This week, our Beauty 101 series is focusing on all aspects of skincare. You had questions, and your fellow commenters, once again, have come through with the answers:
There are currently over 700 responses to yesterday's skincare thread, and we received a ton of emails on the subject as well, so I'd just like to thank everyone for their input—I can't use all of the responses, due to space constraints, but they are all much appreciated. One response that came up quite frequently, however, was that a dermatologist is probably your best bet for severe skin issues, as a visit to the doctor might save you time, money, and grief in the end.
And now, a few tips from your fellow readers:
On Natural Skin Care Remedies:
From commenter lodown:
Oily/acne-prone: Tea tree oil and/or lavender essential oil to treat pimples. Pure clay powder for masks. Witch hazel and apple cider vinegar make great astringents. Jojoba oil and grapeseed oil are good moisturizers that are light (despite being oils).
Dry skin: Most kinds of oil to moisturize. Vitamin E oil for dry patches and lips. Dried milk powder is a super-gentle exfoliant.
Everyone: Yogurt masks (I like Greek yogurt because it's not as runny as regular yogurt. You can make your own by straining plain full-fat yogurt through cheesecloth. Add lemon juice to brighten) exfoliate and brighten. Pure honey masks moisturize and are good for people with acne (honey is anti-bacterial and healing). Mix salt or sugar and oil for a body scrub (use on dry skin prior to showering for extra exfoliation).
I have dry skin with PCOS related cystic acne so this was an issue for me for a long time. Now I have it sussed. Cleanse with an oil, or cream/ lotion cleanser (avoid lather!); steam occasionally, maybe adding some tea tree oil to the water; ensure there is no alcohol in any toner you might use; apply honey, aspirin, oils or calamine as spot treatments.
A combination of honey and aspirin is an incredible spot treatment for cysts which will reduce them drastically if left on overnight. At present I spot treat any suspect bumps with a dab of 'Dreamwash' from Lush (containing calamine) which is also extremely effective; Moisturise with rosehip oil or jojoba.
Spending a fortune is really not necessary, and can be counter productive.
Last year my best friend bought me a book of make-your-own beauty product, and this very simple recipe changed my life. It's cheap and incredibly effective.
Equal parts :
- natural oil (almond oil is cheap and works well for sensitive skin, but any oil works, depending on your skin type)
-aloe vera gel.
Clean your hands and mix a little drop of each every morning / night in the palm of your hand. The combination of the two makes a nice slightly creamy texture. Making it and applying it right away tremendously reduces the development of germs that usually thrive in face cream jars, especially since both the oil and aloe vera gel are usually sold in dispensers and tubes.
This light cream is gentle enough to be used on your face and around your eyes.
From Josie, via email:
Olive oil. Sounds nuts, but it's a miracle worker. A good skincare routine involves washing, toning and moisturizing your face every night - it's the routine that gives you the benefit. For an easy cleaner, put some olive oil on a cotton ball and swab that bad boy all over your face. You'll get a TON of gunk off your face with it, it makes your skin super soft, and the composition of olive oil is such that it jives with your own face oils and doesn't make your face oily. It's really a miracle product. I use it on my (terrible, creepy) elbows and my cracked heels as well - it's so moisturizey and wonderful. It's gentle enough that you could do it every day. It's like magic!
From dellbot, via email:
This is a really lovely and gentle mask made from stuff in the kitchen.
Wash face with warm water (if wearing make-up, remove it accordingly), apply
a base of avocado oil all over the face, followed by non-pasteurized honey
and sea salt. Leave on for a few minutes, and rinse well with warm water. It
can be done a couple of times a week, and is very soothing to sensitive skin.
It basically works with the homeopathic principle that like treats like, so oily
skin is better treated with an oil (if your skin knows it has oil on it, it will stop
over-producing oil). I like to follow it up by spraying rose water on my face.
Also, drink lots of water! Water water water! Flush that stuff out! I cannot say
the difference adequate hydration makes not only in reduction of acne in my skin
as well elasticity (hangovers always make me look about five years older.)
From E, via email:
For those people who are looking to deal with acne on dry skin cheaply and without using a ton of harsh chemicals:
I use a combination of rose water and tea tree oil. I soak a cotton pad with rose water, add a quick dab of tea tree oil, and wipe all over my face and neck. I then moisturize with a gel-based lotion. I also use the tea tree oil on its own as a spot treatment. Dries them up in no time, and takes away a lot of the redness.
