By: Liz Broady
“As the crow flies” is usually welcome news. Except when those avian feet head straight for your face and leave their telltale tracks around the eyes. But if aging is inevitable, its pace definitely isn’t. As for breakouts, dryness, and general epidermal malaise? Here’s what’s wrecking your skin—and how to turn it around:
1. The Kate Gosselin Effect. We’re talking about overexposure—solar, in this case.(If we’d called this one “Sun,” your eyes might have glazed.) From wrinkles to cancer, photoaging is “the single biggest cause of damage to the skin,” declares Skin Care & Repair, a new report from Harvard Medical School.
Skin Fix: You know the drill—sunscreen that’s least SPF 30 and protects against both UVA and UVB rays. (Men, don’t forget behind the ears and neck). Consumer Reports’ top-rated product this year is Up & Up Sport Continuous SPF 30 from Target. Most dermatologists aren’t concerned about retinyl palmitate, which controversial research suggests may actually cause cancer, but if you are, Alba Botanica Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30 doesn’t contain the ingredient .You can also wash your clothes with SunGuard for an extra SPF kicker.
2. Worrying About It: Stress wages chemical warfare: Pro-inflammatory neuropeptides make the skin more reactive (worsening acne and psoriasis, for example), while hormones like adrenaline constrict your blood vessels, depriving the tissue of nutrients, explains Rick Fried, MD, PhD, a dermatologist, psychologist, and clinical director of Yardley Dermatology Associates in Pennsylvania. “Long-term stress,” he says, “can cause the production of cortisol, which potentially leads to thinning of the skin.”
Skin Fix: Guided imagery, mindfulness meditation, hypnosis, biofeedback, exercise, yoga, and tai chi are all good ways to manage stress and help improve your complexion, says Fried.
3. Being Picky: Squeezing pimples and picking blemishes are not winning strategies for anyone. “But this is the top wrecker for brown skin,” says Susan Taylor, MD, director of the Skin of Color Center at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center. “Just about any manipulation—especially if the skin is already inflamed—will result in hyperpigmentation (discoloration), which can last months to years and is very difficult to treat.”
Skin Fix: If your skin is inflamed, see a dermatologist ASAP. A steriod injection, for example, can make the problem go away quickly without leaving marks.
4. Cheating Sleep: A candle may be a girl’s best friend (what lighting is more flattering?) but don’t burn it at both ends. “Stress hormones are at their lowest during sleep, while the anti-inflammatory molecules are at their highest,” says New York dermatologist and psychiatrist Amy Wechsler, MD, author of The Mind-Beauty Connection. “So the less you sleep, the worse for your skin.”
Skin Fix: “The studies say you should get 8 hours, but it’s hard,” Wechsler notes. “Start by adding 30 minutes, and see if you can tell the difference.”
5. Drying Out: Alcohol, cold weather, washing diligently in hot water—they can all dehydrate the skin.
Skin Fix: Jenny Kim, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine and dermatology at ULCA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, recommends using moisturizers with ceramides, but says any will do. Based on her own research which was published last year, she says, “There’s no evidence that taking vitamins A and C orally will improve the skin, but in topical creams they seem to be anti-aging.” The operative word, she stresses, is “seem.” More research is needed. In the meantime, she says, “stick to companies that have tested their products and will show you the data.”
6. Lip Balm: “Ironically, many lip balms contain phenol, which dries out your lips like nothing else,” says Wechsler. “It feels good when you put it on, but soon you need more.”
Skin Fix. Read the ingredient list. Carmex has phenol; Burt’s Bees doesn’t.
7. Tattoo Remorse: Studies suggest that about 20 percent of inked clients are unhappy with their tattoos. For those who decide to get them removed, the process is lengthy, costly, and very painful—a nightmare, says Wechsler, and the skin never really looks the same.
Skin Fix: There’s a new encapsulated ink called Freedom2 that can be removed in one or two treatments as opposed to 8 or 10—much less traumatic to the skin.
8. Tanning Salons: You might as well call them “cancer booths.” A University of Minnesota study published in May found that people who logged 50 hours or more in tanning booths, had up to three times the odds of developing melanoma, the deadly form of skin cancer.
Skin Fix: Get your bronze glow from self tanners—spray, lotion, gel, or wipes.
9. Combo-Creaming: A common mistake among the acne-prone is thinking: The more creams, the better. “People use 3 or 4 products at a time, and end up just drying their skin out,” says Wechsler. “And that just makes them break out worse.”
Skin Fix: If you can’t find one over-the-counter product that works, see a professional. “Acne is not just from the oils. It’s also from irritation and inflammation,” Wechsler says.
10. Cigarettes: Aside from lung cancer, they cause wrinkles and are clearly associated with destroying skin elasticity. “Damage,” says the Harvard report, “occurs with every cigarette smoked.”
Skin Fix: There are all kinds of aids to help you quit—support groups, nicotine-replacement products, and drugs like Zyban and Chantix.
At the end of the day? Ask someone whose career depends on keeping her complexion stunningly pristine: “I’m not an expert,” says 36-year-old model Kate Dillon (featured in the April issue of Vogue), “but I think you can enhance the vibrancy of your skin by drinking water, eating avocados and salmon with omega-3s, and being active.” She stops for a moment, and laughs. “Good genes and a forgiving light, help too.”