Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Autumn/Winter 2007. Copyright 2007. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.
We've all heard that the skin is the body's largest organ--and although biggest doesn't always mean best, in this case it does mean very important. Besides holding everything in place and providing a protective barrier against the world, our skin can also give an indication of our body's overall well-being through its appearance. If we're glowing and healthy on the outside, chances are the same might be true on the inside. And just as you feed your body well on the inside with healthful foods, you need to nourish your skin on the outside for a radiant glow. You have to know what you're looking for, however, to find these beneficial ingredients.
Here are some top estheticians' favorite ingredients for healthy, glowing skin, many of which can be found in your favorite spa's retail section.Pep Things Up With Peptides
Peptides are a group of molecules created by the linking of amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. "Since the skin is made of protein, peptides are able to bond naturally with the protein in the skin to reduce fine lines and create a firming effect by stimulating collagen production," says Marc Edward Winer, owner of Marc Edward Skin Care, a West Hollywood, California-based skin care spa. Winer was voted best esthetician in Los Angeles by Frontiers Magazine. Winer recommends using a product that has at least a 15 percent peptide content.
What makes peptides even more exciting is that they can reduce the need for abrasive acids, previously thought to be the only way to reduce fine lines. "We know acids to be drying, irritating, and harsh," says Pamela Hill, cofounder and president of the board of directors of Facial Aesthetics, based in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. "Peptides, on the other hand, are precursors to amino acids or proteins in the skin and heal the skin by creating new collagen without irritation."Hydrate With Hyaluronic Acid
Though it might seem that the words acid and hydration shouldn't coexist in the same sentence, in the case of hyaluronic acid, they can. Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring molecule in the body, found mainly in the skin, cartilage, eyes, and joints. "Hyaluronic acid is a humectant and can hold one thousand times its weight in water," Winer says. "It's a powerful hydrating agent."
Because the body already produces a small amount of hyaluronic acid on its own, it rarely causes allergic reactions and is gentle on all skin types. "Hyaluronic acid is good for dry skin and as an all-over nutrient for the face, not just spot areas," Hill says. "Since it's part of the natural moisturizing factor of the skin, skin is noticeably improved with its use, regardless of its condition: dry, sensitive, or oily."Don't Skimp On Sun Protection
You may be tired of hearing it, but it's still true--protecting skin from sun damage is one of the best ways to keep it looking healthy, young, and fresh into your later years. It's also an important step in preventing skin cancer, which is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with more than one million skin cancers diagnosed annually, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. No matter what your age, skin type, or climate, you should still use some form of sun protection.
"All skin types need protection from direct or indirect sun exposure, which can cause irreparable damage," says Victoria Del Rio, owner of Victoria's Studio, a skin care and massage salon in Miami, Florida. "Select a non-oily, non-comedogenic broad-spectrum formulation containing titanium dioxide and zinc oxide for regular use. Include barriers--hats, sunglasses, umbrellas--during peak sun exposure, reapplying sun screen frequently,"
Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are especially important ingredients to look for because they provide actual physical barriers against the sun. "As opposed to other ingredients that chemically protect the skin from sun damage, these two ingredients sit on the surface of the skin and absorb both UVA (ultraviolet A) and UVB (ultraviolet B) rays, preventing them from ever reaching the skin," Winer says.C The Difference
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant; just as you feel great after drinking a glass of vitamin C-rich orange juice, your skin will be energized when it receives the nutrient topically. "Vitamin C is a great standby in a skin care program. It provides antioxidant properties as well as sun protection properties," Hill says. More specifically, topical vitamin C--sometimes called L-ascorbic acid--prevents oxidative damage of the skin. "When you put lemon juice on an apple, it prevents it from turning brown, or oxidizing," Winer says. "Vitamin C has the same effect on our skin--it prevents damage from the environment and can help repair past damage that our skin has received. Furthermore, when applied under sunscreen, you will get 25 percent more sun damage protection." Goodbye, Scales! Hello, Squalene Oil!
An unsaturated hydrocarbon produced by many living animals, squalene is found mainly in human sebum and in the liver oil of sharks. Squalene can also be harvested from rice bran, wheat germ, and olive leaves. Because squalene exists naturally in the human body, it makes for an extremely effective non-oily moisturizer. "Squalene registers at a zero to one on the comedogenic scale, meaning it's not comedogenic at all. Plus, because it mimics the oil and sebum that our bodies already produce, the body very easily absorbs and uses it," Winer says. Del Rio agrees and believes that squalene oil is especially beneficial for aging skin. "For mature skin, squalene oil can help minimize fine lines, wrinkles, increase skin elasticity, and decrease an uneven skin texture and hyperpigmentation," she says.Demand Mandelic
Unlike other acids that tend to be harsh and drying to the skin, mandelic acid--derived from the bitter almond--has been found to be gentle enough for all skin types. Mandelic acid is generally used to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, as well as to treat acne and to even out skin tone. Del Rio explains that mandelic acid's larger molecule size allows for a slow and even penetration of the acid into the skin. In contrast, other alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) have very tiny molecules that penetrate rapidly and unevenly. "This rapid penetration causes much of the redness and irritation associated with AHAs," she says. Furthermore, mandelic acid contains natural antimicrobial components, which make it even more beneficial to those with acne-prone skin than other acids. Darker skin tones can safely use mandelic acid without the risk of hyperpigmentation.
Just as getting the right nutrients into our bodies can be tricky, knowing which ingredients to use on the outside can be confusing as well. If you're seeking answers, look no further than your nearest spa, where a trained esthetician can guide you through the ins and outs of skin care for your individual skin type needs. Be sure to visit www.ascpskincare.com
to find a skin care professional in your area. Christine Spehar is a Colorado-based freelancer with a flair for health and skin care topics.