Be sure to use 100% tea tree oil. Both the oil and the rose water are available at natural food stores, but I've found the cheapest place to buy the rose water is at my local Indian grocery store. (A 10oz. bottle - which will last forever - was only about $3.)
On Treating Rosacea:
From Caitlin, via email:
As a dermatologist-in-training I can give some ok advice on Rosacea (Disclaimer: I'm not a doctor YET. Go see one).
Anything that will increase blood flow to the face will trigger rosacea. This includes hot food and drinks, hot showers and baths, spicy foods, exposure to sunlight, exercise, drugs, and alcohol. Avoidance of these things will make rosacea less apparent.
As far as I know, there is NO proven over-the-counter treatment for rosacea. A doctor could prescribe you a topical antibiotic like metronidazole, or some oral antibiotics. There isn't any evidence for an appropriate alternative therapy (herbal therapy and the like).
Telangiectasis, basically red lines on the skin, can go along with rosacea. This can most likely be treated with laser therapy.
A complication of rosacea is rhinophyma, basically a big-ass nose (Google image it to know what I'm talking about.) This requires surgery.
In summary: please go see your doctor.
From Jennifer, via email:
Reducing redness is key. First find out if you have rosacea. Only a doctor should diagnose this (estheticians can't diagnose). See if you have triggers or sensitivity (spicy foods, ingredients, etc). Using topicals such as Finacea (Rx only) is wonderful in treating rosacea. Use gentle cleansers and creams, and really research ingredients to see what works for you.
From Jennifer, via email:
I would really go to the dermatologist, I know you don't want to, trust me. Also, find the sensitive skin cleanser and moisturizer that work for you, and don't skip moisturizer! I've found mineral powder foundations to be more forgiving than liquid ones for red skin. I also use basic hydrocortisone (anti-itch over the counter) to calm my skin down, though I don't think mine is full blown rosacea, this calms redness down in my case.
On Treating Acne
From Jennifer, via email:
Acne is classified as a CHRONIC condition- so if you have a pimple or two every month, don't freak out and say "OMG, I have Acne". If you DO have a chronic condition of papules (red bumps), pustules (aka: whiteheads, filled with pus)- you have to treat the area gently. If it's only in one area, then treat that one area accordingly. No need to treat the entire face in the same method. Use a gentle cleanser. If you have oily skin, it's even okay to use an oil cleanser (oil breaks down oil). I like one from Shu Uemura, but there are other brands out there. A cleanser like Purpose is also good. If you want something with treatment, you can also use a cleanser with Glycolic or Salicylic acid in it. Over washing will lead to your skin being dehydrated on the surface. Keeping the skin hydrated is key, and not braking down the acid mantle (our skin is naturally acidic on the surface- this protects from bacteria. When you strip it away, that lets bacteria in and hence can cause papules/pustules). Use a hydrating moisturizer, and spot treat as necessary. If you have cystic acne that is chronic, go to a dermatologist. Salicylic Acid, Glycolic Acid, Sulfur, and Benzoyl Peroxide are great. The key is keeping your skin clean and free of bacteria and p.acnes (what causes acne)
From E, via email:
I've been dealing with acne for over 10 years, so hopefully my experiences and wrong turns can help someone else.
Don't waste your time with Benzoyl Peroxide. It has never, ever worked for me, and the research I've seen suggests that it doesn't really work for anyone, especially women. Salicylic Acid is much more effective.
Hydrogen Peroxide can be a surprisingly useful weapon, especially for open zits. It's most effective when there's nothing left in a zit to prevent it from becoming infected again. I also sometimes wipe it over my whole face to kill surface bacteria.
Cysts are hormonal. Practically nothing you do to the surface of your skin is going to have any effect on them. It's still very important to keep your skin clean, of course, and better hygiene will most likely prevent you from getting as many cysts as you would without it, but it can save you a lot of frustration if you understand that washing will not prevent cysts or make them go away. The only things that I've found to have any impact on them are hormones like birth control pills and strong medications like Accutane, which prevent them, as well as Cortisol, which is injected directly into existing cysts by a dermatologist and makes them vanish within two or three days.
