s a bit more complex.
To start with, everything – including water – is chemical. Technically, these natural products should be marketed as natural-led, meaning they’re mostly formulated from plants. But even then, these plants go through a chemical treatment process before they’re allowed on the market. So while there’s nothing wrong with opting for clean, green products, be aware that they’re not necessarily as natural as they claim to be.
Finally, plenty of products on the market are touted as detoxifying or having the ability to purge toxins. This is simply false. No topical product can detoxify. Instead, the body uses the liver and kidneys to detoxify itself.
Remember, there are no miracle cures in skincare. Steer clear of products that make impossible claims and you won’t be disappointed.
Ten-step routines, trendy products, and unpronounceable ingredients make skincare seem intimidating. But it’s really not. If you learn the lingo, nail the routine, and find products that fit your needs, you’ll see that achieving and maintaining healthy skin couldn’t be simpler.
A good drugstore moisturizer will work as well as a luxury brand. But a high-quality serum filled with active ingredients packs much more punch than its budget equivalent. Adjust your spending accordingly and you’ll see the results for yourself.