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Foundations of good skin

Family matters

Dermatologists tend to joke that if you want great skin you should choose your parents carefully. Not a very helpful thing to say, but genes do play an important part in how your skin behaves and ages, so it is useful to look at your parents and forewarn yourself about any problems that may come your way. Although you can’t change your parents, you can take steps which could significantly improve the outlook for your skin.

Family habits matter almost as much as genes. So when you’re scanning your parents’ faces, look at frown furrows, nose to mouth lines and tramlines around the mouth. It may well be that you have a tendency (which you can now try to avoid) to move your face in the same way. Facial exercises can help put this right. If you already have lines and furrows caused by bad face habits.

Let it breathe

You need to breathe, and so does your skin. Seven per cent of the oxygen you take into your lungs is used directly by your skin. Breathing in supplies your cells with essential oxygen, breathing out removes carbon dioxide (which would poison cells if left long enough) and waste from your body. Babies and animals breathe perfectly: long, slow, deep breaths which oxygenate the whole body and take away all the nasties. As we get older, most of us breathe incorrectly, only taking air into the top of our chests and not expelling it fully. Failing to breathe properly makes us feel less than well and our skin and every part of our bodies ages more quickly.

Start with a simple breathing technique. Wherever you are, uncross arms and legs. Let your shoulders sag downwards. Now take a deep, slow breath in through your nose, right down into your stomach, to a count of four or more (N.B. don’t let your shoulders rise to the heavens), hold it for one, and push it right out again to a count of four or more. Do this at least four times and see how much better you feel. Then practise this as often as you can during the day and in bed at night. It’s a wonderful de-stresser too. Consider also taking lessons in techniques such as yoga, autogenics, t’ai chi or qigong, all of which focus on correct breathing.

Most of our oxygen intake comes through the bloodstream but the skin also absorbs a small amount directly through the pores. It’s important, therefore, to let your skin breathe by spending a part of each day or night without anything on your skin – particularly on your face. Some women – even 50-somethings – are now discovering that they do not need to use a night cream regularly. Another option is to apply your night cream half an hour earlier than usual, allow it to sink in for 20 to 30 minutes, then blot off any excess with a tissue. It will have done its work and your skin is then left free to breathe. Incidentally, it’s always a good idea to clean your face before exercising to stop sweat blocking pores.

Skincare companies such as Bliss, Natura Bissé and Nivea are now making products which claim to transport oxygen directly to the skin. But nothing is as effective as a good brisk walk…

Fresh air

No one doubts that fresh air keeps your skin looking blooming. There’s fresh air and ‘fresh’ air though. The benefits of walking by the sea, in a park full of trees or in the mountains is strikingly different from a walk along a crowded city street. So aim to exercise in the least polluted place you can get to easily.

If you work in a hermetically-sealed office, particularly if it’s filled with technology (VDUs, photocopiers, etc.), you might like to invest in a plug-in ioniser. The negative ions put out by these small gizmos are said to help counteract pollution, including cigarette smoke. You can certainly feel the difference when you are near one – and it’s shocking how much dirt and dust they attract. Many users swear by them. Bowls of water can also make a very simple but potent difference if the air is dry.

Carry on moving

Regular exercise is essential to the overall good health and functioning of our minds and bodies. When you exercise, oxygen surges to every cell in your body, allowing nutrients to be absorbed more efficiently and cells to grow faster. This means more collagen production, which leads to improved texture and moisture retention, and a thicker, more resilient dermis.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin have discovered that the more oxygen you take in, the less likely you are to suffer free radical damage, which is linked to premature ageing. Aerobic exercise – brisk walking, jogging, running, bicycling, swimming or dancing – will stimulate the circulation, prompt a sluggish digestion to eliminate waste and toxins, and bring an instant glow to your skin.

In addition, says legendary beauty guru Lesley Kenton, exercise helps to stimulate sex and steroid hormones, and is one of the most effective ways of dispelling stress – one of the greatest skin villains.

Feed your skin

Some dermatologists dismiss the food you eat as if it couldn’t possibly affect the general state of your skin, although few could deny the connection between specific foods and skin reactions, from rashes and itching to eczema. Most would also have to agree that a diet rich in fresh foods – particularly fruit, vegetables and grains – and low in processed and refined foods will benefit your whole system, skin included.

