The good news? Skin forgives (and forgets). Give it a little love, and it will love you right back. “Reduce stress, boost your omega-3 intake, sleep for at least seven hours every night, and eat a healthy diet rich in antioxidants, and you will see a dramatic improvement in the tone, texture, and health of your skin,” says Stephanie Tourles, licensed holistic aesthetician, herbalist, and author of Organic Body Care Recipes (Storey Publishing, 2007).
We’ve targeted six common problems to give you some fast, effective ways to look your best.
1 Puffiness and dark circles
These two conditions “go hand in hand,” says Jennifer DiFrancesco, spa director at The Well Spa in Indian Wells, California. Both stem from a lack of circulation. “Puffiness is caused by fluid that collects and doesn’t move with the lymphatic flow,” DiFrancesco explains, “and dark circles indicate a need to stimulate your blood circulation.”
Of course, your genetic inheritance may contribute as much to the problem as too many late nights spent staring at the computer. Other culprits include alcohol, salty foods, and allergies. Furthermore, stress, poor diet, or inflammation in the nasal area can weaken the blood vessels, which may leak and cause what appear to be bruises under the eyes. Ultimately, to solve this problem you need to get your blood circulating and your lymph fluid flowing.
To help that along, DiFrancesco suggests giving yourself a gentle under-eye massage each night. Apply eye gel instead of cream if you have pouchy eyes–and be sure to chill it in the fridge beforehand. (Cold contracts and constricts the blood vessels, and gels have a tightening effect.) Look for ingredients like green tea or vitamin K, which strengthen the blood vessels; calendula or chamomile to reduce swelling; and gotu kola to stimulate circulation. Apply gel with your ring finger (it exerts the least pressure), and gently massage in clockwise, circular motions from the edges of the “bruise” toward the eye. “Use the lightest touch possible,” says DiFrancesco, “because the skin below the eyes is some of the thinnest in the body. Too much pressure, over time, may stretch the skin and lead to lines and wrinkles.”
Do-It-Yourself: Steep two cups of green tea for five minutes, and then remove the tea bags and chill them briefly in the freezer. Pour the tea itself into an ice cube tray and freeze. Squeeze the excess water out of the chilled tea bags, lie down, and place them on the under-eye area for 10 minutes. And the tea ice cubes? When you wake up puffy-eyed but in a hurry, pop out a cube and run it over the area before you dash out the door.
2 Blackheads and chin breakouts
The nose, chin, and forehead (aka the “T-zone”) have more oil glands than anywhere else on your body. So if you have oily skin, the T-zone will be your problem area–especially when you have your period. And because the pores on your nose can be large relative to those on the rest of your face, they’re prime real estate for blackheads when oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria become trapped in them. Hormones trigger most chin breakouts–especially during pregnancy, an irregular menstrual cycle, or perimenopause, or when taking birth-control pills. “Breakouts around the chin, in particular, are usually hormone-related because increased estrogen creates extra oil that clogs the skin,” says Zoe Picayo, head aesthetician at Priti Organic Skincare in New York City. To banish blackheads, exfoliate regularly, using a natural abrasive scrub two to three times a week. But handle with care. “Scrubs can sometimes tear at the edges of your pores, and end up spreading the bacteria around,” says Picayo. Wet your face and gently press–don’t rub!–the scrub on your nose and T-zone, using the same light pressure you use to shave your legs.
One final tip: Sometimes, clearing up your chin can be as simple as cleaning your cell phone–especially if you’re only breaking out on one side. When oil and bacteria accumulate on your phone, they can get pressed into your skin and clog your pores.
Do-It-Yourself: Sprinkle a quarter-size dab of baking soda into your palm. Moisten with a few drops of warm water, gently press into your face to exfoliate, and rinse.
Inside-Out Beauty: Your chin may also break out if your digestive system is out of balance. The jawline and chin correspond to the intestinal region in Chinese medicine. Take probiotics, which help maintain a healthy pH in the digestive system and aid in absorption of nutrients. Find them in supplements, yogurt, and many fermented foods. Make sure to drink six to eight glasses of water daily to flush out the cells and hydrate the skin.
3 Chapped lips
The delicate tissue on the lips, easily chapped and prone to bacterial infection, is vulnerable in any weather. Wind and winter chill sap moisture from the lips, but so does exposure to the sun, surf, and chlorinated swimming pools.
Many conventional lip balms contain petrolatum-based ingredients like mineral oil that appear slick and emollient, but because the skin can’t absorb them–the molecules are too big–they don’t actually condition or heal chapped lips. In fact, they just lie on the surface, creating an impermeable barrier that can actually clog the skin and lead to breakouts and bacterial infections.
