How to get a clean, healthy face: Your ultimate skincare FAQ
15+ questions, answers and tips to get healthy skin. All about diet, acne, hydration, cleaning, makeup and more!
A little common sense goes a long way. But the more you know, the better off you'll be. So we cover a lot of ground here – more than a dozen common questions about keeping your face clean and healthy. The skin of your face is more delicate than most of your body, and it does require a little extra TLC.
We aren't doctors, and this FAQ should not be taken as medical advice! However, we do interview and link to medical experts (including WebMD, which posts doctor-reviewed material) to help make sure the information here is sound.
QUESTIONS: (click any question to skip directly to the answer below)
Twice a day is plenty - once in the morning and again in the evening.
If you've had a workout, run a half-marathon or otherwise broken a sweat, an additional quick wash afterwards is not a bad idea.
Washing too often dries out your skin, removing natural oils that your body uses to keep your face moisturized and protected. Having a lot of oils on your skin is bad, but zero oil is also not good.
We mention a bit later that acne might be connected to certain foods. The jury is out on that specific issue.
Regardless of acne, here's a proven fact: What you eat (and drink) matters. Antioxidants and hydration are good for your skin!
- Antioxidants help reduce or eliminate free radicals, which can cause damage to your cells. Food rich in antioxidants include many fruits (especially berries), red beans, and fresh vegetables including dark, leafy greens. Here's a WebMD list of 20 good candidates, and an even bigger list from Best Health magazine with more veggie suggestions.
- Hydration works even better from the inside than from the outside – it keeps your cells more flexible and makes them resist damage.
So eat healthy natural foods and drink water like your doctor says. Your face will thank you.
Exfoliation means removing dead skin cells from the surface. This reveals the younger, healthier cells underneath.
Here's how your skin works. Your body makes new skin cells at its lower level, which is called the dermis. The new gradually push upwards toward the upper level, the epidermis. The older cells on the surface gradually die. Eventually they fall (or 'slough', pronounced like 'sluff') off, revealing fresh new living skin cells underneath.
Exfoliation aims to speed up that natural process. If you do it correctly, it leaves you with healthier and happier looking skin, and makes moisturizing more effective.
Most common exfoliation problem: Overdoing it!
Your epidermis protects younger skin cells until they are ready for the outside world. Frequent, heavy exfoliation can do more harm than good. Be gentle. Harsh chemicals and scrubbing are too much for your face's delicate skin.
Also, don't use products that include plastic exfoliating beads! Those beads cause environmental damage when they go down the drain and into the water supply.
We don’t use separate exfoliation products at all. Try this: Wash your face with Cor Silver Soap, as directed – a little warm water, a little lather, gentle circular motions with your fingertips. And once a week, add an exfoliating step to your routine: After rinsing off the soap with a warm water splash, while your skin is still wet, firmly but gently place your whole index finger against your cheek on each side and slide your fingers back along your cheekbone toward your ears.
Your fingers are ideal tools for exfoliating your sensitive skin gently and effectively.
First of all, OLD products are potentially bad for your skin – they can get contaminated with mold or fungus over time. Dr. Louise Hidinger (@IngredientsByL on Twitter, whose blog is Ingredients of Style) explained it to us this way:
"Certain funguses and molds can infect the skin, which presents a risk to people with compromised skin or a weakened immune system. If a cosmetic product gets moldy, it's time to throw it away."
Second part of the answer is about the ingredients. Some products include ingredients that can have a bad effect on your face.
There are some strange-sounding ingredients in the world of cosmetics. Here's a wonderful resource for checking whether a product or ingredient is safe: The Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep database. This database is easy to use, allowing you to search by ingredient and see what it is, what products use it, and how safe it is on a scale of 1 to 10, based on published scientific studies. The database offers good details about any concerns or use restrictions, and indicated when its conclusions are based on limited data.
The EWG also offers a mobile app so you can have the database handy if you're in a store.
Some ingredients are carcinogenic. The good news is that over the years, most of that really bad stuff has been removed from over-the-counter cosmetics. Or at least the ones in decent stores. But cosmetics used to include ingredients like lead.
