Chocolate Causes Breakouts and 19 Other Acne Myths Debunked

Don’t base your skincare regimen on false information. Drs. Katie Rodan and Kathy Fields take on 20 common myths about the causes and cures for acne and set the record straight. Here’s the truth about food, sun, age, Accutane, and more from their book, Unblemished: Stop Breakouts! Fight Acne! Transform Your Life! Reclaim Your Self-Esteem with the Proven 3-Step Program Using Over-the-Counter Medications.

  • Acne Is Your Fault
    False. Acne is not and never will be your fault. Acne is caused by a combination of factors. These include genetics, hormones, bacteria, overabundance of oil, the plugging of skin pores, your unique immune response to the p. acnes bacteria, stress, environmental factors, medications, excessive rubbing or irritation, cosmetics, and even traveling. It is not caused by how you wash your face (or with what) or by any of the foods you eat. Some people never break out; some never stop.
  • Acne Can Be Cured
    False. There is not yet a cure for acne. It’s a complicated condition. Even the prescription drug Accutane, the strongest oral medication for acne, does not provide a permanent cure. But you can help prevent and control mild to moderate acne blemishes once you start following our program.
  • If You Leave Your Acne Alone, You’ll Outgrow It
    False. Don’t wait. It’s so important to start treating breakouts early. Untreated, acne can get worse. For example, comedones (blackheads and whiteheads) can evolve into pustules and pimples. If it does get worse, it can leave scars — physically on your face and emotionally in your heart for a lifetime.
  • Acne Is Just a Little Problem. Don’t Overreact. Stop Worrying About It
    False. Almost everyone who has acne is embarrassed by it — if not mortified and depressed. Acne not only lowers self-esteem, it often affects social behavior. It’s hard to have a social life if you don’t want to leave the house. Acne can even affect job performance, especially if you feel inhibited about being seen and judged by your peers.
  • Spot Treatments Will Cure Acne
    False. Spot treatments may help dry up a newly visible pimple, but that pimple started forming weeks before you were aware of its existence. Instead of spot treatments, it’s wise to preventively treat all acne-prone skin on a daily basis so breakouts can’t get started in the first place. Think of treating acne as you think of brushing your teeth: Do it every day and prevent a problem.
  • Acne Is Caused by Eating Greasy Foods, Chocolate, or Caffeine
    False. Medical studies have found that diet — including chocolate, pizza, potato chips, and french fries — rarely affects acne.However, if certain foods consistently make you break out with acne, it’s common sense to try to avoid them. For example, for some who are supersensitive, eating foods with a high iodine content, such as shellfish, dried fish, and seaweed, may cause flare-ups, which may explain why the Japanese, who usually have a terrific, balanced, low-fat diet, still get acne. Some other studies theorize that the hormones in chicken, beef, and dairy products may precipitate early adolescent acne, but the jury’s still out on that subject. If you’re concerned, substitute other sources of protein and calcium for these products or try hormone-free, organic versions of them.
  • Sugar Causes Acne
    False. An article entitled “Acne Vulgaris: A Disease of Western Civilization” was published in the Archives of Dermatology in December 2002. The writers concluded that there’s an astonishing difference between Western and non-Western societies in terms of how much acne people get — a difference that can’t be due just to what’s in the gene pool. They blamed acne on excess consumption of sugar in Western countries. However, critics of this study noted that the authors looked only at a small, genetically distinct tribe of natives in Papua, New Guinea, to represent non-Western societies. This tribe has a much later onset of puberty than other societies around the world, which means their hormones associated with acne kick in later in life. It is therefore not a representative group.Finding out what causes acne onset will be a tremendous help in acne treatment all over the globe. But to blame acne on sugar alone disregards scientific research and clinical observation. It’s been our experience that eliminating all sugar or fat in a diet doesn’t eliminate acne. We do advocate a healthy diet filled with complex carbohydrates, such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and low-fat protein. We believe refined sugars and excessive fat should be kept to a minimum to maintain a healthy body weight. Unfortunately, however, making changes in your diet alone will not stop acne. So don’t beat yourself up because you just had a chocolate brownie; it is not going to create pimples weeks down the road.
  • Drinking Tons of Water Will Flush the Acne Away
    False. Drinking six to eight glasses of water each day is healthy for your body. But not even the priciest designer-bottle spring water can flush away acne. There’s simply no proof that water can clean the skin from the inside out. Furthermore, while dehydration may temporarily make your skin look lifeless, it won’t lead to breakouts.
  • Sun Exposure Will Heal Your Acne
    False. Small amounts of sun exposure may appear to be helping your acne at first; the blue band of visible light helps to sterilize the p. acnes bacteria. Breakouts temporarily dry up and your new tan helps camouflage angry, red blemishes. But prolonged sun exposure eventually increases the plugging of your pores, producing blackheads, whiteheads, and small pimples. Plus the very real danger of skin cancer, to say nothing of premature wrinkling, cannot be overstated. Exposing your skin to the sun without sunscreen will never be a good idea. Its risks outweigh its very minimal benefits.
  • Acne Is Seasonal
    False. Some people claim their acne is seasonal, worse, perhaps, in summer. While temperature and humidity may increase the oil production of your skin, for most there aren’t seasons for acne. It’s a year-round problem.
  • Sunscreen Causes Acne
    False. A good noncomedogenic sunscreen will not cause acne. However, a heavy, occlusive sunscreen will attract and hold on to heat in your follicles, flaring inflammation and causing numerous small red bumps to form. This reaction is not true acne but a condition called miliaria.Find an oil-free, noncomodegenic sunscreen formulated for acne-prone skin. The risk of skin cancer is simply too great to do without it. This is true for people of all ages and all races. Reapply it frequently if you are sweating in the heat or after you go swimming.

