I have been inspired by two women recently to devise and stick to a proper facial skin care routine i.e. not just slapping on a load of emollient over a dirty face. Soap and cleansers always dried me out or aggravated my skin so water was about the harshest cleanser I would subject my face to – and in truth only if I could be bothered at the end of the day. Using that particular skin-care ‘routine’ – the first picture was how I ended up looking a lot of the time – and the second is a good skin day following a new routine and with no flare-ups.
I google eczema and eczema skin care almost to the point of obsession and in the process I stumbled across the inspirational Dr Cook-Bolden, Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Columbia University (you should really read what she has to say about the skin-mind connection here). This is what she has said about eczema and skin-care:
“Proper cleansing and moisturizing is vital in terms of healing. You really have to partner your traditional medical therapy of atopic dermatitis and psoriasis with the proper skin care, and that is key in maintaining that barrier not only in psoriasis or atopic dermatitis but also in acne and rosacea. It’s really very key in the whole process.”
Oops, OK – rumbled.
She goes on to say that cleansing removes dirt, of course, but also any possible irritants that if left on your skin may cause a reaction. But it’s the moisturisers where she really dishes the Doctor scoop:
“When you look at the different types of moisturizers, you’ll find humectants, you’ll find occlusives, and you’ll find emollients. Your humectants are the ones that attract the moisture and help to keep it there. The occlusives really focus on helping the skin barrier, providing another barrier, and things like petrolatum are great occlusives. When you talk about humectants, you’re looking at ingredients such as alpha-hydroxy acids, glycerol, and hyaluronic acid. When we use the term emollients, that’s a term I’m sure even we use interchangeably with moisturizers. Emollients really describe the types of moisturizers that soothe and calm the skin as well as provide some sort of barrier function.”
Humectants, occlusives, emollients. Oh my! But where to start?
I have been using Aveeno for years. But lately, it really wasn’t hydrating deeply enough. I have already blogged about Pure Potions Skin Salvation, which has really helped calm my skin and to keep it from drying out, but it’s not really the kind of moisturiser you’d like to work in to your face twice a day as part of a facial skin care routine – it’s just too thick and heavy.
At the beginning of this post I mentioned two inspirational women – the other being Sali Hughes, the Guardian beauty columnist and author of Pretty Honest: The Straight-Talking Beauty Companion.
In my last post I admittedly had a bit of a rant about her notion of the look good/feel good connection but ultimately I think she’s got an amazing understanding of skin and the book has been a great help to me in getting to grips with the efficacy and potential effects of the thousands of skin care ingredients included in the millions of available skin products.
In one very poignant section of her book she discusses the kinds of emollients and creams you are likely to be prescribed by the doctor for cleansing and moisturising:
Having been on the receiving end of many of these prescription creams for many years, I will say that I find them less effective than great-quality creams made by non-pharmaceutical brands. This, I believe, has more to do with cost and budgetary restrictions than the genuine belief of well- meaning derms that these greasy, mineral- oil- rich lotions are actually the best thing. But that is only my opinion as a long-term NHS derm patient who comes from a pro- science and largely pro- chemical stance.
I would have to agree with her here – especially after the great aqueous cream scandal which was uncovered a few years back. Read all about it here, but essentially the cream was being prescribed by GPs for years as an emollient when it should only ever have been used as a cleanser – it contained detergents which, when left on the skin, caused the skin to dry out. I remember it well – slathering it on and then ending up in tears of horror as my whole body desiccated before my very eyes.
Sali talks about lots of different skin care products and makes recommendations based on your skin type, mine being dry, dehydrated and sensitive – as well as eczema-riddled of course! I have followed many of her recommendations to the letter and keeping in mind Dr Cook’s cleansing advice, here’s what I’m now doing:
Cleanser: Liz Earle Cleanse and Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser.
Apparently Liz Earle had eczema and so combatting her skin care issues was largely the inspiration behind the massively successful brand – this was enough for me to give it a go alongside a recommendation from good old Sali. The cleanser is fantastic for my skin, has never caused irritation, in fact on the contrary – even when it’s at it’s worst, angry and red this visibly helps to calm it down. The soft muslin cloth gentle exfoliates and sloughs off those dry skin flakes. So that’s my cleaning done, onto the hydrating.
Serum: this is a skin care step I had never heard of before, but I am reliably informed by Pretty Honest that the fine texture, “penetrates quickly into the upper layers of the skin” and contains, “higher concentrates of key ingredients than moisturisers.” As Sali has dehydrated skin and ichthyosis I was keen to ape whatever she was using and to my slight horror that was a product called Advanced Night Repair by Estee Lauder.
Yes, it’s one of those hugely expensive anti-aging skin care products marketed at women heading into their twilight years. But it is packed full of hyaluronic acid, Dr Cook-Bolden remember, and lots of other ingredients that help to calm and moisturise the skin.
Take a look at this post on the blog Clemmie’s Big Sister for a full breakdown of all the amazing ingredients and what they do for the skin. It feels amazingly hydrating and I do think it has made my skin feel softer. Hand on heart, I do think this is working for me. Is it worth the price of half a week’s grocery bill? I’m not sure, but I’ll keep you posted.
Mosituriser: Now this where I have had to really take a punt. I am baffled by the thousands out there and have almost run away screaming at the vastness of the decision – so I confess to having a go with the Liz Earle, non perfumed Superskin moisturiser – mostly on the strength of the brilliance of Cleanse and Polish.
Among lots of other ingredients it contains: shea butter, glycerine – which helps the skin to hold onto lots of water, just like hyaloronic acid (humectants remember), borage oil – which contains gamma linolenic acid which, according to Liz Earle, “helps to lock moisture onto the skin” and Vitamin E – which, according to Sali, us eczema patients are more likely to be deficient in.
At first it didn’t seem to offer sufficient hydration – a bit of a long-running issue I have with most moisturisers and something I get around by applying some of the gorgeously soothing Pure Potions Skin Salvation
But after a few days it did start to make a difference. It also comes in quite a swanky pot and forgive me for being a complete sucker – but it feels like a little bit of luxury. Bleaugh, I hate myself a little bit for saying that!
We’ll see – I’ve only been doing this for a few months, but I have definitely seen some major improvements and have had the longest run of good skin days for years – I won’t lie to you, I have had a couple of horrible flare-ups which I have managed with very short doses of prescribed eczema creams – steroid/protopic.
But for what it’s worth, here I am looking smooth, eczema-free and almost comfortable with having my picture taken!
So come on then – what’s your routine? What works for you?