You Glow, Girl!
by Kim Erickson

Get a squeaky-clean complexion with these all-natural beauty tips.

woman's faceEver feel like your life is an open book, whose pages can be read in detail on your face? A blemish here, a wrinkle there, age spots all around. If you have truly lived, then your face is likely the proof of your experiences. Let's face it: Exposure to the elements, stress and hormonal imbalances can all take their toll on your looks. It's up to you to find the proper skin care routine that works for your specific skin type. Once you do, radiant skin can be yours once again.

Good Skin From Within
What you eat can play a critical role in the health and appearance of your skin. "No cosmetic in the world can substitute for good nutrition," according to Earl Mindell, Ph.D., author of Earl Mindell's Vitamin Bible for the 21st Century (Warner). One of the biggest dietary culprits is saturated fats. Although oils are essential for a healthy, attractive complexion, too much of the wrong fats can wreak havoc with your skin.

A long-running battle with acne may be a good indication that your diet is too high in sugar, says Elson Haas, M.D., founder and director of the Preventative Medical Center of Marin in San Rafael, Calif., and author of The Detox Diet (Celestial Arts). Although an occasional chocolate chip cookie won't do you in, Haas warns that "eating excessive amounts of sugar can overstimulate hormones and deplete certain vitamins and minerals."

So what should you eat to nurture a glowing complexion? A diet high in whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly those high in zinc and vitamins A, C and E, will help prevent the buildup of toxins that can lead to skin problems. Haas also believes that water is key to maintaining clear, moist skin. "Dilution is the solution to [skin] pollution," says Haas, who recommends drinking at least two liters of purified water a day to replace lost fluids and flush impurities out of your system.

Back To Basics
Good skin starts as clean skin. No matter what type of skin you have, the basics of a good skin care routine revolve around three elements: cleansing, toning and moisturizing.

Cleansing is critical to glowing skin; it removes dirt, dead skin cells, makeup and excess oil. But before you reach for that bar of soap, be aware that soaps are highly alkaline and can strip the skin of natural oils. Cleansers, on the other hand, are created to dissolve and wash away impurities without disrupting the skin's natural acid mantle. To use, gently massage a small amount into your face using small circular motions. "Rinsing well is important," says Denise Santamarina, owner of Natural Nouveaux, a salon and day spa in Las Vegas. She recommends rinsing at least 30 times to remove all traces of cleanser and dirt.

Follow your cleanser with a good toner, one containing aloe vera, rose, lavender or other skin-friendly herbal extracts to rebalance the skin's natural pH and refine the pores. Ideally, toners should be splashed, dabbed or misted onto the face. While toners and astringents are often thought of interchangeably, astringents are formulated to rid the skin of excess oil. Often alcohol-based, astringents should be used with caution since they can be extremely drying, even for the oiliest complexion.

Finally, apply a moisturizer to hydrate the skin and protect it from the elements. "I recommend using a noncomedogenic moisturizer that seals in moisture but doesn't block the pores," advises Ligaya Buchbinder, M.D., a dermatologist in Boca Raton, Fla., and author of Skin Care: Clear and Simple (Saturn Press). Santamarina suggests applying moisturizer immediately after cleansing and when skin is still damp. To apply, simply dab a bit of moisturizer on your cheeks, chin, nose and forehead and gently massage it into your skin. Wait a few minutes for the moisturizer to be absorbed before applying makeup.

Skin Treats
A regular skin care routine, practiced morning and night, will go a long way toward maintaining healthy, beautiful skin. But, periodically your skin needs a bit of extra care. Exfoliating and steaming are special treatments that benefit the skin, especially as you age.

Exfoliation removes dead skin cells, which produce a dull, lifeless complexion. In recent years, alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) have become a popular means to exfoliate the skin. AHAs are mild acids derived from fruit and other natural substances. Papayas, apples, grapes, black currants and citrus fruits are all rich in alpha hydroxy acids and have been used for centuries in natural skin care formulas. "AHAs work on the outer layer of the skin," notes Buchbinder, "causing it to peel off, revealing the new cells underneath." According to Buchbinder, these superficial peels may help unplug clogged pores as the loosened cells, which normally stick together on the skin's surface, are removed.

Facial scrubs are another exfoliation technique that can leave you with a softer, smoother complexion. Often with a base of cornmeal or almond meal, scrubs are mildly abrasive products designed to stimulate circulation and loosen debris from the surface of the skin. Santamarina recommends exfoliating once a week for oily skin and three times a week for dry skin.

Steaming is another skin-care basic. Although a facial steam won't remove dirt and grime, it will soften the surface of the skin enough to help unclog pores. Steaming your face will also increase circulation and humidify the skin. To give yourself a facial steam, bring a large pot of water to a boil, cover your head with a bath towel to form a tent, and hold your face 10 to 12 inches from the top of the pot. Allow the steam to work for 10 minutes. For a special aromatherapeutic treat, add a handful of lavender, rose petals or chamomile to the boiling water.

Troubleshooting Troubled Skin
Contrary to popular belief, pimples and blackheads are not reserved for teenagers. Acne can crop up later in life as a response to fluctuating estrogen levels, particularly during pregnancy and menopause. Maintaining scrupulously clean skin is vital to controlling acne. Antibacterial, anti-inflammatory herbs can also be useful in treating the occasional blemish. Applying a dab of tea tree, lavender or chamomile essential oil can reduce swelling and redness and aid in healing. Astringent herbs such as bergamot, lemongrass and sandalwood may also be helpful in controlling oil production. For more severe cases, the antibiotic properties in goldenseal and echinacea can be helpful when applied topically.

Baby boomers may be fighting a dual battle. Not only are we still subject to the periodic pimple, we may also notice the beginnings of fine lines and wrinkles. While AHAs are well-known for their potential to reduce visible lines and wrinkles, products containing antioxidants, particularly vitamins A, C and E, may also help reverse these signs of aging. "The antioxidant properties of these three vitamins may work when applied topically to fight the signs of photoaging," says Karen Keller, M.D., author of a 1998 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. "Many patients note improvement in skin texture, wrinkles and age spots while using these products."

Clear, youthful skin doesn't just belong between the pages of fashion magazines. Keeping your skin hydrated and well-fed, adopting a daily skin care routine, and protecting your complexion with natural products will give you skin you can glow about — and benefits that will last a lifetime.

Kim Erickson writes frequently on health and natural beauty. She lives in Las Vegas.