Exfoliation 101

What is exfoliation?

It's the technical term for removing dead skin cells from your skin's outermost surface. 

Why exfoliate? 

It increases cell turnover because new cells are not bogged down under the weight of old ones. A good exfoliator can clean out clogged pores, fade brown spots and fine wrinkles. 

What are the 2 types of exfoliants? 

Physical and Chemical. Physical exfoliants - scrubs and beads to physically remove the top layers of the stratum corneum - they rely on brute force to work. Avoid microbeads that are bad for the environment and banned in the US.

Chemical exfoliants - like alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) work at a deeper level to shed dead skin cells and boost cell turnover. Chemical exfoliation using a well-formulated product is better as it is less prone to errors than physical exfoliation. 

Should you exfoliate every day? 

No. The most important thing about exfoliation is that it is easy to overdo and causes skin irritation and especially physical exfoliation can loosen collagen bonds making skin wrinkle and sag and compromising the skin's barrier function. #counterproductive. It is an addictive habit to feel fresher than merely cleansing but to reap its full benefits you need to be careful not to over-exfoliate. 

How often should you exfoliate? 

You need to exfoliate more with oily skin but a maximum of twice a week and less with dry skin. Once week if you don't break out or even 10 days to a fortnight. 

When should you not exfoliate? 

When your skin is inflamed in any way - allergies, sunburn, breakouts - all these are irritations and to add exfoliation to your skin at this juncture is to compromise the skin's barrier function. Also when you are pregnant it is important to avoid BHAs also commonly listed as salycilic acid as they can cause complications. 

What to do after you've exfoliated? 

Recognise that you have riled up your skin into being more sensitive even if its for its own good so you need to slather on serums and preferably avoid the sun. Avoid any alcohol based products that are drying and hydrate skin comprehensively. 

What is the best exfoliator? 

You do you. This is not easy to identify without experimentation - always ask for samples before you choose an exfoliator especially a chemical exfoliator and be ready for a little irritation - don't do this before a big event. 

Daily Boldness

Of all admirable attributes boldness is the most compelling. For sheer drama of overcoming fear it is the scrappy cousin of confidence that is the holy grail of mental states. But boldness is different - it involves acting in spite of fear of failure or ridicule and other mental cobwebs. Boldness serves women in particular - as a gender women's confidence lags its abilities and women wait too long to act.

The real problem is often it is only through imperfect action that you can build the enviable muscle of confidence. So it is more important that you are bold in little ways so you are ready when life demands bold action from us - at work, in love or for justice because the right time will never be the perfect time but you will still be comfortable enough in your skin to turn adversity to your advantage. 

The best place to build the boldness muscle is the gym - unless you're a professional athlete or fitness professional for weekend warriors the gym is a safe, low-risk environment to explore your fuzzy boundaries to further them. If you play out your time working out as a dress rehearsal for life you can take chances, give it your best, explore just outside your comfort zone and get more comfortable in your skin to take chances in the real world. The mind and body reinforce each other and feeling stronger physically boosts mental strength and deciding to be stronger mentally stretches your physical ability. Boldness is the best muscle you'll ever build. 



Cruelty-free Cosmetics

In the buzzy digital afterglow of National Puppy Day, it's time to consider what we can do for animals in our daily choices. Specifically skincare and makeup. Animal testing of cosmetics - specifically rabbits, mice and guinea pigs is an industry norm in the quest to establish the safety of chemicals before they are used on humans. This is not necessary to a large extent for clean beauty products that use very few ingredients and those that have an established track record for safety. But in cosmetics with long ingredient lists - testing animals can involve giving them excessive doses in sensitive areas to understand toxicity.  This can result in the blinding, poisoning or crippling of innocent animals because of allergic reactions to the chemicals in these cosmetics. 

Ethical reasons apart, you have to consider the relative safety of products that need animal testing to be approved to be safe for the skin - it is adverse selection in the most vivid sense as any of these extreme tests on laboratory animals indicates that these products are expected to be toxic at high doses even before they have been formulated. Since dosage is extremely tricky to evaluate in consumer products and the adverse events can only occur years into the future - talc anyone? So going Cruelty-Free is not merely ethical but reflects good choices re protecting your own skin and eyes. 

Now cruelty-free doesn't merely involve testing but also natural bristles in brushes and in some cases ingredients that have animal sources that involve killing or maiming animals to be produced though vegan is not always cruelty-free if the ingredients need animal testing. The gold standard of certification is PETA's Beauty Without Bunnies that offers a pink bunny with the tag line cruelty-free and vegan or simply cruelty-free since a lot of natural cosmetics use ingredients like beeswax as safe alternatives to petroleum derivatives. 

