If you're overwhelmed by the amount of skin-care products out there, you're not alone. How can you wade through them all when they're all claiming to be the greatest, the most natural, the most organic? Our beauty expert explains how best to care for your skin.
By Mary Beth Janssen
What I'd like to tune into is a holistic approach to radiant, dewy skin--the process of conscious skin care. So let's begin at the beginning with true organic skin care. We need to simplify, simplify, simplify! Let's begin with the following delightful visualization.
Healthy skin is alive with vibrating energy. It's radiant, smooth, supple, elastic, and moist. It also has a slight flush to it from optimal blood circulation. This kind of skin shows that lymph fluid is removing toxins and boosting immunity. Stress is under control, antioxidants are preventing free radical damage, and hormones are balanced. The oil and sweat glands are bathing the skin with just the right amount of natural oil and moisture, which in turn maintains the skin's natural acid mantle. All the while, the skin is experiencing a constant state of renewal, turning over and shedding over a million skin cells an hour in a sort of healthful internal dance. Every cell in your body communicates and works harmoniously. This is synergy in motion.
While this wonderful balance is indeed how your skin wants to react, you can damage this balance by putting your skin in harm's way. However, you can minimize damage by examining everything you do, which is sometimes easier said than done, since many people don't even realize that their routine activities damage their skin. The perfectly natural, organic ways to create beautiful skin are to manage stress, eat healthfully, stay hydrated, get a good balance of physical activity and rest, practice sun protection, and avoid smoking. And naturally, follow a healthful skin-care regimen with pure products, where you always use only the gentlest manipulation of the skin. Rough tugging, rubbing, or abrasive handling with your fingers, hands, towels, tissues or machines can mechanically damage your skin.
WHY ORGANIC SKIN CARE?
When we're young, our body is programmed to maintain clear, smooth, soft skin, and we have to really ignore our skin or take it for granted to derail this program. As we age, however, our skin begins to work less efficiently, thinning out, losing elasticity, and sagging. Exposure to stress--environmental, physical, mental--only exacerbates this natural aging process. And mind you, when I talk about aging skin I don't mean 50- or 60-year-old skin. These changes can begin at a much younger age if your skin does not receive proper care.
Proper care does not have to mean using lots of expensive and/or complicated products. What I'm referring to is organic skin care, a logical and relatively simple approach that holistically nurtures your skin's natural ability to maintain good health. It's about both those therapies that treat our skin from the inside out and from the outside in.
Primary goals in organic skin care are to encourage the regular sloughing off and turnover of skin cells and to maintain the skin's natural acid mantle, which is a combination of sebum and perspiration that your body secretes to protect and moisturize your skin's surface. Achieving these goals can help rebuild damaged collagen and elastin (the chief protein in your skin's elastic fibers) in order to maintain skin strength, elasticity, and resiliency. There are many methods for optimizing cellular turnover. Body brushing, cleansing with a facial mitt or buff, using deeply cleansing masks, and using alpha-hydroxy acids or AHA's (natural organic fruit acids), can all help exfoliate dead surface cells and maintain efficient skin cell turnover. Your skin can get AHA's through a wide variety of treatments, from peels to moisturizing lotions. To protect your skin's natural acid mantle, which covers your entire body, use gentle acid-balanced cleansers to wash. And please avoid antibacterial or deodorant soaps, which tend to be quite harsh.
YOUR SKIN-CARE REGIMEN
When the foundation for your skin health has been laid by making the most of sunshine, fresh air, sleep, relaxation, water and food, it's time to turn to our skin-care regimen. I recommend indulging in regular facial treatments with a skin-care professional. They can set you on the proper path toward blissful, skin-type appropriate, organic skin care. Minimally, the change of seasons is a particularly good time, because your skin usually changes to adapt to climate changes. And it's delightful to put your skin in someone else's capable, healing hands.
Skin-care specialists are well-versed in skin-care techniques, from basic to the most advanced. Naturally, the world of the spa offers a number of progressive, specialty skin-care treatments, but following are some steps you can take on your own. You can adapt these basic steps to your skin type, and the product and application may depend on whether you're caring for your facial or body skin:
• Cleanse: Wash your skin with a gentle cleansing agent to remove dirt and oil and balance the skin--gently, please! Be extra-gentle on your face and neck. Use upward and outward strokes. Around the delicate upper-eye area, work from the inner corner out and around the lower eye area, work from the outer corner in. Masks can deeply cleanse pores and reduce their size, with some masks serving double duty as exfoliants.
• Tone: Apply some form of clarifying liquid to firm skin tissue, reduce pore size, and remove any remaining cleanser residue. Mist it on or apply with an organic cotton pad. Look for toners with organic botanicals, herbs, and essential oils. (I love my homemade rosewater!)
• Moisturize: Apply hydrating lotions, creams, butters, and oils that are humectant (draw moisture into the skin), emollient (preserve moisture already in the skin), and lubricating (lay a thin protective lipid layer on the outside of the skin). Apply to damp skin to lock in extra moisture. Don't use heavy, greasy creams. Your skin needs to breathe! Lightly pat moisturizer around your eye area with the pad of your middle or index finger.
• Exfoliate: Apply exfoliants to remove the top, dead layers of skin cells and debris to encourage better cell turnover and prevent clogged pores. But please, moderation is key. Exfoliating too often or with products that are too strong can strip away the skin's natural acid mantle, throwing your skin into an imbalanced state. Always follow product label instructions.
