Best face forward

Longing for a smooth, radiant complexion? These simple strategies will help clear your mind and your skin

Jennifer Raetsen, a 35-year-old Toronto project manager and mother of two young boys, describes her skin in one word: disappointing. “Up until I had kids, I had a honeymoon period with my skin. I had survived the pimples of my teens and early 20s. I could easily go without makeup, and my skin looked great with a minimum amount of fussing. But the late nights and busy days have caught up with me. It’s not just ‘wash and go’ anymore, and I’m confused about how to care for my aging skin!”

Sound familiar? Many moms strive for beautiful skin, but with so little time and so many products (at such a wide range of prices), the process can be confusing. Here are some tips to help minimize the time, stress and money needed in your quest for a lovely complexion.

Mature matters

“If you’re serious about anti-aging, then you have to be serious about sun protection,” says Zip. “And don’t smoke; smoking and sun damage skin cells and affect collagen.” Kellett notes that most moisturizers containing sunscreen are only SPF 15. “You should be using SPF 30 or higher,” she says. “And don’t forget SPF 30 on the lips!” Zip recommends a broad-spectrum sunscreen (with UVA and UVB protection). Look for such ingredients as parsol 1789, mexoryl XL and SX and titanium dioxide.

Many over-the-counter creams can help reduce the appearance of wrinkles. Products with alpha-hydroxy acids (such as glycolic acid) work to turn the skin over more quickly, smoothing the look of lines. Retinoid (a vitamin-A derivative) is considered the most effective anti-aging ingredient; because it regenerates collagen, it is thought to actually reverse the aging process. Some over-the-counter products contain traces of retinoid, which can temporarily undo the appearance of lines.

When it comes to actually getting rid of wrinkles, Zip believes the best bet is a more concentrated dose of topical retinoid, available only by prescription. “I use one myself every night, unless my skin is very dry,” says Zip. Retinoid use during pregnancy has been linked to birth defects, so you should consider it only if you’re not planning to get pregnant. Kellett suggests boosting your current moisturizer with retinoid, cautioning that it can be irritating to the skin, so it’s best to apply only at night. You can also add vitamin C — a powerful antioxidant that combats skin cell damage — to your morning moisturizer. Note: You shouldn’t do this yourself. Speak to your dermatologist about having retinoid or vitamin C added to your moisturizer by a pharmacist.

You don’t want to be bothered with an elaborate cleansing process, but you should take things a step further than standing with your face under the showerhead! Washing twice daily is best for most women — morning (to refresh the skin) and at night (to wash away the day’s dirt). “Cleansers should be mild, not drying or irritating. For most women, gel-based cleansers work well,” says Calgary dermatologist and mother of three Catherine Zip. If your skin is sensitive, look for “hypo-allergenic” or “sensitive skin” products, while “oil-free” cleansers are best for oily skin.

For a radiant look, try an exfoliating cleanser, which sloughs off dead cells while you clean. “Look for a gel-based product with ‘beads’ (small organic or synthetic granular particles),” says Lisa Kellett, a Toronto dermatologist and mother of four.

Add moisture

“I have combination skin, so I wonder if skipping the moisturizer would help keep me from breaking out,” says Raetsen. Probably not, caution our experts. “Very few women over age 30 should go without a moisturizer,” says Kellett. “Women with oily skin should choose an oil-free product for slight moisturizing only; for drier skin, go for something with a cream base.” If you’re acne prone, Zip recommends a gel or lotion that’s oil-free or water-based. “You don’t have to spend lots of money,” she says. “Expensive moisturizers are an indulgence, but you don’t need them to do the job.”

While you don’t necessarily need a different product for night moisturizing, it’s a good idea to use something richer in winter when the air is drier. And consider adding a specialized cream for the sensitive eye area.

Problem skin

You may think problem skin ended after high school, but two common skin dilemmas for women in their 20s and beyond are acne and rosacea. “Acne (pimples, whiteheads, blackheads, cysts) is often triggered by hormonal imbalances, which is why women can get it when they discontinue birth control pills, or during or after pregnancy and nursing,” says Zip. Some over-the-counter acne products may be too drying, so see a dermatologist for help with adult acne.

Rosacea is marked by sensitive skin that has a tendency to flush easily. The redness may be triggered by sun, wind, exercise, alcohol or heat, and the cause is likely genetic. Sometimes, rosacea can lead to inflammatory lesions — bumps and pustules, usually on the nose and cheeks, which can lead to broken blood vessels. “Cooling yourself down can help relieve symptoms but, unfortunately, we don’t have great treatment for the flushing,” says Zip. “However, we do have effective treatments for the inflammatory type of rosacea, so check with your dermatologist.”

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