The other main cruelty-free cosmetics programme is the Leaping Bunny certification which is even more stringent than PETA as it involves spot inspections of firms that make Cruelty-Free claims - however it is only restricted to US firms and it is far better to have cosmetics made close to the local sources of the ingredients to ensure freshness and purity. But the most important realisation regarding cruelty-free choices is that customer demand is not an abstract notion for businesses - if companies know that people care about animals and safe ingredients they will do their behaviour will be shaped by the zeitgeist and small changes in behaviour can set thousands of animals free of testing. 


Beauty and the East

Ayurveda is traditional Indian medicine- heavily botanic that embraces a holistic approach to beauty and sees the skin as a reflection of inner health. It's fascinating but also exhausting in its many rituals and recipes for health and beauty so here are a few easy Skincare tips and tricks that you can easily incorporate into your routine. 

1. Identify your Dosha  - this is an imbalance reflected in the skin as follows - Vata is thin, dry, fine-pored, delicate and wrinkle-prone; Pitta is susceptible to rashes, breakouts, and rosacea if out of balance; and Kapha is thicker and oilier, prone to enlarged pores, blackheads, pimples, and eczema. 

2. Embrace Seasonality - whatever your skin's dosha - seasonal imbalances dominate them especially summer when the approach requires a balance of pitta. 

3. Facial Oils - Ayurveda is a major proponent of coconut oil but this is to be carefully adopted in the summer as it is comodogenic and it's preferable to look for an ester of coconut oil - Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride in your summer Skincare. Or choose a light facial oil like jojoba oil.

4. Facial Massage - systematically massaging the face with a gentle facial oil like jojoba preferably boosted with essential oils like lavender and jasmine can relax any accumulated tension and promote sleep and regeneration. Especially upward strokes on the neck and circular motions on the cheek and forehead is a self-care ritual worth adopting while watching mindless TV so you are doing it for long enough.

4. Rose water - pure rosewater is a fantastic toner but look for a steam distilled source as products with synthetic fragrance could add more chemicals than you realize.

5. Turmeric - add anti-inflammatory turmeric to your diet but preferably with virgin coconut oil and a few shavings of black pepper to increase its bioavailability. Topical turmeric is not advisable as it stains the skin and requires harsh exfoliation to clean completely. 

6. Sandalwood  - true sandal if you can get your hands on it has immense skin benefits - it is anti-microbial, softens skin, fights redness and acne and reverses sun damage. The fragrance calms the skin and improves meditation. 

7. Meditation - outside of diet - concentrating  on any particular area of imbalance in the skin or body during meditation and projecting healing thoughts and healthy feelings all contribute to holistic Skincare. 


HIIT me with your best skin

HIIT is the skin-friendliest exercise by a long shot. Short intense bursts of exercise that have the same metabolic payoff as hours of repetitive cardio is a no-brainer in terms of time savings (more time for face masks) and lowering repetitive stress is key to maintaining skin elasticity. But there is a new study out by the Mayo Clinic that uncovers more fundamental advantages to this form of exercise vs traditional resistance training and cardio. Here's their impact on skin which is a credible indicator of health and self-care. 

1) Cardio-respiratory fitness - improving the blood flow to the skin is crucial to boosting natural radiance and HIIT totally has your back on this if you are honest about what it means to work out at 80% capacity and remember it's a physical capacity not what you think you can do which is usually a lot more than we realise.

2) Insulin sensitivity - this is one of those stealth metrics that exercise affects - it is how effective your body is handling excess glucose. This is very meaningful for the skin as excess glucose causes inflammation which is problematic since it is essentially a self-inflicted wound that diverts the body's resources and contributes to premature aging of the skin. HIIT is excellent at increasing insulin sensitivity and protects the skin. 

3) Mitochondrial respiration - Mitochodria are organelles in cells involved in producing and storing energy from respiration. They do this by converting ADP (adenosine diphosphate) to ATP (adenosine triphosphate) through an intuitive process called phosphorylation. When the cell needs energy this process is reversed. It's crucial to skin health and is most improved by HIIT training. 

4) Fat Free Mass - this is the politically incorrect term for lean muscle - the smooth appearance of skin we take for granted is dependent on lean muscle mass that atrophies with aging. Some exercise like vanilla cardio can actually deplete muscle and resistance training is targeted to improve it but HIIT is remarkably effective in building muscle mass and improving skin tone.

5) Ribosome Activity - HIIT training reverses age-related cell changes by increasing ribosome activity which helps build protein that builds muscle cells. Looking good.