• Protect: Adhering to the first four techniques ultimately provides vital protection of our skin, encouraging healthy cell turnover; safeguarding the skin's natural acid mantle; and helping maintain the skin's natural strength, elasticity, and resiliency. Be certain to use high quality, non-toxic sun protection, especially during the mid-day sun (I love Badger's natural/organic, non-nano zinc oxide brand!). As healthy as sunbathing or exposure in moderation is for our health (especially in the manufacture of vitamin D), unprotected sun exposure is a prime cause of wrinkles and 90 percent of skin cancers are from sun damage.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT PRODUCTS
The selection of beauty and personal-care products is important for your well-being. I like to think of these lotions and potions, creams and balms, oils and elixirs as food for the skin. Products placed on our skin have direct entry to the bloodstream, whereas the food we ingest is first metabolized by the liver. Ensure that the "food" for your skin is as pure, organic, and devoid of toxins as possible. This is no small feat, because many personal care and household cleaning products are rife with potentially carcinogenic, endocrine-disrupting, and allergenic ingredients. Become a mindful label reader, and learn as much as you can not only about what you put into your body, but also what you put on your body. Being the "mother organica" that I am, I'll always point you to certified organic and biodynamic products (the Natural Products Association certification also has merit). Many claims for natural (and even organic!) products are less than truthful, using petroleum-based and potentially toxic ingredients, hence the importance of certification. Stay close to this issue at Organic Spa Magazine and visit the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Database at ewg.org/skindeep.
Remember that the integrity and wholeness in certified plant ingredients--the high level of vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, amino acids, phytosterols, enzymes, natural sugars, and more--provide a vital spectrum of benefits for the mind, body, skin, scalp, and hair. They cleanse, purify, hydrate, detoxify, stimulate, soothe, smooth, and protect, using the intelligence and energy from food grown in rich fertile soil.
Ten Steps to Gorgeous and Glowing Skin
Reduce stress. Stress hormones rob our skin of its nourishing blood supply, create free radicals, and depress the immune system, disturbing the skin's balance and appearance. As you learn to relax, your skin cells will follow suit. Happy thoughts create happy cells in the body. Visualize beautiful skin. Meditate, breathe deeply, dance, or do whatever it takes to relax, renew, and reinvigorate yourself.
Breathe deep. Deep healing breath-work is definitely a face-friendly activity. Approximately seven percent of the oxygen we inhale is used directly by the skin. Also a great reason for regular physical activity--you'll simply glow!
Eat right. A varied diet with a balance of proteins, complex carbs, good fats, and plenty of natural antioxidants provides the daily requirements to generate healthy skin. High-quality protein helps skin growth and regeneration. Eat veggies and fruits in abundance, along with whole grains, legumes, nuts, a bit of poultry and fish (particularly those rich in omega 3's, like salmon,) and no- or low-fat dairy.
Supplement your diet. Every day, take a high quality multi-vitamin with anti-oxidants, and omega 3's in the form of fish, krill, or flaxseed oil, along with at least two 500 mg capsules of borage or evening primrose oil. Your skin and hair will benefit immensely.
Get rid of the bad stuff. Eliminate foods that spike blood sugar levels, especially anything made from white flour and white sugar, both inflammatory for the skin. You can also do your skin a world of good by reducing saturated fats (eat organic, grass-fed, please) and avoiding artificial ingredients and chemical pollutants. Alcohol, caffeine, and spicy foods can decrease barrier function and increase skin reactivity and inflammation.
Wear sun protection. Although limited sun "baths" (early morning or late afternoon) can be valuable for our body's metabolization of vitamin D, sun exposure is the number one cause of premature skin aging and wrinkles. One of the best ways to protect the skin is to wear a moisturizing sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher. Choose one that blocks both UVA and UVB rays and preferably contains micronized zinc oxide (Environmental Working Group's top sunscreen/block selections: ewg.org/2010sunscreen/best-beach-sport-sunscreens/)
Stop smoking. Smoking is a major cause of massive skin damage (not to mention acute health issues!), severely compromising the skin's ability to repair and rejuvenate itself. Try to create a powerful visualization around releasing this habit for good. See a hypnotist, therapist, get the patch--do whatever it takes to stop smoking. Remember that one puff of a cigarette creates over a billion free radicals in your body. Very toxic indeed!
Bathe in moisture. Water is the cheapest and most effective skin moisturizer, bar none, so drink up. It's absolutely essential for proper hydration, keeping the skin moist and plumped, supple, soft, and clear. It improves the skin's barrier function and helps the skin resist environmental aggressions. It even plumps out fine lines and prevents age spots. Drink eight to 10 glasses of purified or filtered water every day, without fail.
Get physical. Exercise exerts hormone-balancing effects on our skin. It also benefits the skin by increasing blood circulation, which provides nutrition to the skin cells; helps in expelling toxins, controls stress; and promotes deep revitalizing sleep.
Get rest. Your body needs adequate amounts of sleep. Sleep time is when your entire body is busy regenerating, renewing, and rebuilding cellular tissue.
Mary Beth Janssen is a highly respected beauty and wellness educator, certified mind-body-health educator for the Chopra Center for Well-Being, and the author of six books. To send her your questions, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.