Avoiding Skin Care Gimmicks

Estheticians Can Tell You How

By Heather Grimshaw

Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Spring/Summer 2004.

After a facial, the skin appears fresh and clean. It has been cleared of clogged pores and dead skin cells, skin pigmentations have been buffed and diminished, and dehydrated skin has been rehydrated.

But facials and skin-rejuvenating treatments aren’t the only services your skin care specialist can offer. She also can guide you through the maze of “beauty” gimmicks and trends in an attempt to create manageable skin care goals you can easily continue at home.

Your diet, water consumption, daily oil production, and long- and short-term goals help skin care specialists (also known as estheticians) formulate your home skin care regimes. “To get better skin, you have to choose better products, and you need the help of a professional more and more,” says Dennis Gross, a New York dermatologist. “It’s a quandary. My clients are smart, intellectual people, and they were clueless about which skin care line to use.”

And it’s no wonder. Some promises are difficult to discern from truths.

Antioxidants, fatty acids, and bioflavenoids improve the skin from the inside out by bolstering cellular membranes and producing clear, glowing skin, professionals say. Minerals and vitamins A, C, and E affect the connective tissues of the skin, which translates to overall health and the minimization of pores. For those who do not eat vitamin-rich foods, some companies make supplements to address a variety of needs from moisture and antioxidant replenishment to acne.

There is a lot of information and knowledge an esthetician can offer when it comes to healthy and logical skin care.

Home Skin Care

Everyone has unique skin care needs that change according to season, time of life, and personal goals. Yet skin care professionals say there are universal truisms for every skin type. The key is to find products that suit both your climate and age.

“Try different systems; mix and match,” says Gross, creator of a product line called MD Skincare. “But don’t settle. If you don’t see a benefit in a month, change. You should be happy with your skin care, with the way your face looks.” Gross says there may not be one magic bullet for everyone, but there are some rules of thumb.

Cleansers come in different shapes, sizes, formulations, and strengths. Some products can strip the skin of natural oils while others don’t scratch the surface of makeup, oil, and pollution build-up. As a rule, professionals say the longer you leave a cleanser on, the more it will do. If you have sensitive skin, splash your face with water, lather, and rinse. For a concentrated clean, let the lather linger.

As a rule, toners with alcohol should not be used after cleansing. “There’s no worse time to use alcohol,” Gross says. “There’s nothing to protect the skin. You’re stripping it of its natural oils.” Estheticians debate the role of a toner, which is intended to hydrate the skin and clear up any debris left from the cleanser. Some suggest using toners before applying a moisturizer or makeup because it helps with absorption. “If you’re using a serum before your moisturizer, use a toner beforehand to help absorb the serum,” says Alexa Yontz, an esthetician with Nordstrom Spa in Lone Tree, Colo. “Toners should have a hydrating quality; they should feel good,” she adds.

When you exfoliate, find a median between frequency and ferocity. Don’t over-do it. Exfoliation occurs with washcloths, toners, and scrubs. A common mistake made at home is over-scrubbing, which leads to dry and irritated skin, says Tabasum Mir, M.D. and a New York-based skin care specialist. Rule of thumb — take it easy.

Masks are described as great home remedies, but they’re not for everyone, Gross says. “They can be drying.”

Because masks come in all different formulas — from the self-heating to the peel-off — Yontz bases her recommendations on a client’s skin and the product’s specifications, though, in general, she suggests exfoliating three times and masking twice a week in-between facials. She warns clients with acne and sensitive skin about anything abrasive and always suggests mild, gentle products like surface peel masks that slough off after they have dried on the skin.

What’s Your Type?

To figure out your skin type, focus on how your skin feels right after it’s washed. If it’s tight, you need a moisturizer, Gross says. But if your face is oily and you have large pores, there is no need for moisturizer.

“The skin should be insensible,” he explains. If you are using the right skin care, “there should be no sensation or activity.”

If you are oily at the end of the day, if your skin looks shiny and slick with oil accumulation on the T-zone and nose, your skin is classified as oily. Some moisturizers on the market contain hyaluronic acid, which acts as a humectant — an ingredient that helps the skin retain moisture without the use of oil.

In addition to confusion over skin type, professionals cite misuse of products as an issue that produces skin problems. “Clients are so used to wanting to feel a product on their faces, rather than know it’s penetrating and doing its job, they use too much,” Yontz says.

For daily skin care, Mir suggests simple products formulated to skin type and calls sunscreen the magic potion lotion that should be worn — without fail — year-round.

“It’s one product you simply cannot overuse,” Mir emphasizes. She advises clients to leave repair work — products that focus on feeding the skin — to the evening since the sun breaks down vitamin C and glycolic treatments.

Across the board, dermatologists emphasize that it’s never too late to focus on skin care. And while they prefer clients to start early, since prevention is best, most say the right products can slow the clock’s ticking. Listen to the experts; not the hype. Ask your skin care therapist to evaluate your skin and devise an at-home plan together. It will do you, and your skin, some good.