Everyone loves healthy, glowing skin. Here’s how to bring out the best of what Mother Nature gave you. By Lena Sotherin
Cleopatra was renowned for her beautiful skin. The Egyptian queen is said to have bathed in milk and honey and had her handmaidens massage her body with aromatic oils and aloe vera. It sounds like the perfect daily treatment for the goddess-like woman who ruled Egypt in ancient times. Fortunately for us modern mortals, we have the benefits of ever-advancing science and technology to pave the way to skin perfection.
Born that way
We all know that one person with flawless skin who does almost nothing to explain or maintain it. Dr Craige Golding, a physician specialising in anti-ageing medicine, says this could be due to hormonal control. ‘Beautiful glowing skin indicates that our endocrine system and steroid hormonal functions (among others) are operating well. This is reflected in the health of our skin, which should be moist, dewy, elastic and clear,’ he explains. ‘Likewise, some possible results of a hormonal imbalance include skin pigmentation or discoloration, acne breakouts, and dehydrated or itchy, dry skin.’ Three major hormones affecting your skin health are oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone. ‘Oestrogen protects against free radicals, much like antioxidants do, and helps build up the dermis by increasing cell division and growth of the skin.’ Dr Golding says it also aids with hydrating the skin, making it look fuller, and reducing wrinkle depth. ‘Progesterone tightens connective tissue by remodelling collagen, the tissue that supports our skin structure.’ Plus, it helps to stabilise and regenerate the epidermis, which keeps skin looking younger.
And, as for testosterone, it tightens skin structures, stimulates the breakdown of fat and strengthens the collagen strands that support the skin. ‘This stabilises the fat and connective tissues within the skin, which creates firmer-looking skin.’
Dr Golding says that if you’re concerned about your skin, have your hormone levels checked for imbalances and then consider bioidentical hormone therapy. This treatment ‘has the power to reduce the signs of ageing by boosting collagen production in the body,’ he says. ‘Collagen is the major player in the skin’s elasticity and wrinkle formation and is affected by the ability of your body to produce and maintain your collagen structure – which is regulated by your hormones.’ He adds that how you respond to hormone-restoration therapy depends on many factors. ‘Since no two people are the same, or share the same lifestyle, no two people should follow identical treatment plans.’
From the inside out
‘Our skin is made up of the nutrients found in what we eat and drink,’ says Nathalie Mat, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Association for Dietetics in South Africa. ‘If you don’t take in the critical nutrients it needs – essential fatty acids, vitamins A, C and E, zinc and selenium – your skin will not have the building blocks it needs to stay healthy.’ Start with a solid foundation, she says. ‘Eat fatty fish twice a week and a rainbow selection of vegetables and fruit every day, and focus on water as your primary means of hydration.’ Pay attention to your lifestyle too. ‘Your skin reflects what’s going on inside your body,’ says Mat. ‘You’re not going to look glowing and healthy if you are sedentary, sleep-deprived or stressed out, and living on cigarettes and coffee.’ Before you fork out for supplements or cosmetics, ensure you have the basics right: ‘Get between seven and eight hours of sleep a night; exercise a total of at least two-and-a-half hours a week; focus on eating a healthy diet without excessive alcohol; and minimise environmental pollutants such as cigarette smoke and exposure to air pollution.’ Drinking enough water is a simple but important element of a healthy lifestyle. ‘Dehydration can be seen in the skin,’ says Mat. ‘It affects the amount of blood flowing to the skin, which impacts the nutrients reaching it.’ Just how much should you be drinking? ‘For some people, enough is less than two litres a day. For others, it’s more.’ She adds that you’ll know you’re drinking enough water when your urine is a pale straw colour. Mat says any condition affecting blood circulation can impact on the condition of the skin. ‘Sometimes, our skin can be the first sign of health issues. For example, skin discolouration with a velvety texture around the neck can be a sign of poor blood-sugar control, as can skin tags and poor wound healing.’
But good skin health is not just about what’s happening on the inside. ‘Your skin is your only barrier to the outside world and it needs to be cared for and protected to avoid ageing and DNA damage,’ explains dermatologist Dr Ian Webster. He says the best skincare regime is the simplest: use a skin-specific cleanser and moisturiser every morning and evening. Moisturisers are particularly important, he says, since they maintain the skin’s barrier function and help to protect it against environmental factors. However much you spend on fancy skin creams, there are two additions to your routine that shouldn’t be ignored: antioxidants and sunscreen, both of which add another layer of protection
to skin in polluted cityscapes under the harsh African sun. ‘Think of antioxidants as your internal bodyguards,’ explains Dr Webster. ‘They penetrate the skin and prevent several chain reactions, caused by free-radical activity and oxidative stress, that could cause damage to cells.’
These free radicals are induced by exposure to UV and infrared radiation from the sun, pollution, and unhealthy lifestyle factors such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. ‘And then there’s a high-factor, broad-spectrum sunscreen, which is the most important aspect of a skincare routine,’ says Dr Webster. ‘If you could only afford one product, this would be it. Not even the best products will help if your skin
is being exposed to UV radiation daily.’
Once you have got your skincare basics covered, Dr Webster suggests these add-ons for optimal results: Retinol ‘Dermatologists worldwide still rate this as the gold standard of anti-ageing ingredients. Retinol reduces fine lines and wrinkles, stimulates collagen and elastin, and encourages cellular turnover, which slows down as we age.’ Alpha-hydroxy acids ‘AHAs exfoliate dead skin cells, encouraging cellular turn-over so the skin is not dry and dull,’ says Dr Webster. ‘They give the skin a healthy glow and make product penetration more efficient. With long-term use AHAs also stimulate collagen and elastin in deeper layers of the skin.’ Powerhouse serums Lightweight and packed with concentrated active ingredients, serums are easily absorbed into the skin, as their molecules are very small. They’re usually used under a moisturiser to target specific skin needs.
Non-invasive, non-surgical skin-renewal procedures have become the go-to for those looking for serious results beyond their diets or the serums they buy. Dr Maureen Allem, medical director and founder of Skin Renewal, a specialist aesthetic centre, says that some of the most popular techniques requested are chemical peels, PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injections, skin needling, carboxytherapy (also popular for removing cellulite and stretch marks), laser resurfacing, and radio-frequency for skin tightening. ‘These can all be tailored to the specific face you are treating,’ she says. ‘For example, a 30-year-old may come in showing only minimal signs of ageing and sun damage. In this case, we can choose a superficial chemical peel, along with radio-frequency treatment for less contact time or at a lower setting.’ On the other hand, for someone with more mature skin, the intensity can be ramped up. ‘So essentially, these treatments can all be used for prevention, correction or for maintenance. What differs is how they are applied in practice.’
Thinking of undergoing a treatment? Dr Allem suggests the following: For wrinkles Carboxytherapy, PRP, needling, radio-frequency, Titan Laser, Laser GenesisFor brown spots Chemical peels, pulsed light (IPL, LimeLight or AcuTip) For scars (for example, acne scars) Carboxytherapy, needling, PRP, laser resurfacing (CO2 or Pearl Fractional) For rosacea (a redness spreading from the centre of the face) ‘This is treated both internally and externally,’ Dr Allem says. For external treatment of rosacea, ‘we would recommend peels containing azelaic acid, pulsed-light therapy, and carboxytherapy.’
Photography: gallo/gettyimages, iSTOCKphoto