Sun. Stress. Sleep deprivation. The list of things wreaking havoc on your skin on the daily goes on — especially since cold weather and holiday season is here. Whether you’re in need of some brightening (lemon peels, anyone?), bronzing (bring on the henna!), or bump-soothing (eggs are wonderful in more than your morning omelette), many beauty experts suggest looking into your own pantry. There, you’ll discoverhealthy, convenient, and often cost-efficient solutions to some of your most common beauty gripes. Behold, some of their tried-and-true, tasty recipes that you can whip up to get gorgeous skin!
Softer skin at any age
Whether you’re twenty-five, or sixty-five, the quest to maintain healthy, soft skin can be a daily battle. While there is no guaranteed method to permanently turn back the clock, there are several simple ways to slow it down and retain moist, soft skin. Dr. Benjamin Barankin, a dermatologist at the Toronto Dermatology Centre, says that help is available for even the most serious of skin cases, thanks to advances in skin care and some healthy lifestyle know-how. “We can always help,” he says. “We can soften up anybody’s skin.” From the latest in facial moisturizers and skin-friendly foods, to new medical interventions, here are six tips to help achieve softer, more vibrant skin.
Wash your face properly
With a vast spectrum of lotions and potions on the market, it’s easy to become confused about what to use—especially on your face. “Using a cleanser rather than a soap is always a good idea,” advises Barankin. Soap is often too harsh and drying for delicate facial skin. The key is selecting a cleanser that doesn’t contain sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), “a detergent that is deep cleaning but also dehydrates the skin,” he explains. To complete your routine, says Barankin, “use lukewarm water after you finish washing and pat dry– no rubbing.”
Try a new moisturizer
Been using the same moisturizer for years? With scientists discovering new ingredients to fight the war on dry skin, perhaps it’s time to start anew. “Look for creams containing coffee berry extract, matrixly or ceramide to soften skin,” suggests Barankin. Ceramide, the latest innovation, is chemically created, but it’s bio-compatible—meaning it’s found naturally in our skin, too. Barankin also applauds the use of vitamin-infused emollients, “At night, using a vitamin-C-based cream can be helpful. It’s not only anti-aging, but it also peels off some of the upper dead layers of skin that cause dullness and roughness. An over-the-counter retinol or prescription Tretinoin (vitamin A) would also help soften the skin and peel off dead layers.”
Add more fish to your diet
We’re all familiar with the old adage, “You are what you eat,” but when it comes to your skin, this saying couldn’t be more applicable. An unhealthy diet chock-full of fast or processed foods and high in sugar will result in a dull, dry, and sometimes acne-riddled complexion. To keep your skin supple and soft, a healthy eating plan is a must. Barankin suggests a diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, and especially fish. Salmon, tilapia, and herring are packed with omega-3 fatty acids—key building blocks that stave off inflammation, and help your skin stay smooth and pliable. And don’t forget water! “Make sure you have enough fluids in your body, that you’re getting [enough] water through the day,” says Barankin. “If you’re not getting enough fluids, you’re going to look more crinkly, and the skin is dryer and rougher.”
Avoid the enemies of soft skin
Alcohol, smoking, caffeine and excessive sun exposure are all factors that threaten healthy skin. “Being healthy overall—not smoking or drinking alcohol—helps your body in so many ways, including your skin,” says Barankin. Alcohol, caffeine and cigarettes act as diuretics, dehydrating the skin and causing a sallow colour, while too much sun also encourages skin damage. According to Barankin, sun avoidance or minimization via clothing, hats or sunscreen is a necessity in the quest to maintain soft skin, “[If] you look at older people where they haven’t had sun, the skin is actually soft and supple, so we know pollution and sunlight do play a role,” he says.
Separate fact from fiction
Sleep, exercise, DIY facial masks—are these things a soft-skin help, or hindrance? “Sleep and exercise are both great for the skin,” says Barankin. “When you sleep better, you have less dark circles, [for example].” As for exercise, being physically engaged aids the skin, too. “It increases circulation and gives a nice firmness to the skin,” says Barankin. “Exercise reduces cortisol levels—your stress hormones— and we know [they] age you as well.” He cautions, however, that homemade masks, as well as facial massages, only offer a temporary effect. “They feel nice, very natural and everyone loves ‘natural’ things, but there’s no real data to say they’re beneficial [long term].”
