Friday, January 13th, 2012

By Laura, 40s, New York, Skincare Contributor

Laura “came of age” in the 80s, so she considers a survivor of some very disturbing fashion and makeup trends, like shoulder pads, acid-washed jeans worn unironically, streaky blush, and thick eyeliner that we softened with a lighter before putting it on–don’t even get her started on what women wore to the gym in those days! She now works in a more conservative field, and she’ll get an odd look or two if she wears crackle nail polish (and she expects we’ll look back on that trend with the same disbelief we now reserve for horizontally-striped leg warmers).


Photo by Darwin Bell

Exfoliation: An Essential Step in Your Skincare Routine

As I’ve posted here before, I have a particularly galling skin type – namely, skin that’s not only middle-aged that I have to worry about fine lines but is still prone to oiliness and breakouts as well. For both issues, I find that exfoliation, which is a fancy word for removing the outer layer of skin, is essential for my skincare routine. Along with Retin-A cream, exfoliation has led to the greatest visible improvement in my skin. (Retin-A, incidentally, is not an exfoliant, contrary to popular belief.)

Exfoliation benefits most skin types, but if you have oily skin like me, you want to exfoliate to avoid blackheads, whiteheads, and pimples. Those skin problems result from an overabundance of sebum, which is a waxy substance produced by your skin’s sebaceous glands. Under normal circumstances, sebum is actually a good thing, since it reduces natural water loss from the skin. However, when your sebaceous glands overproduce sebum, it tends to clog the pores, not only with the sebum, but with skin cells and bacteria. By exfoliating–helping the skin cells to shed off your face–you help keep the pore from getting clogged, and with a little luck, no breakouts.

Exfoliation can also benefit sun-damaged skin by removing the thickened layer of skin that results from over-exposure to sun and makes your skin look ashy or sallow. As for dry skin, it can also benefit from exfoliation; the process helps shed skin cells, permitting moister skin cells to surface and make the skin look more dewy. Not incidentally, if you have dry skin, exfoliation will also help your skin absorb moisturizers better, as the dead skin cells fall away and no longer act as a barrier for the moisturizer.

So which exfoliants to use? I prefer chemical exfoliants (alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acid) instead of physical exfoliants (scrubs or plain old washcloths), since the latter don’t penetrate below the surface. For my oily and aging skin, I usually use a BHA, which is salicylic acid (yep, close to what’s in good old aspirin). Unlike AHAs, BHA not only exfoliates the outer layer of skin, but is also fat-soluble rather than water soluble, so that it gets inside the pore to get rid of all the stuff clogging it.

Your BHA product should have a concentration of one to two percent, with a pH of 3 to 4 (roughly as acidic as vinegar).  To be certain you’re getting an effective product, salicylic acid should be high up on the ingredient list. And although I know you’re using sunscreen every single day (you are, right? RIGHT?), you have to be extra careful to use a good sunscreen when you’re using a BHA, because BHAs increase sun sensitivity. My own favorite BHA is Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Gel Exfoliant  ($18.95), which is formulated for oily skin.

I also like to use an AHA product once or twice a week; I notice a definite difference in the suppleness of my skin when I do. Again, you want to make sure your product has the right amount of AHAs to benefit your skin: five to eight percent AHA and a pH of 3 to 4, so that it has enough acidity to be effective (look for fruit acid high on the ingredients list). As with BHA, make very certain you’re using a proper sunscreen, as AHAs can also increase sun sensitivity. My current favorite AHA product is Olay’s Regenerist Night Resurfacing Elixir ($29.99).

A couple of caveats: I don’t use an AHA and BHA together, and I don’t generally exfoliate every night, since I do notice that if I don’t take a little break, my skin will sometimes get flaky–not exactly the look I’m striving for!

What are your favorite exfoliants?

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

By Laura, 40s, New York, Skincare Contributor

Laura “came of age” in the 80s, so she considers a survivor of some very disturbing fashion and makeup trends, like shoulder pads, acid-washed jeans worn unironically, streaky blush, and thick eyeliner that we softened with a lighter before putting it on–don’t even get her started on what women wore to the gym in those days! She now works in a more conservative field, and she’ll get an odd look or two if she wears crackle nail polish (and she expects we’ll look back on that trend with the same disbelief we now reserve for horizontally-striped leg warmers).


Making Skincare Affordable: Neutrogena Fresh Foaming Cleanser

One thing I find difficult about my middle-aged skin is that it doesn’t tolerate rough treatment as well as it did when I was in my 20s and 30s. I used to be able to stay out late, fall into bed leaving all my makeup on when I slept, and wake up with nothing worse than a wee bit of puffiness under my eyes, if that. Not anymore. Now, if I want to skin to look presentable at work in the morning, not only do I have to be a lot more careful about my diet, but I also have to be absolutely fastidious in making sure I care properly for my skin before I go to bed.

Still, despite my having to take a few more minutes in my bedtime routine than I used to, my skincare routine is pretty simple, and I’ve developed one habit that might surprise some people: I don’t use a lot of department store skin-care products. I’ve found after many years of trial and error (more than I care to admit!) that while expense isn’t necessarily inversely proportional to effectiveness, my skin does not necessarily look any better when I spend more money on it.

On the contrary, some of the best products I’ve found are in the drugstore, not at the cosmetics counter. This rule holds particularly true for facial cleansers; I’ve found that there’s absolutely no reason to spend megabucks on any of them. A lot of department store cleansers are very fine.  Sometimes I use Clinique Extra Mild Liquid Facial Soap ($16.00) when I’m feeling flush, but I’ve never found them markedly different from the skincare products you can find easily at Rite Aid or CVS. (I’ve found myself using certain department store products regularly because the drugstore brands don’t make a comparable product – Clinique Take the Day Off Cleansing Balm ($27.50), for example – but that’s for another post.)

Of course, there are some cleansers I can’t use because they happen to have ingredients that irritate my skin, but in that regard, I’ve found that the expensive stuff is just as likely to be an offender as are the less-expensive brands. As just one example, I know a lot of people love Philosophy’s Purity, which is $20 for an eight-ounce bottle, and I wish I could love it, because I do love the scent and texture. However, it drives my skin insane and not in a good way. I also haven’t found that cleansers work any better if they have gold-plated ingredients like antioxidants, salicylic acid, and so forth. After all, those ingredients touch your skin for only around a minute before you literally wash them down the drain!

I’ve tried dozens of different cleansers since I was a teenager, and I always come back to Neutrogena in one form or another. The company has, of course, changed its formulations over the years, but right now, my favorite is Neutrogena Fresh Foaming Cleanser ($6.50). It not only cleans beautifully, but also removes my makeup–even my eye makeup–thoroughly. I buy it for around seven dollars at Rite Aid. And I live in New York City, so you’ll probably be able to get it even cheaper.

I have another opinion that I know will raise a few eyebrows: I don’t believe in eye creams. But that’s also for my next post!