    Also remember that acne medicines, such as benzoyl peroxide, Retin-A, and salicylic acid, may increase your skin’s sensitivity to sun exposure. This is even more reason never to leave the house without first applying sunscreen.

  • Acne Comes from Not Washing Your Face Enough
    False. Acne is not caused by dirt or uncleanliness. In fact, if you overwash your face or strip it with rubbing alcohol in an effort to feel clean, you can produce irritation. While face washing does remove surface oil, there is evidence that too frequent washing may stimulate oil production. Washing twice a day is more than enough to remove bacteria and aid in exfoliation.
  • Acne Is Caused by Oily Skin
    False. It is possible — and often common — to have both dry skin and acne. You can also have both oily skin and no acne. Pores will become plugged and acne will form whether your skin is dry or oily.
  • Using the Right Cosmetics Will Cure My Acne
    False. Some eager salespeople at the cosmetics counters may say anything to entice you into trying their line of new potions and creams. Buyer, beware!
  • If I Have Acne, I Can’t Use a Moisturizer
    False. Many people think that if they have acne, they can’t use moisturizers. Actually, noncomedogenic moisturizers, the kind that don’t cause clogged pores, are a must to hydrate parched, dry skin.
  • Acne Is Contagious
    False. Acne is a non-communicable disease. Even if you run your hands over the face of someone with the worst case of acne you’ve ever seen, you won’t get any pimples as a result. You can no more catch acne than you can catch cancer.
  • Accutane Is the Miracle Cure for Acne
    False. Accutane is the most successful drug used to treat acne, but it should be used only for severe cases, not mild ones. It works by shrinking oil glands for one to two (sometimes three) years, and it normalizes the cells lining the pore so plugging does not occur. A significant percentage of people who use Accutane need a second or third course of the drug, and most require topical skin treatments long term to keep their acne at bay. Accutane also has significant side effects, which require careful monitoring by your dermatologist.
  • Hair in Your Face or Hats on Your Head Cause Acne
    False. Hair and hats by themselves can’t cause acne. But using the wrong kinds of products on your hair or too much of them can exacerbate acne. We call this condition mousse abuse. Comedogenic, acne-triggering hair products, whether mousse, gel, pomade, or oil, can occlude (plug) pores near the hairline, creating fine blackheads and whiteheads. People who wear hats to hide their acne may inadvertently cause excess perspiration and irritation, triggering acne breakouts.
  • Blue Light Therapy Can Cure Acne
    False. Blue light therapy is an interesting approach to the treatment of acne, but it’s not a cure. Blue light is part of the rainbow of visible light (410 nanometers wavelength) emitted from a light source from a machine in a doctor’s office. It works by sterilizing the skin for a short period of time, removing acne bacteria and temporarily improving acne when used in conjunction with traditional topical acne medications. As more dermatologists use blue light therapy, we’ll get a better idea of how well it works or whether its expense and frequent visits will disappoint patients in the long run. Studies are ongoing, but it’s simply too soon to tell.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Katie Rodan, M.D., is an associate clinical professor of dermatology at Stanford University School of Medicine. Kathy Fields, M.D., is an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the University of California-San Francisco. Both have been profiled in Best Doctors in America, and their work has been featured in numerous national magazines and television shows. They are the authors of Unblemished: Stop Breakouts! Fight Acne! Transform Your Life! Reclaim Your Self-Esteem with the Proven 3-Step Program Using Over-the-Counter Medications (Copyright © 2004 by Rodan & Fields Inc.).