Consider a professional cosmetic treatment
Advances in cosmetic procedures have opened the door to many new soft-skin success stories. “There are now more chemical [facial] peels than ever: glycolic, salicylic acid, retinoic acid, Jessner—each is unique and gives more options, depending on skin type and how much downtime someone can tolerate,” says Barankin. “Microdermabrasion, and some laser-type devices can soften skin as well.” While these cosmetic quick fixes are tempting, they can also pricey and are not appropriate for everyone. Before proceeding with these treatments, a consultation with a dermatologist is recommended.
Your guide to healthy skin
Looking for more advice for healthy skin? From tummy tucks to chemical peels, skin cancer prevention to menopause, the best anti-aging treatments, to finding your perfect moisturizer, find all the answers in the Reader’s Digest Guide to Skin Care—a comprehensive, no-nonsense reference.
Are you using the wrong products for your skin type? Take this test to find out which products are best for you.
What to do
• Cut out three thin strips of tissue.
• In the morning, before washing your face, put one strip on your nose and chin, one on your forehead and the third on one cheek.
• If all three strips remain opaque, you have dry skin.
• If they become translucent and stick to your skin, you have oily skin.
• If the strips on your forehead, nose and chin (the T zone) become translucent and the third remains opaque, you have combination skin.
• For combination skin, follow advice for both dry and oily skin, adapting it to the different parts of your face. Try different products on different areas. Your preference will probably be for light, oil-free products.
If it hasn’t happened yet, it’s coming. It’s that pivotal moment when you look in the mirror and discover the first signs of aging: wrinkling, creasing, dryness and drooping. According to Amy Wechsler, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and psychiatrist, it’s mainly tension—not time—that’s causing the lines on your face. In fact, stress can add three to six years to the look of your skin, she says.
In her book The Mind-Beauty Connection: 9 Days to Reverse Stress Aging and Reveal More Youthful, Beautiful Skin, Wechsler discusses how reversing the physical signs of stress aging are possible by slowing down and focusing on you. Her nine-day renewal plan gradually introduces new focal points (like sleep habits and diet choices) that should be maintained throughout the remaining days and ideally for life.
Why nine days? “I wanted to mimic a week-long vacation, which is two weekends book-ending a week,” says Wechsler. “I think it resonates with most people when they come home from a week’s vacation, look in the mirror and they feel and look much better. I was trying to recreate that experience.” While you can start on any day of the week, she recommends Saturday for day one.
Day 1: Simplify
• Establish daily face-care habits
With loads of products on the market, it’s not always easy to know what’s right for your skin. Wechsler recommends sticking to the basics with a gentle cleanser, a moisturizer with sunscreen for the day and one without for the night and a gentle exfoliator.
• Begin a regular sleep schedule
Wechler notes that most people think of sleep as a luxury, not a necessity—something that you might want but don’t necessarily need. But this is not true, she says: we need eight hours of sleep “in order for the body to restore and heal.”
Day 2: Relax
• Book a massage, connect with friends and/or have sex
Surround yourself with people who put you at ease, Wechsler suggests. There’s nothing like a simple coffee break or an afternoon at the spa (or in the bedroom) to put things in perspective.
• Focus on daily breathing exercises
Take a few minutes to appreciate your breath and actually listen as you inhale and exhale. This can help keep cortisol (a.k.a. the “stress hormone”) levels in check.
Day 3: Go green
• Get out in nature and take in your surroundings
A brisk 20-minute walk in the sun (even when it’s chilly) will give you some much-needed vitamin D and boost circulation.
• Drink green tea
If you’re going to take up one habit this year, make it green tea. It not only hydrates like water, but it’s loaded with flavonoids (known for their antioxidant activity).
Day 4: Eat clean
• Choose nutrient-rich whole foods over processed
To keep blood sugar levels steady and skin happy, opt for whole grains and complex carbohydrates like brown rice, bulgur and whole wheat pasta, which are rich in fatty acids that have skin-smoothing properties.
Day 5: Make a move
• Get active by scheduling at least 30 minutes of exercise
Any activity that gets your heart rate up and makes you breathe a little harder than you would sitting at your desk is a step in the right direction.
Day 6: Get social
• Plan a dinner with friends and family
It’s time to take a trip down memory lane. Call up your friends and spend an evening sharing great stories that inspire and make you laugh.
Day 7: Fight stress
• Learn to meditate
“Meditation not only helps you better cope with stress, but it may also help you keep your brain young and functioning optimally,” says Wechsler.