Hot Weather Skin Secret

Summer has many pleasures, but sweat rash is not one of them. The technical term for this common skin irritation is milaria though it also goes by heat rash and prickly heat. Milaria is caused by sweat glands being blocked and leaking sweat into the the deeper layers of the skin. This is worsened by hot and humid weather, tight clothing and the skin being exposed to dirt and grime that blocks the sweat glands and results in a rash that is unsightly and uncomfortable.  

Now heat rash heals itself naturally but inflammation is bad for the skin - it's a strain on the skin's essential barrier function and it can lead to infection if it combines with bacteria. And repetitive stress compromises skin elasticity, leaves scars and discoloration. The simple fact of summer skin challenges outside of sunburn is that we are likely to spend more time outside and are as a result exposed to damaging UV radiation and pollution. 

Less examined is the role of vanilla makeup combined with sweat - this is a recipe for disaster since it clogs pores faster and rather than risking merely sweat rash it breeds acne. This is ironic as sweat itself is great for your skin - right away - it eliminates toxins, boosts circulation and cools the body and skin. It might be avoided by removing makeup completely but if you live in a tropical climate skincare is a necessity to avoid looking utterly greasy.

But artificial fragrances and even thick moisturisers can all simply make summer skin a hot mess. Even ingredients like retinols that are ordinarily beneficial in the skin cannot work when the skin is inflamed and need to be given a rest. Active ingredients that lighten the skin are particular offenders as they react with the heat and result in uneven pigmentation. 

If there is ever a season to embrace skincare minimalism it is the summer - a mineral sunscreen gel worn but forgotten and boosted by hats and sunglasses - a sheer layer of a genuine mineral foundation (with few ingredients preferably natural and anti-microbial)  and a rose water spritz are all the skincare a hot summer day requires. More is not merely unnecessary but is counterproductive. Any potent active ingredients are best saved for overnight application to give your skin a rest as it handles the sweaty demands of the season. 


Sleeping Beauty

The link between sleep and health is adequately established but less well established is the role of sleep in skincare. Sleep is a major factor in skincare that's easily overlooked or approached from a product perspective rather than a unique behavioural opportunity to embrace skin friendly activities that benefit skin in the long run.

In an 8-hour sleep cycle - the staggered release of human growth hormone and melatonin and reduction of cortisol all affect collagen production and help the skin repair but you need the full sleep cycle to accrue these benefits - interrupting sleep is as unhelpful to the skin as it is to other aspects of health and well-being. (I'm looking at you dark circles) While the common emphasis of nighttime products is ingredients that are beneficial for the skin but not excessively stable in daylight like retinols and vitamin c the real opportunity in sleeping beauty is in posture. Though a gel-based overnight mask atop an excellent serum has its merits. 

To spend at least a third of your life in an optimal posture for your face has enormous benefits and the best thing to do is sleep on your back without a pillow under your neck on silk sheets with your feet elevated.

Sleeping on your back prevents the skin on your face from being crushed (sorry spooners) - it's not so bad for a short time but 8 hours a day all your life is a routine no topical application can roundly reverse. Sleeping with a pillow renders us in the exact same position we spend most of our waking lives - with text neck. This respite from looking down is meant to open your throat chakra but at the very least does not reinforce the sub-optimal text-neck posture.

Likewise the habit of sleeping with elevated legs fights varicose veins - you have to elevate them above your heart for improved circulation which is 3-4 pillows. Now there's also speculation that this could help with cellulite but this seems like a stretch though it does aid with post workout recovery. 

To release the most melanin you need absolute darkness and this means parting with devices on the bed and one way to protect yourself from diffused light is to wear a silk eye mask. Silk sheets keep your neck cool in case you have a predisposition to insomnia which is also effectively handled by sleeping with a fan - especially overthinkers but in general sleeping at slightly cooler temperatures also has the benefit of a little weight loss as the body has to work harder to maintain its temperature. 

Now the best of all sleep skin realisations is that there is no such thing as oversleeping - if you sleep long you probably need it and it's far smarter to set an alarm for bedtime and wake up naturally rather than grappling with snooze buttons. Test this out on weekends - see how long you can lie in... if you sleep 10 continuous hours you probably needed that sleep and your skin and reflexes will thank you for the rest. 

Where unbruised youth with unstuff’d brain, Doth couch his limbs, there golden sleep doth reign.

Of Stress and Skin: the tangled tale of Telomeres

Anti-aging skincare needs more research - free radical damage and antioxidants feature largely in the public consciousness but there are other more subtle ways in which we can care for our skin. Reducing pro-inflammatory cytokines get less press. Fortunately telomeres are having their cultural moment with Elizabeth Blackburn's new book - "The Telomere Effect". This is not some casual tome but is penned by the Nobel Laureate who co-discovered telomerase in 1984. 