LEARN MORE

Winter Makeup and Skin Care Tips and Tricks

Winter challenges your skin and makeup more than any other season. Here, what you need to know to give your skin the extra care and attention it needs, plus tips on beauty products for achieving the right winter look. From Riku Campo author of Best in Beauty: An Ultimate Guide to Make Up and Skincare Techniques, Tools, and Products

The change of seasons is always refreshing, but winter challenges the skin and makeup more than any of the other seasons. Cold temperatures, snowy weather, heated rooms, and excessive hot showers to warm you up (which, unfortunately, also dry your skin) all make your skin need extra care and attention.

The biggest problem is dry skin on the face, hands, and knees, and sometimes all over the body. The best advice is to moisturize. And moisturize.

Sometimes the dryness can turn into eczema. In that case you must turn to a dermatologist, who can help you choose the right skin care products. You can also use 0.1% hydracortisone once a week on the areas that are really dry, irritated, and itchy. Eczema is genetic and is most aggressive in winter.

The indoor heat along with the cold outdoor temperature makes your skin drier, no matter what your skin type is.

Dry skin: Use a facial serum or oil under a thicker-formula moisturizer.
Oily Skin:
Use an oil-free serum and oil-free moisturizer.
Combination skin:
Use oil-free products on the T‑zone and a thicker moisturizer on the cheeks, which get drier in the wintertime.

Sometimes those with oily skin should protect their skin with slightly creamier face products, especially against extremely cold temperatures and wind. Look for oil-based moisturizers (including almond, jojoba, or avocado oil) that don’t clog the pores. Sometimes you might get whiteheads (tiny white cysts containing lamellated keratin that a dermatologist or esthetician can take out with a tiny needle) around your eye area or on your cheeks.

If you have dry skin, you must avoid water as much as you can; take short showers, and wash your face with a cleansing milk. And everyone should drink more water (or hot green tea) in the wintertime.

Many times dry skin gets flakes on the eyelids and cheeks and around the lip area. The best way to get rid of them is to exfoliate the skin right after showering, when the skin is still soft. After that apply a thick layer of a cream-based hydration mask all over your face. Leave it on for five minutes, then press a tissue on your face and let it absorb the mask. Don’t scrub your face; just gently tap it with the tissue so you get all the extra mask off your face.

Do this in the evening, and by morning your skin will be much softer. You can use the same method on superdry lips: exfoliate your lips and the skin around them with an exfoliating cream or lip scrub (many cosmetic manufacturers make lip spa products with scrubs and various kind of balms and sealing creams).

You can also put a damp hand towel in a microwave for three minutes to heat it and then press it on your lips for a minute to soften the skin, then scrub the dead skin off gently with the towel.

Note: Scrubbing the lips with a toothbrush is really hard on them and can actually break the skin.

MAKEUP
Base
Slightly richer foundations are better than tinted moisturizers because there is more to cover on your skin in the winter (uneven areas on the nose, cheeks, and eyelids).

You must use SPF/UVA/UVB protection all year round. The sun that reflects from the snow is as strong as the sun that reflects from water. So choose a day cream with at least SPF 15, or a foundation with SPF. Skin is also paler in the winter, so you must use a wintertime base.

Powder is needed all over the face for oily skin. Those with combination and dry skin should use powder on the T‑area only to set the base. If your skin is dry and flaky, don’t use any base product, just a face oil and your protecting SPF 15 face cream (but you can still use mascara and tinted lip balm).

Eyes
Most cosmetic companies launch autumn/winter collections full of darker shades for eye and lip makeup colors; dark grays, plums, burgundies, deep Spanish reds, and dark chocolate browns. That is because the fall/winter fashion shows give the direction to the makeup world as well. But there are no rules for which colors to use on a seasonal basis. Most of the products are matte and simply look better in winter: more dramatic and deeper hues that go hand in hand with fall/winter fashions. But remember that what works on the runway does not always work in real life.

If you love pastels in winter, go for them. Keep in mind, though, that if your face is pale, pastel colors will create a washed-out look that is not flattering; light pastel eye and lip makeup looks better on tanned skin, which is why pastels are very popular in the summer. For a cool-tone winter look, wear deeper colors on your eyes and give your lips a matte fuchsia tone instead of light icy pink. Or use some color on your eyes and keep your lips pale (as in the photo: I gave the lashes a shocking blue wintry color!).

Mascara should be waterproof; rain, snow, and going from outdoor to indoor temperatures will make regular mascara run. You don’t always have to use black mascara; try brown, blue, or green. Water-resistant eye pencil is excellent; because it’s made of waxes, it will stay through the rain. Water-resistant liquid eyeliners are good but don’t necessarily stay well because of their flakiness. There are some special eye makeup sealing products that you can apply on top of the eyeliner to make it hold longer. But an umbrella will do a better job in the end. I have also used water-resistant mascara as eyeliner, and sometimes it stays better than most of the real waterproof liners.