Day 8: Sleep more
• Take a nap
There’s a reason Spaniards love their siestas. While you’re counting sheep, your body is busy at work lowering your risk of heart disease and repairing cells. You may even notice a happier disposition and an increase in stamina.
Day 9: Pause
• Reflect on your week and think ahead
Take a few moments to reward yourself for the changes you’ve made. Decide what elements had the most impact and consider ways to implement them into your daily routine.
“There’s something psychologically amazing about starting to do something for you, taking back some control and focusing on yourself,” says Wechsler. “It feels great, and it’s liberating.”
If you do only three things to improve the look and feel of your skin, our experts agree that you should make them these three:
- Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day to stay hydrated. This helps flush toxins through your kidneys instead of your skin.
- Follow a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables and fish. When researchers from Monash University in Australia studied the diets of 453 people aged 70 and older from Australia, Greece and Sweden to see if there was any correlation between what they ate and the number of wrinkles in their skin, they found those who ate the most fruits, vegetables and fish had the fewest wrinkles. Conversely, the researchers found, foods high in saturated fat, including meat, butter and full-fat dairy, as well as soft drinks, cakes, pastries and potatoes, increased the likelihood of skin wrinkling.
- Protect your skin from the sun all year round with a sunblock with an SPF of 30 or greater. Just because there’s snow on the ground doesn’t mean your skin can’t be damaged by the sun, says Andrea Lynn Cambio, M.D., a New York City dermatologist. Time outdoors is time well spent, but be sure to keep your skin either well covered or well protected with sunblock. In particular, the sun is at its most damaging between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
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Light, fluid and fast-absorbing, facial serums are the feel-good stars of skin care—and are especially appealing if your skin has taken a beating over the summer and is in need of a moisture surge. The fact that they have an instant, tangible hydrating impact on the skin makes them somewhat addictive—in our staff test, the containers were pumped and squeezed to the very last drop—and a bit of a curiosity: What’s the difference between a serum and your regular moisturizer, and do you really need one?
According to Faouzi Berradia, Vichy Laboratoires’ medical relations director, serums are water-based moisturizers that contain a high concentration of active ingredients, such as vitamins, antioxidants and/or plant extracts, to super-hydrate your skin and make it more radiant. Unlike regular moisturizers, serums do not contain occlusive emollients like shea butter, so they penetrate skin quickly as opposed to sitting on its surface.
Generally, their silky texture comes from smoothing ingredients such as glycerin or “slip” agents such as silicone. Some are treatment-oriented (targeting dark spots, for example, or designed to firm the skin); check the package. Berradia says you should consider adding a serum to your regimen, whatever your skin type, to increase skin hydration. Apply, wait five minutes to let it sink in, then apply your regular moisturizer. If you have oily skin, a serum can be worn alone.
A drawback of serums is that they can be a little pricey—but one or two drops go a long way, right down to the décolleté. Bottom line: They aren’t essential, but they sure feel nice.
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Many of us know the benefits of exfoliation in whisking away complexion-dulling dead skin cells. But it does more than that, says Holly Sherrard, education manager for Dermalogica Canada. “Exfoliating increases cell turnover to reveal newer, healthier skin cells, plus it decreases blackheads, minimizes hyperpigmentation and fine lines, and imparts an all-over healthy glow.” It also helps with hydration. “Cells transitioning from below the skin’s surface to the topmost layer bring with them essential lipids and moisture,” she says.
That’s good news for your face. And what better time than spring to bust out the exfoliants for the body and feet, too? If you’re planning on using a self-tanner, you need to exfoliate to avoid uneven patches (although simply shaving your legs will also exfoliate them).
Whatever you do, don’t take the word “scrub” too literally—especially on the face—because over-exfoliating will result in red, irritated, flaking skin. “Gently massage exfoliants into skin using light pressure,” advises Sherrard.
The beauty aisles tempt us with scrubs laced with essential oils, boosted with moisturizers, and using everything from natural pumice to jojoba microbeads to pulverized grapeseed for refining your skin.
But you can always go back to buffing basics and save some bucks in the process by exfoliating with a humble washcloth or a loofah. Mixing up an easy homemade recipe (like the one below) for skin-softening salt or sugar body scrubs will give you a little spa-at-home moment. And rubbing sand and oil onto your bod the way Brazilians do is about as natural as it gets.