When it comes to picking, pick your battles wisely and be clean about it. Wash your hands and face before and after, and don't go crazy. Most things look and feel worse after you attack them, so be discerning and don't go after every little bump or blackhead.
Products I can't live without:
- The Mint Julep Mask by Queen Helene is simply amazing. Nothing makes my face feel or look better. I use it a few times a week when my skin is really misbehaving and it works super quickly, especially on the smaller pimples. I've been looking for a more natural replacement of this product for ages, but I've yet to find one and just cannot give it up.
- My Oxylight is also a lifesaver. I honestly have no idea how it works, but it does. It's one of the only things that helps clear up my cysts faster.
My #1 acne advice is to keep a skin care journal. Track how your skin looks from day to day, whether you're actively breaking out or healing, what you ate, what you did that day (e.g. exercise), whether you're on your period, what you used on your face that day. Knowing what causes acne in your particular case is half the battle. As for treatments, the gold standards are salicylic acid, alpha hydroxy acid, benzoyl peroxide, retinoids (e.g. Retin-a) and hormonal birth control.
With the exception of birth control (mostly), most surface treatments for acne will dry your skin. From personal experience, I've found that very basic, bland moisturizers are the best for combating dryness without risking further irritation and/or breakouts. Jojoba oil is great for semi-oily or oily skin since it helps control sebum production. It's also comparatively cheap. But your mileage may vary—some people swear by Cetaphil, but I hate it. Again, keeping track of which products work for you and reading ingredients labels will help you figure out what works for you and predict whether you can safely use a new product or not.
Great tip from the dermatologist: never touch your face unless you have to, and when you do, make sure your hands are clean. This means: avoid propping up your head with your hand on your cheek, or, if you're prone to picking at your skin - stop. If you do it when you're sleeping, put socks on your hands! Your hands are generally dirty, and breakout-prone skin doesn't appreciate this, at all.
On Dealing With Eczema/Dry Skin:
From Gina, via email:
I used to have very bad eczema. It started on my inner arms in my early 20's, then spread to the back my neck, and eventually cropped up on my face. I tried almost everything on the market for eczema/sensitive skin. The only thing that really helped were steroid creams, which you're not really supposed to use for more than a few days at a time, and it would always come back after I stopped using them. (There also used to be this awesome face lotion made by Eucerin that was tinted green to help camouflage red, but I can't find it anymore.)
Long story short, I started seeing a naturopath for this problem. She put me on an elimination diet, which is basically where you eliminate any possible allergenic food from your diet until your symptoms disappear. After that, you test or "challenge" each food that you initially gave up by eating a little of it in its purest form, and checking for any possible reaction. I ended up having a sensitivity to soy, which had been like its own food group for me after becoming vegan. Some other common allergens are wheat, dairy, peanuts, eggs and shellfish.
Also, taking Omega 6 fatty acids and probiotics are supposed to help.
From L, via email:
For those who were asking questions about acne prone skin/dry skin/eczema, my boyfriend told me about this. Basis soap, it's like, $1.97 or something at Walmart and it's amazing. It's not harsh at all, and has aloe and chamomile in it to help sooth your face. His eczema acts up sometimes and his dermatologist told him to use it for that, but he also noticed it helped with his acne. It's just a normal bar of soap, so you could use it all over your body as well.
Ok, here we go: don't take really hot, long showers. Hot water dries the skin. Also, moisturize after every shower. Seriously. And Exfoliate regularly. I have a set of exfoliating gloves I bought at the Body Shop that are awesome. Also, my dermatologist recommended showering every other day because it's good the the body's oils and such.
For anyone with dry scalp, Head & Shoulders (no, I'm not 90 years old) makes an awesome Dry Scalp shampoo. Cheap, and extremely helpful.
I use Aveeno body wash for sensitive skin, and for shaving your legs, use a conditioner (no name brand for "dry hair") instead of shaving cream. Your legs will be soft for days! Also, for sensitive skin after shaving your lady bits, I recommend swiping some deodorant/anti-perspirant on what you've shaved (don't get it in your vag - Duh!). It will stop itching pretty much immediately.