Lips
Cracked lips are the number one problem in winter. If your lips are superdry, skip the lipstick and use tinted lip balm, which is available in many different colors. The pigmentation is not that high, but you will get smooth, healthy-looking lips with a beautiful sheen. Make sure the balm has SPF and UVA/UVB protection. Exfoliate your lips regularly throughout the cold months. That way you will get rid of the dry flakes on the surface of your lips.

If you want a more dramatic winter look, fair skin looks really good with well-lined red lips, darker skin with well-lined deep brown or deeper cool reds. More moisturizing, richer-formula lip glosses are welcome products in the winter when the temperature drops below 0° Celsius. But on a really cold day, skip the glosses and use tinted lip balms. They protect and moisturize your lips the best.

Blush
Blush is a key item to the winter makeup look. It really gives some color to your skin and wakes up your whole face. Use the powder formulas, which sit better than gel or cream blushes. The color of your blush is completely your own choice; again, if you have a cool-tone look, use pink; for a warm tone, it can be peach, warm sand, or terracotta. The only color I would leave out are bronzes. They really don’t look great in winter.

Hands and Nails
Keep your hands moisturized. You can even sleep with cotton gloves on after applying a thick layer of hand cream to your hands. In the morning your hands and cuticles will be soft and moisturized.

Darker nail colors look trendy in the winter. You can buy a lipstick to match with your nail color because cosmetic companies launch the looks that way. It will always give a very sophisticated, mature look.

I have oily skin in the summer, and in the winter it’s dry. How can I make my skin behave in a more balanced manner from season to season?
Ole Henriksen answers:
It’s not unusual for an oily/eruption-prone skin to become surface dry in the winter season. Two things cause this: the products used to normalize the oily skin, and the dry indoor heating plus outdoor freezing temperatures. A mistake that many people with oily skin make is to use products with too many drying agents in every product they use.

This is not necessary. It creates a dry surface mantle and potentially more oil flow below the skin surface, which can cause blemishes. Balance is the key here, using a blend of oil-free formulations with humectants such as algae, aloe vera, sorbitol, and glycerin, combined with cell-proliferating and purifying extracts such as sugar maple, sugarcane, lemon peel, and lactic acid, and finally reparative antioxidants such as vitamin C, superoxide dismutase, green tea, and African red tea. In addition, an antiblemish stick containing benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, bentonite, and kaolin is a must for this skin type. So the answer is to use products that contain the right blend of active ingredients and have a light texture.

Is Vaseline good for my lips in the winter?
Vaseline used on its own isn’t thick enough to stay on the lips for long periods, but if incorporated into a lip balm formulation it works well. For people who may not like the fact that Vaseline is a mineral oil extract, there are other extracts that work just as effectively at keeping lips soft and nourished, such as jojoba seed oil, mango seed butter, carnauba wax, and cranberry seed oil.

TIPS
Use a humidifier to add moisture to your indoor space if you have to use drying central heating. Put one in your bedroom, and you will notice the difference in your skin in the morning, especially when using face serum and night cream. Your skin will be softer and moister.

If you have very dry skin, use soap-free body wash instead of a soap bar when showering.

You can use a thicker-formula face cream (at least 60% oil) as your night cream. The same cream works as a deep-moisturizing face mask: just apply a thicker layer of the cream all over your face, except in the eye area. Keep it on the face for 10 to 15 minutes, and then press a tissue on the face to absorb the extra oils from the skin. Do this in the evening, and your skin will be moist, especially if you have the humidifier in your bedroom.

If you have sensitive skin, use a protective barrier moisturizer.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Riku Campo, author of Best in Beauty: An Ultimate Guide to Make Up and Skincare Techniques, Tools, and Products, lives in Los Angeles, where he has established himself as the makeup go-to guy for some of today’s most celebrated models and entertainers. For more information, visit www.rikucampo.com.

MORE ARTICLES BY THE AUTHOR

LEARN MORE


Fish Oil, A Real Magic Bullet for Radiant Skin

Supplements can be controversial, but as Kat James, the author of The Truth About Beauty, found, fish oil is one nutrient you can count on for real results for healthy skin and hair.

OMEGA FATS AND BEAUTY: A LOVE STORY
My very first, leap-of-faith, life-saving supplement regimen included fish oil, which — combined with alpha-lipoic acid and milk thistle — not only healed my sick liver (food couldn’t do it, as I had already been eating the healthiest way I could) but also completely transformed my skin and my moods. This was back at the dawn of the nineties, more than a decade before fish oil became known to the general public. Today, there are hundreds of studies on omega-3 oils showing dramatic reductions in everything from anger and anxiety to depression, from risk of sudden heart attack to insulin resistance, and from joint inflammation to bone loss and much more.