All you need to know about telomeres - these are the caps to DNA - like the ends of shoelaces they function best when they're long and not frayed. The length of telomeres and the amount of telomerase (the enzyme that helps telomeres regenerate in cell division) are markers for cellular aging. The thing about telomeres is that they respond well to a range of expected healthy behaviours that are detailed in the practical suggestions of this brilliant book. 

The most interesting is the finding regarding meditation. The links between stress and skin are evident if quite mysterious - the loss of vibrancy is the big giveaway.  That mystery is resolved by the way telomeres fray and are shortened by stress but scientists at Harvard have noticed that meditators have longer telomeres than non-meditators of any age. Now this could just be one of those correlations that do not imply causation - people with naturally longer telomeres are predisposed to meditate but they also researched people during a meditation retreat replete with a whole wet lab on a mountain that found increases in telomerase. This is the kind of evidence in Liz Blackburn's book that is immensely reassuring. In an aside, telomeres were affected by cosmetics containing genotoxic and telomere-damaging chemicals so the very things you imagine are helping your skin might very well be counterproductive.

But back to meditation - this is qualitatively different from sleep in terms of restoration with all due respect to sleep - it is conscious rest and infuses a sense of balance when you actually need it when you're awake and dealing with all the curveballs that come your way. In terms of skin this telomere hypothesis is the best explanation to how beneficial meditation can be for a sensible skincare regime. 


How to work out without worrying about your hair

I have a double life - no one I know really knows the true texture of my hair - I will never forget the day I ran into a close friend from grad school in the half block walk from the gym to my apartment - we had plans for brunch but I had lingered longer in the sauna than I expected and he decided to walk over earlier and caught me in my true state - Frizzled - not having run even the weak gym comb through my curly locks. In half an hour my expertise with the GHD would have restored me to a familiarity but I will never forget how aghast this ordinarily polite man looked as he said - "What happened to your hair?" If I didn't know my friend as well as I did I would have balked at the breach of politesse where such personal comments are saved up for pillow talk but he is one of the best people I know and the shock was too much.

So there are only half hour intervals at max twice a week when my true hair emerges to terrify unsuspecting loved ones. I don't think strangers care because they take new people at face value. But that's when I look like Jimi Hendrix until that beast is beaten down by texturisers and ionising blow driers and my favourite flat iron - the GHD. Non-frizzy hair is my constructed identity - it is by no means as glossy or bouncy as a professional blowout or indeed uncurly but it just looks like me - the me that populates all my photographs - that has spent days and nights working on consuming projects. When I close my eyes to visualise my life that is the hair that I always have.

I wish I could be like Diane von Furstenberg. Her book "The Woman I Wanted to Be" mentions how she one day learned to love her wild and crazy locks - well I congratulate her on her journey to hair-acceptance but I have made my peace with this unfrizzy hair the same way I have made my peace with short fingernails - to maintain them is not a socially imposed constraint but a deeply personal compulsion. This longwinded introduction is to really drive home the point that I do not take my hair lightly and this is not some mild soft natural curls but fully and really Jimi Hendrix. 

So what pain there is in ruining this construction - my hair - either self-made or professionally assisted is not something I undertake lightly for rain (even in my evening bag I have a little umbrella - a habit from living in London) and exercise - I'm looking at you cardio. It has shaped all my sweat choices - I took up yoga - but eschewed hot yoga. I took up Pilates, strength training. But the fact is my favourite workouts - HIIT, kickboxing and even Zumba are all sweaty - especially kickboxing. 

I tried all sorts of drastic measures even experimenting with an unflattering pixie that took simply ages to grow out . When I discovered the answer was in dry shampoo and how to use dry shampoo when you know you're going to sweat. The right way to get the best out of dry shampoo is to work it in - I spray in a non-aerosol powder BEFORE I sweat. The issue with most dry shampoo is that people use it after all the sweaty damage when it works best ahead of the workout - and don't ask who can remember - we curly-haired girls who have sunk our hard-earned time and money into hair straightening can certainly make the time. And wear a naturally wicking headband to take the drippy edge off. 

Let me be doubly clear - work in your dry shampoo ahead of your workout - the analogy is to deodorant - you wear it ahead of a workout but somehow dry shampoo because of its name seems like something to wash out dirty hair - that's not it at all - what a dry shampoo powder does is sop up the moisture and oil from the scalp preventing it from wetting the hair too badly. Now this won't work if you have very thick hair and it is at best a stopgap. But really if the choice is one between working out and keeping hair frizz-free I make the choice that makes my hear sing - and it's usually the workout but sometimes when I have a fun party to go to I will admit I do yoga :) 

The Secret to Awesome Skin

Awe reduces cytokines and makes skin awesome. The circularity of that is really dependent on your understanding of cytokines that get no press compared to oxidative stress even though they are pretty pernicious. These little proteins are pro-inflammatory. They reduce collagen, skin thickness and compromise the skin's immunity. Who knew? and what can you do? 

