Our skin is incredible. It tells a very unique story, providing insight into both our health and mental well-being.
We can all remember cramming during finals or the moment right before a big party. These are the times when our skin has looked the worst: breakouts, blemishes, whiteheads, zits, you name it. It always seemed to happen at the most inconvenient times, and when we needed to look our best. I'm convinced there's a biological Murphy's Law, but I have yet to prove it.
As such, we often look at people with healthy, clear skin with a sense of awe. There's a reason why Photoshop has blur and blemish reduction tools, and why photo-editing in popular media is such a hot commodity.
Fortunately, setting up the foundation for healthier, vibrant, younger-looking skin is easier than you think. Here are some key steps:
1. Wear sunscreen.
I know you've read this a gazillion times, but it's true. If there is one single step clinically proven to prevent skin aging, it's wearing sunscreen.
You don't need much higher than SPF 15 or 30. The key is to reapply every few hours, especially if you're under the sun for long periods of time. If you have sensitive skin or are prone to irritation or breaking out, you can try sunscreens that have either zinc or titanium as their active main ingredient.
2. Cleanse your skin, but be gentle.
Having a daily cleansing routine is an essential component of healthy daily skin care. Far too often, people end up “over-cleansing” in an attempt to improve their skin tone or reduce breakouts. This strips your skin of its natural essential oils, which are vital for moisturizing and preventing irritation.
Instead, pick a cleanser based on your skin type. Dry skin calls for sulfate-free, non-foaming cleansers that are gentle enough not to strip your skin's essential oils. Try to avoid products that contain a lot of benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, as these may over-irritate your skin.
For oily skin, pick “foaming” or “gel”-type cleansers containing detergents capable of cleaning excess oil away. Cleansers containing salicylic acid will provide additional pore-clearing exfoliation.
Next, try to set up a consistent routine. Cleanse in the mornings upon waking, or cleanse at night before you sleep. Always cleanse after a workout to prevent grime from clogging your pores.
Consistency is the key to good skin hygiene, as frequent changes in habits and products can irritate and disrupt your skin's balance. While you're washing your face, it's important not to over-cleanse. After applying a pea-sized amount of cleanser onto your fingertips, apply it gently all over your face, working it into a soft lather while counting to five.
3. Know your acne treatments.
Acne medications work best when they're used in combination. Products containing benzoyl peroxide, for example, work really well to kill the bacteria that cause acne, whereas products containing salicylic acid help exfoliate the dead skin cells on the top layers of your skin. When used together, they can improve breakouts better than if you were to use a single agent alone.
Benzoyl peroxide may make you more sensitive to sunlight, so be sure to apply a moisturizer with a good level of SPF before going outside. It also can bleach your clothes and towels. If you're using a towel to pat your skin dry, make sure to use white or non-colored towels, as that will reduce the chances of you accidentally ruining your nice linens.
4. Understand when it's time to involve a dermatologist.
If you're prone to blackheads and whiteheads, a prescription-strength retinoid is what you really need. Tretinoin, the active ingredient in products such as RetinA, is inactivated by exposure to light and certain chemicals (including benzoyl peroxide). If you are using tretinoin, apply it at night, and use it separately from your benzoyl peroxide product.
Acne around the jawline and chin -- especially pimples that never seem to come to the surface -- is likely hormone-driven, and it doesn't respond well to topical medication. Birth control pills, which are FDA-approved for the treatment of acne, may be the solution.
5. Take care of yourself.
Before you roll your eyes and brush this last tip off, give it some consideration. Under times of stress -- often more mental than physical -- your body releases a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol, often considered the “stress hormone,” has many effects on the body. It increases the production of oil in your skin, perpetuates inflammation and reduces your immune system's ability to fight off infection.
The result? A bad breakout. Stress-related acne is often very stubborn and resistant to treatment.
Furthermore, long-term, unresolved stress results in chronic, low-grade inflammation throughout the body, which accelerates wrinkle formation and aging of the skin. It's no coincidence that often people with healthy, clear, youthful-looking skin tend to be the most well-rested and stress-free.
Take 30 minutes to an hour out of your day every day to unwind, relax and clear your mind. De-stressing is often the most essential component of beautifully radiant, younger-looking skin.