Q: My skin care routine is pretty complicated and expensive—and not reliable. Any ideas?
—Amy M., Lawrence, Kan.
A: Every good skin routine starts with wholesome cleansing. A lot of people use fairly harsh soaps and scrubs to “wash” their skin. This is overkill. You may need a good scrub if you’ve mucked around all day, but otherwise, your skin probably isn’t particularly dirty. As a society, we’ve become incredibly germ phobic, and we’re just beginning to discover how harmful it is to mess around with the natural microbiome of our soil, our guts, and our skin. I personally think plain warm water, followed by several splashes of cold water as a tonic, is the best way to care for your skin at the end of the day.
Follow with a moisturizer formulated with natural oils (coconut, jojoba, rose seed, and/or shea butter are good choices) to sink in overnight. Use pillowcases that fit tightly over your pillow to minimize transferring a crease from the cloth onto your cheek. If you’re truly comfortable sleeping on your back, this is a great way to reduce facial wrinkles.
Did You Know?
Rose oil is gentle and nourishing enough to use as a facial moisturizer.
In the mornings, I recommend simply brushing your face for about 60 seconds with a small soft brush. Brush away from the midline, and up the neck to the edge of the jaw. Use a firmer long-handled brush for the rest of your body. You can spend thousands of dollars in salons for exfoliation treatments, or you can gently expedite exfoliation every day in the comfort of your bathroom. All skin therapy revolves around increasing the rate of turnover of the top layer of skin, so you can get healthy, fresh skin on the surface.
As our largest organ of elimination, the skin also needs to breathe—so covering it in layers of conventional makeup won’t help. Instead, find a natural, mineral-based cover-up that matches your skin tone, and wear it as little as possible.
Avoid Skincare Products with Chemicals
Take a good look at all the “skincare” products you use, and toss any that contain a bunch of unpronounceable chemicals. Keep it simple. Chemicals will perturb the integrity and diversity of good bugs on your skin. Instead, look for products that contain minimal, natural ingredients. Try not to put anything on your highly absorptive skin surface that you wouldn’t put in your mouth.
I like to use coconut oil on my dry shins and elbows, and a more buttery emollient such as shea butter on my arms and neck. For my face I might use a rose oil or black cumin seed balm. But mostly water and skin brushing, as mentioned earlier.
Facial skin gets the most attention, but also beware unnecessary—and even nasty—chemicals in hand soaps and body washes. Avoid products that contain alcohol, as this ingredient is very drying and will strip off natural oils. Most soaps are based on ancient formulas that used naturally occurring saponins (irritants, but effective for scrubbing off oily grime) and lye. Soaps in general make skin drier and more vulnerable to damage. If you want to sanitize your hands, consider an antimicrobial essential oil blend instead.
Best Diet for Healthy Skin
Exercise—any kind of vigorous movement—can improve skin tone and prolong a youthful appearance, but it’s only about 20 percent of the equation. The most important aspect of a healthy life, with healthy glowing skin, is high-quality food.
Water is the best drink for your skin, and fresh vegetables are the most mineral- and fiber-rich food source. Start your morning with a big glass of water, and keep going. Try to eat vegetables at least three times per day—spinach in a morning smoothie; fresh salad or steamed crucifers at lunch; a Thai- or Mexican-style veggie stir-fry at dinner. On cooler nights, bake yams, squash, or a carrot/mushroom/Brussels sprout blend doused in olive oil and herbs.
In addition to water and veggies, healthy fats are the key to a glowing complexion. The very top layer of your skin migrates to the surface from the “basement membrane” that lies below the epidermis. Between that basement membrane and the surface lies a fatty layer. Even the slimmest of people house at least 20,000 calories worth of fat (a generous 10-day supply of nourishment) under their skin. This means that new skin cells pass through this fatty layer on the way to the surface as they are maturing. So, the quality of the fat you ingest is critical for helping skin cells to mature through a clean, supportive medium.
Hydrogenated fats are bad because they’re jammed with hydrogen, so they’re completely dead. Oils that get used over and over in cooking are also particularly noxious. When you’re tempted to eat deep fried foods, think about a fresh healthy skin cell trying to swim to the surface of your face through a vat of grease. Don’t go there.
Good fats generally come in containers that protect them from light and heat. The best olives in the world (from the Mediterranean) are usually stored in tins. Green glass or black recyclable plastic containers are also adequate. Fresh fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring) are very healthy for your skin. Olive oil is one of the better salad and cooking oils. Just don’t overheat it, as overheating any oil can turn it rancid, eliminating its healthful qualities.