Having perfect skin can seem like an unlikely dream for those of us who have battled skin conditions over the years. Don’t surrender yet though! In the six years I’ve been an esthetician, I’ve helped people with all skin types deal with tons of skin issues, and I’ve learned quite a few secrets, DIY treatments, and helpful tidbits along the way. From lavender oil to digestive health to choosing the right skincare products, here are some tricks of the trade that will help you achieve the ever elusive “perfect” skin.
1. Check The Ingredients List On Your Skincare Products. Just like makeup, skincare products aren’t meant to last forever. Lotions and cleansers should have expiration dates. If they don’t, they’re probably packed with chemicals that give them a longer shelf life. Who wants to buy the skincare equivalent of a Twinkie? I always recommend organic skincare lines like Eminence and Seaflora, but as long as you can read and understand the ingredient list and see an expiration date, it’s probably a good bet. If the ingredients list looks like a short novel, it’s most likely not that good for you. Look for organic ingredients, and don’t assume something is organic just because the word “natural” is on the bottle, or even if “Organic” is part of the brand name. Pull out your magnifying glass and read the small print.
2. Garlic Is Not Just For Pasta. Putting garlic on your face might not sound particularly appetizing, but its benefits are totally worth the smell. It can help with anti-aging, works amazingly well as an acne spot treatment, cuts down inflammation and blackheads, and can even get rid of warts! Just spread minced garlic on the affected area, leave on for about 10 minutes (or overnight, if you can stand the smell), then rinse off.
3. Try A DIY Mask. I picked up this tip from a gorgeous Indian woman who came in for a facial: Indian brides will apply a mask of turmeric and chickpea flour the night before the wedding so their skin is glowing. Just mix the chickpea flour with water, organic milk, or yogurt to make a paste, add about a half teaspoon of turmeric, and spread over your face. This is best for darker skin tones due to the yellow tint of the turmeric but fair skin tones should have no problem doing this in the summer when they have a sun-kissed tone already. Don’t stop just at the face, drinking turmeric is healing too!
4. Sweat It Out. Steaming is one of my best tricks to getting nice skin. In today’s world it’s impossible to avoid contact with toxins. Our skin is like a sponge and we must give it a chance to shed the toxins it soaks up. Steam rooms are my favorite and doing this weekly is great for detoxification, soft skin, and increasing your circulation. Of course, don’t do more than 15 mins at a time if you don’t know if your body deals well with heat. A quick cold shower is refreshing afterwards and helps enhance the health benefits. I’m not a big fan of saunas as they use a dry heat and make me feel like a piece of jerky. If you don’t have access to a steam room, you can also steam at home by holding your face over a bowl of hot (but not boiling!) water, infused with essential oils like lavender (see tip #7).
5. Don’t Skip Toner. Using a toner is a must. Most people have no idea what the heck toner actually does, and to be fair, it can be tough to find a clear answer to that question, but here it is: basically, when you wash your face, the cleanser you use strips your skin’s PH levels. Your skin can restore it on its own, but that can take hours and doesn’t allow your skin to heal any other problems it might be having. Toner restores your PH levels instantly so your skin can focus on repairing other things like your cell turnover rate. Rose and lavender toners are my favorite but others like rosemary (great for oily skin) and chamomile (for the sensitive ones) are wonderful as well.
6. Balance Your Hormones. Are your hormones balanced? For us women it can be hard to keep those little ones in check. You don’t want too much of either estrogen or testosterone, you want a harmony, but if the scale is tipped to one side it can affect your skin. High levels of testosterone can cause your body to increase oil production, causing acne, large pores, and excessive body hair. Low levels of estrogen can cause dryness, which leads to wrinkles, itchiness, and thinning skin. Being on the proper birth control method for you can keep these two balanced. For a more natural way, evening primrose oil (even better when combined with fish oil) is great for your skin and helps with a long list of lady problems. Of course, if you suspect a hormone imbalance is causing any more serious issues, it’s time to get a check-up.
7. Fall In Love With Lavender. Lavender is amazing, I use it just like the dad in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” uses Windex. For awhile I even had lavender cat litter, but I digress. Skincare-wise, lavender is the universal cure-all. Got a problem? Try some lavender! Add a few drops of lavender essential oil to pretty much any skincare product, or use fresh sprigs in a facial steam or a hot bath. Lavender’s healing gifts go far beyond improving your skin, and can even help with depression/anxiety, migraines, cuts and sunburns, motion sickness, insomnia, insect bites, and allergies just to name a few. If you are allergic to lavender, you should try her savory sister, rosemary. Both work fresh or as an essential oil.
