We all seek remedies that will unravel the mysteries of our skin’s constantly evolving landscape and provide the key to guaranteed radiance. But as much as I want clear, radiant skin, I have to believe in the process by which it is achieved. If there is one thing I cannot face in a beauty regimen, it is a heavy dose of hype.
What I am looking for is true skin care: an attainable, gentle, results-driven practice that produces honest beauty, while assuring me that I am not damaging my skin or compromising my health. I also don’t believe this should require dozens of excessively expensive products.
This school of thought begins with an understanding that your skin is itself a vital organ that has the often thankless job of blocking out the bad elements—bacteria and viruses, for example—and is always working to protect and nourish the body through processes such as temperature regulation, excretion of water and waste materials, and absorption of vitamin D from sunlight.
HOLISTIC BEAUTY BASICS: 4 EASY STEPS
The essence of holistic skin care is simplicity, not a vast assortment of bottles and jars containing ingredients with seven syllables in their names. What your skin really wants is a dose of common sense and TLC. For most of us, this might be as simple as using the correct cleanser or applying a vitamin-rich avocado oil at night.
Step 1: Cleanse, Don’t Strip
The purpose of cleansing is to remove dirt and excess oil, both of which can block pores and lead to breakouts. Skin cleansers are typically made up of three main ingredients: a surfactant, or wetting agent, to reduce surface tension on the skin; oil, to help dissolve grease; and water, to wash away dirt and grime. A cleanser must break down the hydrolipid barrier of the skin, the delicate layer of surface lipids made up of oil and water.
Unfortunately, this is not as easy as it sounds. Your gut is not the only place brimming with beneficial bacteria; your skin also has its own microbiome, a collection of millions of tiny organisms on its surface. Using cleansers loaded with antimicrobial ingredients or harsh surfactants wipe out the good bacteria.
A good skin cleanser will not strip the hydrolipid layer, which would take away the naturally good oils of the skin. Nor will it alter the slight level of acidity that is normally found in the skin and acts as a barrier to limit bacterial overgrowth. This is why you should never use soap, even handmade soap, on your face. Its alkalinity will upset the pH balance, cause irritation and leave the skin feeling taut.
After cleansing, you’ll want to tone your skin. A toner corrects the pH balance of the skin. Toners can also deliver beneficial ingredients, such as those in essential oils, to the skin. For example, some toners, called floral waters or hydrolats, are natural by-products of the distillation of essential oils. Hydrolats contain microscopic particles of the plant material. Sprayed regularly onto the skin, these tiny particles behave similarly to homeopathic medicines to help the skin stay balanced.
Step 2: Slough
Exfoliation is the second-most important step in skin care. Your skin constantly regenerates itself from the bottom up. Skin cells begin in the dermis as round, plump, compact cells, but as they follow their journey upward, they become irregular and less firm, finally shedding off the surface of the skin. In our 20s, this process takes about 30 days, but when we reach our 50s, it takes double that, leading to a buildup of dead cells. So regular exfoliation is one of my favorite beauty rituals. The secrets are to not overdo it and to use the right exfoliant. Here are some of my favorites:
Mechanical Exfoliation It’s likely the skin scrubs you are most familiar with are “mechanical” versions, which you use to physically rub the dead skin cells off. Avoid those, as the irregular surface particles tear at the skin and actually promote irritation. Look for exfoliating “spheres” or “beads” to gently wick away dead skin cells—but only natural ones, such as jojoba beads, which are biodegradable.
Enzymatic Exfoliation Fruit enzymes are a step up from mechanical exfoliation, as they penetrate the skin more deeply. Not only will you get a deeper peel, but the aromatic bouquet from the fruit pulp makes for an intoxicating beauty ritual; do it two or three times a week. Look for pear enzymes to renew the skin, pumpkin to detoxify, or cherry to brighten.
HYDROXY ACIDS Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) are derived from various sources, such as sugarcane, to form glycolic acid; or milk, to produce lactic acid. AHAs penetrate the skin more deeply, dissolving the intracellular “glue” of the epidermis. Beta hydroxy acid (BHA), also known as salicylic acid, is derived from willow bark. Used sparingly, these exfoliants have the added benefit of stimulating new collagen and elastin.
Step 3: Treat
Now that you have prepared your palette, so to speak, by removing a layer of dead skin cells, it’s time to treat the skin with a serum or concentrate. Unlike moisturizers, these powerful formulas do not contain oil and have smaller molecules to penetrate the deepest layers of the skin with a high concentration of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. If you are in your 30s or older, this step will make a huge difference toward improving the look of your skin. Skin serums are often formulated with ingredients like vitamin C, salicylic acid or retinols to address specific problems such as sunspots, oiliness, lack of firmness or fine lines and wrinkles.
Step 4: Fortify
All skin is thirsty. More specifically, every skin personality is in need of strengthening the skin barrier to protect it from internal free-radical damage as well as external environmental aggression from things like UV light and pollution. One way you can fortify and protect your skin is by using a facial oil. Although it may seem counterintuitive, there is absolutely nothing wrong with putting these high-quality oils on your face (yes, even if you have an oily complexion); they do not cause breakouts. Cold-pressed vegetable and nut oils are a healthier alternative to commercial face oils. They contain more healthy vitamins, essential fatty acids and antioxidants that feed the skin.
Moisturizing lotions, creams and balms combine an emulsion of water and oil to help hold more moisture in the skin and to act as a barrier that helps prevent dehydration. Choose a moisturizer according to the amount of oil in your skin (oily complexions will want a more fluid lotion, while dry skin types will need a heavier cream or balm). Keep in mind that depending upon the season or climate, your skin will need more or less hydration at different times. Apply moisturizer after a bath or shower while the skin is still damp.
Excerpted from The Naturopathica Effect: A Holistic Approach To Skin Care