On the beauty front, the skin, weight loss, and hair benefits of fish oil and omega-3s has now been confirmed in dozens of published studies, showing significant improvement in nearly all major skin diseases involving inflammation, including eczema, psoriasis, and even sunburn. More recent studies confirm that fish oil protects against UV radiation, reducing the skin’s responses to both UVA (blistering) and UVB (redness) radiation. The anti-aging and even damage reversing effect from fish oil was confirmed in a study published in the Journal of Lipid Research.

The effect on my own skin from fish oil was nothing short of amazing. Within a couple of months of starting this regimen, my skin literally “forgot” that it had been continually irritated, prone to horrible rashes on my eyes and chin, and unquenchably dry all my life. It forgot that it needed heavy-duty lotions in order not to crawl with discomfort after every bath and shower. The space between my brows, the crannies on the sides of my nose, and my legs all failed to attend to their constant scaling. Dryness and inflammation had “left the building” along with my need for body moisturizers. I almost forgot to remember these things as they ended, but I’ll never forget what it was like to take for granted that I would have those problems for the rest of my life and then learn I was wrong.

My hair was transformed dramatically from my fish oil regimen, too. It went from being super-brittle, coarse, and dull to being glossy and silky, enabling me to grow it out long (and have it actually grow downward instead of outward) for the first time since my childhood. Beyond the fact that hair is a biological appendage of the skin (which is why people with oily skin have oily hair, and people with dry skin have dry hair), there are other possible explanations for fish oil’s effects on the hair. Hair health is particularly vulnerable to hormone imbalances and compromised circulation (many hair loss remedies focus on that). Stress is another cause for changes in the hair (alopecia areata, or temporary, nonhereditary hair loss, is caused by stress or trauma). Because omega-3s and fish oil have been proven to increase circulation, reduce the impact of stress, and help balance hormone activity, they offer proven benefit in each of these important contributors to hair health.

FISH VS. FLAX OIL
Several studies have compared the actions of fish oil to plant-based omega-3 oils and have found that fish oil supplementation more effectively raises the body’s levels of EPA and DHA (the components responsible for most of the documented health benefits). Getting EPA and DHA from flax oil requires a conversion by the body, which many people do not efficiently make. Still, flax is better than not supplementing with omega-3s at all (so strict vegans might be able to get all their omega-3s from flax, but might also be biologically challenged in converting it to anti-inflammatory compounds). Molecularly distilled fish oils are the gold standard in supplementation recommended by more and more mainstream, as well as alternative, MDs. Avoid cheap drug store brands. Ironically, getting all your fish oil from fish could give you unwanted outcomes unless you are careful about avoiding mercury, as high mercury levels not only contribute to heart problems but are also known to cause hair loss.

I have taken fish oil for nearly two decades now, with few interruptions. And those interruptions are valuable reminders of what it was like to live in both the physical and emotional discomfort in my own skin. Fish oil is unquestionable proof that real “magic bullets” sometimes do exist.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nationally renowned beauty and holistic health expert Kat James, author of The Truth About Beauty: Transform Your Looks And Your Life From The Inside Out (Copyright © 2007 by Kat James), transformed her body and skin beyond recognition after a twelve-year eating disorder and the resulting liver disease nearly took her life. Through her book, national health columns, public television special, lectures, and acclaimed Total Transformation® programs, she has helped millions to mastermind their own healing transformations using science and strategy rather than suffering or extreme measures. James came to know the inside of the beauty industry from her many years as one of the most quoted experts and cosmetics-company spokespersons of the 1990s, and now offers a rare new perspective on enlightened, holistic self-transformation. Her advice has appeared in nearly every major women’s and national health magazine, including Vogue and O, The Oprah Magazine, as well as on the Today show. She is founder of www.informedbeauty.com and creator of Total Transformation® programs. Her clients have included celebrities such as Kate Hudson and Sarah Jessica Parker and world-class athletes.

LEARN MORE


Top Tips for Avoiding Razor Burn

Almost every woman experiences razor burn at some point, says Dr. Amy Wechsler, author of The Mind-Beauty Connection. Here’s how to avoid it.

Q. I get wicked razor burn sometimes on my legs and under my arms. Is there any foolproof way to avoid this? Or treat it so it doesn’t happen again? What am I doing wrong with my shaving?

A. A razor burn results when the follicles become irritated. You’ll see the redness within minutes to hours. It can happen frequently if you shave too closely, too harshly, too quickly, or on skin that’s not softened by the warm water enough to endure the abrasion. Almost every woman experiences razor burn at some point; avoiding it to begin with is the best medicine, since the rash can be painful. If you try to shave again too soon, it can avalanche into a series of razor burns as you continue to irritate your skin.

