The Ultimate Guide to Healthy Skin, According to Skincare Experts

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by Jessica Toscano Nov 30, 2020

Man washing face

Whether you’re one of the 1.68 million Americans who’s dropped $500 or more on skin care within the last three months, or a minimalist who occasionally splurges on a few product must-haves to maintain a clear complexion, you probably agree that skin health is pretty important—like, really important. I mean, it *is* your largest organ. Also, it’s a great indicator of your health, oftentimes changing in color when you’re ill; breaking out in acne if you eat certain foods; and becoming raw, inflamed, or masked by dark spots if you’ve had too much sun exposure.

Your skin is also the protective barrier that shields you from environmental stressors like changes in temperature, UV rays, and bacteria that can negatively impact your general health and wellbeing. Since November is Healthy Skin Month and winter is rapidly approaching, we spoke with skincare experts to uncover *exactly* what you need to keep your skin healthy. (FYI, you probably could have done without the few hunnits you spent in products.)

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“Healthy skin is a lifestyle,” celebrity facialist Candace Marino, tells Intrigue, “which means what you put in your body, put on your skin and how you spend your free time will ultimately impact how your skin looks and functions.” While you may not have control over certain factors that take a toll on your skin, like the environment, you can still maintain a healthy barrier with a consistent routine.

Eat antioxidant-rich foods.

“You want to eat the rainbow,” says Mary Stevenson, MD, a board-certified dermatologist, and assistant professor in the department of dermatology at New York University. “There are a lot of products you can promote, but that doesn’t stop anyone from needing to eat a healthy diet full of antioxidants—a lot of veggies [in] all colors: dark greens, dark reds, oranges, [and] purples.” Eating foods rich in antioxidants, like kale, berries, and cabbage, helps protect your cells from damage caused by free radicals, and thus, prevents signs of aging. Boom.

Ditch the booze.

You also want to be mindful of your booze intake. Studies show that those who sip frequently are more prone to rosacea and signs of aging like puffy under eyes and sunken cheeks. Since alcohol is a known diuretic, meaning frequent bathroom trips, it can also cause skin to become dehydrated, looking and feeling less plump and supple. Not to mention, some studies have pointed to an increase in psoriasis symptoms with alcohol consumption, although more research is needed to eliminate other factors that may play a role.

Slather on the SPF.

One of the most common misconceptions people have about winter is not needing SPF once the temperature drops, says Dr. Stevenson. The sun can be just as strong in the winter as in the summer, and UVA and UVB rays can still penetrate the skin and lead to skin cancer and signs of aging, like wrinkles and hyperpigmentation (For dark spots, we love Skinuva® Brite). This is especially true when you’re surrounded by snow, which reflects upwards once it compiles.

To protect yourself from sun damage year-round, slather on a broad-spectrum SPF like Neutrogena Ultra Sheer® Dry-Touch Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 55 at least 15 minutes before heading outdoors and again after every 80 or so minutes of sun exposure.

Moisturize, then moisturize some more.

Another big stressor is the change in weather. Excessive exposure to frigid outdoor air and indoor heat can lead to dry, cracked skin and a breakdown in the skin’s barrier, says Dr. Stevenson. “Anything that produces inflammation and disrupts this barrier can [trigger] conditions like eczema [and] irritant contact dermatitis.”

To combat this, she recommends first applying a lotion or cream with humectants, like glycerin and hyaluronic acid (Try First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair® Cream Intense Hydration), to draw in moisture and keep the barrier intact, then following up with a petroleum-based moisturizer like Aquaphor Healing Ointment to lock it in.

Get topical with antioxidants.

Air pollution is year-round, and depending on where you live—like, say, New York City where vehicle emission, construction, and second-hand smoke are prevalent—your skin might be more vulnerable to oxidative stress and inflammation, both of which affect your skin’s microbiome and lead to signs of aging. “One of the things we can do [to help the skin] is use topical antioxidants to help fight free radicals,” says Dr. Stevenson.

Marino recommends skinbetter science Alto Defense Serum and Solo Hydrating Defense MEN to protect skin from everyday damage like pollution, UV rays, and blue light. “Both products are lipid, water, and enzyme soluble, which means they can penetrate and coat the cells to add a layer of protection from the free radicals [you] encounter throughout the day,” she says. She suggests a thin layer of serum in the mornings and evenings after cleansing and toning but before moisturizing.

Reconsider harsh ingredients.

During cold temps you want to be especially considerate of the ingredients in your skincare products, and ditch those that can be particularly harsh during the winter, says Dr. Stevenson, who recommends avoiding brands whose fragrance is listed high up on the ingredients list. Other ingredients to reconsider include denatured alcohol and sodium lauryl sulfate, both of which can seriously dry out your skin (For a gentle cleanser, we like Adonia Organics Daily Cleansing Gel), and those used in mechanical exfoliators, which can be too abrasive and lead to irritation.

For must-haves that are on the harsher side like retinoids, Dr. Stevenson recommends pairing them with a lot of sunscreen (to both protect the retinoid from becoming inactive and your skin from burning) and moisture, since retinoids have been known to cause dry, flaky skin.

Marino, who says she’s a “huge fan of retinoids” as an exfoliating serum or treatment, recommends applying yours in the evenings between cleansing and toning but before moisturizing, “to help maintain the health and youth of [your] skin.” “Retinoids trigger collagen synthesis as well as speed up cellular turnover. This helps thicken [the] dermis (the layer of skin underneath your epidermis aka the outermost layer)...and thin the epidermis, removing the dead cell build up that can rob [you] of [your] glow,” she says.

Jessica Toscano

Jessica Toscano is the founder of IntrigueMag, covering health and fitness, sex and relationships, and more.

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