What’s the word skin?
Your skin is a careful and deliberate organ of your body, meant to exist at an acidic pH level of 4-7 (to keep it in context, pure water has a neutral pH of 7, and blood has a pH of 7.4). This acidic nature is good for killing unwanted acne-causing bacteria. Keeping along those lines, a nice sugar lemon face scrub should be EXTRA good for your face, right? Lemon is acidic, and sugar has that lovely grainy feel that you’d expect to slough away the dead skin. But girl, let me wipe this horrible beauty advice from your mind. Lemon and sugar are not things that belong on your face. Lemon is extremely acidic with a pH of 2 and sugar, with its uneven and jagged edges, will only scratch and scrape at your now defenseless skin and cause microabrasions. Both will throw your face out of balance. You can expect either extra dry or extra oily skin as your glands try desperately to restore balance. It disturbs your skin’s natural oil production, which is your very first line of defense against bacteria. At worst, a lemon sugar scrub can even ENTER those abrasions and give you a nasty rash and irritation. Hard pass.
While we’re talking pH, baking soda and toothpaste directly on the face in a DIY scrub can also do more harm than good. If you’re looking to get a good exfoliating or lightening scrub, use something gentle like a microfiber towel or a mask/scrub including turmeric. Adding a dollop of honey, glycerin, or aloe will also go a long way in drawing moisture to your face, rather than stripping it away, as they are natural humectant (moisturizers!). Even those out there with very oily skin can benefit from proper hydration. If your T-zone is overproducing oil, it’s likely your skin is actually dehydrated, and thus over-producing in an effort to create balance. If your skin routine is focused on drying and mattifying, you’re only moving further and further away from an equilibrium point.
You’ll want to avoid the following synthetic humectants if you want long-lasting hydration: propylene glycol, polyethylene glycol, silicones, and urea.1 They are known to have short-term positive effects, but over time can lead to “both primary irritant skin reactions and allergic sensitization.1” They are used to increase permeability into the skin and sink deeper to increase hydration, but this increased permeability also lets in bacteria and other particles leading to irritation.2 The beauty industry wants you to have soft and clear skin, yes, but not for forever. They primarily want you to keep coming back for more product.
Pore shrinking isn’t a thing
We as consumers and the beauty industry all talk about pores, but we don’t actually know what we’re talking about. So many products are bought and sold in the hopes of “shrinking your pores” and getting rid of those little dots and divots. But pores aren’t elastic little holes you can open and close and shrink and grow with the right combination of chemicals and peels. Human skin is a complex and permeable membrane, a chain link fence that lets certain things in and stops certain things cold.
All these little holes are openings for sweat and oil glands. Your sweat glands are small enough that you can’t see them enough to worry about them, but the oil glands? These are the ones targeted by beauty gurus and pharmaceutical companies alike. They’re the ones that are ruining that smooth airbrushed look you’re going for, and it’s perfectly normal to want them gone. But you are going about it all wrong.
Your pore size is genetically determined. There is no “shrinking them.” Get that out of your head. What you can do is minimize their appearance. The rougher and dryer your skin, the more light is scattered in a haphazard fashion that emphasizes the appearance of any opening. But a smooth and hydrated surface reflects light, or bounces it cleanly away, thus reducing the appearance of pores.3
Blackhead strips aren’t the way to go about fixing this issue. All they do, especially since people often use them to clear the sebum (face oil) from their oil glands, is rip the oil from the glands. This leaves you with what looks like shrunken pores for exactly the length of time it takes to produce more. And you will produce more. It’s actually likely you’ll produce more than you normally would since your body is now trying to maintain a balance your pore strips keep skewing.
The best thing to do is to wash your face 1-2x a day to keep your glands from getting clogged with dirt. Using a good but gentle daily cleanser along with an exfoliating cream containing either alpha or beta hydroxy acids a few times a week will keep the little pinprick marks at bay and have your skin plump and hydrated. Under makeup, a good moisturizer is a must. While a silicone based primer will have your skin looking hydrated for that outing, the long-term effects may have you thinking twice. Silicone is a man-made compound that sits on the skin, filling your pores and building a layer your skin can’t ‘breathe’ through. If you use a primer daily and you’re completely satisfied with your skin’s health, then go off sis! Enjoy your routine! But if you do find your skin to be lacking, consider skipping the primer and focusing on improving the texture of your actual skin beneath the foundation (or be like me and just use a stellar moisturizer!). Whichever you decide, just remember that oil and water don’t mix, so your oil based foundation will never look good with a water-based primer or moisturizer below it!The low down on some things skin care so you can level up to the glow. Click To Tweet
Effects of diet
I know we’ve all heard this a million times but a healthy diet is really the key to clear skin. Clear skin begins in the kitchen. Health experts in the World Health Organization have agreed that the ‘Mediterranean diet”4 is one of the healthiest you can have. High in fish, leafy greens, and fruit, this diet cuts out red meat (bye double cheeseburger!), processed meats (see you later, bacon and bologna!), and replaces unsaturated trans fats with saturated trans fats (goodbye butter, hello olive oil!). These deliberate changes can dramatically increase the health of your skin (along with all your other organs), and decrease mortality rates! Your body will thank you.
Fish and many leafy greens include omega-3 fatty acids to keep your skin cell membranes nice and elastic, while the fruits and other veggies contain antioxidants that counteract the free radicals that lead to age spots and wrinkles. Red meats and processed foods directly counter this, adding ammonia, free radicals and increasing LDL (the BAD cholesterol that leads to plaque buildup in your arteries, heart attacks, and strokes!). Meat, though high in necessary proteins and purines, also can lead to many adverse health effects, such as high cholesterol and blood pressure! Whatever your body type, a Mediterranean diet or any diet focused around eating “good” fats (like olive oil, avocados, or nuts) will keep your body and face healthy.
AHA vs BHA
Alpha hydroxy acids
To get good exfoliation without worrying about scraping up or damaging your skin, I recommend alpha hydroxy acids, a gentle acid that breaks down the gunk that builds up on your face (dead skin, dust, bacteria, etc), while sparing the fresh skin below. The name acid might sound scary to those with sensitive skin and especially those with bad experiences with retinoids. However, retinoids rely on inflammation to kick start the skin into shutting down pimples. Acids just wash the upper layer of cells away, triggering your skin to produce more! 5 With a pH level close to that of your actual face, it doesn’t scare your system into oil over- or underproduction. Instead, if it’s the product for you, your skin should immediately feel hydrated and glowy. I add that caveat, as each person is a little different and their body reacts differently to the same stimulus. While some people might get an oily T zone, mine personally gets super dry and flaky. My skin even gets dry after a good alpha hydroxy wash. My lipid production in my face is just naturally low. I like to moisturize with a good helping of extra virgin olive oil for a good shot of omega 3 fatty acids straight to the face.
Beta Hydroxy Acids
Salicylic acids, also known as beta hydroxy acids are similar but different. While alpha hydroxy acids are water-soluble (can dissolve in water), beta hydroxy’s are LIPID soluble and can dissolve in lipids. So, for the oily skinned, this is much better! Those with dry skin can find these to be super drying and not worth it without a great moisturizer after. Because these can break through that lipid layer easier, it’s better to have them in lower concentrations. When listing ingredients any products, manufacturers have to list them in order of percentage volume (which is why water is usually the first ingredient). Look for products listing salicylic near the middle or end.6
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Here’s hoping this breakdown helps you figure out what your skin needs so you can get to the glow!