When it comes to face wash and toner, The Body Shop has a great line of Aloe Vera products, and their face wash and toner is fabulous, though I find that their moisturizers aren't enough to quench my dry skin, but they have a sample package, so maybe it'll work for some of you guys!
I have found the St. Ives Intensive Therapy for dry and cracked skin is the best body moisturizer EVER, and is also a cheap solution for those of us on a budget; it's also great for sensitive skin because it's fragrance free as well.
On Keratosis Pilaris:
From K, via email:
As someone who has suffered from those "little bumps," better known as keratosis pilaris, since I was 7 years old, trust me when I say that the only thing that has ever worked for me is Am-Lactin moisturizer. I've tried countless lotions, scrubs, etc. and this is what works. Period. It's about $15 at CVS or Target, but a little goes a long way.
From J, via email:
The commenter who's asking about the little bumps on her arms and legs is dealing with something called keratosis pilaris. What those little bumps are is keratin (a skin protein) building up around and in a hair follicle. It's benign, self-limiting, harmless, and annoying as hell.
What works for me and for my sister is this: moisturizing soap and exfoliation followed by a body lotion that has lactic acid in it. Amlactin and Lac-Hydrin are two; Amlactin is a little cheaper (around US$12 a bottle). The combination of non-drying cleaning and exfoliation helps loosen the keratin plugs' surfaces, while the lactic acid penetrates and softens the little plugs further down. It took about three weeks of steady use for me to see a difference, but the little bumps are now gone from my legs and arms.
I use sensitive skin Dove or Olay soap along with a pair of those scrubby gloves for the scrubbing part, by the way. You don't need anything really abrasive or harsh; that'll actually make the problem worse.
I asked my dermatologist about my own arm/leg bumps — very small, hard, dry, round bumps on my arms mostly and also my upper legs. My doctor told me that the bumps were keratosis pilaris and that there is really no magic bullet for it. As this was not the focus of my visit (I was there for a biopsy of a dreaded pre-cancerous mole), the best official medical advice I got was to exfoliate and moisturize. It took a couple of years of experimentation with exfoliation techniques and various products to get from wearing long sleeves even in the summer to a point where I'm not embarrassed about my skin. I tried basically every relevant product out there, many of which are very expensive, and eventually settled into a relatively low-cost routine.
Here's what works to keep my k.p. bumps in check: Once a week, in the shower, I exfoliate the bump-prone skin very gently with a fine-grained pumice sponge (the synthetic kind, not real pumice — the brand I've got is Titania). I do this well into the shower, after my skin is softened and my pores are open. Every day in the shower I wash with MSM soap. I found this at Whole Foods, but I bet you can find it elsewhere cheaper. This soap worked miracles for me where far more expensive products failed. After the shower I moisturize with a light, unscented generic lotion. The key is light (no clogged pores) and unscented (no inflamed skin).
Once or twice a year I treat myself to a more expensive treat — the Buffy bar from Lush. This is not cheap, but when I've been exfoliating regularly and I use this soap/in-shower-moisturizer I can get my naturally bumpy skin to go beyond the everyday passably smooth stage into eminently caressable skin. It feels a little greasy when you're in the shower, but when you dry out it all soaks into the skin and melts all the ickiness away.
Of all of the products marketed for dry skin, k.p., rough skin, etc., including the expensive stuff they sell at Sephora, these three (fine pumice sponge, MSM soap, Buffy bar) have been the only things that remedy the bumps.
On Skin Creams:
From L, via email:
My dermatologist told me there is absolutely no need for 3 kinds of creams. Find a good one or 2 and use that all over face, eyes, neck. I'm mid-50s and have been using Retina-A on face and eyes at night and Aqua Glycolic Face Cream all over in the morning as recommended by her. I don't use the Retina-A on my neck just because it's expensive. This combo is working great for me.
From E, via email:
Day cream is usually very light, and it should contain a SPF. My personal recommendation is to use Aveeno Ultra-Calming Daily Moisturizer SPF 15. Whenever you get any facial moisturizer/ face wash make SURE to read the labels. What you want is oil-free, hypoallergenic, and noncomedogenic. Even if you have super dry skin you don't want moisturizer or face wash with oil in it because it clogs your pores. Hypoallergenic means there are no extra things like fragrance that could potentially aggravate your skin. And finally, noncomedogenic means that it doesn't clog pores- this is probably the most important thing when buying face care products. There really isn't any sense in putting something on your face that's going to hurt it. Put on day cream about 10-15 minutes before you put on makeup so it has time to sink in.
