DR. LIBBY RHEE
THAT NATURAL GLOW
What is the chicest skincare trend these days? The answer may surprise you: your own beautiful healthy skin – looking au naturale! Showing your face off in its unique, natural, dewy splendor is undoubtedly the most “on-trend” thing you could do this season for your skin. Just check out celebrities like Christina Aguilera, Alicia Keys, Gal Gadot, Chrissy Teigen, and the makeup queen herself, Kylie Jenner, to name a few who have famously posted their fresh-faced selfies for the world to see. Additionally, we won’t soon forget the “barely there” makeup the newly crowned Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, donned on her big day as she walked down the aisle to marry her prince. Meghan’s skin even started a trending hashtag, the #MarkleSparkle. How refreshing is that?
As a NYC-based dermatologist who inherently sees the beauty in all things skin, I couldn’t be more thrilled to see this #nomakeup movement gain speed. There are few things as confidence-boosting as feeling amazing in your own skin. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t love makeup; I certainly do. I just love the message that makeup is no longer a necessity but a choice. We don’t need to feel forced into hiding behind thick layers of concealer or foundation if we don’t want to. In other words, think of it as a compliment or an accessory to already gorgeous skin, designed to enhance or contour instead of hiding. Certainly, that is a refreshing thought.
Since I spend most of my professional life examining bare skin this is an idea I’ve been thinking about for years. Whether I’m removing makeup to get a closer look at a mole or wiping a patient’s face clean before a procedure I am often surprised by how many of my patients cover their faces. When I strip away all the cover-up, I frequently find skin that looks more youthful and beautiful than I expected. I never miss an opportunity to share my findings: Wow, your natural skin is beautiful, have you ever considered wearing less makeup? Nine times out of 10 the reaction is the same – Oh no, I could never go without makeup. Did you know that makeup can even add to premature aging if it isn’t removed and thoroughly cleansed every time? I’m sure my patients think I am simply trying to flatter them, but I am not.
I get it, makeup is part of our culture and can help us feel more secure in a harshly critical and often superficial world. As such, most of us apply it every day – a thin mask shielding us from the world at large perhaps. It also happens to be fun, allowing us some artistic freedom in terms of how we present ourselves to others, and of course, it can be helpful for camouflaging our blemishes when necessary. In some cultures, it is even considered disrespectful and “lazy” to not apply makeup before meeting people. Of note, the key in such cultures is to apply a lot of makeup to look “natural”, rather than “too done” which is considered disrespectful.
So, should you ditch all of your fun products and hard-earned Sephora purchases just for a trend? What if the trend is fleeting? What if you need your cover up to do exactly that, cover up blemishes and uneven skin? The short answer is no, you should do what makes you feel comfortable. But I am here to tell you something very important – healthy skin that you don’t have to hide is priceless.
It’s not always so simple, particularly after adolescence, when hormonal fluctuations lead to acne, causing changes in skin chemistry and texture. Let’s talk about the best things you can do at home for your skin as the decades progress to keep it naturally radiant over time. Here, the old adage is true, practice makes perfect and consistency is key. I promise, what you do on a regular basis to take great care of your skin will set you up for glowy days ahead.
The first decade of life: babies are so plump and adorable – all that collagen and smooth skin! When we are born our skin, like the rest of our organs, is still developing; its main purpose is to create a barrier to the outside environment. Our skin is equipped with its own local immune system, which from the moment we are born is quickly learning what to let in and what to keep out. During the first decade, it is important to establish the right habits – gentle cleansers, moisturizer, and sun protection are essential. Moisturizing with the right moisturizers will help keep the skin supple and healthy and soft as a baby’s bottom. Atopic dermatitis or “eczema” is a common problem in infancy and childhood as our skin continues to mature. For some, eczema will wax and wane over the years. Studies show that a hypoallergenic skincare routine with the proper emollients can significantly reduce the chances of lifelong suffering from chronically irritated, sensitive skin. As far as sun exposure goes, it is the number one risk factor for developing skin cancer. Even one blistering sunburn during childhood dramatically increases our chances of developing melanoma in adulthood. Thus, happy lathering!