Intrepid researchers however discovered that profound experiences were associated with reducing pro-inflammatory cytokines specifically interleukin. They measured awe specifically — momentary awe that simulate wonder and curiosity — these are those memories of seemingly fleeting moments of beauty — natural or in this case artistic that move you out of yourselves.

So there you have it - high culture's completely tangential role to contemporary well-being is in skincare. Because that is the promise of opera, ballet, art, theatre and literature - they are not easy to embrace but they promise awe - science does as well but high culture was designed to deliver precisely these fleeting moments of transcendence. The relevance of which is frequently questioned in our distracted cultural moment. 

So you can give yourself over to art for awesome skin. Here’s Walter Pater on the Mona Lisa that speaks to this cool finding.

It is a beauty wrought out from within upon the flesh, the deposit, little cell by cell, of strange thoughts and fantastic reveries and exquisite passions.


Face Paint: The Story of Makeup

Lisa Eldrige's book on makeup works on many levels - it's nerdy about a field that so easily to write off - that shallow quest for skin deep beauty. I think a lot about this field - and the difference between skincare and makeup and how it is easy to embrace one and feel conflicted about the other. Makeup is hard to embrace because of an idea called cognitive dissonance - we as human beings do not like having inconsistent thoughts and feelings - the very application of makeup is pretense vs the self-acceptance of skincare and that is why it is easier to embrace skincare for what it really is - self-care. Still the instant rush of looking your best - highlighting your best features has delivers the same satisfaction as putting your best foot forward at work or wearing your game face. These are not choices anymore - the instancy of makeup and slow goodness of great skincare are thankfully united now and it is the evolution of this balancing act that Lisa Eldridge - the creamy toned, creamy skinned British artist so skillfully delivers. There is a measure of self-acceptance in everything Lisa does that restores makeup to being fun and easy in her YouTube tutorials - a cosy femininity that strips it of its dissonance and restores it as a happy abstraction rather than the loaded pistol of women keeping up appearances. 

It's ever so soothing to know that your concerns re blemishes and fashion are so eternally human - anthropologists assuaging readers regarding "prehistoric cosmetics" should allay any criticism the need for the cool new cream blush is real - that desire is in bred into your very bones. I particularly love the palette she talks us through - red, white and black - the colors of blush, powder and kohl - this is not some oppressive meme inflicted on us by ever more demanding society - this desire for health, youth and vibrance is the stuff of life. Now a lot of this book could be reduced to fun facts if it weren't for the creamy writing of Lisa Eldrige - she is as calming in this book's fluid prose as she is demonstrating self-massage on YouTube. If you are a woman it is refreshing in our politically correct moment to embrace the slow feminine pleasure of beautification without the social media frenzy but curing up with this book with afternoon tea and biscuits to know how a blissy glow is effortfully achieved. It is a book by a woman for women - there is no effort to intellectualize past being interesting and in some cases useful - the instructions re Marilyn Monroe's makeup application are shockingly relevant even today.


Suncare vs sunscreen

Sunscreen is everyone's favourite skincare essential - its benefits are well argued but recently I have been thinking about it more carefully from a behavioral perspective. Is it worth the hype at scale? Do people really use it correctly? 

What's undeniable about the state of affairs is the need for suncare - which is protecting the skin from the sun - this was accomplished with great aplomb before the invention of sunscreen - with hats and parasols and veils and generally seeking shade. The retro-meaning of shade was comparative darkness or coolness caused by shelter from direct sunlight. Say what you will re suncreams and sunglasses - there is nothing quite as effective as shade in protecting the skin from sun damage. You can bet anything that Rip van Winkle woke up to 99 problems but not wrinkles!

Now sunscreen is one of the top skincare products questioned for its dangerous ingredients - Oxybenzone - oy vey! Still there are more fundamental issues - 

What is SPF - sun protection factor - to say a product has an SPF of 50 means the cream lets 1/50th of dangerous rays get through to your skin - that's 2% or 98% protection. SPF 30 means 1/30th or 3.3% danger or 96.6% protection and SPF 15 means 1/15 or 6.6% danger or 93.3% protection. I want to let these numbers sink in especially the difference between SPF 30 and 50. The incremental protection from SPF 50 over SPF 30 is 1.33% but only if both are applied at the right dose to begin with and reapplied in 2 hours when the UV index is 4 or greater.

