The Basics of Healthy Skin Care

Good skincare doesn't have to be complicated. It involves three basic steps: cleansing, moisturizing, and sun protection.

So why do you often find yourself overwhelmed by all the commercials that claim their lotions will make your skin look and feel so much better? Do you scratch your head in confusion at all the choices in the skincare aisle? If so, you are not alone.

Woman cleansing skin
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In fact, a survey conducted by the National Consumers League (NCL) and Harris Interactive concluded that six out of every 10 consumers are confused about the effectiveness and/or safety of these products.

The good news is that washing your face doesn't have to be a 10-step process, and you don't have to spend a lot of money filling up your medicine cabinet. The simple truth is that good skin care involves the following steps:

  1. Cleansing your skin to safely rid it of grime, chemicals, and toxins
  2. Moisturizing to hydrate and replenish the skin
  3. Applying sunscreen to protect the skin from harmful ultraviolet rays

The Basics of Cleansing

Most of us know that cleansing is an important part of good skincare. The purpose of a cleanser is to surround, loosen, and facilitate the easy removal of dirt, debris, germs, and excessive oils on the surface of the skin. However, some cleansers are better than others. In fact, can have harmful effects on the skin.

Some people, for example, can develop dry skin as a direct result of their daily cleansing routine. They may believe that their skin is only clean when it feels tight and “crisp” after washing. As a result, they get used to the idea of having rough patches on the backs of their hands, itchiness in the winter, or an uneven, dull complexion.

So, the question is this: how do you know which type of cleanser is right for you? The first step is to understand your options.

  • Bar soaps are the most common cleansers but usually the most irritating.
  • Liquid cleansers offer a wide variety of tolerability but often result in oiliness.
  • Facial cleansers are among the mildest cleanser but may not remove all oil and dirt.

The bottom line is that when it comes to choosing their cleanser, start with the mildest possible option. It only needs to remove dirt, debris, and excessive oil without stripping away the natural moisture on the skin.

Non-foaming facial cleansers are considered the mildest, while facial scrubs offer more in the way of dirt and dead skin removal. While some liquid cleansers also do a good job, watch for any ingredient (such as soybean oil or petroleum) that may leave the skin feeling greasy. Syndet soaps are among the softest bar options, as are some "superfatted" bar soaps.

The Basics of Moisturizing

Moisturizing is an essential step in good skincare. A well-chosen moisturizer will stop the dry skin cycle from spiraling into cracked, thick, and flaky skin. The best options will typically have a combination of ingredients that:

  • Replenish the skin to help maintain its natural structure, pH balance, etc.
  • Reduce damage from free-radicals
  • Help skin cells function more normally

Moisturizers of old were usually water-and-wax mixtures that worked by trapping water on the surface of the skin (often creating an unnatural, slick feeling). By contrast, newer, state-of-the-art moisturizers are made with ingredients meant to replenish the skin’s natural moisture, including:

  • Glycerol, which helps water and other moisturizing ingredients generally penetrate the outer layer of skin
  • Ceramides, which help replenish the skin's natural oils.
  • Hydroxy acids that assist with exfoliation of dead skin cells.
  • Niacinamide, which helps the skin produce natural oils and may reverse some of the signs of sun damage.

Picking out the best moisturizer depends on your skin type (dry, oily, normal, sensitive) and any skin conditions you might have (including acne, rosacea, eczema, or atopic dermatitis).

If you do skin problems, don’t rely on product labels or advice at the beauty counter to make your choice. Meet with a dermatologist who may be able to offer tips on products that address both your beauty and skin healthcare needs.

The Basics of Sunscreen Protection

The final step in a good skincare program is often the most forgotten. Sunscreen protection is today a must-have component of any daily health routine.

Excessive exposure to UV radiation can cause damage to the skin (including sunburn and photoaging) and increased the risk of skin cancer. And it’s not just about avoiding suntans or longs walks in the outdoors. Damage can occur in everyday life, even when walking from the house to the car or sitting next to a sunny window. Every bit of exposure can add up over the years, causing wrinkles and dark spots (or, in the very worst case, skin melanomas).

There are several factors to consider when picking a sunscreen:

  • The SPF (sun protection factor)
  • Whether it is every day or out-in-the-sun sunscreen
  • Whether it contains a moisturizer, which can help prevent the skin from drying out

It is also important to understand the UV-index when making your choice. The index can vary from day-to-day or region-to-region, with a higher index suggesting a higher SPF product.

Even after applying sunscreen, it’s important to avoid excessive exposure and to cover those parts of your body that tend to get burned. Reapplying sunscreen is also important if you swim or sweat excessively.

You've worked hard to take care of your skin by cleansing and moisturizing it. Don't undo it by leaving it exposed to the effects of the sun. Find a good broad-spectrum sunscreen, and make it as part of your daily routine as brushing your teeth. If you need more guidance, make an appointment with your dermatologist or esthetician.

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