To treat a razor burn get yourself an over-the-counter tube of hydrocortisone (0.5 to 1 percent strength) and apply it to the affected area twice a day. Switch from regular shaving cream or gel to a hypoallergenic and fragrance-free variety; try Aveeno Ultracalming Shave Gel or Kiehl’s Simply Mahvelous Legs Shave Cream (and finish it off with Kiehl’s Simply Mahvelous Legs After-Shave Lotion). Alternatively, you can also go for Clinique’s line of shaving products; even though they are marked for men they can work wonders on women’s legs, too! If you’ve been using a razor with three or more blades, decrease to a two-bladed razor.

To avoid razor burn: Use good razors, and change your blade at least once a week; shave toward the end of your shower after your skin has softened from the heat, use a shaving cream or gel, go slowly and don’t push into your skin, and don’t go over the same area twice. If razor burn is a persistent problem, consider laser treatment, which damages the hair follicles and prevents hair growth. Laser hair removal typically requires a series of treatments (five to seven), followed by a touch-up every six months to a year.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amy Wechsler, M.D., is a dermatologist and a psychiatrist, one of only two doctors in the country who are board-certified in both specialties. She is also the author of The Mind-Beauty Connection: 9 Days to Reverse Stress Aging and Reveal More Youthful, Beautiful Skin (Copyright © 2008 by RealAge Corporation). Evidence of the mind-beauty connection walks into her office every day: “Premature aging and adult acne are the two most common skin problems I see, and stress and exhaustion are often at the bottom of both,” she says. Dr. Wechsler practices in New York City, where she lives with her husband and two kids. She is a member of the RealAge Scientific Advisory Board.

MORE ARTICLES BY THE AUTHOR

LEARN MORE

Antiaging Products: What Really Works

American women drop nearly $2 billion on antiaging creams and potions. Are they worth it? Dr. Amy Wechsler, author of The Mind-Beauty Connection, has the answer.

In 2005, American women dropped a cool $664 million on antiaging creams and potions, and that was just in department stores. Today, that figure has jumped to nearly $2 billion. We’re shelling out big bucks for ingredients like oil from the seeds of hand-harvested arctic cranberries and Koishimaru silk extracted from delicate cocoons. And if you add cosmetics in general that we buy to spruce up our natural looks (or cover up those blemishes and uneven skin tones) then the number skyrockets well into the billions.

Maddeningly, much of that money is being spent on products that have little effect on skin’s aging process, because to halt the march of fine lines, sag, and pigmentation changes, you have to change skin’s deeper layers. And if any of the bazillion department and drugstore products that claim to erase age’s trademarks could actually do that — say, by increasing cell turnover in the dermis — the FDA would classify them as drugs. A few do exist, but you can only buy them with a doctor’s prescription.

Why are so many cosmetic claims so convincing? Five reasons:

  • Clever writing. Read the claims carefully and you’ll realize they’re full of qualifying words like “aim to” and “designed to diminish” and “reduce the appearance of” and… well, you get the idea. These promises are etched in anything but stone.
  • Scientific trappings. Even if a product says, “clinically shown to…” remember that it’s one thing to research how a component of coffee, such as caffeine, say, affects mouse skin, and quite another to claim that adding coffee to a lotion will perk up human skin. Also, little cosmetic research meets the scientific gold standard — that is, a randomized, double-blind crossover study, performed by a qualified researcher (who is usually affiliated with a university or teaching hospital) with no financial stake in the outcome. The studies are usually very small, typically lack a control for comparison, and are paid for by cosmetics companies, which have a vested interest in the results.
  • The placebo effect. If you’ve just plunked down $27.50, or $275, for a moisturizer, you want it to make your skin look younger, smoother, firmer, so it’s easy to see changes for the better. And let’s not forget the psychological aspect of buying something luxuriously packaged. The packaging alone can lead you to believe it will work! Savvy beauty companies don’t skimp on presentation, especially when they command mucho dinero for their goods.
  • No cops. Cosmetics aren’t regulated by the FDA, so if a product doesn’t diminish fine lines, well, nothing really happens. And if you’re not sure it did anything unusual, but it smelled wonderful and felt terrific, you might buy it again anyway.
  • Vague promises. How many times have you seen a product marketed with the phrase “Clinically proven to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles by up to 33 percent,” or some such? Have you ever asked yourself, what does that mean, exactly? You don’t live in a clinical setting, so does that percentage work in the real world? The term clinically proven sounds persuasive, but as we just saw under “scientific trappings,” it’s often more marketing than science. Generally, the phrase means that at least one component of the product has been shown, in one study or another, to have had some biological actions, such as helping wounds heal faster by stimulating cell division. But it’s not necessarily true that it has been demonstrated by a well-controlled, independent clinical study to have significant effects in skin.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amy Wechsler, M.D., is a dermatologist and a psychiatrist, one of only two doctors in the country who are board-certified in both specialties. She also is the author of The Mind-Beauty Connection: 9 Days to Reverse Stress Aging and Reveal More Youthful, Beautiful Skin (Copyright © 2008 by RealAge Corporation). Evidence of the mind-beauty connection walks into her office every day: “Premature aging and adult acne are the two most common skin problems I see, and stress and exhaustion are often at the bottom of both,” she says. Dr. Wechsler practices in New York City, where she lives with her husband and two kids. She is a member of the RealAge Scientific Advisory Board.