Some common ingredients are not bad for everyone, but do tend to cause reactions for people with certain allergies. (We've listed some of those below [anchor link].) Other ingredients are subject to debate, because 'good' and 'bad' can be relative terms.
For example: Retinol isn't unsafe, and has benefits for your skin, but it also can irritate. Irritation causes inflammation. Other ingredients can achieve the same goals without the irritation. (We don't use it.)
Benzoyl peroxide is very common as a bacteria killer in acne-fighting products. It isn't unsafe when used as directed and in concentrations that have been approved by the FDA. On the other hand, it's a bleaching agent that is also used in tooth-whitening products and in creating polyester. Ideal for your delicate facial skin? Your call. (Again, we don't use it.)
Very short version: Acne is caused by clogged pores. The sebaceous glands just under the surface of your skin produce oily stuff called sebum.
Sebum is in fact supposed to help keep your skin clean. It carries dead skin cells up through small canals – called follicles – to 'eject' that unwanted material on the skin's surface.
Your sebaceous glands grow and become active during adolescence. (That's one reason you had such awesome skin as a baby, and then it suddenly turned into your worst enemy when you hit the early teen years.)
Anyway sometimes a follicle gets blocked by dirt or dead skin. Sebum builds up underneath. Certain bacteria trapped in the plug start to cause infection. The infection causes redness and swelling. Congratulations: You've got acne. (We've all been there. See what Cor customers say about fighting acne.)
Pimples are a mild form of acne – small, reddish, hardened bumps caused by that oil buildup under blocked pores.
Whiteheads are typically small blemishes under the surface of the skin, and they don't show the redness of pimples.
Blackheads are larger and more obvious, because they happen on the surface of the skin. Since it's dark, people assume a blackhead is caused by dirt. That's not necessarily true. Scrubbing a blackhead to dislodge this phantom piece of dirt will not work.
Your friend might have a genetic advantage, like producing lower hormone levels, which would cause less active sebaceous glands.
Diet may also play a role. Like a lot of things with acne, this isn't extremely well understood. One study published in 2013 suggested a link between dairy and acne, and also high glycemic index foods – such as highly processed white bread, potato chips, and pasta.
Your friend also may be doing a better job keeping oil and bacteria on his or her face at a reasonable level. Note that stripping everything off your face takes the good along with the bad – these things also have a role in keeping your skin healthy. A 2013 research study at the Washington University School of Medicine identified different kinds of bacteria, including one that helps fight acne. That's why we personally aren't fans of really strong chemicals in some anti-acne products. (And yes, part of Cor founder Jennifer McKinley's interest in skincare comes from her own fight with adult acne.)
If gentle solutions aren't working, definitely consult with a dermatologist.
You'll see the word noncomedogenic on lots of makeup and skincare product labels these days.
Noncomedogenic refers to products that don't tend to block the pores of your skin.
Unfortunately, the use of this term is not regulated by the Food and Drug Adminstration (FDA) or anyone else in the U.S. There are no specific requirements that a product has to meet in order to be labeled as noncomedogenic.
For most cosmetics and skincare products, the word indicates that the product does not include oil. Your skin already produces oil on its own – sebum is the name of an oil naturally produced by our sebaceous glands – and excessive oil is one of the main contributors to blemishes and acne. (More about that in another question below.)
Is it important and valuable for a skin product to not block up your pores? Yes, of course.
But is the term noncomedogenic any sort of guarantee? No.
If your skin is prone to acne or other breakouts, check the ingredients list of any product you're going to use on your face. WebMD.com lists some ingredients (in addition to oils) that DO have a tendency to block skin pores that you will want to avoid, including isopropyl palmitate, isopropyl myristate, butyl stearate, decyl oleate, cocoa butter, and D & C red dyes.
Hypoallergenic products claim to cause fewer allergic reactions, and often they are created without use of specific allergens.
However – as with "noncomedogenic", explained just above – there is no standard, regulation or requirement that companies must meet in order to put this word on product labels.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tries from time to time to regulate use of the word hypoallergenic, but so far cosmetic companies have blocked those attempts.
Parabens and Germall are preservatives. Petrolatum is a cheap ingredient found in many lip balms – it contains mineral oil, which makes you more sensitive to sun damage and interferes with your skin's ability to moisturize itself.
