I recently asked Jeni Sykes, licensed esthetician, spa veteran, and head of skin care at Heyday, what’s wrong with my skincare routine. In short: pretty much everything. I wash with bar soap, I rinse with scalding hot water. I never moisturize. I never exfoliate. I don’t use SPF. I never get professional treatments. Top to bottom, that’s the way to neglect your skin.
“People don’t realize that your skin is an organ,” Sykes said. “And there’s a way that that organ works.” Syke’s skin has the glow of someone with a symbiotic relationship with her largest organ. Unlike mine, her skin doesn’t seem to rebel against her wishes with blackheads and zits and redness and irritation. And I want that. I want harmony with my skin, especially my face, the part that is exposed to the elements most, the part that greets the great wide world.
Though it feels a bit odd to adopt placing a serum on your skin each night before sleep, or to lay down on a chair, close your eyes, sit silently and let someone touch your face, we should know deep down there are best practices that thoughtful people have considered not just to market products to make a profit, but to prevent skin from becoming the callous, unhappy entity it sometimes is. By keeping things simple and building a proper routine, we can change the way we think about and treat our skin.
1 Cleanse, consistently. “You don’t get the results you want the first time you go into the gym, and you certainly don’t get the results you want if you’re going in once every six months,” Sykes says. She’s talking about consistency — the only way you’ll see skincare results. This starts with cleansing (cleaning with a specifically designed face wash). The rules are: Any time you brush your teeth, you should cleanse. Any time you sweat, also cleanse. So that’s morning, night, and any exercise in-between. If it’s easier to remember, leave the face wash in the shower. “Whatever habits you have built, make this one available and work it into your habit,” Sykes says.
What to Use: Use a cleanser that’s meant for the face. “A cleanser specifically for the face is not a matter of primping and preening. It’s a science thing,” Sykes explains. Your skin has a healthy pH balance (around a 4.5 to 5), and it’s easily knocked out of balance. Bar soaps are too basic (on the base-to-acid scale) and they throw off your pH balance, which weakens your skin and makes it more vulnerable to the elements (like wind, dirt, UV, etc.). The face is “the most finely calibrated portion of your skin,” Sykes says. Treat it as the special entity it is.
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2 Moisturize after cleansing. Cleansing puts your skin at a good baseline — free of the dirt of the day — but then the skin needs some help to move forward healthfully (think stretching, after a run). Your skin needs a balance of water and oil, and most of the things we do deplete our water reserves (drinking alcohol, exercising, etc.). So, you need to drink plenty of water, and use a moisturizer, which helps keep the water and oil balance stable.
What to Use: For daytime, use a light moisturizer with an SPF. Sykes is quick to point out that this doesn’t mean your beach-going, full-body sunscreen — it means a light moisturizer with SPF in it, meant for the face. Even if you’re not in direct sunlight, the SPF helps against damaging UV rays; if you’re outside, you’ll need to reapply throughout the day. For indoors, one application in the morning (or anytime after you cleanse) works. At night, use a moisturizer or lightweight serum, which are more hydrating for especially dry skin. At night, your skin relaxes and repairs, and an SPF is heavier than what you want seeping into your skin at night.
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3 Once a week, exfoliate. Skin grows from the bottom up, so what’s on the surface is at the end of its lifecycle. When you exfoliate, you’re clearing out the old, and that sends the message to the base to create more. Do this once a week, after cleansing, or even in replacement of a cleansing (and it can be done in the shower). It shouldn’t add more time to your routine. Be gentle. Use lukewarm water, and “when you’re working it over your skin, use circular motions,” Sykes says. The motions should be gentle enough that “if you were scrubbing the surface of a balloon, it wouldn’t pop.”
What to Use: “Number one rule: never ever use St. Ives Apricot Scrub. Use it on your feet, or throw it out your window.” Aggressive exfoliants can actually scratch your skin and leave you with broken capillaries that present as redness. Instead, use a simple polish, scrub, enzyme or — and this is Sykes’s favorite — a combo scrub-enzyme. Scrubs clear off the dirt on the skin, and enzymes digest that dead skin and break up the dirt and oil that gets trapped in the pores.
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4 Let the pros step in. This is the indulgence most of us avoid. But, if you’re going whole hog into skin treatment, it’s the most necessary step. Your skin cycles every 30 days, and when you come in for a facial, you’re doing an in-depth treatment to rid the old skin and optimize the new. Sykes recommends a facial every month. (Full disclosure: Heyday Facial sells facials — but her suggestion is still a good one.) The key element is that the pros can do a much deeper treatment with a facial. They do a deep cleanse, muscle massage, exfoliation, extractions (on a full treatment), hydration, moisturizing and — if you elect — more (microdermabrasion, peels, phototherapy).
“When you’re doing things at home you’re maintaining your results,” Sykes says. “But the professionals, we are doing a total tuneup.” That means faster clearing for deep congestion, eliminating blackheads and minimizing pore size. Facials also offer a massage for your face muscles. Sykes calls it a stimulated detox, a lymphatic system drain. “It’s a bit of a workout for your muscles. But a workout where you just chill, and we do the workout for you.” Not bad in the pursuit of good skin.