MORE ARTICLES BY THE AUTHOR

LEARN MORE

4 Essential Steps to Beautiful Skin

Following this four-step approach will make a world of difference to your skin’s condition now and in the future. From Trish McEvoy: The Power of Makeup by Trish McEvoy

1. CLEANSING
No matter how tired or short on time you are, regular cleansing is an important part of healthy skin maintenance. Do not neglect this step! Its purpose is to remove makeup, debris, and dead skin cells.

CHOICES: Cleansing balms, cleansing creams, cleansing washes, and cleansing bars. As a general rule, drier
skins do better with creamier textures, and oilier skins do better with washes or bars.

2. EXFOLIATING
The difference between dull skin and glowing skin is right on the surface. The most common cause of dull complexions is a decreased rate of cell turnover. Exfoliation helps the skin look its freshest by refining the surface and restoring its natural radiance. Everyone can benefit from this vital step of removing dead skin cells, which results in a smoother complexion. Exfoliation also allows better penetration of treatment products and moisturizers. Always remember to use your sunscreen in conjunction with any kind of exfoliation, because the new skin you expose is especially vulnerable. How often you exfoliate depends on how your skin looks. If your skin looks dull or if makeup catches on your skin as you apply it, you need to exfoliate. Some people make it a part of their daily skin care regimen, and others do it no more than twice a week — the minimum I would recommend.

CHOICES: You have options here. There are different types, some that contain alpha hydroxy acids (AEAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) and some that don’t. Check the label to determine what, if any, acid is included.

MASKS AND SCRUBS:
Considered the first generation of exfoliation and still popular choices, especially when AHA or BHA is not an option because of skin sensitivity. When purchasing a scrub, look for one that contains smooth, synthetic spherical beads, which are more gentle on the skin.

AHAS AND BHAS:
Many exfoliants contain acids, which have the ability to exfoliate and smooth the skin’s surface, as well as speed up the generation of new cells.

ALPHAHYDROXY ACIDS. The most common is glycolic acid, considered the most effective at improving the overall appearance of the skin since it has the smallest molecule, which allows for the deepest penetration. Glycolic acids can be irritating to extremely sensitive skin types.

BETAHYDROXY ACIDS. More commonly known as salicylic acids, BHAs are slightly milder than AH As. They are used to target acne and clear pores as well as improve skin tone and reduce inflammation.

3. MOISTURIZING
Moisturizers deliver water to the skin, temporarily plump up fine lines, and smooth and soften the appearance of the skin. They also lock in the water that is already there. It’s just a matter of choosing which formula is right for your skin type. Use an oil-free moisturizer if you have normal or oily skin; if you have dry skin; you can use a more enriched formula.

4. PROTECTING
This is a must! Nothing will help you avoid sun damage and wrinkles more than using a daily sunblock or sunscreen. An SPF of 15 with UVA and UVB protection should be the minimum you wear. Apply sunscreen thirty minutes before going outside.

DAILY SUN CARE. On the days when you have limited sun exposure, a moisturizer with a sunscreen is a good choice. It should have an SPF of at least 15. The great part is that it’s as easy as applying a moisturizer — a true no-brainer.

OUTDOOR SUN CARE. If you know you’ll be spending considerable time outside (for instance playing golf or tennis or going to the beach), step up your sun care regimen. Increase your protection factor to an SPF of 30 and remember to reapply every two hours, especially after swimming and vigorous exercise.

SENSITIVE-SKIN SUN CARE. Nonchemical sun products work by creating a physical barrier over the skin. Look for ingredients like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. Zinc oxide, which traditionally is white and opaque, is now also available in a transparent form to give even the most sensitive skin a broad spectrum of protection.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Trish McEvoy, author of Trish McEvoy: The Power of Makeup (Copyright © 2003 by Trish McEvoy), is the founder of Trish McEvoy Beauty and the cofounder of Trish McEvoy/Dr. Ronald Sherman Skincare Center in New York City. She has received numerous honors and awards for her work and has been featured in many magazines and newspapers and appears frequently on television. She also believes in helping women grow strong and is a supporter of the Girl Scouts U.S.A.

