September is National Skincare Awareness Month aka one of the best months ever!!
To celebrate, I am posting skincare tips and information! I often get asked about my skincare regimen, and I’m very passionate about skincare, so I am excited about this post!
First off, I just want to say that I am not a skincare or medical professional, so I can only share what works for me and what I've learned from working in a dermatology clinic. I did ask a board-certified dermatologist to review my post to make sure my information was correct. But everyone's skin is different, so what works for me might not work for you. If you are struggling with your skin, you should visit a dermatologist for help!
The ABSOLUTE MOST IMPORTANT thing for skincare is sun protection! Sun damage is the number one cause of skin cancer and premature skin aging, and proper sun protection greatly minimizes these problems. So many people come into dermatology clinics with skin cancer, precancerous spots, or overall skin damage from sun exposure. Here is an easy way to remember concerning symptoms to look out for when looking at your skin - the ABCDE’s of melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer) from the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD):
Click here for more free informational resources from the AAD!
Dermatologists recommend wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen (for both UVA and UVB protection) with at least SPF 30 every day, and reapplying frequently. Reapplying is crucial, because often people will apply sunscreen in the morning, then go to the outside but forget to reapply and consequently get sunburned. If you’re going to be sweating, swimming, or outside for a long time, BE SURE to reapply your sunscreen! Spray sunscreens can make this easier, but you must apply it evenly and rub it in. You should wear sunscreen all year long; you can still get sunburnt in the winter - in fact, the sun’s rays reflect off the snow and can make sunburns worse. I discuss sunscreens in greater depth later in this post as well.
Also, there is NO SUCH THING as a safe tan!!! Whether you tan or burn, you are damaging your skin. If you want some color, spray tans or self-tanners are great. I’ve gotten spray tans for events and sometimes use self-tanner, and always felt nice and glowy! Make sure you look up the ingredients to find a safe spray tan. I also always look for one that is good for sensitive skin like mine.
Sun protective clothing is also a great and easy way to protect your skin, especially when being active and outdoors for long periods of time. You don’t have to worry about reapplying, covering hard-to-reach areas like your back, or it irritating your skin or eyes like you would with sunscreen. My favorite brand is Mott 50 (based in Chicago!), because their clothes are so cute and have such fun patterns - see the pictures above! Sun protective clothing is sometimes known for not being the cutest, but it is coming a long way and I think Mott 50 is leading the transition to more stylish options! It can be a bit pricey, but they have great sales very often - I got this avocado patterned sports bra for only $12 and it’s one of my favorite things!
Daily Skin Routine
My daily skincare routine may seem a bit complicated but it is actually pretty simple for me. I have dealt with my sensitive skin and atopic dermatitis my whole life, so it took a while to figure out what works. I still often have flare-ups and then cycle between easy breakouts and dryness, but I have learned how to manage this and be patient and gentle with my skin. When I was young, I had to use other medicines including anti-inflammatory prescription topical steroids, but I have found that if I’m vigilant in my skincare regimen, I can avoid those stronger medicines.
Here is my skin routine (again, this is what works for ME):
I often use my Clarisonic to wash my face - it helps clean more deeply and exfoliate! This helps remove dull and dead skin and prevent it from building up and clogging pores. It is very gentle, so it's great for sensitive skin. There are different brushes for sensitive skin, acne-prone skin, etc and you replace the brush every few months. I have found that it does really provide a noticeable advantage than just washing my face with my hands! If my skin is experiencing significant dryness or irritation, then I take a break from using the Clarisonic. When I shower, I usually use this on my whole body to exfoliate as well.
I don't always use the Clarisonic, and they actually stopped selling their products as of 2020. There are many other skin brush devices out there, and it is definitely not necessary for good skin health, so don't feel that you need to spend your money on them. There are many exfoliating devices out there like this and they range in price and efficacy, but I was given my Clarisonic as a Christmas present in high school and have used it ever since, so I haven’t tried other face brushes.