Let's think about that. Is this how you intuitively use SPF 50 vs 30? You tend to feel more almost doubly protected with SPF 50 and far less likely to reapply than with SPF 15. Even knowing the relative protection rates you intuitively use less because it's sticky (except perhaps at the beach when you have not much else to do and the risks of burning are apparent) and stay out in the sun longer far longer than if the product is effective against sun damage. 

The product is effective but it results in counterproductive behaviour that eventually costs more in sun exposure. This relates to an idea in economics called risk compensation where you feel a false sense of security and take more risks than you are protected against. It explains the lower rate of injuries in a game like rugby vs American football that is rife with concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Rugby players who don't wear helmets take fewer risks while playing while footballers throw themselves around with abandon. Going out into the sun wearing sunscreen results in approximately the same thing. You reapply less but importantly stay out longer than it's safe and this is far riskier than seeking shade. 

Now I can never tell people to not wear sunscreen but a useful way to work around our natural tendency toward risk compensation is to act as if you aren't wearing any - hats, sunglasses, shade seeking. Just think to yourself - if I weren't wearing sunscreen what would I do - I would cross the street to the shadier side of the street. You could wear sunglasses and hats - maybe bust out a parasol. Get reacquainted with suncare. 




How Clean is your Beauty

Do you know what goes into your cosmetics? Your skin is your largest organ and while its most crucial function is to act as a barrier between your organs and the environment, cosmetics seep into your skin’s layers with impunity. Clean Beauty is a concept to answer this very question and has stepped into the popular consciousness with the same verve as “Organic” and “Natural” entered the food a few decades ago. While the move to Clean Beauty is analogous to the move toward fresh, unprocessed food there are important differences that an empowered consumer needs to be aware of when confronted by a flurry of greenwashing. 

The average consumer is not a cosmetic chemist, yet the ingredient lists of even the most popular beauty products are chockfull of mysterious chemical acronyms of dubious relevance and safety. The drive toward transparency is not merely knowing ingredients in cosmetics but being satisfied that they are non-toxic and sourced responsibly apart from being efficacious. Empowered customers want to know what they are putting into their skin and why. 

The cosmetics industry has begun to respond to the clean beauty trend by embracing minimalist formulation espoused by experts like Dr. Perry Romanowski.  Minimalist formulation involves using the least number of ingredients at the lowest levels that produce noticeable differences. The short ingredient lists are not merely more accessible to lay customers but lower chemical exposure for the same or often improved performance. This best practice has important implications for sustainability - lower inventories of ingredients, lower production of environmental waste and lower complication of scaling up manufacturing. This also allows the industry to hold ingredient suppliers to a higher standard of labour practices and sustainable sourcing. 

Customers in the US enter the names of the ingredients into databases like the Environmental Working Group EWG’s Skin Deep to see if there are any adverse reactions reported to the ingredients. While this database veers to alarmism it’s a necessary and important step toward responsible cosmetic products. 

The simplicity of formulation also can send people to their kitchens to mix up DIY batches of cosmetics with familiar ingredients. Still simply being natural or edible is not an adequate standard to wear products on skin as the digestive system has enzymes to break down food and the skin’s primary function of protection can be compromised by harsh natural substances in high concentrations. Additionally, products that are professionally formulated are tested for stability and formulated to prevent microbes from spreading that is not instantly obvious in homemade concoctions. 

Enlightened customers interested in clean and sustainable beauty can do a few things to improve their experience and hold the cosmetics industry to a higher standard of transparency and sustainability

1) Read ingredient lists - look for products with complete ingredient lists- the shorter the better. Enter unfamiliar ingredients into a database like EWG's Skin Deep  to understand its safety. 

2) Look up company websites for evidence of best practices - companies that own their own farms and labs are able to improve traceability of their ingredients and local sourcing often means a lower carbon footprint. 

3) Look for certifications like PETA’s Cruelty Free and Vegan Pink Bunny symbol internationally or Leaping Bunny in the US 

4) Look for eco-friendly packaging - usually with the board made from FSC sources and embrace upcycling containers over merely recycling them. 

The secret logic of Gym Selfies

Does it seem incredibly vain or simply futile to try to look your best when you workout? Well not if it makes you work out harder and better. There maybe more logic behind the quest for a gym selfie we realise even if it seems initially counterproductive to expect to look good while you sweat it out. Scientists at Northwestern University looked into an idea they call "enclothed cognition" - the sense that the clothing a person wears can trigger mental changes that positively affect performance - people wearing lab coats performed attention related tasks better not merely because of the physical experience of wearing the clothes but the symbolic meaning of these clothes. Simply put - appearances matter since they orient your attention to the matter at hand. 

