In This Special Report:
Whether it's breakouts, winter dry skin, dark circles, rosacea, oily skin, and on and on, all of us have skin-care concerns at one time or another—they show up from time to time or they just never seem to go away completely. Looking in the mirror can be so frustrating, when no matter what you do or how much money you spend your skin doesn't seem to get any better— and often just gets worse.
Almost every common skin-care problem has solutions, which is encouraging, but how can you be sure you're not going to be disappointed again? This Special Report is the answer! It explains what you really can do to improve what's bothering you about your skin—and which products are a waste of your time and money.
The solutions we describe below are based on the latest published research! Because you're getting facts and not hype, you'll get the best results possible. Your skin will become healthier and more beautiful, and you'll have renewed confidence because you'll know how to handle your most bothersome skin-care concerns!
What Causes This Problem: Age spots aren't caused by growing older; rather, they are caused almost entirely by sun damage. If you doubt that, just compare the skin on the parts of your body that are exposed to the sun on a regular basis with the parts of your body that don't see the sun very often, if ever. You'll be shocked by the difference in how your skin looks.
What you'll see is that the areas that get little or no sun exposure will look much younger and more even-toned than the sun-exposed areas. Brown spots and uneven skin tone show up on the face, chest, hands, and arms, but rarely, if ever, on the abdomen, breasts, or your backside.
The Solution: Because melanin, the pigment in cells that colors the skin, is the culprit behind these brown spots, you need a treatment product that interrupts excess melanin production and allows the discolorations to fade.
Next, to prevent the brown spots from coming back, you must apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen rated SPF 25 or greater (and greater is better) every day, rain or shine (the damaging rays of the sun are always present; they pass through clouds and even through windows). Forgoing sunscreen is the fastest way to undo the benefits of a skin-lightening product.
Along with applying sunscreen daily, use one of the following skin-lightening products, all of which contain the gold standard ingredients (such as hydroquinone or vitamin C) proven to fade brown discolorations:
With regular use, these products, and others like them, can fade discolorations, and in some cases make them go away completely. For stubborn cases, you may need prescription-only skin-lightening products.
What Causes This Problem: Bruises occur when the body suffers an injury, usually an impact-based injury, that may or may not be accompanied by an abrasion or cut. The impact ruptures tiny blood vessels beneath the skin's surface, causing subtle to moderate leakage into the surrounding tissues. This leakage results in, you guessed it, a bluish, greenish, purple, or reddened bruise.
As we age our skin becomes thinner, especially if we've accumulated a lot of sun damage over time. Thinner skin means we bruise more easily, enough so that even the slightest bump can result in a large, unsightly bruise. This also applies to people who take medications that thin their blood, including over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen (Aleve), or plain aspirin.
The Solution: Most bruises disappear within a few days, so normally no treatment is needed. However, if the bruise is in a conspicuous place, you'll likely want to do what you can to make it go away faster. Topical application of a 20% concentration of the herb Arnica montana (A. montana) may help. You can find tinctures of A. montana at most health food stores. Note that you should never apply pure arnica to broken or cut skin, and it is advised for short-term use only. Arnica doesn't work for everyone, but there's enough research supporting its efficacy to make it worth trying.
Another option is to consider arnica in a moisturizer that's also loaded with beneficial skin-repairing ingredients. A great option is DerMend Moisturizing Bruise Formula ($30 for 4.5 ounces) which is available in most larger drugstores or online.
Intermittent use of an ice pack immediately after the injury also will help. If an ice pack isn't handy, and you're at home, use a bag of frozen vegetables (peas work great) wrapped in a dry towel; it makes a good stand-in!
If a bruise persists for a prolonged period of time (more than a month) even with topical treatment, it may be a sign of a more serious health issue, and you should see your doctor for an evaluation.
What Causes This Problem: Painful dryness and cracking can be a sign of excessive irritation, friction (which is what causes those lovely calluses on your heels and toes), cold weather, dry climates, or medical conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and diabetes.
The Solution: Although you may want to seek medical advice if your dry, cracked skin is chronic and severe, most dry, cracked skin problems can be resolved by avoiding drying cleansers (especially bar soaps) and by reapplying well-formulated moisturizers.
The best defense against dry skin is to use gentle cleansers and to keep areas prone to dryness and cracking lubricated with an emollient, creamy, and buttery smooth moisturizer. You also want to avoid sources of friction whenever possible, so you shouldn't wear shoes that don't fit well, shouldn't wear scratchy fabrics, and shouldn't use loofahs. Keeping your skin protected from extreme cold also helps a great deal!
