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 Make Sense of Skin Care

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Admin Wendy

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PostSubject: Make Sense of Skin Care   Tue Mar 15, 2011 8:07 pm

Skin care for our great-grandmothers was a bar of soap, a splash of water and a little lotion. Today, it's a maze of products and promises. Last year, Americans spent almost $2.4 billion on over-the-counter products such as cleansers, anti-aging lotions and sunscreens, according to Feedback Research Services, a health-care research firm. The figure jumps to around $7.7 billion if you add in bath additives, men's products and powders, says Linda Wells, editor-in-chief of Allure magazine.

The skin is the body's largest organ, but the fuss is all about the face. In the quest for younger-looking skin, the average adult uses at least seven skin-care products a day, reports the American Academy of Dermatology. So how do you decide between a product that claims to protect skin from damage and one that repairs the effects of aging and the environment?

What's Your Type?
The first step in choosing the right products is to know your skin type: Is it normal, dry, oily, prone to acne? "If you don't find yourself feeling either dry or greasy, consider your skin normal," says Dr. Heidi Waldorf, director of laser and cosmetic dermatology at Manhattan's Mount Sinai Medical Center. But be aware that skin type can change with time. "Dryness becomes more of an issue as people get older," notes Dr. Min-Wei Christine Lee, a cosmetic dermatologic surgeon in Walnut Creek, Calif.

How to Come Clean
People often want their faces squeaky-clean, but Dr. Waldorf cautions: "It doesn't have to feel tight to be clean." Heavy use of soaps and cleansers can overdry the skin, causing flaking, itching and irritation. "If you wash your face, and it doesn't feel dry after, it's probably a good product for you," she says. Find a nonsoap, non- or low-alkaline replenishing cleanser that leaves moisture on the skin. Cleansers with glycerol work well for people with normal or dry skin, because they don't remove the invisible lipid barrier--the face's natural protective film.

Toners, astringents and clarifiers are designed to remove oil or soap film but are unnecessary for most people, as they may cause dryness. The alcohol-free varieties tend to be gentler, especially if used only two or three times a week. Dr. Lee recommends toners based on herbs, which are kinder to the skin and leave you feeling clean.

Why Moisturizers Matter
Simply put, moisturizers counter the dryness caused by cold weather, steaming-hot showers and even soaps or cleansers. Moisturizers trap water in the skin, enhancing its role as a natural barrier. Some--with ingredients like petrolatum, mineral oil, lanolin or silicone--layer an oily substance onto the skin to hold moisture in. Others draw water from the skin's inner layers to the surface and may contain humectants, such as glycerin, propylene glycol, proteins and vitamins. If you have a history of acne, oil-free, "noncomedogenic" moisturizers offer the best results, because they don't clog the skin's pores.

The eyelids are the most neglected area when it comes to moisturizing, notes Dr. Lee. But Dr. Waldorf warns against buying "tiny containers of an expensive product for just around the eye. I try to convince women that they only need a second product if the active ingredients in their facial moisturizer are too irritating or if they prefer a lighter product for the rest of the face."

How to Protect and Renew
Dr. Lee calls sunscreen "the No. 1 anti-aging product." Sunscreens contain chemicals that absorb, reflect or scatter light. The reflective variety, which blocks UVB and UVA rays, is the most popular. Look for active ingredients like zinc oxide or parsol 1789 (avobenzone). "You should use an SPF [sun protection factor] of at least 30 and reapply it at least every two hours if you are spending time outdoors," advises Dr. Lee.

Exfoliants and scrubs peel off old skin and encourage cell renewal, leaving the skin smooth and shiny. Dr. Waldorf recommends products with alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) or beta-hydroxy acid (BHA). The former, such as glycolic acid and lactic acid, are derived from fruit and milk sugars. The latter, also known as salicylic acid, is gentler and less irritating. For less abrasion, try pads or lotions with beads that burst as they are rubbed in.

Help for Aging Skin
The hottest things in skin care are anti-aging products. Available by prescription or over-the-counter, they improve the texture and color of skin and repair sun damage. The major ones rely on retinoids, vitamin A derivatives that treat acne as well as improve cell turnover (exfoliation). They also increase collagen production (a building block of the skin) and improve elasticity. But be careful: Retinoids can be irritating and make the skin more sensitive to sunlight.

Another group of substances, the antioxidants (vitamins C and E are the most common), battle free radicals—naturally occurring molecules that are harmful to skin and damage DNA. New products have been developed that contain the antioxidants found in the skin, such as alpha lipoic acid and Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). Others come from plants, like green tea. The best way to get most antioxidants is through your diet, but there’s evidence that they also work topically, says Dr. Waldorf.

What’s the simplest, cheapest and surest way to keep skin looking younger? One final time: sunscreen.

Remember the Basics
* Protect your skin from the sun. Use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 daily.

* Do not smoke! It enhances the formation of free radicals, which create premature wrinkles.

* Hydrate your skin. Use a moisturizer daily and drink eight glasses of water a day.

* Be gentle with your skin. Never scrub or pick your skin—especially if you have acne.

* Do skin-sensitivity tests. Test new products on your forearm or the back of your hand.

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