Night cream is much heavier than day cream, and does not contain a SPF. During the nighttime, when you're sleeping, is when your skin rejuvenates, so if your skin is dry this is the perfect time for it to calm down. My recommendation for this is Aveeno positively ageless night cream. They used to sell ultra-calming night cream, but I can't find it anywhere. I used to live in Florida, but now I live in Vermont, and you seriously need night cream here. Cold wind and heaters suck moisture out of skin and so it is important to give it back. You also want your night cream to be hypoallergenic and noncomedogenic.
My one overarching rule is to never, never buy over-the-counter medication or expensive creams, lotions or treatments. Go to the dermatologist. He or she will have the most effective stuff available. Don't mess with the fancy cosmetic beauty-counter crap. It's just expensively packaged and hyped.
I am a beauty editor.
On Skincare Routines
From commenter Coca-Colo:
I used to work in the skincare industry. I find most people with breakouts treat their skin way too harshly, which leads to more breakouts.
You don't need 50 products, you need three: a gentle cleanser, a good moisturizer, and something to treat pimples. For cleansers use something as simple as possible, preferably not medicated—you don't want your cleanser to remove all of your natural oil. If you use a gentle foaming cleanser, you can wet your face and rub the cleanser right over your eyes, removing your makeup without oily solutions and cotton pads! I'm particularly fond of an unfortunately expensive cleanser, MD skincare's all-in-one facial cleanser. However, there are lots of other options at the drug store: neutrogena fresh foaming cleanser, olay foaming face wash for sensitive skin, or aveeno ultra calming face wash.
The next step is to moisturize your skin. Don't skip this step, even if you have oily skin. If you do, your skin will run into overdrive trying to replace the oil lost during cleansing. Here, if you want something anti-aging or medicated, OK, but I prefer to treat in a separate step. I would say stay away from moisturizer with salycillic acid, which can overdry your skin if used every day. I'm also wary of alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), which are too irritating for most people. If you want sunscreen, buy a separate moisturizer for day versus night—sunscreen will clog your pores if used at night. I like Murad's skin perfecting lotion, for acne prone skin or Neutrogena oil-free moisturizer for combination skin.
The last step is to treat any breakouts you might have, which is arguably the most confusing. Most anti-acne products contain either Salicylic acid or Benzoyl Peroxide. They have slightly different properties. Salycilic acid is an exfoliant (hence, the acid part—fun fact, it's also the active ingredient in aspirin). Salicylic acid is good if you're prone to all-over breakouts and clogged pores. It will help slough off your skin, to remove and prevent poor-clogging dead cells. Benzoyl peroxide is slightly different. It's a chemical that oxidizes within the pore, creating pore-clearing from within. This oxygenation can also kill acne-causing bacteria, which are sensitive to oxygen. Neither of these will actually be very effective for a whitehead, or a pimple at the surface of the skin, because at that point, the clogged pore is no longer the problem. Rather, the clogged pore has caused an infection, which has caused your body to produce white blood cells (pus) creating inflammation. Benzoyl peroxide won't be able to get into the pore, and therefore will have trouble working. For these pimples, I recommend products containing sulfur, which has been clinically shown to actually kill bacteria, thereby removing the source of the infection. These are newer on the market, but in my experience are the best "spot treatment" around. To break it down, I would say salicylic acid is the best for preventing breakouts, benzoyl peroxide is the best for allover breakouts and blackheads, and sulfur is the best for an on-the-spot emergency.
Once you have these three steps down, my other tips to prevent a breakout cycle are to go easy on the makeup, and always wash your face at night. It's hard not to slather a bunch of foundation on when your skin is breaking out, but this will prevent your pores from clearing and healing. Until your skin calms down, try a light concealer dotted on just the blemishes, and a dusting of translucent powder to minimize shine.
If you're interested in more info, we have a longer blogpost on the issue here.