Try some of the following products to keep your skin protected from painful dryness and cracking:
What Causes This Problem: Eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis) is a frustrating skin disorder where areas of your skin's surface have a combination of problems, such as itching, redness, cracking, roughness, small blisters, inflammation, flaking, and overall discomfort. Eczema often shows up around the ears, fingers, toes, back of the knees, and in the crook of the arm (opposite your elbow).
Why eczema occurs is unknown, although there does seem to be a hereditary component and it may be linked to a short-circuited immune system response. Regardless of the cause, treating the condition is tricky. Following are a few key steps you can take to get matters under control; above all else, avoid any product or material (think wool or Spandex) that you've found makes your eczema symptoms worse.
The Solution: Treating eczema involves using skin-care products (especially moisturizers) that help repair, soothe, and constantly reinforce the skin's protective surface layers. In addition to using products that contain skin-repairing and calming ingredients, it is critical that you avoid products containing any irritants, including fragrance (synthetic or natural extracts) and alcohol. Irritation is terrible for all skin types, but especially for those with eczema.
Mild eczema often can be controlled simply by changing to more emollient skin-care products and occasionally using an over-the-counter cortisone cream. If your problems are more severe, you might require prescription-strength cortisone creams (or other topical prescription products) along with the appropriate skin care.
Note: Because someone with eczema also can have extremely sensitive skin, it is helpful to use a gentle, fragrance-free laundry detergent. (Tide and All make good ones as well as Dreft.) Make sure that your other laundry products (e.g., fabric softener, dryer sheets) are fragrance-free, too.
Try any of these products to improve eczema and its symptoms:
What Causes This Problem: Acne is an inflammatory disorder caused by a combination of factors. Acne results mostly from overproduction of oil in the oil gland, which is caused by hormones; the growth of the bacteria Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) deep inside the pore; and the accumulation of dead skin cells and debris at the surface of the pore, which block the free flow of oil out of the pore. These conditions, along with irritation from skin-care products, cause acne breakouts.
No matter what you call it—"breakouts," "blemishes," or "adult acne"—the struggle to get acne under control can be emotionally devastating, at any age. If your skin-care routine doesn't address the issues described above, or even worse, if the products you use contain ingredients that exacerbate the problem, you will always be disappointed with the results.
Although there are dozens and dozens of anti-acne products available, very few of them are well-formulated. In fact, it's shocking how many of the so-called "anti-acne" products out there will only make your acne worse, or leave you with dry, flaky, red skin.
The Solution: Here is what you can do to treat your acne, but remember, you must experiment with the kinds of products that research shows improve acne to find the specific products that work for you.
1. Clean your skin gently with a water-soluble cleanser that does not contain ingredients that clog pores or irritate the skin. This will help reduce redness and irritation, and reducing irritation means that you are not stimulating the nerve endings in the pore, and thus not triggering excess oil production.
2. Use a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) exfoliant to remove dead skin cells and encourage healthy skin-cell turnover, both from the skin's surface and inside the pore. BHA also helps reduce redness and inflammation and offers mild antibacterial action.
3. Use a benzoyl peroxide product to kill the bacteria (P. acnes) that cause the eruption, inflammation, redness, and swelling. Benzoyl peroxide is the gold standard ingredient for killing these bacteria.
4. If you find that these steps aren't effective after at least 4 weeks of consistent use, the next step is to talk to your doctor about medical treatments for acne, such as topical retinoids (e.g., Retin-A, Tazorac, Avita, generic tretinoin, Differin) and a topical antibiotic with benzoyl peroxide. For details on acne treatment, including cystic acne and other types of breakouts, click here.
Recommended cleansers for acne:
Recommended BHA exfoliants for acne:
Recommended benzoyl peroxide for acne:
What Causes This Problem: Scars are a result of the skin's healing process from a cut or abrasion. How a scar looks depends on several factors, including the depth of the wound, genetics, sun exposure, and how you care for the wounded area as it heals.
Most products marketed as being able to improve the appearance of a scar exaggerate what they can do and/or mislead you about the results but there are some good products to consider.
Mederma is a popular brand that claims to reduce the appearance of scars, but published research has shown conflicting evidence (for example, using plain Vaseline had the same results as Mederma but in other research Mederma was shown to be more effective than a placebo).
Avoid pure vitamin E and other thick, emollient salves for scars. They do not work and may have a negative effect on how your skin continues to heal after a scar has formed.
The Solution: The steps outlined below can help improve scars and help your skin heal. Following these steps will make a big difference in the scar left behind by a wound!
The following antioxidant-rich serums can help improve a scar's appearance when used in conjunction with a well-formulated sunscreen:
What Causes This Problem: Stretch marks occur when the skin is abnormally stretched and expanded for a period of time, which typically occurs during pregnancy and/or weight gain. The abnormal stretching causes a breakdown or rupture in the skin's support structure of collagen and elastin. In fact, the visible curled ends of stretch marks are actually the broken bands of elastin beneath the skin (think of elastin as rubber bands beneath the skin that give it spring and its ability to snap back into place).