MORE ARTICLES BY THE AUTHOR

LEARN MORE

SOS for the Stressed: 7 Stress Management Tips

Head off burnout with these seven tips for reducing stress from Dr. Amy Wechsler, author of The Mind-Beauty Connection: 9 Days to Less Stress, Gorgeous Skin, and a Whole New You.

You’re working long, long hours to get your career in high gear, then blowing off steam late at night, trying to meet people at smoky after-hours clubs or late-night bars. What with proving yourself on the job, struggling to get a romantic relationship going, and losing sleep over both, you’re ripe for burnout. And maybe breakouts, too — a nonstop lifestyle can suddenly produce a bumper crop of pimples. Some suggestions follow.

Wean yourself from work. How do you do this? By setting up boundaries and sticking to them, just as you keep to brushing your teeth and hair every day. Choose a time each day after which you will not do any more work. Make sure you give yourself at least one day over the weekend to goof off (no work!), whether it’s by yourself or with family.

Blow out the flame. If you’re truly burning the candle at both ends, you need to stop and evaluate why. Are you working sixteen-hour days? Or are you staying out late with friends to cut loose and enjoy the fruits of your labor?

If it’s wall-to-wall work, you’ve got to take charge. It might mean a long talk with your boss or, if things are really out of hand, even switching jobs. Or it might mean you need to just stop being such a workaholic and do less.

On the flip side is our yearning to take a break by doing something exhausting. In the case of a lot of end-to-end candle burners, we party hard, drink, smoke, and stay out way past our bedtime. My advice here isn’t not to have fun. On the contrary! But when you need a break, take a break. Six hours at Club All Night Long probably isn’t it, no matter how cute the suits at the bar are.

Get a dose of morning light. Our body clocks don’t exactly match the day’s twenty-four-hour-day clock, which makes us want to sleep twelve minutes longer every day and stay up later every night. But you probably don’t sleep later but do stay up later…no wonder you’re wiped. What helps? Getting out of bed at the same time every morning and sitting in a sunny spot for breakfast, or exercising outdoors, or just turning on lots of lights. A dose of brightness in the morning helps synch up your internal clock with the twenty-four-hour day. Which also helps you get on regular, saner schedule.

Turn off the cell phone and PDA. More and more we’re growing into a culture addicted to our BlackBerries (there’s a reason they were instantly nicknamed CrackBerries). The flickering, hypnotic light from their tiny screens will arouse your brain and cut into your sleep time. Put away your electronics at least an hour before you hit the hay, if not earlier. Otherwise, you’ll never get a truly restful night’s sleep. (True confessions: I know about this — I’ve been there!)

Tell yourself how well you’re doing. Even if it feels silly, give yourself a morning pep talk while you’re in front of the mirror. Say a few positive affirmations, such as “I’m going to have a fabulous day; I’m beautiful and healthy, and it’s up to me to make great things happen; I’m grateful for this life and I’m doing terrific.” Note how well you’re coping with whatever pressure you’re under. Even if you don’t quite believe yourself, it’s still effective. Research has shown that over time, a daily rah-rah builds resilience, which can fortify you against stress.

Prep yourself. Take stock of your coming day. Note the pitfalls: the two-hour parent-teacher night that tends to last three; the regular Thursday staff meeting; the eighty-five unanswered e-mails that could consume the entire morning. Every day has its molehills, but if you’re prepared and limit the time you give them, they won’t turn into mountains.

Book a massage. Massage strokes relax your muscles and your psyche because being touched releases oxytocin; remember, that’s the bonding hormone that makes you feel warm and fuzzy all over. It’s the internal reason massages are so calming and soothing. The external one, of course, is how they unknot those tense, clenched muscles in your neck.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amy Wechsler, M.D., the author of The Mind-Beauty Connection: 9 Days to Less Stress, Gorgeous Kin, and a Whole New You (Copyright © 2008 by RealAge Corporation), is a dermatologist and a psychiatrist, one of only two doctors in the country who are board-certified in both specialties. She is also Evidence of the mind-beauty connection walks into her office every day: “Premature aging and adult acne are the two most common skin problems I see, and stress and exhaustion are often at the bottom of both,” she says. Dr. Wechsler practices in New York City, where she lives with her husband and two kids. She is a member of the RealAge Scientific Advisory Board.

MORE ARTICLES BY THE AUTHOR

LEARN MORE

WATCH THE VIDEO