Do I Really Have Sensitive Skin? A Beauty Junkie’s Journey
December 6th, 2013
When someone tells me they have sensitive skin I get very interested really fast. I mostly don’t say anything at first but I just listen. I have learned that when I let my clients talk and by simply listening, they will yield the secrets to what their skin wants.
In the following article, one of my favorite beauty editors, discovers something that I have cautioned many of my clients about- mixing and matching too many skincare products. The results could be stressed and “sensitive” skin.
By Fiorella Valdesolo
The Chosen Few
Almost every season the rank and file on my bathroom shelf march onto the sink basin to make room for the latest recruits in my ever-expanding army of lotions and potions. When every gleaming porcelain surface is crammed full, more supplies invade the windowsill. By the time I’m focused on not elbowing this jar or breaking that bottle instead of on washing my face, I am compelled to confront my hoarding tendencies. This often results in a major, albeit temporary, product purge. I realized the problem went beyond mere clutter when I got two warnings. First came the skin eruption, an angry rash that spread rapidly across my cheeks thanks to inventive cocktailing, mixing a toner (heavily scented, French) with two serums and a sunblock. This was followed by a stern intervention by my feng shui–fixated boyfriend, he of the two-product regimen (Dr. Bronner’s soap and whatever moisturizer he can get his hands on). It was official: The time to simplify was at hand.
Moderation has never been my forte, particularly when it comes to beauty products designed to keep my visage as young and healthy as possible. And according to facialist Joanna Vargas, who can claim responsibility for the glowing complexions of Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz, I’m not alone in my stockpiling. She attributes overzealous skincare to information overload. “I have clients who read all the magazines and blogs and cherry-pick different lines but aren’t committed to any single way of doing something. And that’s where things can go wrong,” she says. “You have to judge what sounds good against what you know about your skin, to end the confusion.” In my case that would mean ignoring the vast personal product tallies chronicled in Instagram feeds and swearing off fancy multistep skincare lines with big promises. Instead I should focus simply on what works for my skin, and I should not constantly question whether I should be, could be, ought to be doing more.
The first step: Get rid of everything and start from scratch. “If you’re using all these products at once, you don’t know what’s working and what’s not,” says New York City facialist Jordana Mattioli. Products have more active ingredients than ever, so the chance of sensitivity issues when cross-breeding is huge. “Many patients are overexfoliating, overcleansing, and using too many things together,” Manhattan dermatologist Joshua Zeichner says. “For example, topical retinoids can be quite irritating. When you’re mixing them with a salicylic or glycolic acid, it’s a recipe for disaster.”
No matter how old you are, anti-aging, whether it be preventive or targeted to early—or not so early—signs, is a universal concern. “Everyone needs to wash her face, use a sunscreen, and use some anti-aging stuff. Those are the essentials,” says New York dermatologist Dennis Gross. “It’s all about finding core products that contain scientifically proven anti-aging ingredients, like retinol and peptides.” And, whenever possible, opt for multitaskers that can streamline your routine—say, a moisturizer that also happens to be tinted and has sunscreen, or any of the new crop of BB and CC creams. Beyond that, Zeichner suggests determining exactly what your specific skin issues are—are you oily? prone to breakouts? concerned about brightening?—and tailoring product choices accordingly.
As I learned, the ideal regimen could comprise as few as three to five products. That’s it. One cleanser (perhaps a foaming variety if you’re oily, creamy if you’re dry, or glycolic if you’re acne-prone), a treatment product (such as a serum or nighttime cream), an antioxidant-rich moisturizer with sunscreen (or, if your skin doesn’t need additional hydration, straight sunblock), and, if you like, an exfoliant and an eye cream. “For a nighttime treatment I usually have my clients switch by season,” Mattioli says. “Retinol for fall and winter, and alpha hydroxy acids for spring and summer.” She adds that unless you’re using a prescription-strength retinoid, you can multitask and put your moisturizer under your eyes. If irritation is a real concern, brand loyalty may be your best bet, as almost all lines are formulated so that the products can be safely used in tandem. But if you feel the urge to flirt with a different brand, experiment with a new cleanser; because it gets washed off, the chances for skin irritation are low.
Method, it seems, also matters. Mattioli is a huge fan of the Clarisonic, for its enhanced product-delivery abilities, while Gross believes in the power of a quick preapplication steam (so much so that he designed an at-home steamer for his own brand) to open pores and boost circulation, helping ingredients penetrate deeper. And there’s always a little elbow grease. “I encourage people who break out to apply their products in a downward circular motion, to encourage drainage out of your face,” says Vargas, who is certified in lymphatic massage. “Conversely, someone who has superdry or mature skin should start at the bottom of the neck and go upward in a circular motion.”
Your choice of foods and even the way you sleep also have an impact. Dr. Frank Lipman, an integrative medicine specialist, counsels a diet free of dairy and sugar, plus a regular probiotic and fish oil for a clearer complexion. The new Iluminage pillowcase, which is constructed with copper oxide fibers, claims to release collagen-stimulating ions into the skin all night long.
After consulting my coterie of experts, I whittled my routine down to six products—a milky cleanser from Skinceuticals, Vargas’s gentle brightening-focused exfoliant, a La Roche-Posay moisturizer with sunscreen, a Dermalogica hyaluronic acid serum for day, a prescription retinol for nighttime, and Perricone MD’s hypo allergenic firming eye cream—which, while not three products, was for me a significant improvement. And, I admit, I’ve grown quite fond of fastidiously massaging in my daily moisturizer and eye cream. That age-old saying about less being more turned out to be true. My skin has never looked better, and, come to think of it, neither has my bathroom.
Click through the slideshow to see five exfoliating and lifting gadgets that can be safely incorporated into any skincare routine.
To make your appointments at Joanna Vargas Skin Care in New York City call 212.949.2350.