Instead, look for natural moisturizers like shea butter, beeswax, sweet almond oil, jojoba oil, or hempseed oil, all of which actually penetrate the skin. If you’re prone to breakouts or bumps on the lips, look for lip balms with antibacterial essential oils like rosemary and mint and avoid camphor because it can dry the lips. Aloe vera soothes chapped skin, and menthol can numb the pain if your lips are severely chapped.
Do-It-Yourself: Mix a dab of honey with a bit of brown sugar. Apply to lips and gently massage back and forth with an old toothbrush. Sugar is a naturally abrasive exfoliant, and honey contains an exfoliating enzyme, as well as a mild antiseptic that kills bacteria and a natural humectant that helps the skin retain moisture.
4 Dry, flaky skin
Flaking on the cheeks, hairline, and brows may come from common dermatitis, or it could signal the presence of eczema, which can be a little harder to treat. In either case, says Tourles, “Flaking is an inflammatory response to something that’s aggravating the body.” Among the likely reasons: Extreme weather, food allergies, or chemical ingredients prone to generating an allergic reaction (contact dermatitis) in the skin, like those found in heavy fragrances, laundry detergents, or harsh shampoos. Any of these can shorten the life cycle of skin cells and lead to a buildup of dead skin, resulting in dryness, irritation, and flakes.
Stress can also aggravate the problem, as (alas) can our age. As we get older, our skin naturally becomes drier. The skin cells oxidize, and the cell walls can’t hold moisture like they once did. That’s why aging skin dehydrates, loses firmness, and starts to wrinkle. (Exposing unprotected skin to the sun can cause premature wrinkling, of course, because nothing oxidizes skin cells like those tanning UV rays.)
Instead of seeking help from heavy creams or lotions, look to moisturizing seed oils (pomegranate, rosehip, and grapeseed), which are light and thus move easily into the skin. Pomegranate seed oil contains linolenic acid, which promotes cell turnover and skin regeneration; rosehip, apricot, and carrot seed oils are rich in vitamins A and C, which strengthen and protect skin; grapeseed oil teems with the antioxidant resveratrol; and hempseed oil contains linoleic and linolenic acid, anti-inflammatory ingredients that soothe skin.
Do-It-Yourself: Put a few drops of olive oil, which is rich in antioxidants and high in polyphenols, into a small bowl of warm water. Press a washcloth soaked in this gentle mixture on the skin for a few minutes. It will stimulate circulation, lift off dead skin cells, and moisturize.
The spots that speckle your cheeks during pregnancy or splotch your face (or the backs of your hands) as you enter your 40s come as unwelcome guests. Chronic sun exposure, along with major hormonal shifts that occur during pregnancy, perimenopause, and menopause, can trigger excess melanin, which causes hyperpigmentation. And once you’ve got it, it’s hard to get rid of it.
“Traditional treatments like glycolic acids and Retin-A are harsh,” says Tourles. “People tend to overuse them, which leads to thinning of the skin, and thin skin is hypersensitive and more susceptible to sun damage.” Unhappily, this can lead to more age spots and further hyperpigmentation. (Warning: Don’t use these treatments if you’re pregnant.)
Protecting your skin from the damaging UV rays of the sun, of course, is key. Use a sunscreen daily–jojoba oil is a natural sunscreen, with an SPF between 10 and 15. To lighten and fade pigmented areas, apply a green papaya mask once or twice a week, and look for creams with lightening agents like licorice extract, mandarin or tangerine oil, or mulberry extract. Natural remedies for pigmentation problems can take a few months before they start to work, so remain patient.
Do-It-Yourself: Apply plain yogurt to your face three to four times a week. The lactic acid in the yogurt is a natural exfoliant.
6 Blotchiness or broken capillaries (cheeks)
For red, flushed, blotchy, sensitive skin, put the blame on heat and sun, alcohol, extremes of temperature, or spicy foods. When the capillaries under the skin’s surface dilate, it can result in redness and flushing, “the same things that trigger rosacea,” says Picayo.
“In this case, prevention is the best cure.” Include omega-3s (anti-inflammatories found in fish oil, flaxseed oil, and walnut oil) in your diet to protect, moisturize, and soothe the skin. Look for face oils, hydrosols, and creams with soothing and hydrating chamomile, lavender, rose, and vitamin K.
Do-It-Yourself: Chill aloe vera gel in the refrigerator. Apply to clean skin like a mask to soothe and calm the skin. Leave on for 10 minutes. Rinse with cool water.