Homemade body scrub
Blend 1/3 cup (75 mL) brown sugar with 1/2 cup (125 mL) oil, such as sweet almond or grapeseed (canola will do in a pinch). Add a few drops of essential oil, such as lavender for calming or lemongrass for energizing. Or, instead of essential oil, add minced ginger, which stimulates circulation, and a drop or two of vanilla extract.
Eat for great skin
You probably think about how nutrition affects your internal health and your weight, but eating the right foods can also improve the quality of your skin. “You can look at food as the raw materials for a factory,” says Ian Koo, a naturopathic doctor based in Mississauga, Ont. “The better the quality of the raw materials we have to start with, the greater the chance that we’ll end up with a good durable product.” Here’s what to add to your diet to improve the health of your skin.
Eating any tomato-based foods such as sauce and tomato juice may help clear up acne. “Lycopene [the phytochemical that makes tomatoes red] may lower an acne-promoting hormone,” says Alan Logan, a naturopathic doctor and author of The Clear Skin Diet (Cumberland House). Though there’s no set recommendation for how much lycopene you should eat to combat stubborn spots, Logan suggests including tomato-based foods in your diet between three and five times a week.
Lycopene may also help defend your skin from UV rays, says Koo. “Lycopene and other carotenoids found in orange to reddish-coloured fruits and vegetables can help improve the skin’s antioxidant status. Antioxidants combat free radicals produced from excessive sun exposure,” he describes.
2. Green tea
Green tea fights acne based on its ability to lower levels of an acne-producing hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT), says Logan. He recommends brewing up three to five cups of green tea every day in order to reap the full benefits for your skin.
This power drink is also packed with antioxidants, which will help your skin look younger and healthier overall, says Koo
Deeply coloured berries such as blueberries and cherries are loaded with antioxidants, which help your body fight off blemishes. “One thing we found out very recently about acne is that there’s a great local oxidative stress going on, so much so that it actually depletes the antioxidants in people with acne. So the more severe your acne, the lower your levels of blood antioxidants,” says Logan.
4. Fish and seafood
An international study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that people who ate diets high in fish and seafood had less skin wrinkling. That might be because the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and seafood slow down the wrinkling process. Wrinkle development is rooted in inflammation, says Logan. “Inflammatory chemicals are essentially like acid rain on the collagen of your skin. Omega-3s turn down the dial on the production of these chemicals,” he explains.
Omega-3s can also help combat acne in a similar way. “Acne spots can look red and are often warmer to the touch, a clear sign of inflammation,” says Koo. “Furthermore, omega-3 fatty acids have mood-regulating benefits, which can help with the stress component of having acne.” He recommends that acne sufferers consume four to five servings of oily fish per week in order to treat the condition. If you can’t imagine eating that much fish every week, Koo suggests taking fish oil supplements instead.
5. Brown rice
Check the packaging of your skin products and you’re likely to see ceramides in the list of ingredients. These lipid molecules, which help your skin maintain its moisture, can also be found in foods such as brown rice. When you eat naturally occurring ceramides, they get incorporated into the outer layer of your skin and help it maintain its hydration, says Logan. “There are clinical studies that showing that ceramides [you eat] significantly improve hydration.
If you have oily skin, your sebaceous glands are pumping out an overabundance of sebum, the waxy substance that protects your skin. When there’s too much, skin looks oily, and that overabundance of sebum may contribute to acne. Heredity plays a part: For instance, people with dark hair make more oil than fair-haired folks. But there are other contributing factors, including stress and changes in hormone activity. Pregnant women and those taking oral contraceptives are more likely to have problems with oily skin.
Look on the bright side: Oily skin tends to age better and develop fewer wrinkles than dry or normal skin. But it does require more attention, since you need to keep cleansing those overproductive pores. The key is a firm but gentle hand. You want to wash away dead skin cells, dirt, and excess oil without scrubbing so hard that you cause irritation. (Ironically, if you overdo the scrubbing, your skin produces even more oil.)
• Wash your face with hot water. It dissolves oil more effectively than cool or lukewarm water.
• Choose the right cleanser. Whether you prefer bar soap or liquid cleansers, avoid products, like Dove, that have added moisturizers. Bar soaps like Ivory, Dial, or Lever 2000 are perfectly effective, though you can also use cleansers formulated specifically for oily skin (they’re likely to be more expensive).
• If you’re having acne outbreaks, choose an antibacterial soap formulated with benzoyl peroxide or triclosan. These discourage growth of acne-causing bacteria.