I use a few different face washes depending on what’s available/on sale: I mostly use Cetaphil, CeraVe, or Neutrogena face washes. I like the Cetaphil foaming face washes, especially the oil control one for acne-prone skin, and if my skin is really dry I will use the more moisturizing classic Cetaphil or CeraVe face wash. My general rule for face washes (and all skin products I put on my face) is to make sure that it says “non-comedogenic”, which means that it won’t clog pores, and is unlikely to cause breakouts. I alternate these with a prescription antibacterial face wash from my dermatologist that contains sulfur, which is great for controlling acne breakouts. I also sometimes use Glycolix 10% moisturizing cleanser (also from my dermatologist's office and pictured later), which is a chemical exfoliant.
Avoiding or minimizing mask-ne is a big topic now! Washing your face as soon as possible after returning home and removing your mask is important, and following your general skin care routine. If you are wearing a reusable mask, be sure to wash it as often as you can (ideally after each use). Using antibacterial agents like the sulfur wash and silver spray (mentioned in next paragraph) on my face has been super helpful - I sometimes wash reusable masks with the wash and/or spray the silver spray on them after washing or before wearing.
Although mask-ne isn't fun, please be sure to wear the most effective mask possible! COVID is much worse than mask-ne could be, both on an individual and public health level.
After washing, I usually use the Element 47 Skin Fortifying Mist, which is a toner for acne-prone skin. I usually spray it on my hands and then apply it to my face to avoid getting it in my eyes. It has colloidal silver in it, so it's naturally antibacterial and prevents bacteria from accumulating on your skin and making you break out! An antibacterial spray or toner like this is also really great to quickly spray your body after working out to prevent breakouts from sweat if you’re not able to shower right away. This isn’t an essential step, and sometimes I skip it.
I then apply Metronidazole lotion, a prescription antibacterial and anti-inflammatory lotion from my dermatologist, to moisturize and decrease inflammation. It is very gentle and lightweight, but also moisturizes really well. An antibiotic lotion can be a key part of an acne care regimen, as bacteria is a common cause of acne for many people. There are different options and a dermatologist can help decide if this is right for you.
And of course, I ALWAYS wear sunscreen (read more later in this post about sunscreens)! I generally wear use La Roche Posay Anthelios Mineral Sunscreen, which I love because it is gentle and doesn’t make my face breakout but blends in well without leaving a white cast as many mineral sunscreens do. If my face is really red or I want to even out my skin tone, I use the tinted version of this, which goes on with just the right amount of sheer coverage and really evens out my skin tone! I only wear makeup on my skin for fancy occasions, so on days that I know I might be photographed, I just wear this. People have sometimes told me my makeup looks great when I wear this, so I love this sunscreen! I use a cheaper sunscreen for my body since my skin on my body is less sensitive, but I still make sure it is one that is mostly mineral-based, such as Sun Bum or Neutrogena (pictures and more examples later in the section on sunscreen).
As in the morning, I wash my face, sometimes with my Clarisonic. It is so important to wash your face regularly, especially at night to get off everything that has accumulated on it during the day. Even if I have had a long day and am tired, I always wash my face before going to sleep. Then I spray the Element 47 silver mist on my face.
The next step is applying a retinoid. Retinoids are derivatives of Vitamin A, and they work wonders for both acne and preventing and repairing skin aging! Retinoids work by increasing skin cell turnover. This has many functions - unclogging pores, reducing wrinkles by boosting collagen production, evening out discoloration, and smoothing the skin to improve overall skin appearance! Retinoids are mostly prescription, however, there are less potent versions called retinols. Retinols are over-the-counter versions of retinoid class medicines, and are gentler than prescription retinoids. They are often found in anti-aging products, so you could start with them and gradually build up to using prescription-strength retinoids.