The second decade – preteen and teenage years: this is when most of us go through puberty and things get a little more interesting skin-wise. The good foundational habits you developed during the previous decade will lessen some of the hurdles that adolescence might bestow. As our hormones change so will our oil production and skin texture, including pore size and productivity. Up to 90% of teenagers will experience adolescent acne. It is also during these years that we start to gain autonomy and become more responsible for our own skincare habits. In order to prevent permanent scarring and discoloration in the future it is essential to treat acne, especially cystic acne, as soon as it starts. Using gentle cleansers or mild acne-specific cleansers and toners or spot treatment may be helpful during this period. Your dermatologist will have more tailored recommendations if your skin requires something more sophisticated. What is important here is to remember that you can never “scrub” or “tan” your acne, dark spots, or scars away no matter what the labels or the internet says. Likewise, no amount of squeezing or tape stripping will decrease your pore size. Pore size is determined by our genetics and influenced by oil production and sun exposure. Usually, the more you squeeze with your fingers, the more inflammation and downstream oil production you produce. While you may feel the immediate gratification of extracting a comedone, aka, “blackhead” or “whitehead”, without good concomitate skincare, you’ll end up with widened pores for the rest of your life. All is not lost though – here is where I definitely suggest tackling the “challenging times” with the recommendations of your favorite dermatologist. It is passé to think you have to “wait to grow out of it” or that “acne is a right of passage”. Having clear skin during these formative years will surely bolster your confidence overall as you move into adulthood.
The third decade – our 20s: depending on your genetics, sun exposure, and unique skin needs, this is when you would ideally start thinking about a simple but effective anti-aging routine. During our late 20s, we start losing collagen and elastin, the proteins in our skin that keep it plump and prevent it from looking “dull” and “saggy”. This is when dermatologists all over the world suggest a regular topical retinoid or retinol routine as the number two wrinkle-prevention method. You guessed it, behind sunscreen, which will always be first. For those of you who are go-getters, or glow-getters as I like to say, a gentle physical or chemical exfoliating from time to time will also help to rejuvenate your skin and keep the “build-up” away, also allowing for better penetration of any antioxidant serums and retinoid creams. Adding in a thoughtfully formulated antioxidant serum or lotion into your routine here along with an eye cream and night cream are great ideas during this decade. Think of your 20s as “spring training” for the rest of your life, where you will be set up for success – naturally slowing down the inevitable aging process.
The fourth decade – our 30s: this is when all the fun really starts. With your great habits already in place from previous decades, you are primed for success to age gracefully forever. Are you with me? If you’re not yet, get on board for you will not be disappointed. Think – I really regret taking such great care of my skin, said no one ever. These are the years when any previous sun damage really starts showing up. People often say, “One day, these sunspots just appeared on my face, they weren’t there before.” The thing is, our skin is equipped with a powerhouse of repair mechanisms which are constantly repairing UV radiation-related damage over the years. As we get older, these repair mechanisms like most things that get older, become less efficient and the damage appears. Combined with natural skin aging, it’s important to double the duty on your skincare routines. Any of the procedures you do in the office to prevent or reverse skin-aging will be synergistically boosted by your thoughtful home skincare regimen. Antioxidants, the “repair team” that gets progressively tired as we age, is the name of the game in our 30s. I always suggest a high-antioxidant diet (there are even skin-specific antioxidant supplements) and topical antioxidant formulations. Look for ingredients such as: abscorbic acid or vitamin C, vitamin E, resveratrol, ferulic acid, ultraglicans, and a plethora of others. This is also the time to help your skin with its natural exfoliating process which, you guessed it, slows down too. Gentle alpha hydroxy or beta hydroxy acids in cleansers, masks, peels, serums, or lotions are great additions to your routine. Since you’re well into losing collagen during this period, adding a hyaluronic acid-rich product into the mix is also a great recommendation to keep the plump factor up.
The fifth decade and beyond: you should be the envy of all of your friends here. They are all probably wondering if you’ve been doing yoga, meditating, or have some other closely held secret that is causing you to age slower than everyone else. Nope, you’ve simply been following the rules and making skin care a priority. In these years, skin gets drier, both from producing less natural oil and also from retaining less water and moisture. Find a heavy night cream and great day cream and keep up the great work!
Let’s face it, literally and figuratively – we live in an image-conscious world. While what matters is what’s on the inside it’d be nice if our outside, our skin, reflected the same inner beauty. Turns out, beauty isn’t just skin-deep; it actually helps us feel better on the inside when we look better on the outside. Healthy, glowing skin presents a statement of health, vitality, youth, and self-love no matter what age without even speaking a word. Great skin is also the canvas that allows for all the fun with products whether it be makeup or treatment options over a lifetime. So, remember everyone, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Let this be the year you put your best face forward. Cover up only because you want to not because you have to. I for one have never thought having great skin is a trend at all, it is a lifestyle!
In good skin,
Dr. Libby Rhee
New York City – @butfirst.skin