Have you ever had the pleasure of visiting a French pharmacy? If you’re among the lucky people who have, you’ll know that the pharmacies in France operate a little differently than our typical CVSs and Walgreens. Imagine glimmering aisles filled with any skincare product you can think of. If this thought seems overwhelming, don’t despair. Whereas pharmacists in the States focus solely on medications, devices, and immunizations, French pharmacists are practically wizards in the realm of skincare and will guide you to the appropriate products with the right ingredients for you and your skin. In fact, French pharmacies are probably more similar to our American beauty shops than anything else, and pharmacists there are knowledgeable enough to provide proper education on SPFs, antioxidants, and other ingredients with names that most people can’t even pronounce.
I’ve long been fascinated with the idea of a French pharmacy, partly because I know how important it is to keep up with a good skincare regimen. Much like how your eyes are a reflection of your soul, your skin is sometimes a reflection of your health and well-being. Good skin is often cultivated from the inside-out, so a good beauty regimen is just half the battle.
Skin is also our largest organ, providing protection against toxins and other harmful substances while imparting some immunity. Our skin allows us to provide a gentle caress to an infant, a warm handshake to a colleague, and a supportive embrace for our loved ones. We often take our skin for granted for all it does.
Everyone from dermatologists to aestheticians to runway models have words of wisdom to offer when it comes to proper skincare, but the basics are just the same. Given the amount of skincare products and procedures on the market, I know how easy it is to get overwhelmed. I personally like to simplify things as much as I can, because I know that a simple regimen is better than none at all. I put a lot of emphasis on prevention when it comes anything in healthcare, and skincare is no different. Doing little things each day really add up, and you may find that healthy, glowing skin is more achievable than you think.
Always wear an SPF
Sun protection is incredibly important, as UVA and UVB rays are some of the biggest causes of skin damage and aging. No matter the weather, it is best to utilize an SPF of at least 30 every day.
I like recommending physical or mineral SPFs as opposed to chemical SPFs. Physical ingredients include zinc oxide and titanium oxide and are often gentle enough to be found in baby’s and children’s sunscreen. A common complaint of physical SPFs are its “blendability” – sometimes it may appear pasty or leave a pesky white film. Advancements in manufacturing these days have helped. La Roche Posay Children’s sunscreen and Coola are highly suitable brands that contain physical ingredients and blend easily into skin.
Chemical SPFs – like avobenzone and homosalate – are mostly fine, which I know sounds vague. Chemical SPFs are absorbed into the skin, so we have to be a little more careful and particular about these ingredients. When it comes to chemical SPFs, I try to avoid the “o’s” which are oxybenzone and octinoxate. The EWG is a great website when it comes to evaluating chemicals in cosmetics. According to the EWG, oxybenzone and octinoxate have higher safety concerns based on clinical data. Avobenzone and homosalate have better safety ratings and are preferred if going the chemical route.
When it comes to SPF, it is incredibly important to apply it often (every 2 hours) during days of constant sun exposure. When SPFs are tested in laboratories, they don’t take into account the sweating, makeup, and accidental touching or wiping that may occur in real life scenarios. Applying it liberally and frequently during these days will help prevent a lot of damage. And while I love a good beach day, it’s important to keep skin safe by wearing hats or staying under the umbrella. Remember, the sun is probably the biggest damager of skin. I like to get my daily dose of vitamin D (vitamin D and fresh air are absolutely crucial for health and longevity), but the proverbial “baking in the sun” is not worth the damage to my skin.
Eat for your skin
While hydration is undeniably important for good skin, of equal or even greater importance is eating high-quality foods that promote and strengthen the skin to retain moisture. Foods high in essential fatty acids are perfect to add to a well-balanced diet. Examples of these include walnuts, salmon (I like wild-caught salmon as it does not contain harmful antibiotics), avocados, olive oil, and flaxseed.
Collagen is another great supplement for skin (and hair and nail care.) Collagen is found in bones, so my favorite way to consume this is through Pacific Organics chicken bone broth with ginger. A cozy, eight ounce mug of this also boasts a whopping nine grams of protein! Collagen is also great for bone, joint, and ligament heath by promoting strong connectivity and elasticity. As a pharmacist, I surprisingly don’t champion a lot of supplements. I actually feel as though the vast majority of supplements are not cost-effective and don’t nearly take the place of consuming high-quality, whole foods. However, I do like collagen and have experienced some of the benefits firsthand.