8. Take Probiotics: If you’ve had difficulties with acne and feel like you’ve tried just about everything to fix it, this might just be the trick your body needs. Taking a daily dose of Probiotics is great for the body’s overall health, and I bet most of those expensive acne-clearing pills have this ingredient in it. The reason? Your gut and skin are very closely connected. If your gut is inflamed, your face is going to be as well which can lead to many common skin conditions (acne, dermatitis, eczema, you name it). Repeat after me: a happy gut makes a happy face!
9. Anti-Aging Is About Good Habits, Not Expensive Quick Fixes. The big question I’m always asked is, “How can I look young forever or take off the last 20 years?” You can’t fight nature, so the real question people should be asking is, “How can I age gracefully?” And guess what? The answers are all extremely simple, natural, and don’t require a ton of money. The key is to not do them sporadically, you must make the following 7 skincare habits a routine:
- HYDRATE. Water is life! We are 50-75% water and we need to replenish that number daily to keep thing running smoothly and to ensure our skin stays elastic and luminous. Quick way to figure out how much you should be drinking is take your body weight, divide that in half, and drink that number in ounces. Feel free to infuse your water with things like strawberries, cucumbers, or lemon if you find regular water a bit boring.
- SUNSCREEN. I can’t stress this one enough. Even on a cloudy day you should have a basic sunscreen on to protect you. Sun damage is more common and more noticeable than people think! Make sure your sunscreen protects against UVA (aging) and UVB (burning) rays with an SPF of 30 plus. If possible, choose an alcohol free formula as well. And don’t forget to apply this to your neck, decollete, and hands. Everyone always forgets the hands. Everyone always regrets forgetting the hands.
- EXFOLIATE. As we mature, things tend to slow down a bit including our cell turnover rate. Using the proper exfoliation method can keep this show on time. Try to avoid things that are drying (salt) or scratching (walnut shells) that can cause inflammation. Sugar, baking soda, and gentle fruit enzymes are safe choices with great results. Don’t go hogwild with shedding your skin though! Find what’s right for your skin type. Sensitives will need less exfoliation (once a week, max), and dry skin will need more (two to threes times a week). Be careful with oily skin though. If you are exfoliating too much you might be causing your skin to freak out and increase its oil production to make up for what was taken away. Just promise not to do it every day, and see what your skin responses to best.
- MOISTURIZE. It’s tempting to want to buy an expensive face cream that has diamonds in it (“DIAMONDS?? Obviously I need it on my face!”) to cure wrinkles and fix all your skin problems. Real talk? As fancy and magical as those extra ingredients sound they are not really necessary and can be taking your attention away from what really matters: a good moisturizer you use daily. Our skin gets dryer and dyer as we age, and a good moisturizer — not gold, diamonds, or caviar — is what’s going to help prevent wrinkles. I’d start with choosing an oil that matches your skin type — coconut, almond,and jojoba are great choices, and you can experiment to see which one works best. Adding in essential oils is a way to kick it up a notch. Oil is a girl’s best friend and with the money you will save you could probably buy a real diamond if you still want one (just don’t rub it on your face!).
- EXERCISE/HEALTHY DIET. This is a no-brainer, but staying healthy and in shape is old news and still good news! Diet-wise, it’s good to step back from processed sugar. You don’t need to run to the hills when you see it, just cut down a bit and I swear you’ll feel a difference in your energy levels and see a difference in the health of your skin.
- SLEEP. Everyone knows this but doesn’t follow through. Go to bed earlier. Your body will love you for it and your skin will, too.
- STRESS MANAGEMENT. Stress is linked to so many health problems and diseases and it’s not keeping you looking any younger either. There are many ways to help you release and manage stress. Exercise, hot baths, listening to calming music, Tai Chi, aromatherapy, massage, going to a therapist to vent, meditation, drawing/painting, a book club, even doing a short daily walk. There are so many options! Pick a few and commit to dealing with your stress in a positive way — it will improve your quality of life and keep you looking and feeling younger.
10. Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dermatologist. If all else fails and your are still wondering what’s happening with your skin, go see a dermatologist. Don’t be shy. Ask them as MANY questions as you need. One thing I always tell my clients is that if the dermatologist tries to give you a steroid cream, ask them for other natural, alternative remedies instead. If they can’t think of anything, ask them to point you in the direction of someone who can. As you can see, there are so many natural ways to care for your skin, and it pays off to empower yourself to learn about them and give them a try.