Essentially, stretch marks are scars that form from the inside out, rather than scarring that occurs when skin is externally wounded.
It may surprise you to know that in the United States it is estimated that 90% of women who are or have been pregnant, 70% of adolescent females, and 40% of adolescent males have stretch marks. There does not seem to be any link to ethnicity; all races can be affected.
The Solution: Stretch marks are one of the toughest skin-care concerns to treat by yourself because there are no cosmetic ingredients or products that can improve stretch marks. It is impossible for any cosmetic to raise the indentations back to where the skin level used to be or to repair the snapped elastin fibers. You can choose on your own to believe the ads that claim to be able to do that, but you'll simply be throwing your money down the drain.
In the pharmaceutical realm, there is some research showing that tretinoin (the active ingredient in Retin-A, Renova, or in generic form) can have a positive effect on stretch marks. Typical improvement is 20%, which isn't necessarily exciting, but many will find it worth the effort and expense. The dilemma for expectant mothers is that tretinoin cannot be used during pregnancy, and is also contraindicated if the mother-to-be intends to breastfeed her baby.
Beyond tretinoin you can consider the following medical cosmetic corrective treatments for stretch marks:
What Causes This Problem: Cellulite represents the stored, hard-to-metabolize fat that is associated with estrogen production. Given that estrogen is the primary female hormone, it isn't surprising that 85% of women (all over the world) have cellulite and only 5% of men do.
Ironically, weight isn't the whole picture when it comes to cellulite. Rather, any amount of fat (and we all need some fat in our bodies to be healthy) can show up as cellulite on a woman's thighs. That's why skinny women have cellulite, too!
Just as with stretch marks, there aren't any skin-care products that can get rid of cellulite. We wish it were different, but facts are facts: Despite the vast array of products and procedures claiming to get rid of cellulite, none of them work as wonderfully claimed, not even remotely.
In addition to skin-care products being a bust for getting rid of cellulite, the following treatments also are NOT worth your time or money:
The Solution: Although cellulite cannot be eliminated, research shows that the following types of products can help, a little, to improve its appearance because they have a positive impact on skin structure:
You also can consider one or more of the following products to improve the appearance of cellulite, but do not expect miracles; at the most, you'll see only slight improvement:
What Causes This Problem:Clogged pores are the cause of keratosis pilaris—a skin condition where little, raised red bumps show up in patches on your upper arms, backside, or thighs. The bumps resemble chicken skin and can appear as small, red, inflamed pimples that occasionally itch, but most often they are just benign bumps that are visible on the skin and feel rough.
The Solution: Although there is no cure for these bumpy rough spots, it is possible to control the problem by unclogging the pores with gentle exfoliation, but NOT by scrubbing.
The right exfoliant can make a HUGE difference; in many cases, keratosis pilaris can be kept completely under control, meaning that there will be no visible signs of the condition as long as you continue to use the exfoliant.
Without question, the best way to reduce or get rid of these bumps is to use a product that contains beta hydroxy acid (BHA, also known as salicylic acid) listed as an active ingredient and that has a pH low enough for exfoliation to occur.
Two other interesting aspects of BHA are (1) it has antimicrobial properties, so it helps control the bacteria that may be causing the pimple-like eruptions, and (2) because it has anti-inflammatory properties it helps reduce or eliminate redness and inflammation.
Recommended products for improving keratosis pilaris include the following:
What Causes This Problem: Rosacea is a frustrating skin condition whose exact cause remains a mystery. Researchers have some theories about what may be responsible, but the only things known for sure are the following:
The Solution: Rosacea is best treated with a combination of gentle skin-care products (anything irritating will make matters worse), topical prescription medications, and, for best results, laser or light-emitting treatments to help eliminate the excess redness from the broken capillaries beneath the skin
A skin-care routine for anyone treating rosacea must include the following tactics:
Recommending specific products for those with rosacea is tricky. Even a gentle formulation can cause a negative reaction for those with this skin disorder. You can explore effective options for sensitive skin that's either oily or dry by visiting the Best Products section of Beautypedia Reviews.
Paula's Choice Hydralight products (for normal, oily, and combination skin) or Skin Recovery products (for normal to very dry skin) are important options to consider because they are formulated to meet the needs of those with sensitive skin and rosacea. For more details on managing rosacea, click here.
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Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:
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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to helping you find the absolute best products for your skin, using research-based criteria to review beauty products from an honest, balanced perspective. Each member of the team was personally trained by Paula herself.
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