I use a prescription retinoid, but one retinoid I have used with good results in the past that recently became over the counter is adapalene (often marketed as Differin). Retinoids are prescription because they are ten times stronger than retinols, but you can see good results with either, although much more slowly with retinols. These can dry out the skin, so if you start using one, make sure to start slowly (for example, start every third night and gradually increase to every night as it is tolerated by your skin). You only need a pea-sized amount for the whole face. Also, apply them in the evening because sunlight breaks down the active ingredients, and if you get side effects such as dryness and inflammation, be sure to avoid the sun.
Lastly, I apply my Metronidazole lotion to moisturize! Sometimes I add another moisturizing cream mentioned below if my skin is really dry.
These are some products or tips I love and use every so often, but not usually every day.
First off are face wipes - I love the Yes To brand because the wipes are naturally made and compostable. Face wipes are really handy for wiping off your face after a workout or removing makeup. Yes To has a variety of face wipes and each type is made for a specific purpose, such as acne, moisturizing, or brightening. I’ve used pretty much each type and like them all! They can also be great for quickly wiping sweat off your body after a workout if you can't immediately shower - this helps prevent bacteria and sweat build-up and acne on the body. This is not a substitute for washing your face, however, as it is not as thorough.
A great way to exfoliate (besides something like a Clarisonic) is to use a face scrub. Exfoliation helps prevent breakouts and keeps your skin tone and texture clear and even. I use the pictured microdermabrasion scrub from my dermatologist, and it's great because it's made for acne-prone skin and is not super harsh! When I travel, I usually bring this instead of my Clarisonic because it is easier to pack (and then I don’t have to worry about my Clarisonic being wet in my suitcase and making a mess).
There are many great exfoliation scrubs out there, but be careful not to over-exfoliate and damage your skin, especially if you have sensitive skin. My dermatologist recommends avoiding scrubs with apricot and walnut pieces, as these are too rough and can lead to scarring. Again, look for products that are non-comedogenic and not full of fragrances or waxes that could be irritating and make you breakout. If you have access to a dermatologist or professional cosmetic provider who does microdermasions or MicroPen treatments, these are really great professional-grade occasional treatments to exfoliate as well as improve skin texture, although these are intense, expensive, and often can cause significant peeling or redness for a few days.
A great trick I've learned that helps with both breakouts and skin hydration (I always struggle to find a balance between these issues!) is honey! Honey is naturally antibacterial, but is also hydrating. However, I've learned the hard way that if you put honey directly on your face, you'll just be sticky. So, I will mix a bit of honey with my regular moisturizer, and it works so great! My family keeps bees and harvests our own honey, so I always have a lot of honey on hand and love to use it in baking as well as for my skin.
Next, what would a skincare post be without FACE MASKS!? Face masks are really helpful when I'm having problems with my skin, such as breakouts or extreme dryness - which happens often when I'm traveling in between school and home or in the winter when it's cold and dry. I love the pictured clarifying mint mask from my dermatologist for preventing or remedying breakouts! It also smells really nice. For moisture, I love the Fresh rose face mask! It smells like roses and is really hydrating and gentle. Sometimes I mix a bit in with my lotion or leave it on instead of using it as a mask that you rinse off. The Fresh rose line also has great moisturizers that I love, as they are gentle, don't make me break out, and are super moisturizing.
I have also tried the Josie Maran Argan Oil as a Sephora Beauty Insider reward sample. It's 100% organic argan oil, and I liked it - it was really hydrating and calming to my skin. The right oils can be hydrating to skin without clogging pores and causing breakouts. It is a bit pricey, so I haven't purchased it, but I enjoyed it a lot! If you want to try this or other skin products, here is a great tip: you can go to any Sephora and ask for samples of any skincare product! It’s a good way to try out a product before committing to buying it.
For people in Boston, the original Fresh skincare store is on Newbury Street, and something most people don’t know is that you can get a free facial here! You just call to book it, and it is so nice! They aren’t pushy about trying to sell you products, and they will give you many samples of what they use and anything you liked. It is a very relaxing thing to do!
