The skin is the largest organ in the human body, and skincare is perhaps the largest sector of the beauty market. Women (and metrosexual dudes) of all ages arm themselves with scrubs, exfoliants, cleansers, moisturizers, wipes and toners. These products have one thing in common: They all promise healthier-looking (which means younger-looking) skin.
There's one problem. All that goop you're slathering on your skin, as well as some of the procedures you regularly undergo, may actually be accelerating the aging process. Just because a skincare product has a hefty price tag doesn't make it right for you. But don't jump out of your skin—you just need to do a little research first.
Fortunately, there are plenty of skincare experts in our area who were more than happy to help. We spoke with four: Dr. Elizabeth Callahan, a board-certified dermatologist and founding owner of SkinSmart Dermatology; Yasmin Farrell, the president of Bloom Organics Day Spa & Boutique; Melody Murray, a master esthetician and the founder of Melody's Centre of Authentic Beauty; and Michelle Turner, a licensed esthetician and massage therapist, and the owner of ZEN Blossom Organic Skin Care.
What follows is a distillation of their advice.
Good Habits—Good Skin
The first thing you need to know: You shouldn't expect the experts to do damage control. Skincare begins with you. It's your skin, after all. You need to take care of it—and take responsibility for it.
Create a routine and stick with it. "Define your regular skincare regimen," Farrell advises. "Then follow it faithfully morning and night, using quality, organic products that contain a high percentage of active ingredients and SPF."
Eat right. Eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. Stock up on vitamin C, and shun processed and refined foods, carbohydrates, and fats—especially dangerous trans-fatty acids.
"If you eat a lot of junk, it's going to show up on your face and skin," Farrell says. "Drinking good water is vital—I can't stress that enough. If you regularly hydrate your body, everything works better on a cellular level."
Be sun-savvy. Florida is filled with sun worshippers. That's cool, but don't be a human sacrifice. The sun is, after all, a thermonuclear explosion in space. Over decades, prolonged exposure to its radiation can create age spots, wrinkles and that leathery look—and heightened risk of skin cancer. The experts' advice? Cover up! "The sun is the No. 1 cause of premature aging," says Farrell. "So if you're only going to make one change in your skincare regimen, add a good daily sunscreen of a minimum of SPF 25."
Turner recommends using a physical block, like titanium or zinc oxide. "Use this even if just going to and from your car. I find more sun damage on the left side of the face from driving in the car. Wear a hat if you go out for extended periods. Avoid peak sun times of the day."
While you're creating a regimen of healthy skin habits, don't forget to cut out the bad habits. Here are three major don'ts:
Don't smoke. Our skin gurus were unanimous on that point. The nasty habit constricts the tiny blood vessels in the skin's outer layers, decreasing blood flow and the supply of oxygen, which is vital to healthy skin. Smoking also attacks elastin and collagen fibers, which make skin supple and strong. It's the deadly sin of skincare. Cut it out, and your skin will thank you.
Don't stress out. Stress gone wild can wreak havoc on your skin. We're talking acne and wrinkle lines. Make time for yourself; turn off your smart phone every now and then. Set some time aside to meditate and turn off your inner task manager.
Don't believe everything you read. There's a constant churn of hot new skincare trends and products. "Don't believe the hype," cautions Murray. "Ninety-eight percent of all skincare products don't penetrate into the deep layers of the epidermis or dermis—which means you're pretty much throwing your money away. Deep absorption is critical for true skin transformation. Finding a product that can deliver key ingredients to those layers is paramount in fighting the aging process."
The gentle touch is the right touch
In addition to bad lifestyle habits, all that daily scrubbing and cleaning can take its toll. When it comes to skincare, you can have too much of a good thing.
Don't scrub yourself raw. Indulge in a nice hot bath or shower, but not too hot or too long. Avoid powerful soaps that remove every trace of oil from your skin. Pat yourself dry (but not bone dry—your skin likes a little moisture). Cleanliness may be next to godliness, but don't go too far.
