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Good skin is something you do, not something you have*

October 27, 2011

*Ok. So, the title is a BIT of a lie.

Let me justify myself here. Genetics do play a part in the hand you’re dealt when it comes to your looks, skin type included. There are some conditions such as rosacea, eczema, sensitivity, allergies  and severe acne that unfortunately can run in the family and are much harder to deal with, physically and psychologically, than what most people face when it comes to skin care. Oftentimes these conditions will flare up with the least bit of provocation, and many people turn to medication as a last resort to cope with the unpredictable nature of their skin.

There’s also some cultural benefits and/or slight disadvantages: olive skin that tans so easily (and just GOES so well with pretty much every colour), the classic Irish skin that looks so lovely, pale and rosy, perfect dark black skin that looks like silk. These same perfect skin types can also complain about sallowness, red flushing and ashyness, so really, there’s no winning! In these cases, good or bad skin IS something you just have, at least for the most part.

There’s also that mega culprit, hormones, that completely eff up skin, sometimes on an on-going basis, but more often in a cyclical nature. Although hormones are something that some people find they can gently adjust through diet and lifestyle choices, this isn’t the case for everyone.

However, I’m not talking about the extreme cases of skin issues. There’s a lot of stuff that has to be dealt with by professionals; dietitians  dermatologists, endocrinologists who will need to poke and prod and probably prescribe something. However, the basic approach that (most, hopefully) good professionals and doctors WILL do is an approach we can all adopt: treat the cause, not the symptom. Although this hasn’t necessarily been MY experience with doctors, I do believe that this is the best approach and probably the approach of doctors worth their salt (or mega bill, depending on where you live).

What’s the use of drying up pimple after pimple with toxic garbage, for years, or taking harsh antibiotics that mess with your system, when you can take a few months or even a few weeks to evaluate when and why you’re breaking out? Getting to the root of your skin’s issues is something you can definitely, definitely do to have great skin.

Let’s Get Geeky.

Let’s play doctor. Assuming you don’t have anything major going on, skin-wise or otherwise, there’s a lot you can do to get a leg-up on “doing” great skin. So where do you even start evaluating yourself? Well, first you must know thyself.

Trends in skin ailments can easily be monitored by keeping a “skin” journal, for example, and you can get really geeky and even make an Excel chart out of it. Track the “time of the month” (literally, and also you know, your menstrual cycle), your mood/stress levels, and rate your skin on a scale or just jot down what’s generally going on with it. Also SUPER important is keeping track of what you’re eating and drinking. Maybe you’ll discover that ovulation + milk = acne, or that you tend to drink more vino when you’re stressed and BAM, massive volcano on your face 2 days later. If you’re very diligent, you might begin so suspect some mild allergies or sensitivities you didn’t realize you have. I always thought that I had a stomach of iron (although I bit on the nervous side…oh, and bloaty if you must know) until I discovered that milk and sugar, and specifically before my period, is the worst. thing. ever. Cramps, mood swings, zits.

If you tend to switch up your skin care regime from time to time, document the changes as well. Sometimes switching between a “clean” regime to a more chemical-based one can do some wonky things to your skin. Just to keep it safe, you should ditch all the chemically laden crap anyhow (WHAT, you haven’t already!?). If you have long hair, take note of what you’re using in your hair. We often forget that what goes on our hair often ends up on our face as well.

By keeping track of where you’re going horribly wrong, and when things are smooth sailing, you’ll get a better understanding of what triggers your skin to break out. That way, YOU CAN STOP DOING THE BAD STUFF. Simple, right?

It’s like wearing a boot with a nail stabbing the bottom of your foot, and constantly layering on the band-aids as opposed trashing the boots and getting a new pair that really work for you. Or well, something like that.

Simplest solutions are best.

If this seems like way too much work to do on an ongoing basis, then just keep it simple. When you do have a skin out-lash of sorts after weeks of clear, glowing skin, think back to the last week or so and what was different. Although this isn’t as effective as keeping track as-it-happens, it can still give you a good indication of how your skin reacts to your lifestyle. Recently, I went on a “birthday binge”, which meant I drank more alcohol than I normally do (which had been zilch to actually having a few hangovers in the matter of a week), drank less water and green tea, and ate way dirtier and richer than normal and virtually ignored my yoga mat. Boy was it FUN! I broke out a little, but mostly I looked kinda sallow and grey/dark under-eye thing happening. Not so hot. Also, kinda depressing when you just turned 30 and you’re like “ah, crap.”

For me, and I’m going to assume for you, the best remedy when you fall off the wagon is to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, drink a bunch of water, nibble some kale and just get back up there, champ. Think of it as a time to press and hold the reset button for 10 seconds and start fresh, keeping an watchful eye on your habits and how your body and skin are reacting. The closer you keep an eye on things, the more you realize that life’s little physical ups and downs are really not such a mystery….it’s really up to what you do.