Adult acne: The easiest (and most surprising) ways to prevent breakouts

It’s happened to all of us. We drink loads of water, wash our face religiously, take off every speck of makeup at night, keep our health in check, sleep for 8 hours, take our vitamin and mineral supplements… basically, do every single thing to prevent acne. Yet, those horrid zits keep cropping up over our faces, back and other assorted body parts. So, what’s a woman to do? A lot, it seems, as experts identify powerful hidden culprits that wreak havoc on our skin while seeming absolutely harmless.

acne causesThe acne trigger: Your man

His stubble may look hot but it causes serious friction that can inflame skin, leading to a breakout. Your man is smooth faced? Then check for fragrance-heavy aftershaves or colognes.

What to do: Gift him a nice razor and a fragrance-free aftershave.

The acne trigger: Water

Dehydration is bad for skin but in a Catch-22, so is the wrong kind of water. Hard water, which has a high concentration of minerals, doesn’t rinse away soap effectively. And the leftover residue can clog pores, leading to acne bumps.

What to Do: Install a water softener at home (there are excellent ones for under $30). And when you are out and about, use pre-moistened cloths instead of a rinse-off cleanser.

The Trigger: Toothpaste

Those small, red bumps around your mouth may not be acne at all. Rather, it could be perioral dermatitis – a skin condition that comes about as a reaction to certain ingredients in toothpaste. Fluoride and whitening agents are the most common offenders.

What to do: Switch to a fluoride-free, non-whitening paste and avoid acne products – they can be too harsh on irritated skin.

The acne trigger: Your latte

While the medical community remains divided over the dairy-acne connection, research does suggest that the proteins and peptides in cow’s milk increase the production of an acne-promoting hormone called IGF-1. It also increases the production of insulin, which further works on androgens to increase oil and plug pores.

What to do: To find out if dairy is the culprit, quit cold turkey for 3-6 months. Try soy latte instead (it’s yummy!).

The acne trigger: Your hair

Do you use any products to keep your hair frizz-free, voluminous and healthy? Most of these contain silicone-based polymers that are good for your strands but bad for your skin. And when you sweat, wash your hair or have it brush against the skin, small amounts of these polymers can be transferred from strands to skin, acting like shrink wrap to block the pores. Result? Breakouts – particularly on your forehead and back. An oily scalp makes matters worse. Oil glands feed acne-causing bacteria, which then end up on your neck and forehead.

What to do: Rinse your hair and then put it up in a clip while you wash your back; on extra-warm days, keep hair up and out of your face with a headband; tie hair in a loose bun or pony while sleeping; and swipe skin near the hairline with a salicylic acid pad twice a day to keep pores clear.

The acne trigger: Your pillowcase

Your pillowcase collects all kinds of crud – from conditioner residue and hair oils to sweat and body grime – that can clog the pores on your face over time.

What to do: Dermatologists recommend changing your pillowcase at least once a week, or more if you’re acne-prone.

reason for acneThe acne trigger: Your birth control

Uh, doesn’t the pill clear up skin? Oftentimes, yes. But everyone’s estrogen and progesterone balance is unique, which means hormonal birth control affects different women in different ways. Unfortunately, for a fair proportion, it brings on some nasty acne instead.

What to do: Ask your gyno for a new pill. And since everyone’s different, you will have to experiment. But give it a few cycles: switching too soon puts you back at square one.

The acne trigger: Sun exposure

It’s generally believed that sun exposure dries up oil and makes zits less noticeable but it’s really a deal with the devil. That’s because when skin tans, it also thickens to protect itself. Consequence? Blocked pores, which are the forerunners to acne.

What to Do: Wear an oil-free lotion with a physical UV blocker, like micronized zinc oxide, which actually helps lessen flare-ups (try SkinCeuticals Sheer Physical UV Defense SPF 50).

The acne trigger: Skipping moisturiser

People with acne tend to skip the moisturiser, thinking it will make skin greasy and have them breaking out even more. In fact, it’s the opposite: when skin becomes too parched, it kicks into oil-production overdrive to compensate for surface dryness.

What to do: Try a moisturiser specifically geared toward reducing breakouts (like Avene Clean-AC Hydrating Soothing Care).

acne causes 3The acne trigger: Your workout routine

It’s not just tight fitting clothes and sweat that clog pores and bring on the acne; your workout routine itself may be the problem. Dr. Nicholas Perricone, New York based dermatologist and author of The Clear Skin Prescription, explains that lifting weights causes the body to release more testosterone, which can also contribute to breakouts.