I'm way older (52) than many Jezzies, but I will testify to the fact that good basic skincare begun in the early 20s will pay off bigtime as you age. I smoked heavily for years and got a few whopping sunburns, but am frequently told "no way!" when people learn my age. Part of it is heriditary dumb luck but IMHO, it is really important to use moisturizer, eye cream and sunscreen. Here's the basic routine that has served me well for 30 years:
1) ALWAYS clean your face at night. Even if you're too drunk to stand up, keep a packet of those face-cleaning wipes by your bed and use 'em!
2) Use a moisturiser at night AND an eye cream. Always. They don't have to be expensive; recent additions to the Neutrogena, Roc and Olay lines have been clinically proven to be as effective as their much costlier dept. store brethren. If you have oily skin, there are eye gels and oil-free moisturizers.
3) In the AM, use a tinted moisturizer with SPF. This way, you get a little coverage without the caky foundation, a built-in UV protectant and some hydration to get you through the day. A terrific one is Kiehl's Tinted Moisturizer, SPF 15, which I swear by. It has medium coverage (comparable to foundation) and you get a good-sized bottle for $28 (which lasts me about 6-7 months with daily use).
From E, via email:
I have dry, sensitive skin, but this regimen works for nearly everyone. First, only wash your face once at night; otherwise you'll strip it of natural oils. I use either Cetaphil or Aveeno ultra-calming foaming face wash. Again, at night, put on night cream, and then any pimple medication you need. In the morning put on your day cream, then wait about 10-15 minutes before you put on makeup.
From L, via email:
This probably sounds kind of gross, but since I stopped using any sort of cleanser on my face, my skin has never been happier. I have ultra-sensitive skin, and even Cetaphil and other super-gentle cleansers were too harsh: I'd get that nasty combination of dry skin with acne that screams product abuse, and any time I tried to add a moisturizer to the party, I'd look greasy and dry AT THE SAME TIME.
About a year ago, I switched to just using a damp, warm washcloth to gently exfoliate and remove makeup and other schmutz at the end of the day, and then in the morning to (very gently!) wipe off the previous night's moisturizer. I can use sunscreen and night-time moisturizers without breaking out (I prefer Clinique, personally), and my skin is always glowing because it's really well exfoliated. I'm 28, and for the first time in my life, my skin looks great.
On Clogged Pores
From N, via email:
When you are interested in exfoliating, whether on your face or body, BE GENTLE. To deal with clogged pores around your nose, or on the backs of your arms, exfoliate gently (chemically with salicylic acid rather than physically with an irritating scrub). Harsh scrubs cause irritation, which, as I have said before, will break down your collagen over time. Don't waste your time with masks, because they are not necessary for well-cared for skin, and don't waste your time with facials. Most of the things estheticians say they can do are not accurate- and not that they mean to be deceptive, because I believe that most people are well-intentioned, but products just cannot do the things that they say they can do.
General Skin Advice
From anonymous, via email:
Booze and cigarettes my pretties, booze and cigarettes. I started my twenties looking five years younger than my age and finished them looking five years older. My girfriends in their thirties with good skin were by no means angels, but they stemmed the tide in their mid to late twenties. Those of us who rocked on with our bad selves smoking a pack a day and closing down the bars several nights a week are looking a little worse for wear.
If you're using Benzoyl peroxide products, be careful to wash your hands before touching any article of fabric that you'd rather not see a bright pink stain on. For months I was finding orangey-pink stains on my clothes and towels until I realized that my spot treatment was the culprit. However, if you really want your awesome new navy blue guest towels to look like Hypercolor t-shirts, feel free to smear your BP hands all over them.
Didn't find the answer you were looking for? Please check yesterday's thread, as there are HUNDREDS of great tips and tricks from your fellow readers in the comment section. Disagree with some of the advice you've seen here? Feel free to set the record straight in the comments. And as always, suggestions for next week's Beauty 101 column are welcome, as well.
Earlier: Beauty 101: "I Would Love Some Simple Advice On Skincare"
Beauty 101: Your Eye Queries, Answered
Beauty 101: Your Nail Questions, Answered
Beauty 101: Your Lipstick Questions, Answered
Beauty 101:Your Hair Questions, Answered
Beauty 101: Your Waxing/Shaving Questions, Answered
Beauty 101: Your Foundation And Concealer Concerns, Answered
Beauty 101: Your Eyeliner Woes, Solved
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