In Search of Pretty: Topical Solutions for Sexy Skin at Any Age
Ask any woman what her secret is to looking good and you’re bound to get an unlikely assortment of answers. It seems everybody has a secret concoction passed down from Grand-mamma so-and-so or Aunt somebody to help defy the cruel hand of time. In my nearly 20 years as an esthetician and make-up artist I have heard just about everything including putting the first morning’s urine of a newborn baby on your face as some sort of healing facial tonic/wrinkle reducer. Sounds like something Cersei Lannister would do in an episode of “Game of Thrones”. Spoiler alert: not everything that comes out of a baby (newborn or otherwise) is um…pure. But I listen, and nod because I too come from a long line of southern tradition that could cure everything from an abscess to cancer and usually involved a salted pork Band-Aid or a salve made from dipping snuff. I assure they’re not nearly as pleasant as they sound.
What about the endless supply of pricey promises? As a nutritionist, I feel I have an obligation to tell you good skin starts from within and expensive products can’t fix a bad diet. But assuming you are doing all the right things- eating well, getting enough sleep (I will write more about this in a future article), and keeping stress under control etc., then I offer 3 simple things you can do to make your skin pop and possibly, (in honor of my Aunt Allie Mae) make your husband leave his mistress and flee the devil or something like that…but don’t quote me.
Here are my must do’s for sexy (healthy) skin at any age- exfoliate, moisturize, and highlight. Let’s explore, shall we?
Before we go any further let’s talk about the basic structure of the skin which is composed of three layers- subcutaneous, dermis, and epidermis. The subcutaneous or hypodermis provides smoothness and contour for the body as well as protective cushioning. Incidentally, it’s deep in this layer where cellulite begins. This is the layer that makes your skin look plump and youthful. The dermis is the inner layer that is often called the “true skin” because it’s where you will find the sweat and oil glands, hair follicles, blood and lymph vessels, and most importantly collagen and elastin fibers. When these fibers weaken and break down, you end up with wrinkles (not the superficial kind) and sagging skin due to loss of elasticity. Then there is the epidermis, the outermost layer of the skin and the layer you see, specifically the stratum corneum. The epidermis provides the protective barrier for the skin and body. As we age, the dermis and hypodermis tend to get thinner as the epidermis gets thicker. Also cell turn-over slows down leading to a buildup of dead skin that is dry, dehydrated, and rough. Without getting too technical, in the corneum layer of the epidermis dead cells (corneocytes) are constantly being shed and replaced. This process typically takes about 28 days just in the epidermal layer. (The entire process from the birth of a cell to its death is much longer- roughly 75-80 days.) As we get older this 28-day cycle may take 35-40 days or more creating a very thick stratum corneum. Many people make the mistake of slathering on heavy creams and moisturizers in hopes of softening their skin. Hear me when I say, “You cannot hydrate the dead!” You have to remove the dead i.e.-exfoliate.
Our skin sloughs off naturally without any effort on our part. In fact they say 99% of household dust is dead skin which should give you pause the next time take your shoes off in someone’s home sans a pair of thick socks. This sloughing action is called desquamation and sometimes needs a bit of a boost. There are 2 types of exfoliation– manual and chemical. Manual exfoliation includes brushes and scrubs and generally an abrasive medium like sugar, beads, baking soda or cornmeal, and crushed shells. Manual exfoliants help remove outermost dead skin and do not penetrate the skin. I find most people are way too aggressive with this type of exfoliation. Just because it’s called a scrub doesn’t mean you have to. Gentle circular movements are best. Remember you are not sanding a floor. Also, I know sand blasting techniques are popular but I do not condone the use of harsh materials like ground shells. Here’s a visual: imagine you are trying to put a triangle made of sharp glass inside a slightly smaller circle made out of rubber. In most cases the triangle will cut the sides of the circle or at the very least stretch the sides of the circle in order to fit inside. Your pores are like that circle and the triangle represents the shell-based scrubs you are using. Over time they create tiny tears in your skin and can lead to deep wrinkling. They can also stretch the ostia (opening of your pore) causing the dreaded enlarged pores.
Chemical exfoliation includes enzymes (like papain from papaya and bromelain from pineapples) and alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids (like glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acids). Enzymes dissolve dead skin cells and AHA/BHA products target the inter-cellular “glue” that holds the dead cells together and the oil that may be trapped inside the pores. Often people mistakenly assume “if it doesn’t burn then it’s not working” but chemical exfoliants, if used incorrectly (i.e. - too often and for too long) can cause burning and scarring of the skin. Some molecules like lactic acid, do not penetrate as deeply as say glycolic molecules but should still be handled with care. When it comes to exfoliation, I recommend no more than 2-3 times per week (1-2 times if you have a more delicate skin). That includes the use of exfoliating cleansers. You don’t need to use them every day. (FYI- they do not control oil production, your DNA and hormones are responsible for that.)