Don't over-exfoliate. Too much peeling is not appealing. Chronic skin peeling creates inflammation, edema and microscopic scar tissue, which leads to accelerated aging. In Murray's words, "The monthly peel becomes less than advantageous over time. As we age, increasing our CTR [cellular turnover rate] is vital, but constantly wounding the top layer of skin won't make the skin cells on the lower levels better off."
There's a long list of skin-friendly goop in bottles and tubes—including oils, lotions, moisturizers, sunscreens, cleansers, toners, facial masks and exfoliants. These products aren't cover-ups, concealers or cosmetics; they're all designed to do your skin good. Here are some favorites from our experts.
Turner recommends the Skin Fitness Therapy line, particularly the vitamin A and E serums, the micro-sculpting serum, and the hyaluronic acid serum. "Use all of these on a daily basis to keep your skin radiant and refreshed," she says.
Murray is a true believer in the powers of the Osmosis Pur Medical Skin Care line. "It represents a radical shift in perspective from the dominant approach to corrective skincare over the last 20 years," she says. "The product is designed to allow the skin to exfoliate naturally. It delivers its active ingredients into the dermal layer where it can do the most good."
Farrell swears by Éminence Organic Skin Care products. Why? "Drugstore brands have less than seven percent active ingredients," she says. "Most Éminence products boast a level of 87 percent active ingredients with no chemical additives, making them clean but very potent." Within this product line, she specifically recommends The Bamboo Firming and the Strawberry Rhubarb Dermafoliant.
For Great Skin, Plug In!
Along with all those skin-saving liquids and powers, a new generation of skincare devices creates beauty with the power of electricity magnetism, and sound.
MIcrocurrent treatments. For Turner, this is the go-to procedure for clients concerned with aging skin. "A monthly microcurrent treatment is the way to go," she says. "It's like a high-intensity workout for the face." As Turner describes it, this non-invasive procedure "uses gentle electrical stimulation to stimulate the production of collagen and elastin, which is what keeps the skin firm. Both components help maintain a toned, youthful appearance." Recent studies establish that microcurrent treatment can also trigger the body's production of amino acids and adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which are both known to accelerate cell repair.
Farrell also swears by this procedure, and offers CACI (Computer-Aided Cosmetic Instrument) face and body-lifting treatments. "It's noninvasive and re-educates the facial muscles and stimulates the fibroblasts in the dermal layer to promote collagen and elastin production," she says. "I saw amazing results when I worked with it in the U.K., and my clients love it here."
Ultherapy. This noninvasive procedure employs ultrasound (high-frequency sound) to stimulate the skin's deep structural layers without affecting its surface. The targeted sound waves trigger the body's own natural healing response to lift, tone and tighten loose skin on the brow, neck and below the chin. It is the only FDA-approved, nonsurgical procedure to lift skin on these hard-to-treat areas. How does it work?
According to SkinSmart's Callahan, "The focused ultrasound energy stimulates the body's creation of new collagen below the surface of the skin. As a result, skin will actually begin to lift and tone over time. While it's no substitute for a surgical facelift, it's ideal for people who want some lifting but aren't ready for surgery."
Callahan notes that a full face and neck treatment can take about 60 to 90 minutes. There is no pretreatment necessary and generally no downtime afterwards. The treated areas of skin might be a little pink—but that goes away after a few hours. Who's a good candidate? "Anyone with skin that has relaxed to the point of looking, or feeling, less firm," says Callahan. "Typically, those in their 30s and older who have mild to moderate skin laxity are candidates. But there are also younger people who want to stay ahead of the game." She adds that the majority of patients need only one treatment.
The Good News and the Better News
This stuff actually works. You can fight aging, smooth out wrinkles, and zap age spots—and you can do it all without going under the plastic surgeon's knife. You can do a lot on your own by taking responsibility for your own skincare. That's the good news—now here's some even better news.
You don't have to do it all on your own. That leads us to one good skin habit we forgot to mention: Find a skincare professional to offer care, treatment, advice and support.
"We're here for you," says Murray. "Everybody needs a friend—your skin included."