Our skin is a powerful expression of what is happening inside our bodies. And that elusive healthy glow we spend time and money trying to achieve, is actually dependent on internal balance in the body. So let's take a closer look at how skin really works at a cellular level to help you create strong new foundations for better skin - for life.
Firstly, my advice is to keep it simple. Cull unnecessary steps and products because if you believe all the marketing talk, your days (and indeed your cash) could be spent on products you don't really need. This said, my three non-negotiables are: cleanse, tone, moisturise.
There is absolutely no point in spending money on beautifully packaged serums and creams unless you are working from a clean slate. Aside from the fact that other products won't penetrate effectively if the skin is not clean, imperfectly cleaned skin is also a fertile breeding ground for bugs, and that can cause spots.
Lack of time is no excuse either as an effective cleanse only takes between two and three minutes. Balm cleansers are far and away my favourites especially during the colder, drier months when my middle-years skin needs all the nourishment it can get. They are gentle yet thorough and my skin feels soothed and nourished, rather than stripped and tight. During the summer months I use a mix of cleansing balms, creams and gentle exfoliators.
The evening cleanse is crucial for effective skin repair through the night and the earlier this is done - as in when you come home from work - the more time your skin will have to rejuvenate. Added to this try the following:
Hyaluronic Acid - Also known as HA, hyaluron or hyaluronate, this clear, sticky substance occurs naturally in the body, where its main function is hydration. HA acts like a sponge, attracting and holding up to 1,000 times its weight in water, which makes it great for hydrating dry skin. And the reality is that most of us have dehydrated skin; even an oily skin type is highly likely to be lacking in water. Young skin is smooth, elastic and rich in HA, but as our skin ages the natural production of hyaluronic acid slows.
One of the fastest ways to transform your face (post-party, post-flight etc) is to saturate it with hydration so that previously flat, dull skin gets a new rosy lease of life. By 'saturating' I mean layering up an a HA-enriched serum by reapplying it two or three times or mixing it with other favourite creams or serums for day time or adding to face oil at night - to really saturate very dry skin.
Pure Face Oil - I adore pure, natural face oils especially in drier weather - they feel so luxuriously soft and really do repair and nourish the skin. The more natural the better of course so look out for those key words.
Vitamin C - Also called L-ascorbic acid, vitamin C in its purest form is a powerful antioxidant and skin brightener and my choice for bringing on the glow.
It penetrates into the skin to stimulate fresh collagen, while also helping to smooth, brighten and revitalise the complexion. Available in varying concentrations, from less than one per cent in moisturisers and serums (although serums can support higher levels), to over 20pc in professional treatments, it is best used as part of a morning routine in serums and moisturisers to protect skin through the day, while also safe to use at night to boost collagen.
Like all antioxidants, it is vulnerable to damage, so choose light, water-based formulations that penetrate fast, packaged in opaque, airtight containers. Note: if the colour of the formula darkens or the smell changes, it has likely oxidized and should be binned. Vitamin-c powders tend to be more stable and can be used straight on the skin or mixed into other products.
Vitamin E - This fat-soluble vitamin (also called d-alpha-tocopherol) is a powerful antioxidant and skin healer that occurs naturally in human skin, but is easily depleted with environmental exposure. It helps restore moisture and is suitable for use as a cleanser, while simultaneously working to maintain skin's oil balance (a feat that many other cleanser-type ingredients fail to achieve). Concentrated vitamin E capsules are also useful as a top-up, especially if skin is feeling dry and tired. Simply pierce the capsule with a pin and apply directly over the face, massaging gently around the eyes.
Retinol - Retinol describes the vitamin A molecule that is broken down once inside the body into more potent particles that stimulate collagen production, increase cell turnover and exfoliate the outer dead layers of skin to reveal fresh new cells underneath. The potency of retinol-based products varies depending on whether prescribed (the prescription-only retinoic acid or Retin-A used to treat severe acne for instance) or purchased over the counter. It is best used as part of a night routine, starting slowly with a weaker strength every other night, before building up to stronger formulation once tolerated. If redness or peeling occurs, use should be discontinued.
Sun Screen - The sun is the single biggest cause of skin ageing. So, regardless of the season and the weather outside, use broad spectrum (as in UVA and UVB) SPF 30 every day. Apply under make-up - textures are lighter now and some are even tinted too, so they're perfect to set you up to face whatever comes your way.
Skin Acids: AHAs & BHAs - Acids help slough away dead skin cells and lend more radiance to the skin. They are found in many skincare products from face washes and toners to serums, masks and peels. While peels have a place they are not for every day and not for every skin type as overuse can strip the skin, leaving it thin and fragile with the outer protective skin barrier depleted. AHAs and BHAs are the most commonly found acids in skincare.
AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) are chemical compounds that are either naturally occurring or synthetic. Many are derived from organic sugars, with glycolic acid (from sugar cane) and lactic acid (from milk).
BHAs (beta hydroxy acid) also known as salicylic acid is a derivative of aspirin. Salicylic acid has many uses but in skincare it is mostly used to fight acne and congested skin, thanks to its protective anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and exfoliating properties.
AHAs act as chemical exfoliators that work primarily by dissolving the bonds between skin cells to facilitate the removal of dead cells, leaving a smoother skin surface. Glycolic acid is the most commonly used AHA due to its smaller molecule size and ease of skin penetration. It helps reduce fine lines, dark spots and acne scars. AHAs can increase photosensitivity, so always wear sunscreen - although you should already be doing so! AHAs come in varying strengths; lower strength for home use (2pc max) and higher strength when applied under expert supervision.
Be warned: AHAs are extremely potent and can strip the skin (which is becoming a major problem now as these acids are appearing in a range of products from cleansers and toners to serums and masks at varying strengths. So if using a combination of AHA-enriched products chances are you will actually be doing more harm than good and leaving your skin stripped, sensitive and vulnerable. If using, start at a low dose, once or twice a week, to see how your skin reacts. Do not use daily unless recommended by an expert, especially if your skin is thin and sensitive.
BHAs are oil soluble so they penetrate deeper than AHAs to the root of the pores instead of operating at the surface level, making them ideal for treating oily and acne-prone skin in particular. As well as treating existing blemishes, they also help neutralise bacteria within the pores thereby deterring further breakouts. However, as they are heavy duty they can be drying on the skin and irritation may occur, particularly in those with sensitive skin, so it is wise to start at a low concentration and gradually build up.
• 'Glow: Your Complete Four- Week Guide to Healthy, Radiant Skin with 60 Skin Nourishing Recipes' by Kate O'Brien is published by Gill Books, €19.99.
There are many but my go-to choices are meals overflowing with leafy greens, colourful fruits and skincare laden with vitamins C and E.
8 top tips just in the neck of time!
Applying the following tips to your daily life will keep your skin vibrant and healthy all year long, while also benefiting your general health. Trust me - your body will thank you.
1 Our Necks tell the Truth - 'Text neck' is a huge problem now as we spend a lot more time looking down at our screens. The term 'text-neck' was coined by US-based chiropractor Dr Dean Fishman and is the result of repeated neck stress caused by overuse of handheld technology and staring down at phones, tablets and laptops.
Firstly, stop using your device so much and then invest your cash in a quality face oil or cream with active anti-ageing ingredients (and sun protection) as it can be more effective when applied daily and correctly over the neck (as in an upwards motion towards the face using both hands).
2 Work with the body's natural rhythms - Research has shown that as our skin synchronises with the body's natural circadian rhythms and evening skin healing/repair can start as early as dusk, with the skin moving slowly into repair mode as the sun goes down. It makes sense then to remove the day's grime and thoroughly cleanse the skin as early as possible in the evening to maximize skin repair through the night.
3 Eat mostly plants - New research is now proving just how beneficial a plant-based diet is for your skin and your body. The more plants you eat, the happier and brighter you will feel.
4 Use colour - If your plate looks bland and boring, then it probably is! Spice it up with colour: think leafy green veggies and fruits; and spices like turmeric and cinnamon, for instance, will add colour, taste and a multitude of health benefits.
5 Tune into the seasons - Nothing compares to the freshest seasonal foods eaten when they are at their most colourful, nutritious and tastiest. So follow the time-tested principles of Ayurveda by tuning in to the best time of year to eat your fruits (generally summer - keep frozen fruits in the freezer for winter time) and root vegetables.
6 Don't skip meals - Many people believe that missing meals will hasten weight loss, but studies have shown that regularly missing meals can in fact be detrimental to health and does not promote weight loss. Eating regular meals ensures blood sugar levels are better controlled and can keep hunger at bay.
7 Caffeine - Most of us enjoy the hit that our morning cup of freshly brewed coffee or caffeine-rich tea brings. However, if that hit becomes a necessity every couple of hours, then it needs to be reduced for the sake of your skin and health in general. Caffeine is a diuretic and dehydrates the body. It increases the load on the liver, which when over-burdened can result in a toxic build-up on the skin. Start each day with a morning tonic of hot water, turmeric and lime. This helps cleanse and prep the liver for the day ahead, while also kick-starting the brain.
8 Move your body - It is now pretty much a given that regular exercise can make an enormous difference to how you look and feel about yourself at every stage of life. With regular exercise everything improves - our skin, our hair, our heart, our brain and our memory.