Healthy Skin Simplified

When it comes to what we eat, society is more informed about what’s in our food than ever before. What if we read the ingredient list on our skin care products as closely as the nutrition labels on our food? Do we know if what we’re putting on our face is right for our skin type or if it will really work in the ways it promises? Just like a healthy body depends on what you feed it, healthy skin depends on what we treat it with each day.

Targeted Treatments

If you’re looking to see real improvement in your acne scarring or you’re struggling to reduce redness, don’t just shop for skin care that makes grand promises on the label. Flip the container over, and start scanning those ingredients. Based on your concerns, here’s what you need.

Over your acne? You need salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide and retinol. Salicylic acid dissolves oil buildup on the surface of the skin while reducing irritation. Benzoyl peroxide kills bacteria, while retinol works to unclog pores and regulate oil production.

Done with dry skin and redness? You need hyaluronic acid, ceramides and noncomedogenic oils. Hyaluronic acid is a humectant, meaning it pulls moisture into the skin throughout the day. Ceramides are lipids that occur naturally in the skin. Using ceramide-rich skin care products helps to form a protective layer to decrease moisture loss and protect against dryness. Emollients, like cocoa butter, shea butter and coconut oil, prevent water loss and can further soften, protect and smooth the skin.

Got uneven skin tone? You need products high in vitamin C. When used daily, vitamin C helps even out skin tone and improve its hydration. Ascorbic acid is a potent form of vitamin C with research-proven brightening and evening properties.

Can’t beat clogged pores? You need glycolic acid. Glycolic acid is the smallest alpha hydroxy acid out there, so it will penetrate as deeply as possible into pores to break up the sebum and dead skin. It’s available in cleansers, solutions, lotions and peels.

Struggling with scarring? You need vitamin E, rose hip and lemon peel extract. All three are proven to lighten acne scars, dark marks and hyperpigmentation. (Note: Vitamins E and C often travel in pairs, as they work better together. To get the most from your E products, make sure C is
on the list as well.)

Ingredients To Ignore

When we see anti-aging products on store shelves, don’t we all feel that nagging feeling that it’s too good to be true? But somehow that moisturizer always ends up in the cart. Buzzwords like collagen and stem cells are unfortunately just that—buzzwords. Here are a few unhelpful active ingredients you shouldn’t buy into.


Sadly, collagen makes for great marketing but not great skin care. Collagen is a protein that supports skin structure and keeps us looking youthful. According to Into the Gloss, collagen molecules are too large to absorb into the outer layer of the skin. Even broken-down collagen, called micronized or hydrolyzed collagen, may not be small enough and is not scientifically proven to reduce wrinkles. Even collagen dietary supplements are not proven to be effective. So buyer beware: Most products boasting collagen are moisturizers. When you see that youthful glow returning to your skin, consider that it may just be well-hydrated.

Stem Cells

As one professor of dermatology told Real Simple, “It’s not possible to maintain live stem cells in cosmetic emulsions.” Stem cells used in cosmetics are derived from fruits and plants known to stay fresh for extended periods, such as Swiss apples and date palms. To create the most potent, effective stem cells, the plants they’re sourced from must be grown in highly controlled environments. These costly conditions can drive the price of the strongest products to $100 and upward. Even then, there’s no guarantee the stem cells are still alive, or even capable of enticing your skin to regenerate as the label suggests.

Argan Oil

Although this particular oil has been the ingredient to use for the last few years, it’s known to be comedogenic and overpriced. It is moisturizing, yes, and contains helpful amounts of vitamin E, sure. But unless you want expensive blackheads with your smooth skin, stick to noncomedogenic moisturizers rich in evidence-based ingredients.

So what’s worth it? Dermatologists unanimously recommend retinoic acids, like Retin-A, or over-the-counter retinol products. These help minimize scarring, discoloration and wrinkles. Hyaluronic acid, both in topical products and in cosmetic fillers, draw moisture into the skin to improve its overall appearance. And both are backed by good, old-fashioned science.