Let me start by saying, everybody needs to moisturize! Water is the most abundant substance in the body and we lose a lot of it between peeing, sweating, pooping, and crying, not to mention smoking and drinking (alcohol and caffeinated products). Optimal hydration is essential to maintain the skin’s barrier function which is a fancy way of saying the skin keeps bad things out (like foreign substances) and good things in (like water). When your skin is not properly hydrated, a cascade effect can occur- enzymes do not function, cell turnover does not happen and the result is thick, dry, rough, scaly skin. From a topical perspective there are things you can do to ensure you are getting adequate moisture but drinking half your body’s weight is a good first step to achieving appropriate hydration levels both inside and out. This of course includes consuming water-rich foods.
Even if you have oily skin you need to moisturize. I can’t tell you how many clients I have met who were ridiculously dehydrated but claimed they didn’t moisturize because they had oily skin. Well that only means they weren’t dry. It had nothing to do with hydration because oil and water are different. When the skin produces an abundance of oil or sebum, we label it oily. When the skin is deficient in oil, we label it dry. However when the skin is lacking water, it is dehydrated regardless of how much oil it produces. There are varying degrees of dehydration from superficial to deep. In the case of superficial or surface dehydration, more often than not, the person is exfoliating infrequently or not at all. Remember, it is the stratum corneum layer where dead skin cells are constantly being shed and replaced. If this process has slowed or is otherwise impaired, what you will see is dry, rough, flaking skin that will not hold onto water from a moisturizer (as any water in the product will evaporate) and the skin will be dehydrated.
I'll give you another visual- imagine a sponge that has been allowed to dry out. You can pour as much oil as you want on it and it will be a dry (greasy) sponge. But if you pour water on it, it will spring to life, plump up and become a softer, hydrated (greasy) sponge. Your skin is no different. Oil is not water and no matter how much you produce, you can still be dehydrated. On the other hand, a dry skin is more likely to be dehydrated because it does not produce enough oil to “lock in the moisture”. So even though both types need to moisturize, the types of products used will be different. Someone who has dry skin will benefit from a thicker or heavier weight moisturizer whereas someone who has an oilier skin will want something lighter or “oil-free”. How you moisturize is equally important. After cleansing you want to make sure your skin is slightly damp (not soaking wet) before using moisturizer. You also don’t want to fan dry your skin nor do you want to use a harsh astringent to “get rid of all your oil”. (Keep in mind what the purpose of oil is.) You need water to moisturize and oil to lock it in.
All makeup for most part is rooted in (optical) illusion- tricking the eye to see what’s not really there or making undesirable things disappear. From foundation to eyeliner, makeup is primarily used to enhance the skin’s appearance in some way. Highlighting is used to make things appear more prominent “moving them forward”. A good highlighting product will manipulate the light that hits your skin to accentuate your features and improve your complexion. Many lifestyle factors including aging, illness, sleep, diet, and hormones contribute to “circulatory sluggishness” making your skin look tired, dull, and old. Your skin can become less vibrant and more sallow in appearance but highlighting can brighten your skin and make you look refreshed. Products for highlighting come in a range of possibilities from creams to crayons in shimmer to matte finishes. And don’t forget about the highlighting benefits of eyebrow sculpting and mascara magic to make your whole face light up. (Click here to see my favorite mascara.)
Areas to highlight include the center of the forehead, corners of the mouth, center of the chin, center of the eyeball, the lower orbital bones (just below the eyes), brow bones, planes of the cheeks, center of the nose, collar bones, and the inside curves of the breasts. Now just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Don’t highlight all these areas at once. Choose a few (i.e.-two or three) then STOP so you don’t end up looking like a 70’s disco ball.
Highlighting products should be ½ to 2 shades lighter than your skin (especially if you use flesh tone shades) to create the right effect; and creams are better than powders as they are easier to blend instead of just sitting on the skin. You can try using make-up crayons and pencils in red, pink, or coral hues depending on your undertones to create a warming effect. Please practice using these products first and BLEND the colors into your skin or you will leave the house looking like a tribal war hero. Avoid the iridescent finishes especially on darker skins and just for the record, that “streak of silver on the brow bone” trend has died. Please stop trying to resurrect it unless you want a job at the movie theater guiding people to their seats. Who needs aisle lights when they have you and those flashlights on your eyes? “Why, we can see you a mile away sweet pea”. :-)
©2016 by Tasha D. Manigo-Bizzell