What to do: Switch to yoga and other forms of moderate exercise. Plus, load up on an anti-inflammatory diet heavy on cold water fish, beans and low glycemic fruits and vegetables.

The acne trigger: Stress

Stress spurs the release of cortisol (“the stress hormone”), which can make the cells inside a pore “sticky” and more prone to getting clogged.

What to do: Relax!

The acne trigger: Big plans

Sometimes, your body can misread even excitement (vacation! graduation! promotion!) for stress and affect skin the same way: pores clog, your immune system freaks out and you get a mammoth pimple.

What to do: Pop 200 milligrams of ibuprofen to help calm inflammation. Take another dose in 6-8 hours, then one more the next day. But that’s it: over-use can be dangerous.

The acne trigger: Your cellphone

Think about it: your phones go everywhere with you. Literally, everywhere. Then think about where all you put them down and all the germs they accumulate. Add in the fact that you use your hands to operate them all the time. One big, nasty germ-fest, anyone? Now think about how every time you talk on one of them, you’re pressing all this grime and germs against your skin? Basically, you’ve just applied a film of filth on your face. Yuck!

What to do: Wipe your phone daily with Purell Hand Sanitizer or Lysol Disinfectant Spray.

The acne trigger: Your makeup products

Every time you apply makeup on your face and then dip fingers or brushes back in the pot to pick up more product, bacteria are transferred to-and-fro. Over a few days, this makes your powders and paints a breeding ground for acne-causing bacteria.

What to Do: You should honestly clean your brushes once a week, and if that is too much for you, at least once every two weeks. As for makeup, follow these steps to keep everything germ-free.

Did you know this already? How do YOU prevent breakouts? Tell me below. We could all use every bit of help.

Why sugar hates your skin (and how to quit it without going crazy!)

If it wasn’t bad enough that sugar wreaks horrors on our health (diabetes, Alzheimer’s, mood swings, candida, hormonal balances, cholesterol… anyone?) research now shows that it’s terrible for our skin as well. An excessive intake of processed sugars can fast track the aging process, leading to dark circles, wrinkles, fine lines and loss of radiance.

Don’t believe me? Read on.

sugar-and-skinFirst, let’s look at the way sugar wrongs our skin

  • Sugar leads to premature ageing: When sugar enters your blood stream, it binds to proteins in a process called glycation. Glycation destroys the flexibility and density of collagen and elastin (skin’s protein-based building blocks), thereby leading to wrinkles and sagging.
  • Sugar breaks down antioxidants: This breakdown in proteins and collagen also weakens the body’s natural antioxidants, leaving it vulnerable to all kinds of environmental damage.
  • Sugar increases dark circles: The process of glycation produces toxic compounds called Advanced Glycation End Products (commonly shortened, appropriately, to AGEs) that are directly responsible for dark under-eye circles, yellowing of skin and dullness.
  • Sugar suppresses the Human Growth Hormone (HGH): HGH helps regulate body composition, muscle and bone growth, fat metabolism and even the heart function; low levels make you look and feel older.
  • Sugar leads to chronic inflammation: A diet high in sugars is associated with inflammation, which leads to all sorts of skin and health issues (like loss of skin elasticity, broken capillaries and breakdown of cells). The result? Fast track ageing.
  • Sugar decreases the lifespan of skin cells: The sudden spikes in energy intensify the activities of cells and tissues, making them divide more rapidly and thereby decreasing their lifespan.
  • Sugar causes acne: Finally, sugar can also contribute to acne flare-ups, since they rev up all the body’s functions, including oil production.

How much is too much?

Ideally we should eat no processed sugars at all. Instead, sugar should come from  a wholefood diet such as grains, fruit and natural food. The American Heart Association recommends most women get no more than 24 grams of added sugar per day. That’s about 6 teaspoons (or 100 calories) – a little less than the amount in one can of soda. However, the average American woman eats more than 18 teaspoons of sugar every single day.

And exercise? Sorry to break the news but current medical opinion stresses that unless the exercise is extreme and the food is eaten directly afterwards, it is has little effect on blood sugar.

Fresh vegetables salad with croutons and chickenHorrified about the thought of giving up the sweet stuff? There is good news on this front. Forsaking sugar doesn’t have to be a miserable and tasteless existence. Neither should it give you the shakes, destroy all hopes of comfort food or take away the promise of chocolate. Rather, kicking the sugar habit should kick your mood and energy through the roof. So here are my tips to kick sugar without hating your life!

