How to care for your skin and your face

A basic skin care routine for the face is a lifelong undertaking, but should begin no later than the onset of puberty with its accompanying increase in oil production and tendency towards sensitivities and breakouts. Despite what the major cosmetic companies and marketing firms might have you believe, caring for the skin on your face is actually quite simple, consisting of three basic steps:

1) Cleansing
2) Toning
3) Moisturizing

Certainly, this basic routine can be enhanced and elaborated upon, but in the case of caring for your skin, simpler is often better.

The first step of the basic skin care routine is cleansing, or removing the dirt, makeup, oil, and general daily grime from your face. This can be done with a bar of soap, a liquid cleanser, or even a specially formulated cream (more appropriate for dry and sensitive skin types). Simply wash your face, using your choice of product and following the manufacturer’s instructions, being sure to clean all areas, and rinse well with water. Using a washcloth or special cleansing pad is an option, though the opportunity for bacterial growth on such a product leads me to encourage you to use your clean hands alone for cleansing. After thoroughly rinsing your face (splashing your face 5-10 times with warm water), pat dry with a clean, soft cloth or towel.

The second step of the routine is toning -- that is, using a specially formulated toner or astringent applied to a cotton pad or ball to remove any last traces of soap, makeup, oil, and grime. Although some consider this an optional step, the evidence on the cotton pad after use convinces me that this step is effective and necessary. It is very important to choose a product that is well suited to your skin, as there is a much wider range of strengths in toners than there is in cleansers. Pay particular attention to the amount of alcohol in a toner, keeping in mind that certain types of alcohol can be very drying to the skin and are generally recommended only in products for combination or oily skin types.

The third step of the routine is moisturizing, or replenishing the natural moisture that your skin loses through cleansing and daily life. Again, different skin types will require different types of moisturizers, but even oily skin types will benefit from the use of such a product. (Keep in mind that oil and water are not the same thing, and look for an oil-free or oil-control moisturizer if your skin is oily.) Dot on cheeks, nose, chin, and forehead, and blend gently and thoroughly, taking care not to pull or tug at the skin.

This basic three-step skin care routine should be followed twice a day, once upon waking up and once before going to bed. Extremely oily skin types may benefit from an additional gentle cleansing midday, but beware that overcleaning oily skin may result in even greater oil production. As remarkable and durable a human organ as it is, the skin is delicate in its own way, and if abused, will react with breakouts, rashes, and other signs that it’s being mistreated.

Additional treatments may be appropriate depending upon your skin type. Scrubs or other exfoliants, which can be used anywhere from once a week up to once a day as long as the product is not too abrasive and the application is gentle, serve to slough off dead skin cells, thereby making skin clearer, with less of a tendency towards breakouts and blotchiness.

Masks, which may be used as frequently as a couple of times a week or as infrequently as once every month or two, are formulated to treat everything from very dry to very oily skin. They may provide an intensive moisture treatment, a deep cleansing experience, or simply a gentle, aromatherapeutic cleansing boost.

Eye creams, which are available in very light and sheer or very thick and creamy formulas, are appropriate for even the dry skinned teenager, but find their most appreciative audience in those age 30 and older.

Topical, over the counter acne treatments, such as those containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, can be highly effective in reducing the duration and redness of a pimple or blemish, though they must be used strictly according to the manufacturer’s or your dermatologist’s directions.

An additional treatment product necessary for those of all ages and skin types is sunscreen. For the face, an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 15 is generally considered the minimum required to guard against risk of sun damage, skin cancer, premature aging, and wrinkling. And it is important to find a sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays, as each type does its own damage. Often, facial moisturizers include sunscreens of SPF 15 and above, but if your particular brand of moisturizer does not, simply apply your sunscreen separately.

While this article is intended to give an overview of a typical basic skin care routine, individuals should consult their doctors or dermatologists for product suggestions and treatments specific to their own situations and skin types.

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