I mentioned hydration, but it is important to remember that – when ingested – water won’t go straight to our skin for immediate benefit. In fact, our lungs, brain, muscles, and kidneys are all composed of varying degrees of water and require some needs, too. Genes play a heavy role in skin’s natural moisture barrier, as well. Adequate hydration is helpful, but if skin tends to be on the drier side due to genetics, water alone won’t help much. Also lacking is the amount of evidence that exists in favor of drinking the old-hat eight glasses a day. I like recommending hydration to feel good and support other body systems, but I believe nutrition is actually more important for skincare.
Long gone are my days of bar hopping until 3am, not that I ever did much of that anyway. My skin wouldn’t handle it these days. Not only is alcohol dehydrating, but skin cells need to regenerate through sleep – and not just five or six hours of it. Real life “beauty sleep” happens with a solid seven to nine hours per night.
During sleep, skin makes collagen, experiences enhanced blood flow, and is allowed to “de-stress.” Cells rejuvenate as our bodies go through the sleep cycles, and this allows for a healthy, radiant complexion. Sleep deprivation also affects our bodies’ stress levels. Cortisol – a stress hormone that becomes elevated with sleep deprivation – is directly damaging to skin and can worsen many skin disorders that are immune-related in nature, such as psoriasis. Your skin needs to refresh and heal during the night and can only be accomplished with adequate sleep.
Use a plant-based oil to moisturize
Actually – on a purely scientific level – mineral oil and petroleum-derived products make some of the best, most inexpensive moisturizers on the market. They contain an “occlusive” property, which means they hold moisture in and prevent it from escaping. Many diaper rash creams and ointments contain petrolatum, because in addition to holding moisture in, it also keep wetness out. These ingredients are useful in many settings, and – despite the notoriety associated with them – are still products that I clinically back from time to time.
The problem with applying mineral oil or petrolatum to your face is it’s tendency to block pores. If you’ve been blessed with great skin that isn’t prone to breakouts or acne, this may not seem like much of a problem to you. However, the vast majority of us are probably sensitive to these pore-blocking properties and will react in some way or another.
To achieve the similar occlusive-like effects in a healthier way, I like to use and recommend plant-based oils. Examples of these oils include argan, coconut, sweet almond, avocado, and grape seed. These products are also cost-effective and can be procured from online retailers or even your favorite health food store. In addition to being easily absorbed by your skin, they also contain essential fatty acids that help to nourish and protect. Many professionals believe that the key to great skin success is to “coddle” your skin. I like to think of these oils as a safe and gentle “treat” to any skin care regimen and often use them alone or after my typical moisturizer.
If you’ve been told all your life to avoid “oily” products, you’re not alone. As a teenager especially prone to breakouts, I’ve been accustomed to “oil-free” this and “oil-free” that for the majority of my adolescent and adult life. For this, oils may seem counterintuitive. But plant oils are so gentle in moisturizing the skin, that production in sebaceous (oily) glands actually decreases. Since ancient times, women have been using these oils with great success.
Relax, and allow yourself to age naturally
I recently read a book called “Primates of Park Avenue.” It was written more or less as a memoir that documented the author’s trials and tribulations in wealthy, uber-competitive Upper East Side, New York. With all the money in the world, you’d think these women had it made. However, the author – seemingly getting more and more sucked into this society – provides her accounts of wealthy moms that practically kill themselves with crazy exercise regimens, plastic surgery and other harsh beauty treatments, and the constant need to “win.” They even put the same pressure on their kids, enrolling them in a multitude of duties and activities before they’re even old enough to enter primary school.
I don’t live in the Upper East Side, but I still feel the pressures of “wanting it all, no matter the cost.” Most of us are so acclimated to stress that it just becomes a part of our daily lives. I know a lot of women who feel guilty for taking time for themselves, even it is just for an hour or two. And if we’re not balancing a hundred different things at any given time, then we’re failing as moms and wives. I’m still scratching my head, wondering why these “rules” exist and why we have such an unspoken duty to follow them. Who are we really failing if we don’t make self-care a priority?
Stress will show on your skin and age you faster than anything else. The morbid truth is that we’re all faced with the same destination in life. We can embrace and protect the skin we have now, but time will inevitably run its course. True beauty has no age, and gracefully accepting this fact is par for the course. There’s nothing wrong with taking some time out to decompress and recharge. In fact, your skin will thank you for it!