For years, Jenna Hebert treated her dry skin as if it were prone to frequent oil slicks.
“I would use acne washes and other drying creams to try and keep me from breaking out,” she said. “But it was like a vicious cycle, because the drier my skin became, the more pimples I would get and the more I would wash.”
Everything changed for Hebert, however, when she visited a Connecticut dermatologist nearly a decade ago.
“She took one look at my skin and wanted to know what the heck I was doing. I switched to a mild glycerin-based cleanser to keep my oil glands from producing more oil than they needed to, and I was also using a light moisturizer. It was a miracle. Within a few weeks, my acne was much better and so was my dry skin,” said the Albany resident.
When it comes to face-washing, a surprising number of people fall into one of two categories, so say a sampling of skin experts.
There are the Heberts of the world — those who take their cleansing regimes to the extreme — and then there are those like Schenectady resident Allison Burdett, who gives her face little, if any, thought.
“I can’t be bothered. I take a shower, my face gets wet and that’s good enough for me,” she said. “I’ve never actually used soap on my face. I just figure shampoo and whatever else trickles down does a good enough job.”
Stacy Cox, a dermatologist and the owner of Pampered People in Los Angeles, said with the trend in skin care skewing toward anti-aging, the notion of washing our faces has become the “forgotten stepchild” of peoples’ beauty regimens, noting that people have a great deal of control over the texture, clarity and long-term health of their facial skin based simply upon how they cleanse.
Washing the face, she said, gets rid of old surface skin cells, dirt, dust, makeup and bacteria. It also helps keep pores free of clogs and aids in healthy blood circulation.
Before starting a cleansing regimen, one must determine his or her skin type — oily, combination, sensitive or dry.
Though a visit to a dermatologist or aesthetician may be the most definitive way to tell, it is also possible to make the determination on your own.
First, wash your face, pat it dry and then take a few pieces of lens-cleaning tissue paper and press it on different spots of your face.
If your skin is oily, the paper will stick, pick up oily spots and become translucent. If the paper doesn’t stick or pick up any oily spots, your skin is dry. If it sticks in your T-zone (forehead, nose and chin) then you have combination (or normal) skin.
Robin Ashinoff, medical director of dermatology and laser surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, said most people don’t have one skin type. “Most are a combination of types. They are more oily in the center and drier around the edges,” she said.
Sensitive skin, meanwhile, tends to be thin and delicate with fine pores, and it flushes easily. It may also be prone to frequent allergic reactions.
So just how should one go about cleansing the face?
Denise Dubois, owner of Complexions Spa on Wolf Road in Albany and a licensed aesthetician, said start by getting a good stream of tepid water flowing from the tap, since hot water dries and damages skin over time, and cold water won’t dissolve or take away embedded dirt and grime as well as lukewarm water.
A dime-size will do ya
Using wet hands, apply a dime-sized amount of cleanser — experts’ picks for efficient, mild cleansing include Cetaphil, Aveeno, Neutrogena and Eucerin brands — with your fingertips, using gentle circular massaging strokes and moving upward on the face and neck.
As a general rule, people with sensitive skin should choose a fragrance-free cleanser. Oily skin can benefit from a water-based cleanser in a gel or foam formula, while dry skin responds best to a cream cleanser that moisturizes your skin.
Make sure to work up a good lather and then rinse with lots of water, Dubois said. Don’t forget to rinse off cleanser from the neck and hairline, as residue can clog pores and attract dirt.
Gently blot off excess water with a soft towel.
If you wish, you can follow with a toner. The role of toners is to remove oily residue and provide a fresh feeling; just don’t believe claims about toners having the ability to minimize one’s pores, warns Ashinoff. “When it comes to pores, don’t believe the hype that these tonics will shrink them. Their size is God-given,” she said.
Dubois recommends following with a moisturizer appropriate for your skin type — particularly one with a built-in sun protection factor for the day — to seal in surface moisture and offer nourishment when skin is receptive.
Kenneth Mark, a clinical assistant professor at New York University’s department of dermatology, suggests washing the face between two to three times a day, but no more so as to keep the oil glands from kicking into overdrive.
“Cleanse at night to get rid of makeup and the extra dirt and airborne stuff that can accumulate during the day. In the morning, wash to remove the oils secreted overnight and definitely wash after exercising to remove sweat and sunscreen.”
The dirt on scrubs
“Exfoliating is key,” said Mark.
“It has been shown to stimulate collagen production over time, and also unclog pores to prevent and treat acne and to even out blemishes,” he added.
A problem arises, however, when women get their mitts on super-abrasive cleansing sponges or puffs that can irritate their skin as well as cause broken blood vessels.
The same holds true for mechanical facial scrubs made from nutshells, pits from fruits like apricots or other irregularly shaped particles. They should be used sparingly or not at all if you have dry skin, or if you are using topical prescription retinoid medications such as Retin-A or Tazorac, which can make skin hypersensitive, experts say.
“If someone has acne-prone skin, salicylic acid is best because not only does it exfoliate, but it is an anti-inflammatory to the [oil-producing] glands. Otherwise, alpha-hydroxy acids are great in the form of glycolic acid or lactic acid,” he said, noting that exfoliating does not have to involve abrasive ingredients at all.
If you are still dead set against facial maintenance Cox said — though this is not ideal — you can still keep your face relatively grime-free with little to no effort.
“Something is always going to be better then nothing. So if the temptation to go to bed without washing your face overtakes you, have a set of face cleansing cloths on your night stand or near your bed as a back-up plan,” she said.
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