Clear, bright, healthy-looking skin is dependent on the efficient functioning of kidneys, intestines and liver. The liver not only manufactures the substances which help remove waste products from the body but also filters out any harmful chemicals from, say, non-organic food and drink, alcohol and tap water, prescription drugs, and the toxins produced in the body by bacteria and viruses. A sluggish system which allows all these toxins to create havoc in the body leads to pasty, blotchy, blemish-ridden skin.

If you have great genes and the beauty of your skin never wavers, you can probably afford to eat and drink what you like. If, however, heredity has been less gracious, listed below are suggested foods and supplements to benefit your skin.

Eat plenty of…

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables, especially green and orange ones (including avocados and apples), also bananas, garlic, onions – with skin/peel where possible/palatable
  • Dried fruit
  • Cereals, pulses and grains
  • A few eggs weekly, if you like them
  • Oils, e.g. olive, sesame, walnut, hazelnut, safflower and sunflower (look for unrefined, cold-pressed oils – try health food shops – and store in a cool, dark place)
  • Dairy products
  • Wheatgerm and wholewheat bread
  • Brown rice, wholewheat or rice pasta
  • Soya
  • Nuts (store in a cool, dark place and grind in a coffee grinder)

If you aren’t vegetarian:

  • Organic meat
  • Fish (oily, e.g. mackerel, salmon, sardines, tuna)
  • Seafood, i.e. shellfish

TIP We firmly believe organic food is a great beauty – not to mention taste – investment.

More could be better

Nutritionist Kathryn Marsden, author of Superskin, also suggests supplementing with:

  • vitamin B6
  • vitamin C
  • vitamin E
  • zinc
  • silica
  • sulphur
  • calcium
  • magnesium
  • essential fatty acids, e.g.
  • evening primrose oils
  • fish oils
  • micro-algae
  • lecithin

Kathryn adds: ‘My absolutely top skin supplement is Co-enzyme Q10 (by Pharma Nord or BioCare). It’s expensive but really worth it. Studies show that Q10, a powerful antioxidant and free radical scavenger, has a positive effect upon the ageing process. I take 30mg every day with my midday meal. Oil-based capsules are best; dry tablet forms, although cheaper, don’t seem to reach the bloodstream. I certainly found that powdered Q10 didn’t work.

‘I’m also a great believer in an occasional course of probiotics (acidophilus or bifidus, by either Blackmore’s or BioCare). Probiotics are the “good bugs”, or bacteria, also found in some kinds of yoghurt. I use a 90-day course every 12 months and recommend it to anyone with eczema, psoriasis, herpes, acne and always following a course of antibiotics (which wipe out all bugs, good and bad). For eczema sufferers, probiotics work especially well when combined with Evening Primrose Oil (3g daily) or a similar oil (e.g. borage or starflower) containing gammalinolenic acid.

‘I also take Femforte, a general multivitamin/mineral by BioCare, designed for women and containing all the other skin vitamins including vitamins A, C, E, all the B group and essential minerals.’

Sleep

Scientists now believe that skin cells regenerate as we sleep, and it’s undoubtedly one of the greatest free beautifiers. We also have a theory that a sound sleep relaxes your facial skin, so that lines and furrows are softened by the morning.

Water, water everywhere

  • Dermatologists are usually sceptical about what they regard as extravagant claims for the beautifying powers of water, but every woman with stunning skin that we know puts it down to drinking at least 1.5 litres of water daily. Filtered or bottled is best, we think (unless you live in an area of outstanding natural water), but tap is definitely better than nothing. Experts advise that still, room-temperature water is most compatible with your body.
  • Spraying your face with spring water (Evian is the best known) can make it dewy fresh on a hot day. Also try spraying after cleansing but before moisturising; the creams then seem to lock in the moisture.
  • Ice cubes wrapped in cling-film, a cotton hanky or a napkin make a wonderful de-bagger for puffy eyes: just smooth them over the offending area and watch the bags shrink. Ice-cold water splashed on your face (or, if you’re the Spartan type, a cold shower) can also get the circulation zinging round on a bad morning. (N.B. Don’t try these if you have broken veins on your cheeks.)
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