Weighing in at somewhere between 4 and 6 pounds, your skin is the largest organ you’ve got. Protecting internal organs from the harmful pollutants of our environment, working the body’s climate control, and literally holding the body together, our multifunctional skin is also the one organ which gets a minicheck-up every day. The washing, scrubbing, exfoliating, and moisturizing many of us treat our bodies to daily doesn’t even begin to match up to the regimens to which we subject our faces. Tweaking, dabbing, poking, smearing, patting, and proddingnot to mention slathering on countless products which have promised us one benefit or anotherwe, and consequently, our faces, have become the victims of that all-American problem of ”too much of a good thing.“
Marketing ploys offering the ”natural“ and ”fresh“ looks so in vogue for the new millennium have us spending money on products that are no more beneficial to our skin than water, sleep, and exercise. Even worse, these products might actually be harming our skin if used incorrectly. So, before you lay down that $20 bill, think about what’s in that little tube and whether it’s truly right and necessary for you.
1. What’s the deal with tea tree oil? Is it good for the skin or does it just have good PR?
The answer might be a little of both. The tea tree in question is actually a tough little shrub known as the Melaleuca, which grows in Southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. When English explorers found the Australian aborigines using Melaleuca leaves for tea, the shrub obtained its current name. Believe it or not, out of the 180 species of tea trees, the oil used by the aborigines for years for its healing properties can be obtained from the leaves of only one species (Melaleuca alternifolia). Used to cure everything from fungal irritations to toothaches, the Australian government required it to be issued to troops during World War II. According to Len Rossi of Len Rossi Health Food Store, tea tree oil is very effective for minor skin irritations due to its antibacterial qualities. However, beware the hype: while tea tree oil might be effective in healing current pimples, Dr. Michael Gold of Gold Skin Care Center advises against believing that tea tree oil will ”cure“ oily or acne-prone skin.
2. How do pore strips work?
Pore stripslike the annoying tooth whitener which never quite makes you as pearly white or happy as the models on the boxare expensive, really expensive. Do they work? Though you may find it very cool to see just what’s in your nose (the skin of your nose, that is), Valerie Wyatt of Apropos Advanced Skin Care and Cosmetics says that all you’re doing with that little strip is removing the grime on the surface. ”If you want to get rid of blackheads, you’ve got to get to the root of the problem and get underneath the follicle,“ Wyatt says. ”That strip is also taking off a top layer of skin which you need.“
The bottom line is that those strips may improve the state of your clogged pores for a few days, but professional extraction is the only way to truly get rid of the problem. You may want to save the strip money for a facial; not only will you get a better, longer-lasting outcome, you’ll no longer be able to identify with all those TV victims you see grimacing as the duct tape is yanked from their mouths.
3. Which cleanser should I use?
Did you know that if you didn’t cleanse daily, it would take somewhere around 25 days for a single day’s dirt and grime to wear off? Of course throughout that time you’d also accrue new build-up, and so on and so on. Here’s how soap works: Usually made up of animal fats, vegetable oils, and some kind of alkali salt, soap breaks down so that it can absorb, and then surround dirt and oil so that they are not re-absorbed. Apropos’ Wyatt says ”simple bar soap will strip the skin of the natural oil it needs.“ So, obviously you’ve got to pay attention to the ingredients of your cleanser.
Oil-free gels work best on oily skin because they rinse away easily with water leaving no residue. Soaps or lotions for dry skin are less alkaline and might contain moisturizers including lanolin, olive oil, or cocoa butter. Most professionals agree that a good cleanser is a mild one, and the best way to cleanse is by using your own fingers rather than with sponges or cloths.
4. Do vitamin supplements really do all the stuff they promise, or are they yet another way to watch a paycheck dwindle?
Ideally, we would all take in all of the vitamins we need in our daily meals; of course, most of us don’t. As far as skin is concerned, vitamins A, E, and C seem to be the key players, though there are others. Of those three, A and E are fat-soluble, while C is water-soluble. What this means is that vitamin C is not stored in fat cells and must therefore be taken more frequently than vitamins A and E. You may want to be a little more cautious with oral supplements of A and E than you would be with C, though too much vitamin C can give you diarrhea or even kidney stonesso don’t get too crazy. When dealing with oral supplements, it’s best to consult a doctor, as factors such as age and ethnic group will effect your specific needs. When dealing with a specific dermatological problem, Dr. Gold says, ”Vitamins are no supplement for medicine.“ However, both Rossi and Wyatt find vitamin C and A creams to be excellent for maintaining collagen and structure when used topically, as these vitamins are antioxidants. Cindy Smith of Good Life Health Foods agrees.
5. What’s up with all the mud masks?
Masks are a type of cleansing ritual. Masks take cleansing a step further, giving a complete sense of newness and freshness. Gone are the cement-like beauty masks of old, the ones with which cold, thick, gook was allowed to dry upon one’s face to the point of cracking if the wearer smiled.
