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 you should NEVER put pure lemon juice on your face. NEVER.

The internet is chock-a-block with beauty writers advising you to put lemon juice on your face. Why? The fruit’s high levels of vitamin C, citric acids and antioxidants are perfect for busting dead skin cells, lightening age spots, getting rid of unwanted freckles and clearing up a tan, among other things.

The evidence? Most beauty mavens will ask you to observe how a dash of lemon juice on apple slices prevent them from turning brown. The brown colour in cut apples is from oxidation (much like skin that’s exposed to atmospheric pollutants) and the vitamin C in lemon juice is what halts the process. Similarly, it seems, pure lemon juice on skin should slow down premature ageing and help stimulate collagen and elastin production, thereby reducing the appearance of wrinkles and reversing sun damage.

And because vitamin C is extremely unstable – easily broken down by exposure to air and sunlight – what better way than to have it than squeezed fresh?

There’s only one problem: We are humans and not fruit. Our skin is much more fragile and doesn’t react in exactly the same way to lemon juice as apple slices. So, while I am usually first in line to advocate the use of natural ingredients and DIY skincare recipes (heck, I almost wrote a whole blog post on how to use lemons for your skin myself, before studying the adverse reactions), this is one case where the cons clearly outweigh the pros.

How, you ask?

lemons-skincare-posterLemons are highly acidic

Human skin comes with an inbuilt protective acid mantle that maintains a pH of 4 to 5, which makes it inhospitable to unwanted bacteria while maintaining the good flora, thereby helping ward off acne and infections. Lemon juice, on the other hand, has a pH of 2, which makes it extremely acidic. Putting pure lemon juice on skin will disrupt the latter’s acid balance, destroying its immunity to environmental toxins and causing a significant amount of irritation on the cellular level.

Lemons can cause blistering burns

God save you if your idea of DIY skincare is to put on lemon juice and then step into even partial sunlight. Lemons contain fluranocourmarins and psoralens that react with sunlight to cause phytophotodermatitis (PPD). This photo-toxic reaction leads to nasty blisters and rashes, which can appropriate the level of a chemical burn.

So, if you are still tempted to put pure lemon juice on your skin, stay away from sunlight for at least a good 8-10 hours after you’ve washed it off!

To be yet safer, combine lemons with other ingredients, like olive oil or honey, to cut down on their acidity and restrict the amount of harmful chemicals your skin is receiving.

BOTTOMLINE: Never, ever apply pure lemon juice straight on your skin.

NEVER.

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?

My first book: The Paris Bath & Beauty Book

A deliciously warm, sweet and slightly powdery mist rising from the cobblestones, flower stands spilling with freshly cut lilies, bustling cafés serving smoky teas, cozy boulangeries waking up the mornings with crusty baguettes, the rich wood and crystal interiors of Versailles, the endless eras of history peaking out of the Louvre, women dressed in red lipstick and a splash of No. 5… is there any wonder that I am totally and irrevocably in love with Paris?

And that I would choose the city of love, lovers and eternal seduction as the inspiration for my very first book?

So, presenting to you: The Paris Bath & Beauty Book. My very first book, co-authored with Chrissy Callahan and published by Cider Mill Press. A book that celebrates the beauty secrets of Parisian women, right from the regal Marie Antoinette face mask to a gorgeously aromatic jasmine hair mask and a luscious rose petal lip balm.

These are recipes gleaned from the pages of history, the dark libraries of musty chateaus and the annals of the Parisian oral tradition, where secrets are handed down through the generations till they almost become coded in the nation’s genetic memory.

paris-bath-and-beauty-bookTime then, to light a pretty candle, cuddle under the duvet, sip on some champagne and pick your favourite recipe. And pretty please do drop me a note, however short, to tell me what you think. Because, like all first loves, this book is the one that will always hold my heart within its pages. I am already working on another one but nothing will ever come close to the thrill I felt when holding this little creation in my hands. So, do let me know if you get your hands on one (it’s available on Amazon here and Barnes & Noble here).

Here are three of my personal favourite recipes to give you a little preview.

paris-bath-and-beauty-book-2Lavender and coconut milk hair mask

Both lavender oil and coconut milk are great at replenishing hydration without weighing down your strands. Bonus: they’ll make your hair smell amazing!

What makes it Parisian?

Because it’s lavender! And because French women love soft, naturally glossy hair that doesn’t need to be subjected to styling tools!

What does it do?

The lavender oil and coconut milk are perfect for softening and adding gloss to dry and brittle strands. This recipe makes enough for shoulder-length hair; there should be just enough to coat your strands lightly without dripping. If you have longer hair you may scale up the volume accordingly, maintaining the one-to-one ingredient ratio.

Ingredients

1 teaspoon lavender oil
1 teaspoon fresh (or canned) full-fat coconut milk

Method

1. Combine the lavender oil and coconut milk

2. Massage the mixture into dry hair before you hit the bed; leave the mask in your hair while you sleep

3. Simply wash and condition your hair as normal in the morning… you won’t believe the texture!

French milled soap

French milling creates the smoothest, most luxurious bar of soap in the world. No self-respecting Parisian would go for anything less!

What makes it Parisian?

This is an ancient soap making technique discovered by French soap makers in the 1700s.

What does it do?

Milling extracts excess water from the soap. This not only creates a longer lasting product but also ensures that the ingredients are well blended and that the soap bar’s texture is smoother and more uniform, sans impurities.

Ingredients

3 bars any unscented natural soap
1 cup warm water or coconut milk
Additives (choose from aromatic essential oils, herbs, colloidal oatmeal, flower petals etc.)
Cheese grater
Double boiler or non-reactive pot
Wooden spoon
Soap molds
Wax paper

Method

1. Grate soap bars into a double boiler or non-reactive pot, then add water or coconut milk; mix well

2. Heat on low, stirring often with a wooden spoon. If bubbles form, stop stirring until they cease; if soap starts drying out, add more water or coconut milk

3. When soap flakes melt, remove mixture from the heat and add additives (except essential oils)

4. Stir mixture until it’s cool but pourable, then add oils

5. Spoon mixture into molds, packing well to avoid air bubbles. Once molds are full, tap gently against counter to settle soap and remove air pockets; then set aside to dry

6. Once hard, remove soap from molds and set on wax paper in a cool, dark place to cure thoroughly (this may take a few weeks)

7. Turn soaps once weekly; they’re ready when you can press them with your finger and not leave an impression

8. Wrap soaps in fun paper of your choice to gift or store!

AlmondsAlmond paste for hands

This paste feels slightly coarse and you will need to really massage it into the skin – but it’s all worth the effort for perfectly smooth hands.

What makes it Parisian?

Almonds from the South of France have long been revered the world over for their skin-nourishing properties and robust scent.

What does it do?

Almonds are très rich in calcium and minerals and leave skin soft and smooth.

Ingredients

1 cup bitter almonds
3 cups whole milk
4-5 white bread crumbs
Mortar & pestle (or food processor, set on low)
Heavy bottomed kettle

Method

1. Blanch almonds in warm water and remove skins; Leave to dry out completely

2. Beat the almonds in the mortar or food processor, adding just enough milk to form a paste.

3. Soak bread crumbs in milk and add them to the almonds; beat together until everything is well mixed. Pour this mixture into the kettle

4. Add enough milk to completely cover the mixture and let simmer over low heat until it turns to the texture of a soft paste; keep adding more milk if the mixture starts to look dry

5. Scoop paste into a glass bottle and store in the fridge

Any thoughts on The Paris Bath & Beauty Book?