• Use a liquid face wash that contains alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), such as citric acid, lactic acid, or glycolic acid. The AHAs work in several ways, helping to slough off dead skin cells, reduce the oil in your pores, and combat infection.
Make Your Own Toner
• After you’ve washed your face, soak a cotton pad in distilled witch hazel and dab it all around. Use it twice a day for two to three weeks. After the third week, apply it once a day. Witch hazel contains tannins, which have an astringent effect, making the pores tighten up as they dry.
• The herbs yarrow, sage, and peppermint also have astringent properties. To make a homemade skin toner that will improve the look and feel of oily skin, put a tablespoon of one of these herbs in a cup, then fill to the top with boiling water. Let steep for 30 minutes. Strain the liquid and let it cool before you dab it on your face. Whatever’s left over can be stored in a squeeze bottle. It will stay fresh for three days at room temperature, or five days if you keep it in the refrigerator.
• Hyssop, a member of the mint family, also makes an excellent herbal toner. In folk medicine it’s considered good for the complexion. Add 1 tablespoon hyssop to 1 cup water. Boil for ten minutes, then strain. Let the mixture cool. After cleansing your skin, apply the toner with a cotton ball.
• A combination of lavender and neroli essential oil (derived from orange blossoms) acts as a skin cleanser and toner. Pour some lavender floral water in a hand sprayer, and add a drop of neroli oil. Spray the mixture on your skin several times a day.
Give Your Face a Massage
• A fine-grain powder can help absorb oil and get rid of dead skin cells that clog pores. Grind and sift 2 teaspoons of dry oats, then moisten with some witch hazel to form a paste. Using your fingertips, massage this paste gently into your skin, then rinse it away with warm water.
• Several times a week, massage your face with buttermilk after washing it. The active cultures in buttermilk contain acids that help to clean away dirt and tighten pores. Leave it on for a few minutes, then rinse.
Use a Grease-Cutting Facial Mask
• Clay masks or mud masks reduce greasiness and help tone your skin and draw out impurities. The masks are available at most drugstores. Or you can make your own using facial clay (like bentonite, available at natural foods stores and on the Internet) and witch hazel. Don’t use pottery clay; it won’t have the same effect. Add 1 tablespoon witch hazel to 1 teaspoon facial clay, and stir until they’re blended. If you like, add 2 drops cypress oil and 2 drops lemon oil for fragrance and to help control overactive oil glands. Sit back, relax, leave the mask on for 10 minutes or until the clay is dry, then rinse it off.
• Egg-white masks are said to firm the skin and soak up oil. Mix one teaspoon of honey with an egg white and stir well. Then add just enough flour to make a paste. Apply the mask to your face, avoiding the eye area. (Be careful not to ingest any of the egg mixture.) Let it dry for about ten minutes, then wash it off with warm water.
• Some Indonesian women use mango to make a face mask to dry and tone the skin. To make the mask, mash a mango until it turns into soft pulp, massage it into your skin, leave it on to dry for a few minutes, then rinse off. It is said to help unclog the pores.
• Lemon juice is used in another grease-cutting mask, along with astringent herbs and a chopped apple as the base. Place the apple in a pot, add water to cover, then simmer until it’s soft. Mash the apple, add 1 teaspoon lemon juice, then 1 teaspoon of either dried sage, lavender, or peppermint. Apply this mixture to your face, leave it on for 5 minutes, then rinse with warm water.
Take the Shine Off
• Throughout the day, powder your face with loose face powder, which will blot up excess oil. Don’t use pressed powder—it contains oil and it may foster blemishes or make existing acne worse.
• Clinac OC is a cream that can be used several times a day to absorb oil. You can buy it as an over-the-counter medicine at the pharmacy, as well as on the Internet.
• Look for foil-wrapped packets of alcohol-saturated wipes for oily skin. You’ll find them in the skin-care section of the drugstore. Keep some in your handbag or briefcase, so they’re handy when you need them. The alcohol cuts through the oil to temporarily de-shine your face.
The Power of Prevention
• Take 1 tablespoon of flaxseed oil a day. While it may sound kooky to add oil to your diet, there’s good rationale. Flaxseed is high in essential fatty acids, which have been shown to help improve many skin conditions, including oily skin. You’ll find flaxseed oil in health-food stores. To protect it from light and heat, buy the cold-pressed oil in an opaque container and store it in your refrigerator.