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The dirt on cleansing

How to pick the perfect cleanser

Cleaning your skin properly is the single most important favour you can do for your complexion. Everything your mother ever told you about not falling into bed with your make-up on is true. Legendary London skincare professional Eve Lom actually believes that so long as you cleanse skin properly, you can use any old moisturiser. ‘Poor cleansing,’ she explains, ‘allows bacteria to grow, and sebum – the skin’s natural oils – to accumulate, leading to blackheads, whiteheads and even the dreaded zit.’

The cleansing cosmetic you use should be more than what takes your fancy: you should first determine your skin type, then decide on your cleanser accordingly. Most women assume that if their skin feels taut, it’s an indication of dry skin. Not necessarily. In fact, pore size is a more reliable indicator of your skin category. Look in a magnifying mirror: if your pores are open (i.e. look like miniature craters), then you probably have oily skin. Small, almost invisible pores usually signify skin that’s on the dry side. If you have combination skin – usually with an oily, large-pored T-shaped panel across forehead, nose and chin, with normal or dry skin everywhere else on your face – you should ideally use two appropriate cleansers. (This might sound expensive but those cleansers will last twice as long!)

Good for dry/delicate/mature skins  Cream cleansers have a rich consistency and leave a light, moisturising film. Susan Ciminelli, whose Manhattan Day Spa is a mecca for frazzled beauties, stresses that any surplus should be removed gently with water and a warm, wet, clean washcloth.

Good for normal and normal-to-dry skins  Lotions consist of a combination of mild detergents (a.k.a. surfactants) and moisturisers, so they won’t strip skin of its natural oils. The drier your skin is, the thicker the cleanser you will need. If your skin is normal, you may want to try a gel cleanser, instead. Gels are particularly popular with skincare specialists because they rinse off easily and leave practically no residue.

Good for normal-to-oily/oily skins Foaming cleansers help dissolve any oil-based material on the skin. Gels are another good bet for oilier skins, and an excellent alternative to soap or soap-style bars.

Good for acne-prone skins Use a gentle cleanser – a gel or foaming version – and go easy on the scrubbing, however satisfying it feels; abrasive exfoliators can irritate lesions.

How often should you cleanse? Look before you lather: the morning wash should be dictated by the amount of sebum that’s built up on your face overnight. If there’s no shininess and your face feels dry, simply swipe your face gently with a warm, wet washcloth and then moisturise. But if your face is shiny, use a cleansing product to remove the dirt and dust which adhere to surface oils and can get trapped under make-up.

You still love soap?

If you can’t wean yourself off that lathery texture, do at least switch to a special soap-free cleansing bar (otherwise called ‘beauty bar’/‘facial bar’). Dr Daniel Maes, PhD, former Vice-President of Research and Development at Estée Lauder Worldwide, maintains that the alkaline residue left by many soaps is hard to rinse off, which can interfere with the efficiency of your moisturiser. And beware of any cleanser that leaves your skin feeling tight; that’s not cleanliness, that’s dryness.

Remember: at 25, oil production starts to slow. In pregnant or menopausal women, hormonal shifts can make a difference. So be alert to changes, ready to make a clean sweep of your beauty regime as soon as they occur…

The secret of coming (perfectly) clean

  • Wash your hands first, so that you aren’t transferring bacteria to your face.
  • Start with your hairline (hairstyling products attract dirt), then sweep cleanser over face and lips and down the neck to beyond where you apply foundation.
  • After you’ve applied your cleanser, gently massage it in with the balls of your fingers and leave it on for a minute or so to allow make-up to melt away. This will sweep away dirt, pollution and cosmetic build-up without tugging at the skin.
  • The same cleanser may not be right for you year-round; harsh weather and cold temperatures can zap the body’s moisture level, so each skin type needs a corresponding shift to the milder side (women with oily skins may want to switch to a cleanser for normal skin, and so on).

Exfoliation: here’s the scrub

Exfoliation with a facial scrub is claimed to perk up the complexion by sloughing off dull surface cells and revealing shiny pink ones underneath. (This is how AHA creams work, too.) But do you really need to exfoliate? Internationally-renowned facialists like Eve Lom say not. And Eve Lom even argues that exfoliants can do more harm than good: ‘If used wrongly, scrubs can abrade the living layer of skin. Most people scrub too vigorously, especially around the cheeks, so they remove more skin there than around areas that are more difficult to access – like the folds around the nose – where cell build-up can be worse.’

If you still like to use a scrub, look for those with granules that dissolve in water as these cause the least amount of irritation, and do not exfoliate more frequently than once a week. Some dermatologists advise that grainy scrubs – made from crushed fruit kernels, for instance – may be too harsh; rough face puffs likewise. California skincare salon owner Sylvie Archenault declares: ‘If you look at your skin under a microscope after you use these types of exfoliants, you’ll see the skin has the texture of a cat scratch right before it bleeds.’

Skin toners – the myths and the facts 

Your first astringent is like a rite of passage. It feels so incredibly satisfying to wipe that cotton wool ball over your face and see it come away grimy. But as skins mature, should women still reach for toners as the final stage of their clean-up regime?

The biggest reason for their popularity is the sensation of freshness which toners give. ‘Toner’ and ‘astringent’ are often taken to mean the same thing, but do make sure you’re using the type that’s right for your skin.

Toners traditionally contain little or no alcohol and, these days, are sophisticated products formulated to do everything from soothing irritated skin to exfoliation. Exfoliating lotions, often called clarifying lotions, are designed to make your face look fresher by dissolving dry, dead skin cells.

Astringents are usually alcohol-based and should really only be used by women with truly oily skin – and, even then, some women may only need to use them premenstrually, when skin tends to get greasier. If you have dry, sensitive, mature – or that rare commodity, normal – skin, then look for an alcohol-free toner; alcohol is much too drying and makes your skin more prone to irritation.

How can you tell if a toner is alcohol-free? Ingredients are not always listed, so quiz the consultant if you’re at a beauty counter. Many labels will specify ‘alcohol-free’ or ‘gentle’, or that they are targeted specifically at dry or sensitive skin, in which case they’re almost certainly alcohol-free. And if your skin’s really sensitive, remember that good old rosewater – or orange flower water – will give you that ‘clean sweep’ sensation (inexpensively) without stripping any of your skin’s precious oils.

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