The Glow-Getter’s Diet

In her book Feed Your Face, dermatologist and celebrity esthetician Dr. Jessica Wu explains how our diets can impact our skin—for better or for worse.

For example, not eating enough protein means the body may not have enough amino acids to create collagen, which makes skin strong and elastic. Processed, sugary foods can cause even more breakouts in acne-prone people. And some dermatologists recommend their patients cut out dairy or use non-dairy substitutes when possible. Because most milk in the United States is produced by pregnant cows, many docs theorize taking in those extra hormones may cause extra bumps and blemishes.

Healthy fats are one of the best and easiest additions to your diet for healthier skin. Avocados make it simple. Add them as a salad topper, into a smoothie or eat it straight out of the rind with a little seasoning salt sprinkled on top. Other healthy fats include nuts, fatty fish and extra virgin olive oil.

When choosing vegetables, opt for red, yellow and green ones in the deepest shades to maximize your nutrient intake. For example, tomatoes are rich in lycopene, an antioxidant known to fight free radicals. It’s easiest for your body to absorb lycopene from cooked tomatoes when the plant’s cells are slightly broken down. If you’re picking greens for a salad, go for darker greens, like kale and spinach. These also fight the free radicals that can break down collagen over time, helping to support your skin’s youthful appearance.

Try to consume foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, like chia seeds, walnuts and sardines to increase skin’s strength. Vitamin C is known to boost collagen production, so bell peppers, citrus fruits and strawberries are your new best friends. For antioxidants, vitamin A and vitamin E, incorporate almond butter, swiss chard, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, carrots and cantaloupe.

The spice turmeric is also a skin savior. The active component in turmeric is called curcumin, which gives it a bright yellow hue. Curcumin fights inflammation and is thought to calm conditions like psoriasis and acne. If you don’t love the taste, it also comes in supplement form.

Frugal Vs. Facials

Because the skin is the biggest organ of the human body, it makes sense it would need routine care just like the rest. Many estheticians recommend you schedule a professional facial about every three to four weeks. One month is about how long it takes your skin to move through its full life cycle of skin cell growth and exfoliation. It’s also important to consider your skin type and how it reacts to facials. You may need to go more often to combat the effects of oily skin or less often to prevent irritating dryer skin.

With the average facial costing about $50, is it really worth the splurge each month? Well, it depends on what type of facial you’re requesting. Standard facials, which usually involve cleansing, massage, steam treatment, a mask and moisturizer, are generally effective at improving the look of skin within a few days of the appointment. 

One study in India found that facials actually caused acne breakouts in 80 percent of clients. However, many estheticians warn their clients they will go through a “purging” phase, as facials are designed to clear out blocked pores and toxins from deep within the skin. Just be warned you may not come out looking like a dewy goddess. Like all good things, results may take two to three days.

Sunscreen Survival Guide

Not all sunscreens are created equal, which is never more apparent than in the heat of summer. Make sure you’re spending on the most effective SPF.

Only use sunscreen that lists titanium dioxide, zinc oxide or both as active ingredients. They offer the highest level of protection and can help protect against early signs of aging. Those with sensitive skin should use children’s sunscreen, which is formulated for delicate skin. Avoid sunscreens with para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) and benzephenones, like dioxybenzone, oxybenzone or sulisobenzone.

Use products labeled for broad spectrum protection. These sunscreens protect against both types of ultraviolet light: UVA and UVB rays. Although all sunscreens provide UVB protection, which shields skin from sunburns, not all sunscreens offer UVA protection, which protects against both skin cancer and aging.

Don’t skimp. If you go to the beach every day for a week, you should use the whole tube by the end of seven days.

To guarantee their effectiveness, don’t use sunscreen products that have passed their expiration date. If one isn’t listed on the bottle, the FDA recommends trashing it if it wasn’t purchased within the last three years.  

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