If you know me, you know that I am always wearing sunscreen. I have actually been called the “Sunscreen Queen” before! For people with sensitive skin like mine or those who prefer a more natural version of sunscreen, there are great mineral/physical sunscreen options (see below). These are less reactive to people’s skin and provide broad-spectrum coverage of both UVA and UVB rays. They also are likely better for the environment.
Wearing a daily sunscreen is a modifiable step to reduce the risk of skin cancer. Here are some key facts to know when choosing a sunscreen:
Use SPF of at least 30. Reapplication is KEY!
Reapply every 2 hours (80 min if in water)
Physical blockers are preferred over chemical for better safety.
physical blockers: zinc oxide, titanium dioxide
chemical: avobenzone, oxybenzone, octinoxate, ecamsule, octocrylene, homosalate, octisalate, etc (anything besides zinc oxide and titanium dioxide listed under “active ingredients”)
Daily sunscreen also helps with hyperpigmentation
Especially tinted sunscreen
For facial sunscreens also protecting from indoor light (e.g. blue light), use tinted sunscreens with iron oxide
It’s important to know what’s in your sunscreen and choose one wisely - there has been a lot of research recently indicating that two compounds commonly found in sunscreens, oxybenzone and octinoxate, could be contributing to coral reef bleaching. Because of this, Hawaii recently banned sunscreens containing these ingredients. Even if you’re not near the ocean, all our water ends up circulating worldwide, so I think it’s important to be conscious of this.
Here are some links if you want to find out more:
Here are articles from the American Academy of Dermatology (the skincare experts!) that address this:
Schneider, S.l.; Lim, H.W. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 2019-01-01, Volume 80, Issue 1, Pages 266-271.
Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 2019-10-01, Volume 81, Issue 4, Pages AB246-AB246.
I definitely recommend reading up on this topic. There is a lot of misleading information stating that sunscreens cause cancer or other serious problems in humans, but the AAD states that “There have been no convincing studies showing harmful effects of sunscreen to human health.” Sunscreens are safe and protect you from cancer! The AAD does agree that it is likely that oxybenzone and octinoxate can contribute to environmental problems such as coral reef bleaching, although more research is needed for a conclusion. As I mentioned earlier, sun protective clothing is also a great option and does not have these environmental effects.
Since learning about this, I switched to mineral sunscreens, which I also find to be gentler for my skin! However, it did take some trial and error to find options that aren’t too thick and don’t leave a white cast on my skin.
In the picture above are some sunscreens I have used and like that do not contain oxybenzone or octinoxate. Most of them are mineral sunscreens, which are more natural, and I haven’t found these to be overly thick or leave white residue behind. And they don’t make my sensitive skin breakout, which is another struggle I often have with sunscreen.
For those with darker skin, it can be an even greater challenge to find a sunscreen that does not leave a cast - check out Black Girl Sunscreen! Their sunscreens also do not have these potentially harmful ingredients. I was involved in a project in medical school curating a list of sunscreens recommended for darker skin, many of which can work for any skin tone as well! See the slides below for recommended sunscreens!
I also love the powder sunscreen below from Colorescience as a quick and easy way to touch up my sunscreen application when I am on the go - but it shouldn’t be the only sunscreen you use, just for touch-ups.
They have different shades, which is great for different skin tones. My mom gave it to me, so I didn’t realize how expensive it is until I looked it up, and it definitely wouldn’t be something I would buy on my own. But there are probably other similar brush-on powder sunscreens out there if you’re interested in finding one!
Also, if you are looking for a glow or tan, I highly recommend spray or self-tan for a healthy way to achieve this! A common tanning myth is that getting a "base tan" before going to the beach will prevent sunburn - this does not protect your skin from damage! There is truly no such thing as a safe tan - except a fake tan! I got spray tans before for special events, and it definitely made me feel more glowy, toned, and confident. See the above pictures for examples - I am definitely not naturally that tan! Be sure you look into the products used to make sure it is safe and works well for your skin, especially for people like me with sensitive skin. And of course, you don't want to end up orange either, so it's good to test it out before any special event.
