What we do to our skin every day may seem mundane, but treating our outsides right is the No. 1 way to fight signs of aging. We asked our favorite experts to settle our most pressing skin-care questions once and for all.
A: Yes, morning and night. (But no more than that, even if you have oily skin, or you'll strip it of the sebum that helps keep it soft.) Use warm or cool water, and wash with your hands -- don't use anything scratchy like abrasive washcloths or sponges, which can cause micro-tears in the skin (where bacteria can breed).
Remember to rinse well, especially around the hairline and jawline, to prevent residue and reduce breakouts. Finally, never go to bed without cleansing. Letting makeup stew on your face all night long can lead to irritation.
A: Yes. Essential to keeping skin clean, gentle toners with plant-based ingredients combat issues such as blemishes, fine lines, and redness. Toners with antioxidants, such as vitamin C, can help protect skin from wrinkle-causing free radicals.
When swiped across the skin, toner removes any dirt or residue left behind after cleansing. "I think of toner as the second part of the cleansing process," says Dr. Neal Schultz, a Manhattan-based cosmetic dermatologist and coauthor of "It's Not Just About Wrinkles." It's best to use a thin cotton pad rather than a cotton ball, which absorbs more of -- thereby wasting -- the product.
A: The FDA doesn't define what "natural" means when it comes to cosmetics, so you can't assume a "natural" label means anything. Check the product's ingredients for the real story. "Consumers assume these products contain ingredients that don't pose health risks," explains Mike Indursky, chair of the Natural Products Association's Personal Care Committee and chief of marketing at Burt's Bees.
On the other hand, a USDA Organic seal carries a lot more credibility. This seal ensures that your beauty and body-care product is made with 95 percent organic ingredients, such as plants grown without the use of dangerous pesticides. Products with at least 70 percent organic content can say "made with organic ingredients" but can't use the seal.
Bottom line: If you're looking for safer products, look for the USDA Organic seal. Until we have a true standard in effect, be wary of "natural" labels.
A: Probably less than you think. In general, people tend to over-moisturize. All you need for your entire face is about a nickel-size dollop of a face cream with SPF. And don't forget your earlobes! Even people with great skin often have wrinkled and sun-damaged ears because they don't keep them protected from harmful rays.
A: Yes, even though the textures of day and night creams often look the same, and they might even feel similar on your skin. Night creams tend to supply more vital nutrients and active ingredients than daytime hydrators, helping to support the healing process and reduce the appearance of wrinkles.
"While you sleep, skin gets a break from outside stressors such as sun, pollution, and cosmetics and has a chance to repair itself," says Dr. Anna Ragaz, a holistic dermatologist and founder of the Anna Ragaz Institute for Anti-Aging in Seattle. This means building back collagen and elastic tissues that keep skin looking plump and supple.
The antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E are especially beneficial because they not only foster the recovery of damaged cells but also combat future damage by neutralizing wrinkle-causing free radicals.
A: Gently! The skin around the eyes is the first part of the face to show early signs of sun damage, stress, and illness, and need to be treated with care. Simply use a dab smaller than a pea for both eyes, and massage underneath the eye area. Avoid excess cream, which can lead to clogged oil glands called milia (those bumpy white dots around the eyes).
A: Although dermatologists continue to debate why we still get acne even into our 40s (hormones in the food chain? stress?), experts agree that it's actually the side effects -- such as dryness, peeling, and irritation -- that wreak more havoc than the acne itself. So while you may not be able to get rid of your acne, you can keep it from getting out of control.
Carmel O'Neill, owner of Manhattan's Renew skin-care spa, found success using fruit acids and other natural remedies instead of prescriptions. Results come more slowly, but the techniques keep skin clear and healthy. "I compare skin care to driving a car: Better to proceed with caution, even if you're not making record time." In most cases, results appear in one month or less, she says.
A: No. You just get used to the softness, and when it's not there, you miss it. Lots of things can dry out your lips -- licking them, talking, cool weather, even drinking water -- but not your lip balm. Stay vigilant about using lip balm, as it can help keep the delicate skin soft and supple, even as lips thin as we age.
A: Exfoliating is especially important to aging skin because it helps slough off dead surface cells, letting new skin emerge. Start with once or twice a week and see how skin responds. Don't scrub too hard -- if you turn red, you're being too aggressive. If you have back acne, don't scour it and risk making it worse.
Surprisingly, the conditioner you use on your hair may be to blame for your breakouts. Often it just gets quickly rinsed at the end of a shower, leaving pore-clogging residue behind. After conditioning, tie up your hair and wash your back.
A: Think of it as prevention, which is especially important as skin loses suppleness as the years go by. If you do it daily (yes, even in summer), your skin barrier stays intact and doesn't dry out. All lotions absorb best if you apply them when your skin is still damp after a shower or bath. And don't forget feet (especially heels) and elbows.
A: Liquid and bar cleansers do the same job: They remove dirt from your skin. Regardless, the only places you really should wash every day are your underarms and groin. Your skin naturally has protein (to hold water) and lipids (to seal in moisture) -- if you remove those daily, you dry out your skin, especially if your skin has gotten drier as you've gotten older. Frequently replace sponges or brushes (about once a month) to prevent bacteria buildup.
A: Dehydration shows up in the skin as a loss of elasticity, especially as we age, so it's good to stay hydrated, but tea, juice, and even fruit count toward that total.
Diane S. Berson, M.D., assistant attending dermatologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital
Jessa Blades, organic beauty consultant and makeup artist in New York City
Fran E. Cook-Bolden, M.D., director of the Skin Specialty Group in New York City
Jeannette Graf, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City
Mike Indursky, chair of the Natural Products Association's Personal Care Committee and chief of marketing at Burt's Bees
Christie Kidd, PA-C, skin expert who practices dermatology in Beverly Hills, California
Summer Rayne Oakes, Brooklyn, New York-based natural beauty expert
Anna Ragaz M.D., a holistic dermatologist and founder of the Anna Ragaz Institute for Anti-Aging in Seattle
Neal Schultz, M.D., cosmetic dermatologist in practice in New York City for more than 25 years
Valori Treloar, M.D., dermatologist and founder of Integrative Dermatology in Newton, Massachusetts
Heidi A. Waldorf, M.D., associate clinical professor at Mount Sinai Department of Dermatology
Heather Woolery-Lloyd, M.D., assistant professor at University of Miami Department of Dermatology
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