Mud and clay masks are used on oily skin to deep-clean pores and to draw out excess oil, while cream- or gel-based masks filled with nutrients are more often used for dry skin. Gentle exfoliating masks are often used on normal skin. Kaolin, a fine white clay used in making porcelain, is often the chief ingredient in clay and mud masks, enabling them to draw dirt and grease away from the face. Apropos’ Wyatt says clay, rather than mud, masks are regularly used on their clients with oily skin to help absorb oil. Rossi finds that the trace minerals in mud are good for tightening the pores. Meanwhile, The Body Shop’s home recipe for a mask with the oil-withdrawing effects of mud involves mixing witch hazel with finely ground oatmeal.
6. We’ve all heard it a thousand times, ”You are what you eat.“ Does this hold true for our skin?
Professionals agreeeverything your Grandma ever said to you about putting down that piece of chocolate or that soda to save your complexion is false. But wait, don’t go grabbing for that Hershey bar yet. According to Dr. Gold, it has been proven that food is not a factor in most cases of acne, which are primarily genetic. However, healthy skin is a reflection of a healthy lifestyle, which includes a healthy diet. Taking in eight 8-oz. glasses of water each day is the way to keep not only your skin, but all of your vital organs, working properly. However, the water you drink does not affect the moisture of your skin unless you are severely dehydrated. Blame it on the sebaceous glands deep down in the dermis; these create oil absolutely independently from your diet. On the other side of the spectrum are the Chinese ideas of balance. In her book, The Tao of Beauty: Chinese Herbal Secrets to Feeling Good and Looking Great (Bantam Books, 1999), Helen Lee so closely connects inner and outer beauty that recipes to improve skin are included, such as cold cucumber soup for oily skin, salmon-asparagus stir-fry for normal skin, and potato soup for dry skin.
7. Antioxidants and free radicalsneed a clue?
It seems that nearly every product available these days is loaded with antioxidants prepared to fight off every nasty free radical that might come our way. The thing is, we’re involved in the battle without our consent. One way to understand free radicals and what they do is to think of a peeled apple turning brown as it is exposed to air. Like the apple browning or even metal rusting, free radicals play a part in the oxidization of our skin. Oxygen molecules are destabilized and other cells are either weakened or killed as oxidantsor free radicalssteal electrons from other body cells. Antioxidants are vitaminschiefly beta-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin E, and vitamin Cwhich act as lemon juice on the apple, working to keep free radicals from damaging DNA and enzymes in the skin. As was mentioned earlier, these vitamins can be taken in supplement form, but you may want to consult a doctor first. Free radicals basically speed up the aging process; if you want to speed up the free radicals, smoke and tan.
8. What about herbs and homemade cleansing products?
Both Cindy Smith and Rossi say that they don’t have many customers making their own products. However, natural remedies can be both more affordable and more gratifying. For recipes, try Naturally Beautiful: Earth’s Secrets and Recipes for Skin, Body, & Spirit by Dawn Gallagher, Melanie Menagh, and Kathy Ireland (Universe Pub., 1999) or the aforementioned The Tao of Beauty, both of which offer remedies such as an alpha-hydroxyl acid bath consisting of a heated bottle of white wine and a cup of coarse sea-salt mixed under running water.
9. Does benzoyl peroxide really work?
First of all, if you are among the 70 to 80 percent of people in their 20s and 30s suffering from adult acne, you can now stop feeling like you’re alone. Dr. Gold, who has patients who are in their 60s and still dealing with acne, says, ”If you missed [acne] in your teens, you’ll most likely deal with it later in life.“ One of the most common topical prescriptions for acne is benzoyl peroxide. Here’s what happens: the benzoyl pulls the peroxide into the pore where it releases oxygen, killing the bacterium Propionibacterium acnes that can aggravate acne.
As much as they may disagree on all other points, medical doctors, herbalists, and estheticians all seem to agree that eating right, getting the right amounts of sleep, exercising regularly, and drinking lots of water are habits good for your entire body and will therefore be reflected in your skin. Also remember that sun and smoking are never a good thing, and a key to happiness with professional treatment is letting everyone involved in treating your skin know who has seen you and what remedies have been prescribed. Also, cheer up. Stress is never good for the skin, and really, life’s not so bad. Renaissance women washed their faces in their own urine. Anybody got a warm towel?
The Body Shop Book (Penguin Group, 1994out of print)
Skin Deep by Carol A. Turkington and Jeffrey S. Dover, MD (The Facts on File Inc., 1998)
Woman’s Face: Skin Care and Makeup (Chic Simple) by Kim Johnson Gross, et al (Knopf, 1997)
To Greg and the others who don't want to commute. You're in the wrong city…
Let's forget Phil's homosexual stance, let's talk about his racial perspective. That is what I…
No pigtails Pink, just pig.
Ms Harris, your belief that only those that do not want to die seek help…
A religious man gives his opinion about the biblical sin of homosexuality and he's labeled…