Skin care products keep your skin looking and feeling its best. You have about 20 square feet of skin to cleanse, moisturize, tone and exfoliate, and taking care of it goes beyond purely cosmetic concerns; clean, well-maintained skin is also healthy skin. Skin varies in thickness, toughness, oiliness and texture everywhere. Specialty skin care products are likewise varied to give every part of your skin the care it needs.
Young, healthy skin may need no more than a cleanser and sunscreen for optimal health. Mature, acne-prone, dry or oily skin types have their own special needs and skin care solutions.
Choosing Your Skin Care Products
Your skin type has the greatest influence on the skin care products you choose. Skin has fewer oil-producing glands on arms and legs than on faces and backs, so skin type generally refers to the face rather than the whole body. Facial skin type falls into one of four broad categories: dry, oily, normal or combination. Dry skin feels taut after washing and may appear dull. Severely dry skin may itch and flake. Oily skin is dry skin's opposite number; it feels slick and greasy shortly after cleansing. Oilier skin is often prone to breakouts. Combination skin, a common type, is dry in some spots and oily in others. If your cheeks are dry and taut, but your forehead and nose are oily, you have combination skin. Normal skin is clear, supple and dewy without an excess of oil.
Some parts of your skin are eight times thicker than other areas. Some products specialize in caring for rougher skin; others address the needs of thin, sensitive areas. Under-eye creams may contain additional moisturizers to minimize fine lines in this delicate zone. Foot scrubs generally have extra power to handle exfoliation of thicker, hardier skin. Sunscreens for the face might contain less oil or a higher Sun Protection Factor (SPF) to minimize cumulative sun damage. Foot lotions consist of greaseless formulas that absorb quickly so bare feet won't slip.
The health of your skin influences your product choices too. Some skin has special needs; controlling acne, minimizing wrinkles or working around allergies may affect your skin care regimen. Incorporating anti-aging treatments or blemish-fighting creams can add a few steps to your daily skin care routine.
Dermatologists rank skin colors in one of six categories according to the Fitzpatrick Classification Scale. Type I is very fair or freckled skin that burns instead of tanning; type VI skin is quite dark and never burns. While all skin tones need sun protection, the degree of sun protection you choose depends largely on your hue. With very fair type I or II skin, pick a sunscreen with a high SPF; if your skin is a dark V or VI tone, choose a sunscreen with a lower SPF or look for moisturizers that include light sun protection.
Which Skin Care Product for Which Use?
Basic skin care includes cleansers, moisturizers, exfoliants, toners and sunscreens, but your skin care regimen can extend well beyond the basics. Even within these general categories, manufacturers offer thousands of products with their own set of benefits for every imaginable purpose.
Skin cleansers remove bacteria, oil and dirt that collect on skin throughout the day. Available as bars, liquids, foams, creams, mousses and gels, cleansers are the first step in any skin care regimen. Bar soap is the most common skin cleanser; for some people, solid soap suffices to cleanse the skin from forehead to feet. Moisturizing bars, scented soaps and medicated formulas to fight acne are some common variations on bar soap. Like bar soaps, liquid and gel body washes come in a variety of formulas to suit every skin type. Foaming washes and cream-based cleansers are formulated expressly for the face. These cleansers often serve a dual purpose, fighting acne or minimizing fine lines as they clean.
A moisturizer eases dryness and improves texture. Most moisturizers consist of two elements: a humectant and an occlusive agent. Humectants draw moisture to your skin from the surrounding environment, hydrating the uppermost layers of your skin. Occlusive ingredients include oils and silicones that form a mildly water-resistant layer on your skin to preserve the moisture it already contains. If you're prone to oiliness, you may not need a facial moisturizer, but you may still benefit from a hand, foot or body moisturizer. Liquid lotion formulas for day feel light and greaseless; more emollient night creams typically feel richer and thicker. If you have very dry skin, wear a rich night formula during the day; if your complexion tends toward oiliness, a lighter lotion works well for overnight wear.
Exfoliants and Scrubs
Your skin naturally sheds its outermost layer of cells. Your epidermis, the top layer of your skin, sometimes needs help sloughing away these old, dry cells that leave skin looking dull. Exfoliating products step up the natural process of skin cell removal to reveal smooth, healthy skin. Products labeled as scrubs or sloughing creams have a granular component that physically sweeps away shed skin cells. Other creams dissolve the bonds that hold old cells to the surface of your skin. Chemical peels and acidic exfoliating lotions work in this fashion. Confine rough scrubs to thicker skin and save softer scrubs for more delicate skin on your face and hands.
Toners come between cleansing and moisturizing in skin care regimens for oily or acne-prone skin. Sometimes called skin refreshers, clarifying serums or refiners, toners typically contain an astringent ingredient to remove all traces of cleanser and residual oil from your skin. Dry skin may not need a toner, but if you enjoy the cool, refreshing feeling they impart, pick a non-astringent toner that replenishes moisture instead of removing oil. Toners with small amounts of alpha hydroxy acids may help minimize fine lines.
Most of the damage that dermatologists once ascribed to aging is more accurately described as sun damage. Because sun damage is cumulative, daily sunscreen use can spare your skin from fine lines and discoloration in the future. Sunscreen also helps protect you from skin cancer, so it's vital to use it regularly, especially if you're fair-skinned. If your skin is sensitive to chemical sunscreens, pick one that contains titanium oxide or zinc oxide. These ingredients physically filter ultraviolet rays and protect skin without irritation.
Masks and Treatments
Occasional treatments such as masks and peels promise a home version of a salon facial. Depending on their type, they treat acne, absorb excess oil, moisturize dry skin or minimize visible signs of aging. Follow product directions on masks and other treatments because they can be quite intense. They're designed for occasional use, not as part of your daily skin care regimen.
Products for acne-prone skin, allergy-prone skin, rosacea or eczema generally contain no fragrance. They're often labeled hypoallergenic or for sensitive skin. These cleansers, moisturizers and toners are good choices if your skin sometimes reacts to other products with redness, itching or flare-ups of an existing condition. Treat areas affected by rosacea, acne or eczema gently; harsh scrubs can exacerbate these problems.