  • Drink water: Sometimes those sweet cravings are actually a sign of dehydration. So, instead of the sugar-laden beverages, opt for filtered water, coconut water or green tea.
  • Read the ingredient labels: Sugar is hidden in unlikely foods, from salad dressing to deli meats. Do a quick scan of the the ingredients and don’t just look for sugar –  it’s often disguised as glucose, evaporated cane juice, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), fruit juice concentrate, agave nectar, fructose, dextrose, caramel or syrup.
  • Switch to low GI foods: Low GI (Glycemic Index) foods like whole grains and nuts, release glucose more slowly and steadily. This avoids the drastic spike and crash normally associated with sugary ingredients. The crash makes you crave even more sugar, thereby creating a vicious cycle.
  • Have a pre-meal: Eat a protein-based snack like hard boiled eggs, or an apple with a dash of almond butter, before hitting a party. This will keep you from making bad choices later in the night.
  • Experiment with spices: Not all spices are hot. Many – like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves – will add natural sweetness to your food. Certain spices, such as cinnamon, will also help to lower the blood sugar.
  • Eat every 4 hours: Fill up on healthy foods at periodic intervals so you are able to maintain stable blood glucose levels and don’t get have sugar-rich cravings. The more you eat sugar, the more you’ll crave sweet stuff.
  • Go easy on the booze: Alcohol is metabolized as pure sugar. Plus it makes you hungry, likely to overeat and prone to making poor choices. So, try to cap it at 2 drinks and drink water between refills.
  • Rid your kitchen of sugar: Throw out or give away any foods in your kitchen that contain added sugar. Out of sight, out of mind!
  • Relax: Because when you’re exhausted or sleep deprived, the body craves sugar-laden carbohydrates.
  • Slow down: For many of us, sugar has become an emotional crutch, a comfort zone, a reward or a way to relax. Instead of falling upon this sweet poison, slow down and decode your cravings. Identifying the real need behind the sugar is the key to kicking your sugar habit for good.
  • Go gourmet: If you simply have to indulge, stick to dark chocolate or truffles over high sugar candies. When baking, use unrefined sweeteners such as natural honey, molasses or maple syrup.

You slipped up… now what?

However, if you are like me and are reduced to tears with the mere thought of a life lived without chocolates and cupcakes, there is still some hope. What we need is moderation in our diet along with products that can neutralize sugar’s damaging effects on the skin. And the beauty industry is fast coming up with solutions.

How much sugar are you consuming on a daily basis?

Witch hazel: Adding magic to your beauty routine

Double, double, toil and trouble. Fire burn and cauldron bubble. Witch hazel sounds like something that would be used in a potion or spell, right? But you probably didn’t realize that it’s actually a pretty common ingredient in skin care products ranging from Clarins’ Beauty Flash Balm to Clinique’s Clarifying Lotion… and for good reason.

What exactly is witch hazel?

witch-hazelWitch hazel is an ancient herb that has been used for medicinal purposes since centuries. It was first discovered by the Indians, who found a way to extract oils from the bark of Hamamelis virginiana – commonly known as the witch hazel shrub. Although the origins of its distinct name are unclear, it may have come from the Middle English word “wich”, which means “flexible”, in honor of the plant’s bendy branches.

Witch hazel contains tannin, flavonoids and strong anti-oxidants, which can help clear up a multitude of skin problems. Native Americans used the plant to ease swelling and treat minor wounds, abrasions and several other skin conditions. Today, herbalists consider it a powerful remedy for relieving muscle aches and pains, treating varicose veins, as well as to stem bleeding from cuts and scrapes.

However, it is as a beauty treatment that witch hazel keeps its mystique. And you don’t even have to wash your face with it from a silver bowl at full moon. It works quite simply and effectively at any time of day and the benefits are underlaid with solid scientific proof.

What to do with witch hazel

De-grease your hair: To reduce excessive oil, dampen a cotton ball with witch hazel and dab it along your hairline and parting. Leave on for 10 minutes, then rinse off with cool water.

Spot control: Witch hazel helps disinfect and reduce the inflammation on a pimple, which is why it can be found in many over-the-counter acne treatments. For maximum effectivity, try this potent mask: mix a teaspoon of witch hazel with two teaspoon of honey (for dry skin) or an egg white (oily skin). Apply this to the affected area and leave for 20 minutes; rinse off with cool water.

Soothe sunburns: Treating a sunburn with witch hazel will lessen healing time and prevent the infamous skin peeling and flaking. And it’s simple – just spread a thin coat of witch hazel on the ‘burn. It will both cool and soothe.

Treat dry skin: Apply witch hazel immediately after showering… it will “lock in” the moisture that has just soaked into your skin.