This applies to your workout clothes and makeup - wearing them primes you to be more active and take your workouts seriously. You actually show up for your workout -  ready to work for what matters to you now - strength, stamina, stretchiness or good old-fashioned stress-relief. It is only human that you respond to positive reinforcement - from others and ourselves and there is pride in hard work in life or in the gym. And looking your best and taking pleasure in your work out sets you up for success and makes it easier to work hard! Because hard work is non-negotiable.  

Every thing of beauty has a ton of blood sweat and tears behind it and your body understands this even subconsciously. And everything you do matters -you instinctively know the work you have done wholeheartedly are more rewarding independent of the results. Respecting and supporting yourself while you are working hard at the gym is a good idea because it is a safe place to practice working hard so you can go out and be bold at work, in relationships and even in political convictions.

Now there, you can run off knowing your cute gym look is constructed for a good cause! 



Sweaty Beauty

While the link between nutrition and skin health is widely studied and established, the relationship between exercise and good skin is not as derivative as one might think — you needn’t merely rely on tying exercise to good health which manifests as great skin. The direct link to exercise and the skin is pretty intuitive — increasing blood flow to the skin provides a visceral glow we can immediately feel — this is because vascular health is exquisitely bound in healthy skin.

The large number of blood vessels in the skin make it vascular in essence and these promote circulation and clean the skin. The pink, youthful appearance of skin is a direct result of healthy blood flow. The deficiencies always highlight the impact of this — anemia — a condition that indicates the lowered count of red blood cells (RBCs) makes its sufferers look like Casper, the friendly ghost (granted this is less evident in dark-skinned people but the sallowness is irrefutable). This is because RBCs contain hemoglobin that is instrumental in transporting oxygen to one’s tissues and any lack is usually indicted by a mild paleness of the skin. In the same vein, let’s consider hypoxia — where one is breathing in air with less oxygen than necessary — the first sign is paling skin. Based on these negative examples, it becomes trivial to understand that it is crucial to tend to vascular health for optimal skin.

Apart from healthy nature walks and deep breathing practices likepranayama in yoga here are the ways in which exercise is great for the skin. It’s all bog-standard but is so valuable that it bears repeating.

  • Sweaty Beauty — it’s not merely a matter of that attractive short term glistening from a great workout but sweating is a magnificent way to rid the body of toxins — we must not forget that the skin is as much an organ of excretion as the liver and kidneys. Exercise is effective in increasing the blood flow to the skin, increasing neuronal stimulation and urges the sweat glands to expel toxins. This comes with a necessary and equally intuitive caveat to clean the skin after sweating to guard against bacterial or fungal infections that may result from dirt clogging the pores.
  • Toney Muscley— healthy skin is less superficial than one thinks — muscle tone is crucial in the appearance of good skin. The easy way to see how this works is to notice the reduction of cellulite once a good exercise regime is adopted. I get that it is genetic etc but the manner in which it whittles away cellulite makes the link between muscle tone and good skin. It is for this reason that strength training is particularly important to good skin care rather than an eternity of sun-seeeking cardio.
  • Bloody Pumpy — blood flow boosts from exercise are not merely momentary but regular exercise has been shown to boost blood flow enough to reverse Type 2 diabetes. This movement of bloodflow is critical in moving oxygen and all the wonderful skin-friendly nutrients to the skin’s surface.
  • Stressy Lessy — the endorphin releasing benefits of exercise have long been touted as the key to good moods but this is linked directly to optimal skin. Think about it — if one is less frowny there’s less of a chance of those wrinkles ☺ Also some acne breakouts are stress-related. And exercise impacts learning and memory and executive function — these are crucial to eliminating stress. And I know that several people use exercise as a time for meditation which while not exactly optimal is better than nothing. Chade Meng Tan has a whole chapter on Walking Meditation — which was a big theme for some of my more contemplative heroes — Jefferson, Wordsworth, Turner.
  • Oily Glowy — This goes beyond the glisten of sweat — exercise stimulates and releases natural oils that impart a sustained glow to the skin.

And we need look no further than the views of the first fitness hero Jack LaLanne to see all this logic pithily synthesized -

Yes, exercise is the catalyst. That’s what makes everything happen: your digestion, your elimination, your sex life, your skin, hair, everything about you depends on circulation. And how do you increase circulation?

Charles Duhigg — whose book The Power of Habit has been languishing in my Kindle calls exercise a keystone habit — a tiny change that ripples beneficially into the rest of one’s life. See this quote from the book.

It’s not completely clear why…‘Exercise spills over,’ said James Prochaska, a University of Rhode Island researcher. ‘There’s something about it that makes other good habits easier.”

