5 Steps to Protect Your Skin So It Can Protect You
Now that the temperatures are warmer, we’re wearing shorts, sleeveless shirts and dresses and bathing suits. We may even be wearing less makeup. In short, more of our skin is exposed, and if we’re being honest, we want it to look and feel as good as possible. While the overall quality of our skin care routine may be in the spotlight in the warmer months, as we all know, it’s a year-round self-care process that can be complicated with mixed messaging from a multi-billion dollar a year industry. This is especially true when it comes to the concept of “natural” skin care. That’s why we’re demystifying what that really means and finding out how you can protect your skin so that it can protect you.
Defining Natural Skin Care
Hannah Stoffel is a Certified Health Coach who is passionate about skin care. She says that the first step to figuring out what natural skin care really means is to recognize that your skin is more than just a barrier or level of protection for the rest of your body. She acknowledges that’s what it does, but it’s also “your body’s largest organ. It is a receiver, and what you put on your skin does get into your body.” So, the idea of “I don’t need to worry about what I put on my skin. I’m not ingesting it, I’m just putting it on my skin” goes out the door.
Keeping that in mind makes it easier to define what natural skin care is and what it isn’t. Since natural can really mean anything, Hannah cautions that we need to recognize as consumers that “just because a bottle says natural cleanser or natural moisturizer, that word alone doesn’t carry a whole lot of weight in and of itself.” She points out that a lot of things that are natural aren’t necessarily good for us and considers petroleum by-products to be among them. “Petroleum is natural. It’s crude oil. It comes from the ground. But do you want to put it on your skin? No, you don’t. It’s very aging, and potentially a carcinogen, so no, that’s not something that we want to be putting on our skin.”
While there are many studies that show that the common skin care ingredients mineral oil, paraffin wax and petrolatum (petroleum jelly) are safe for use in skin care products, it’s important to recognize that these are all petroleum by-products. It’s also important to note that there are other studies that call these ingredients into question when it comes to health concerns, primarily because of possible contamination during the refining process.
For those reasons, Hannah says that when she is defining natural skin care, she’s looking for products or processes “infused with things that are going to help our skin” and that definitely, without a shadow of a doubt, won’t hurt it.
5 Steps to Protect Your Skin
Hannah recommends the following steps to protect your skin. My notes are included in italics.Know which ingredients to avoid. When you’re evaluating your current skin care products or when looking at a new product, check the ingredient list to be sure they do NOT contain:
- sodium lauryl sulfate
- BHA – butylated hydroxyanisole
- Triclosan – common ingredient in hand sanitizers.
- Parabens – mimics estrogen and is linked to breast cancer and skin cancer
- Propylene and butylene glycols
- Mineral oil, paraffin wax, paraffin oil, petrolatum
- PEGs – polyethylene – these are tiny plastic beads found in exfoliating washes
- Fragrance – this one is tough because fragrance is a blanket term and it can mean a number of different chemicals are included. Look for fragrance free when you can
- Hydroquinone – found in skin-lightening products
The federal government classifies most skin care products as cosmetics, and as such, there is no approval required before they go on the market unless they contain color additives. The FDA does regulate these products, but as a smart consumer, you need to know what the ingredients are and what multiple tests have shown about the way they’re being used. If you don’t know what an ingredient is or how to pronounce it, it’s a good sign that you need to look it up.
Hannah suggests using Hello Glow’s 12 Ingredients to Avoid in Makeup + Skincare Products as a helpful reference if you’re just starting out reading skin care product ingredient labels.
Know which ingredients you do want to be included in your skin care products. Hannah says the key question to ask when deciding whether to use a product or not is “What things does it have that are going to benefit my skin?”
She advises looking for the full ingredient list. Only seeing the key ingredients is not enough. You should be able to access this information fairly easily. If you are considering buying a product from a company that won’t disclose the full ingredient list then take that as a red flag and walk away.
The first few ingredients make up the majority of the product. This is good to know because if a product is touting a great antioxidant such as green tea, but it’s listed way down at the bottom of the ingredient list, then you know there is very little green tea in the product. It’s safe to say you probably won’t experience the maximum benefit of that ingredient.
Some things to look for: cold-pressed plant oils, plant butters such as shea, green tea, pure essential oils and vegetable glycerin. The brand Hannah uses, recommends and is an advocate and educator for is Young Living.
You should also know the comedogenic rating of an oil. This simply means how likely an oil is to clog your pores. A 0 rating is completely non-comedogenic and a 5 rating is severely comedogenic. While everyone is different, and plenty of people can tolerate oils with a high comedogenic rating and have no problems (hello coconut oil!), if you have acne prone skin, you’re probably going to want to look for products with a 2 rating or lower.
Oils that have a low comedogenic rating are rosehip oil (Hannah’s favorite), argan oil, castor and hemp oil. The only downside to hemp oil is it must be kept refrigerated once opened.
Feed your body with nutritious food. According to Hannah, “How we look is a direct reflection of what’s going on inside.” As we age, it becomes important to nourish your body well. “Learn to feed your body the way it wants to be fed,” she says. “And believe me, it does not want a bunch of packaged products, it wants real whole food.
Drink plenty of water. This one doesn’t need much explanation. If you hydrate enough, you may not even need that expensive bottle of moisturizer. It’s that simple.
Stop washing your face in the morning. Yes, you read that right. One of Hannah’s friends is a skin therapist, and she learned this through her. When you go to sleep, your body, including your skin, goes into cleanse and repair mode. That means that in the morning, your skin has a natural built-in protection from the elements and the sun. When you wash your face, it’s basically washing all that protection off. Hannah says, “You’ve been sleeping all night. You haven’t been out rolling in the dirt, so you don’t need to wash your face.” You do need to wash your face every night though, whether you’ve worn makeup that day or not. Since you’ve been exposed to the elements, you want to cleanse your face before your head hits the pillow.
Natural Skin Care on a Budget
If you’re on a tight budget, Hannah recommends looking into the Oil Cleansing Method as one of the most effective ways to clean your skin. It works by mimicking the skin’s own natural oil production so that you don’t disrupt the oil production balance. Hannah says that “If you’re using stuff that strips the oil away, your body is going to freak out and over produce, which is what a lot of acne sufferers do. They just want to get the oil off and inadvertently produce more oil.”
According to the Oil Cleansing Method website, the basic idea is that “the oil used to massage your skin will dissolve the oil that has hardened with impurities and found itself stuck in your pores. The steam will open your pores, allowing the oil to be easily removed.” You’ll need two oils for this – castor oil and another of your choosing. Hannah suggests using rosehip oil, which you can buy on Amazon for about $14. Hannah says the whole process is “kind of like having a little steam facial every night.”
Finding Your Why
When we’re thinking about natural skin care and taking care of our bodies without using toxic chemicals, Hannah believes you have to first figure out why you’re doing it. She calls this “finding your why.” Since the process of finding products that work for you and that you can rely on can be a bit tedious and sometimes disheartening, it’s important to be able to remember why you’re doing it in the first place. To help with this, Hannah has a free resource called Your Most Beautiful Self Guidebook. It’s a great tool for getting you started with natural skin care or any other aspect of living a more connected life.
Lean on Your Community
If you have any questions for Hannah, include them in the comments section below, post them on Facebook or email her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have natural products that you’ve tried and can recommend, please share those as well.