Skin Deep

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A regular exfoliation program results in fresher, more radiant skin.
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A regular exfoliation program results in fresher, more radiant skin.
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A regular exfoliation program results in fresher, more radiant skin.
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A regular exfoliation program results in fresher, more radiant skin.
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Topical antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E,retinol and lipoic acid, help protect the skin.

Skin is remarkably resilient, but few people
reach the age of 30 without at least a few of the telltale signs of
aging. How quickly and to what extent your skin ages depend on
genetics and lifestyle. While your genetic blueprint is the luck of
the draw, there’s a lot you can do in terms of lifestyle to keep
your skin looking its best.

All of the basic tenets of a healthy lifestyle–a balanced,
nutrient-rich diet, regular exercise, sufficient sleep and minimal
stress–will go a long way toward keeping your skin healthy and
beautiful. Protecting your skin from excessive sun exposure also is
critical, because ultraviolet rays cause free-radical damage that
culminates in wrinkling, sagging and age spots. Choose a
chemical-free sunscreen based on natural minerals, such as titanium
dioxide and zinc oxide, and apply it every day, even on overcast
days.

Your daily skin-care routine should incorporate regular
exfoliation. It’s also important to use moisturizers and serums
that contain antioxidants–they are an essential part of an
anti-aging skin-care program.

Exfoliate for Youthful Radiance

As we age, the turnover of skin cells slows down, resulting in
dull, dry skin. You can assist your skin’s natural process of
rejuvenation with hydroxy acids. By dissolving the intercellular
glue that binds the dry, dead cells on the surface of the skin,
alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids (AHA and BHA) gently slough off the
topmost layer of skin, uncovering the smoother skin beneath. Using
these products a couple of times a week (or even daily) provides
immediate gratification in the form of fresher, more radiant skin.
Over a period of several months, hydroxy acids can minimize fine
lines, fade irregular pigmentation and decrease pore size. Note:
Individuals with rosacea or very sensitive skin should not
exfoliate without the guidance of a dermatologist.

Side effects of hydroxy acids include increased sun sensitivity
and possible skin irritation. To prevent irritation, use hydroxy
acid products only two to three times a week initially and
gradually work up to daily application. Because removing dead skin
cells on the surface of the skin eliminates some of the skin’s
natural protection against the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, it’s
essential to use sunscreen daily when using AHA and BHA
products.

Alpha-hydroxy acids: Natural AHAs are derived from sugar cane
(glycolic acid); sour milk (lactic acid); and fruits, such as
apples (malic acid), lemons (citric acid) and grapes (tartaric
acid). To be effective, AHA skin products should contain between 3
and 10 percent AHA and have a pH level between 3 and 4.
(Manufacturers are not required to list pH information on their
labels. To test the pH value of a product, use a pH strip. These
are available at drugstores.)

Beta-hydroxy acid: The most commonly used BHA in cosmetics is
salicylic acid. In natural skin-care products, willow bark (Salix
spp.) often is the source of BHA. BHAs differ from AHAs in that
they are oil-soluble (AHAs are water-soluble), which enables the
acid to penetrate more deeply into the pores. This makes BHA
especially helpful for skin types prone to breakouts. BHA is most
effective in a concentration of 1 to 2 percent and at a pH of 3 to
4.

Awesome Antioxidant Power

Vitamin E protects the skin from ultraviolet light
damage and blocks the formation of free radicals.

In the same way that dietary antioxidants protect the body
against the damaging effects of free radicals, so do topical
antioxidants help protect the skin. Free radicals are created
through excessive sunlight exposure, environmental toxins and
internal metabolic processes. Left unchecked, free radical damage
causes wrinkling, age spots and loss of skin elasticity.

Some of the most effective topical antioxidants are vitamin C,
vitamin E, retinol and lipoic acid. You’ll get the best results
from using products that offer a combination of antioxidants
because they act synergistically to protect and rejuvenate the
skin.

Vitamin C: Applied topically, vitamin C is absorbed into the
skin and forms a protective shield that holds up even after bathing
or exercise to prevent damage from UVA and UVB rays. Regular use of
topical vitamin C also has demonstrated the ability to reverse
signs of sun damage, including stimulating the body’s production of
collagen and lightening hyperpigmentation.

L-ascorbic acid is the most effective form of vitamin C for
skin-care products. Products should contain at least 10 percent
L-ascorbic acid and a low pH (between 2 and 3.5) to allow
penetration into the skin. At this low pH level, vitamin C serums
sometimes can cause skin irritation, particularly if you have dry
or sensitive skin. To counteract this irritation, use a hydrating
mist and a rich moisturizer.

Vitamin E: Because it is fat-soluble, vitamin E has the ability
to penetrate cell membranes. It protects the skin from ultraviolet
light damage, blocks the formation of free radicals and prevents
the oxidation of fats, which is one of the primary causes of cell
membrane damage.

Vitamin E actually is a family of eight distinct components
(alpha, beta, gamma and delta-tocopherols, and alpha, beta, gamma
and delta tocotrienols). Research indicates that using the entire
family of tocopherols and tocotrienols provides the most
comprehensive antioxidant protection. Palm and rice bran oils are
common sources of tocotrienols in natural products. Choose products
with natural vitamin E (d-alpha tocopherol) instead of synthetic
vitamin E (dl-alpha tocopherol). In studies, researchers have found
synthetic vitamin E to be far less effective than the natural
form.

Retinol: A natural form of vitamin A, retinol helps encourage
cellular renewal. Vitamin A is fat-soluble and penetrates into the
lower layers of the skin, where it stimulates the production of
both collagen and elastin. With regular use, retinol has been
proven to improve the skin’s texture and tone, reduce uneven
pigmentation and smooth fine lines and wrinkles.

In natural skin-care products, retinol is derived from foods
rich in vitamin A, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots and
cantaloupe. It’s important to note that Retin A is not the same as
retinol. Retin A is a synthetic form of vitamin A that causes
extreme sensitivity to the sun, skin irritation and dryness, and
potential liver toxicity.

Alpha-Lipoic Acid: Often referred to as the “universal
antioxidant,” alpha-lipoic acid is unique in that it is soluble in
both water and fat, which gives it access to all parts of cells and
tissues. When applied topically, alpha-lipoic acid increases the
levels of other antioxidants in the skin and protects against free
radical damage. Researchers have demonstrated that the regular use
of a topical cream containing alpha-lipoic acid significantly
reverses the signs of aging skin. •

Laurel Vukovic writes and teaches about herbs from her home in
southern Oregon. She is the author of 1,001 Natural Remedies (DK,
2003) and Herbal Healing Secrets for Women (Prentice Hall,
2000).

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