Pore perfecter: The high level of tannin content (which strengthens pore walls) in witch hazel makes it great for soothing and tightening large pores. Plus the herb is naturally antibacterial and effectively sucks out dirt and oil without over-drying. To use, simply soak a cotton pad in watch hazel and gently rub over cleansed skin twice a day.

A branch of witch hazel

A branch of witch hazel

Toner: Unlike many harsh toners that contain chemical ingredients, witch hazel naturally firms the skin without making your face feel too tight. It also helps reduce inflammation and redness, while having a cooling touch that leaves you feeling refreshed.

Anti-aging: Witch hazel is rich in antioxidants, which defend our skin against free radicals. Free radicals can damage skin, leading to premature skin aging. So, apply witch hazel regularly to clean skin when you want to slow down the clock.

Refresh tired eyes: NOT by squirting witch hazel in them, but by soaking a clean rag in witch hazel and cold water and placing the cold compress over your closed eyes for 10 minutes. The anti-inflammatory effects (which make witch hazel one of the magic ingredients in Preparation H) will help relieve strained, puffy or red eyes.

Heal a bruise faster: Been in a fight recently? Well, maybe not. But if you bang your leg or arm and are left with a nasty bruise, a thrice-daily dab of witch hazel can help speed up the healing time. It also works as a disinfectant for cuts, cracked skin and blisters.

Soothe (or prevent) razor burn: The anti-inflammatory properties of witch hazel stop itchy bumps from forming around irritated hair follicles. Apply before or after shaving – this goes for both ladies and gentlemen.

Scars and age spots: Pour 2 tablespoons of witch hazel into a bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice and mix well. Use a q-tip to dab the mixture onto the age spots before bed. Let dry and put on the night time moisturizer. Repeat process for 2 weeks to fade the spots.

Do a deo: The same antibacterial and astringent properties that make witch hazel so effective at reducing oiliness can also help your underarms. Simply saturate a cotton ball in the liquid, dab it on your underarms and let it dry. You can also add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to give it a nice scent.

Varicose vein relief: Soak wash cloths in witch hazel and lay on legs (which are propped straight out) to reduce pain and swelling from varicose veins. Witch hazel will help tighten the veins, relieving discomfort temporarily.

Soothe poison ivy and poison oak: Just like acne and blemishes, witch hazel reduces itching and relieves swelling. Something definitely worth packing on your next picnic or camping trip.

Do you currently use witch hazel in your skincare regimen?

Beauty DIY: An ultra-easy face mask to unclog and shrink those mammoth pores

It’s probably the most asked question on this blog: How do I tackle enlarged pores? In fact, if we had our way, pores would do their job absolutely invisibly – the job being to act as the gateway through which skin’s sebum (natural oils) and toxins are thrown out, while water, air and beauty potions are absorbed.

Unfortunately, the invisible part rarely happens. Especially if you have oily skin or are more than 20-years-old. Oily skin has pores that are larger than average (to release all that excessive sebum). And as you grow older, skin loses pore-tightening collagen and elastin, making pores sag further. The result? Since enlarged pores don’t reflect light as easily, skin looks rough, bumpy and lacklustre – never an ideal scenario.

And that’s not all: Because pores have to deal with so much oil, dirt, leftover residue and dead skin cells every single day, they can easily become clogged. When this happens, blackheads or whiteheads appear and, if not treated properly, these further lead to acne. When the clogging becomes chronic, the pore walls stretch even further, creating a vicious cycle.

pores DIYUnfortunately, pores have no muscular structure, so they can’t open and close like a door (don’t believe skincare brands that tell you otherwise). But that doesn’t mean you are stuck with mammoth pores for the rest of your life, though. The trick is to leave them looking refined (and hence appear smaller), keeping them unclogged and smoothing the surface.

This all-natural recipe tackles enlarged pores with a mighty dose of skin toning, astringent and antibacterial ingredients. It also promotes cellular turnover, sweeps away dead cells and literally flushes out the pores, leaving skin looking refined and much smoother. All this with about 5 minutes of prep-work? Bring it on?

Ingredients

3 tablespoons kaolin powder (also known as Multani mitti), 1 egg, 1 tablespoon natural yogurt, 1 teaspoon honey

How-to

  • Pour the clay in a bowl and carefully add the remaining ingredients one by one, stirring well to get a smooth paste.
  • If the paste is too thick, add some water or green tea till it becomes manageable.
  • Apply evenly to clean, dry skin, avoiding eye area. Leave on for 15 minutes, then rinse off with warm water.

Do you have enlarged pores? How do you tackle them?