The Harvard Experts Talk Skincare

Kids at home 8 Aug 04 013

The Dead Sea, excellent for your skin.

There is so much to read about when it comes to skincare—so many experts—so much advice that it becomes an overwhelming task, most times. In the same way that I feel bombarded by the plethora of products for our skin, unsure of what’s good, what’s bad; I feel just as confused and unsure about skincare information. Never quite sure what I should be reading, what’s reliable and what’s really worth my while. However, I decided to rely on a proven institution when I read The new Harvard guide to women’s health. This book was published in 1996 and I’m sure there have been many advances in medicine and knowledge since then, but some of the information which I read I found enlightening all the same, and now I’m going to share it with you.

The two authors of this book (both physicians at the faculty of Harvard Medical School) suggest that women bathe too much. Hmmm, it immediately brings to mind a gynecologist who expressed the same notion to me years ago. She told me that women these days do not smell natural because they are consumed with getting rid of natural smells emitted by their body. I thought it was rather odd for her to make the comment while I was lying naked on the examination table with my legs spread apart; I had no idea whether the comment was intended for me, and in that case on which end of the spectrum was I? In short, the physicians want women to know that, generally, all women tend to bathe too much and by doing so there is a tendency to dry out the skin. The older we get the drier our skin becomes, so less bathing is better. Those of us with very dry skin to begin with should avoid baths and opt for a quick shower instead. If there is a specific moisturizing oil that works for you while you bathe then go for it. Those who have especially oily skin may want to cleanse themselves 2-3 times a day, but more than that may stimulate the production of even more oil.


I love the beach, but I tend to sit in the shade when possible, and always protect my eyes and skin!

Women do not realize how delicate the skin around their eyes is, often aggressively rubbing with cleansers to get makeup off or scrubbing hard when giving themselves a good old facial scrub. However, the skin around the eyes has to be treated with utmost care, gently rubbing off makeup with cotton balls and always patting it dry.  The face should be washed with a mild soap, using lukewarm water and this helps emulsify oils and foreign particles on the skin. Soaps however may cause skin irritation for women with dry skin and in this case they suggest using special beauty bars with lower PH values than regular soaps (something I will try for sure). Not all soap labels are accurate so it’s a case of trial and error.

While we are all aware of the dangers imposed by exposure to ultraviolet rays; the dry skin, wrinkles, and skin cancer, there are a few lesser known facts for those of us who do not keep up with our medical and beauty literature. It is important that women of darker complexion realize how important it is to use just as much sunscreen as women of lighter complexion. Just because you look young and gorgeous now, does not mean you are not causing long terms damage that is guaranteed to show up on your face when you’re in your mid-thirties and early forties! Don’t be so blasé about your health and think about your future. My olive-skinned daughter has never left the house without sunscreen, no matter what season and what type of weather. I want to be sure she will not damage her skin in the way I have.

The guide suggests that women use sunscreen even when indoors (I do so even though it means I’m always greasy, and I need to wash my hair quite often). Women should adhere to this even when the weather is gloomy and cold; snowy days imply intense exposure, and one needs to rub in that sunscreen diligently.

You should really educate yourselves and realize that there are two major forms of rays from the sun; the ultraviolet B rays or UVB, and longer wave ultraviolet A rays or UVA. There are fewer UVB rays that reach the earth, but those rays are the most detrimental to us. They are the rays that cause long term damage to our skin because they penetrate beyond the epidermis into the dermis layer. These rays pass through glass. This next part is extremely important: did you know that most sunscreens protect against UVA rays, but it’s actually important to find a sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. If you have a tendency to burn after spending 15 minutes in the sun, you should be looking at a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 since it will extend exposure to the sun to 3.75 hours.

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After spoiling myself at the Korean Bath House in LA, my skin got plenty of moisture.

When it comes to moisturizing your skin, here too, there’s much to learn from the experts. Even those of you who neglect to use sunscreen own at least one bottle of moisturizer; however, when it comes to moisturizing your skin chances are that your chosen product cannot actually penetrate the outer epidermis. Putting moisture into the skin is difficult, and personally something that I have tried to achieve by use of natural products such as avocado masks with honey, milk and olive oil. But most people use store-bought products. Skin lotions for instance are best applied right after a bath or shower when the skin is a bit damp. Every time your skin makes contact with water you should be moisturizing it. It’s important that you realize that most products out there do not last for more than half an hour after they’re absorbed by your skin—yeah—a big waste of money.

Things like Vaseline for instance have a longer lasting effect, and as gooey and sticky as they are, they do moisturize your skin. The simpler range of products such as Nivea, Lubriderm and Eucerin to name a few are lighter lotions, which are made from a mixture of both oil and water emulsions. They are effective because the water evaporates after the product is applied. Generally, the Harvard physicians recommend using bath oil for moisturizing the body, but there are some women who find that bath oils dry their skin and irritate them, so once again it’s a matter of trial and error. One thing you should always remember is that a pricey product does not guarantee good results. The doctors recommend the use of humidifiers in the house as well as drinking lots and lots of water. Very hot showers or baths also strip the skin of its moisture, and one should only bathe in lukewarm water instead—I have to reeducate myself on this one myself.

My Great Aunt Rene, a great beauty in her day, never used soap on her body, instead she used special lotions. She would go to sleep with gloves and lotion, which explained her unusually smooth hands. Her father was a chemist in the early 20th century, and she grew up using a lot of his concoctions; whatever they contained, she was able to live to her late eighties, and age beautifully and never look her age—all this without surgery.

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