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The average person uses nine different personal care products on a daily basis while at least 25 percent of women use 15 or more. There are hundreds of thousands of skin care products on the market with new ones being introduced all the time. Along with the wide range of price points can leave a person feeling overwhelmed just trying to decide on a body soap.
UW Health dermatologist Dr. Apple Bodemer knows just how confusing it can all be, but she explains that it doesn’t have to be. To start, she has a very simple philosophy – “Beauty starts on the inside.”
She adds that the better you take care of your body, the better you will look and feel, “That healthy glow really does come from inside.”
There is no secret formula – despite what marketers may suggest. Drinking plenty of water, a diet rich in plant-based foods, regular moderate exercise, getting good quality sleep, having positive friendships, making time for hobbies and enjoying life – all of those things doctors are constantly telling us really do make a difference.
The Four Basic Categories of Skin Care Products
No matter how much you take care of the inside, the largest organ of the body – your skin – does need some TLC as well. To help maintain its health and appearance, Bodemer explains there are four basic categories of over-the-counter skin care products we can use:
When it comes to using cleansers, there are a few basic rules:
Cleanse no more than twice a day
Use warm water and a gentle cleanser
Avoid abrasive cleansing devices and scrubs
“Rubbing your fingers gently in a circular motion is all you really need to achieve clean skin,” says Bodemer. “It is important to avoid over-cleansing or cleansing too harshly.”
Cleansers that are too strong or abrasive can affect the health of the skin and result in dryness, irritation and inflammation, which in turn can result in flares of chronic skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. Unless otherwise recommended by your physician, it’s also best avoid harsh antibacterial cleansers. Instead, look for gentle cleansers, particularly those that promote having a pH closer to normal skin.
Like cleansers, Bodemer recommends a few basic rules for moisturizing:
Liberally apply thick creams, ointments or oils especially after bathing while the skin is still slightly damp
Use something that you scoop out of a tub or squeeze out of a tube—not from a pump
Bodemer explains that most moisturizers don’t actually add moisture to the skin, but instead help draw moisture from deeper tissues and help prevent the loss of moisture from the surface, which is why the thicker the moisturizer, the better. She offers a caution about lotion, “Lotions are essentially a band aid. While they feel good at first, they have high water content and in the long run contribute to more evaporation of moisture from the skin, which we are trying to avoid.”
When shopping for a moisturizer, Bodemer recommends ones that contain the following ingredients:
Ingredients that slow down evaporation (also called occlusive):
Various oils like coconut oil
Ingredients that that help attract water to the skin (also called humectants):
Urea (ureic acid)
Alpha hydroxy acids
Bodemer, whose training includes integrative dermatology, also recommends “food grade” oils including coconut, apricot kernel, almond, avocado and sesame oils as well as shea butter.
“I am a huge fan of food grade oils. Apricot kernel oil is my favorite facial moisturizer. It is the lightest of the oils and is absorbed quickly. I find it works really well even for people who have oily skin or acne,” she says.
Among the benefits of food grade oils is that they are easy to find, unlikely to cause allergic reactions, don’t contain preservative and have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant qualities. Although she does add a caution about shea butter.
“Shea butter comes from the shea nut. They have a very low protein content and while the protein present in Shea does not appear to trigger allergic reactions, if someone has a tree nut allergy, I would watch carefully for reactions,” she says.
Most people are already familiar with the basic rules of sun protection: wear clothing and wide brimmed hats that protect the skin, minimize exposure to the midday sun (between 10am-4pm), wear sunglasses and of course, wear a sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher rating.
“I especially like sunscreens that contain the physical blockers: zinc oxide or titanium dioxide,” adds Bodemer. But she also stresses that sunscreens are imperfect and are only part of a UV protection plan. That’s where the clothes, hat, sunglasses and staying out of the midday sun come into play. When you do use sunscreen remember to use it appropriately, which means:
Apply it early—15-20 minutes before the UV exposure
Use enough—about a nickel sized dollop for the face alone, about a palm full for face and body
Re-apply every two hours or after getting wet
It’s easy to think that the higher the SPF the better the protection, but really the number is just an estimate of how much time you can be in the sun before experiencing a burn. Regardless of the SPF, sunscreen wears off after about two hours so it does need to be re-applied.
Types of Sunscreen
When it comes to sunscreen there are two types – physical and chemical blockers. The physical blockers are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These are often better tolerated by individuals with sensitive skin. Bodemer explains that the mineral based sunscreens often leave a white/gray residue on the skin, but that can be avoided by looking for ones labeled micronized or nano-particle.
Chemical blockers commonly found in sunscreens include homosalate, octisalate (octylmethoxycinnamate), octinoxate, oxybenzone, octocrylene, avobenzone and meroxyl. Some of these can cause allergic reactions, which is why Bodemer recommends avoiding products containing oxybenzone and octinoxate. On the other hand, if you are going to use a sunscreen with chemical blockers, Bodemer suggests looking for Avobenzone and Meroxy because both have a lower likelihood for causing allergic skin reactions.
According to Bodemer, one of the best ways you can keep skin looking and feeling great is to avoid exposure to UV radiation.
“Most of the skin changes we associate with ageing are not necessarily factors of simply getting old, but actually induced and accelerated by UV radiation, so doing whatever you can to minimize this will give you a huge advantage—both for skin health and appearance,” she says.
If you decide to incorporate anti-aging into your skin care regimen, Bodemer suggests two basic rules:
Know what issues you are hoping to address and have realistic expectations
Be willing to use the product or products regularly for at least several months to see a benefit
Over-the-counter anti-ageing products are primarily focused on minimizing wrinkles and brown spots or blotchy skin. Because this class of products is not classified as drugs, they do not have to prove effectiveness, and do not have to identify concentrations of ingredients on the product labels. Bodemer warns that many of these types of products can cause irritation and should be used cautiously in people with sensitive skin.
She notes there are some ingredients that may have some anti-aging benefit, including:
Retinol—helps increase cell turnover (or exfoliates the skin), stimulates collagen and elastin, helps fade dark spots
Vitamin C – may help minimize photo damage (must be stored in an air-tight dark container)
Hydroxy Acids – (alpha-, beta- and poly-) gently exfoliate the skin—removing upper layer of dead skin and stimulating the growth of a smoother more evenly pigmented skin layer
Coenzyme Q – may reduce fine lines and wrinkles and have some UV damage protection
Tea Extracts (black, white or green) – have potent anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties
Grapeseed Extract – anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory
Nicatinamide (B3) - anti-oxidant, helps reduce water loss from skin and may improve elasticity
Igredients that help lighten brown spots:
Kojic acid –from Japanese mushrooms
Arbutin –from bearberry, mulberry, blueberry, cranberry, wheat, pear
Azelaic acid – from grains
If you’ve been in the market for anti-ageing products, no doubt you’ve wondered whether that small tube is truly worth more than a hundred dollars. Bodemer says that expensive products aren’t necessarily better. What you may notice is that the look, smell, even feel of the product may be different, but a higher end product may not actually work any better than a more moderately priced one.
“Basic good quality skin care products are readily available and don’t have to break your budget. If you want to treat yourself to something that makes you feel special, go right ahead – just know what you are paying for,” she says.