In the last few years, I have been using the St. Tropez express bronzing mousse self-tanner, which basically has the same effect as a spray tan and takes the same amount of time, but is cheaper and you can do it yourself! It is a bit of an investment to buy a bottle, but it lasts for multiple uses so it is much more cost-effective than a spray tan, which can range from $25 (the least expensive I have seen) to $75 and up! I am a very pale person, so if you are as well, I recommend leaving the St. Tropez mousse on for at least 8 hours or overnight - just like you would do for a spray tan. It says 1, 2, or 3 hours, but in my experience that was not long enough for a significant and lasting tan for me. Just a note that you will want a mitt of some sort to apply it, because if you use your fingers it will be very streaky.
Other factors that impact skin health:
We always hear about the importance of staying hydrated for health, and skincare is no exception. Good hydration is crucial to skin health and appearance, and the best thing is just to drink enough water. In some cases, tap water (if it's clean and safe) may actually be better than filtered water due to its higher content of minerals and ions that your body and skin needs!
One way to make drinking water more enjoyable is to add some flavor with lemon, mint, cucumber, peaches, or other fruits and veggies (or a combo!) to your water (try to use a reusable bottle to help the environment). This is better than buying flavored water because many of them add a lot of sweeteners. Also, you will feel very fancy with your glass of lemon mint water.
And I couldn't write a post about beverages with talking about tea!!! I have a whole shelf full of different teas, and was once told that if I got a paper cut I would bleed tea. So I love tea a lot, if you haven’t gathered this from my many tea parties (see here, here, and here).
Different types of tea can also provide health and skin benefits. Green tea can be great for skin! It is anti-inflammatory (you can also place green tea bags on your skin to help with redness or puffy eyes), protects cell membranes, and also helps your metabolism.
My favorite teas are probably mint and chai, but I love pretty much all teas. I love the brand Yogi Tea because they have inspirational messages on the tea label, which is really fun and makes me smile when I start my day with a cup of tea! The tea boxes also have yoga stretch ideas on them.
I discussed what to drink for healthy skin, so it's only logical to address what to eat! There isn't a ton of evidence that any specific foods have a big impact on skin health - however, the healthier your diet, the healthier you will be overall, including your skin. There are some foods that may be especially helpful for healthy skin. And they're pretty tasty too!
Foods that are great for skin health are whole wheat bread, nuts, and foods high in antioxidants like berries, kale, peppers, spinach, lemon, ginger, beets, beans, and much more.
Here are some specific examples:
Salmon (and other fish) is great for skin because it provides essential fatty acids that help strengthen cell membranes and retain moisture. Yay for healthy fats!
Carrots are a great source of Vitamin A, which encourages healthy skin cell production and protects against damage.
Sunflower seeds contain the most natural Vitamin E of ANY food! Vitamin E is the best antioxidant for slowing down skin cell aging - it absorbs the harmful UV light from the sun.
People often wonder about supplements for skincare, and whether any are needed or worth spending money on. I recently did a research project comparing evidence vs media claims for oral collagen supplements for the skin (see my post here to learn more). Overall, we need more evidence to be able to recommend collagen as a supplement for skin health - it has low risk, but is costly, so in my opinion and many other dermatologists whose thoughts I read on this topic, it is currently not worth the cost.
And lastly, sleep impacts your overall and skin health of course!
To conclude this skincare post, I decided to post a no-makeup selfie so my skin can say hi! I'd never posted one before this so I was a bit nervous, and I know everyone should embrace their inner beauty, but I think it can still be hard to post a picture online where you don't look your best. But since I often get asked about skincare, I thought it would be most genuine to share what my all-natural face looks like! I would love it if you would share a no-makeup selfie on Instagram and tag me (@barre.and.brunch) to keep the positivity going and inspire each other!
I hope you learned something from this post! Here are my overall most important skincare points: protect your skin from the sun, stay hydrated, and wash your face every day! Again, I am not a certified skincare specialist, so see a dermatologist for your skin concerns.