Retinol is very popular in so-called anti-aging products. As we mentioned above, it has benefits but also some possible side effects. Here's a quote from the Marie Claire article: "Most dermatologists will concur that despite a laundry list of antiaging and acne-fighting benefits, retinoids are also a classic irritant."
A sneaky cause of allergic reactions can be found in nail polish ingredients like phthalates and formaldehyde – the tougher skin of your hands may not show a reaction, but touching your fingers to your sensitive face can cause skin irritation, particularly when the polish isn't completely dry yet. Formaldehyde isn't usually listed as an ingredient, but other ingredients release formaldehyde under certain circumstances. Looking for "big 5 free" polishes can help, and they are very easy to find.
Dermabrasion uses a high-speed rotating brush or other tool to strip away layers of skin.
The tool might be a wire brush or a solid wheel with rough edges. The technical term for a dermabrasion tool is "burr" or "fraise", according to WebMD.
Dermabrasion is considered a surgical procedure and isn't for casual use! It's aimed at more intense skin problems such as hardened acne scars.
Microdermabrasion is a non-surgical method aimed at getting the same results as dermabrasion.
Microdermabrasion involves using rough grains or crystals to (aggressively) remove not only the normal layer of dead skin cells, but sometimes also scars and wrinkles. The crystals are sprayed onto your skin as a thin film, and then removed via pressurized air – in other words, essentially vacuumed up, along with the dead skin.
This type of treatment has been referred to as an "instant facelift" that is intended to be less invasive than chemical peels or plastic surgery.
Since we aren't big fans of mechanical exfoliation, you might guess that we believe microdermabrasion, for the most part, is an unnecessarily harsh way to treat your skin.
If you do choose to go this route, it is very important that you have a trained and experienced esthetician doing the work – you want your eyes protected, the correct pressure level used, the spray completely removed, and so on.
Also, EVERY reputable source on the Web agrees that microdermabrasion removes an important layer of protection from your skin, so you will want to use sunscreen, avoid direct sunlight, and watch out for using harsh or allergenic products to your skin for a couple of days afterwards.
Make no mistake – sunshine is nice. About 20 minutes of exposure to moderate sunlight each day helps your body manufacture Vitamin D. That's healthy and good.
Tanning for longer periods of time or in really intense direct sunlight is too much of a good thing.
UV rays from the sun are a form of radiation. Sunburn should give us a clear sign our skin doesn't handle overexposure very well. But smaller amounts of UV exposure over the long-term also add up. UV radiation weakens the skin's immune system, which can contribute to the development of melanoma and other types of skin cancer.
UV rays also gradually damage the elastin and collagen in our skin. Healthy elastin fibers provide skin with both its firmness and its ability to stretch. More sun equals more wrinkles and fine lines.
So – manage your sun exposure! Here are 5 tips:
- Wear broad-spectrum sunscreen. An SPF rating of 15 or higher is what the U.S. FDA recommends. (Broad-spectrum protects against both UVA and UVB rays.) Lip balm with SPF protection is also important.
- Avoid the direct mid-day sun, when it's at its strongest.
- Be aware that winter sun is just as damaging as summer sun.
- Of course a hat with a brim can help shield your face as well.
- Antioxidants help your skin protect itself. Both eating antioxidant-rich foods and using topical antioxidants (we put them in Cor skincare products) can help.
Follow these tips and you can (and should!) enjoy the sun.
In fact, let's put it this way: Cigarette, cigar and pipe smoke are bad for your skin - whether you're doing the smoking, or someone else is smoking around you.
Also the habit of smoking cigarettes contributes to the development of fine lines around your lips.
There's no way around this. Smoking is bad for your skin. Period.
This is a trickier question. By itself, sweat is not a big deal.
If you are sweating because you're exercising, that's great – consistent, moderate exercise is a great thing for your skin as well as your overall health.
You just want to clean your face gently after you sweat.
Sweat and dirt that stay on your face can affect your complexion by clogging pores, potentially leading to blemishes. It's not something to panic about!
We'll keep growing and updating the information in this article. Got a question we haven't answered yet? Let us know - email firstname.lastname@example.org!