Pollution: A skinvestigation

Climate Change is a lofty issue prone to policy debates and presidential pronouncements. I, however, am not about that life. I mean I care abstractly about these issues but these were never visceral for me. Then in the beautiful height of Spring in New York, weary of being cooped up like a caged animal all winter I could not stop myself from bounding about the city -  I was in heaven until it wasn't. Slammed with a dust allergy I couldn't even touch my face. Re-cooped I became a skinvestigator - what's the deal with pollution? We know it can't be good but what's the whole story? 

The facts are not pretty. We’ve been warned enough about suncare - the dangers of sun on the skin - the need to watch the UV index - to reapply sunscreen - to wear hats and sunglasses - done, done, done and done. Forget burning but to not tan. Message received. But there’s this secret danger in pollution that’s not just about bad smells and feeling stuffy - it’s spectacularly bad for the skin and it’s a lurking danger because the weather metrics they have for Air Pollution doesn’t even take into account traffic emissions. Oh electric, driverless cars where are you already? I felt a bit bad for not paying attention to the Paris agreement or all the concern re climate change but when pollution gets between a girl and her sheet mask - then you have my full attention. 

Let me break it down for you - the most important job of the skin - which is a vitally important organ is that it is a serious defender of our squishier organs - this is called barrier function. It’s the whole reason that we are able to run around and play in general because the skin is doing its job protecting us. It’s quality of the skin that is vastly underrated when we spend our time primping and prodding it to be soft and pretty when it’s got this serious job to do. Now I don’t want to get all textbookish but there are 3 layers of the skin - 

1. The epidermis that is waterproof and forms the skin tone and texture - this is the one we mess around with the most - it’s thinner in places and thicker in others and really is holding the fort. This has melanin that gives us color and what we think the skin is all about. 

2. The dermis is the next layer that has hair-follicles and sweat-glands and blood vessels and nerves and actually we do a fair bit with this as well - I’m looking at you laser hair removal. It also releases sebum composed of squalene a natural antioxidant. This is the largest layer of skin and where beauty products can do their best work since it’s more alive than the epidermis. 

3. The hypodermis is beneath the dermis and all about muscle and connective tissue - this attaches the skin to rest of your body and is all about muscle - that keeps you strong and fat that keeps you warm and insulated.  Given that the balance of muscle and fat is really the whole point of working out - it’s fair to say we care about this layer a fair deal too. 

So there you have it 3 layers between us and all the fumy, gloomy madness. Let’s go through all the stuff now that pollution does. I am going to leave out UV radiation since the aging impact of sun has been covered extensively - this is the rest of the stuff. But the way it works is the same - UV exposure raises the level of free radicals in the skin which cause oxidative stress which affects your skin cells’ ability to grow and repair themselves - so you’re stuck with fine lines, spotty skin, saggy or dull skin and wrinkles. The way to combat this is antioxidants - but not just slathered on your epidermis but properly delivered to the dermis but also your diet. 

You don’t need a PhD to realize that people living in the country in fresh air age slower than city mice but this is because all the tiny particles released into the air from construction and traffic and power plants gather on your face and form a toxic film that can seep into the dermis (deeper layer) and mess up your skin’s ability to regenerate as well by shortening cells’ telomeres or the ends of DNA strands. The length of your telomeres is helped by meditation by the way - that moment of zen maybe a skincare essential. 

Then ozone - not the good ozone in the far ends of the atmosphere that absorbs UV radiation but the one released by all our cars is another chemical pollutants know by the friendly name - smog. Ozone also zips through the epidermis to the dermis and affects the fat membrane of skin cells making them a) less able to do their main barrier job and b) inhibiting any protective antioxidants from coming to the rescue. Ozone is not just about aging though- it causes rashes, hives and other unfunny skin problems. It depletes Vitamin E and reacts with squalene to form comedones that are precursors to acne.   

Now it’s not my way to be doomy but aging is not the only concern because hey we have to own our age but everyone can do without acne or more specifically chloracne - caused by halogenated aromatic hydrocarbons - so you’re sitting around diligently avoiding dairy and doing all acne regimen while you could have chloracne - caused by exposure to household irritants like weedkillers, bleaches and their ilk. 

So there you have it the big enemies - UV, microscopic particles, ozone, halogenated aromatic hydrocarbons and dangerous housecleaning supplies. The motley crew of unusual suspects - especially the tiny particles that you can’t see but sink into deep layers of the skin. How to defend yourself against pollution - well that's a story for another post and involves a sensible regimen of cleaning, boosting anti-oxidants and soothing the skin and respecting its barrier. For today just know the danger is real.