Monday, June 30, 2014

Tricks for Banishing Blemishes

For those of us with acne (myself included), it can be quite frustrating when no over the counter acne fighting products seem to work.  I've tried many of them...natural, synthetic, benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, sulfur, retinol etc. and have yet to find a product that I can honestly say has helped fully banish my blemishes.  However, throughout my quest to clear my skin, I have discovered a few tricks that I must say have been rather effective:

1.  Try a probiotic.
I have a pretty weak stomach and found myself getting mini stomach viruses about once per
month over the past few years, which is pretty inconvenient and unpleasant.  In order to prevent these occurrences, I started taking a Country Life Dairy Free Acidophilus ($26 at Whole Foods) capsule every night.  Believe me...I'm the type of person who is hesitant to take pills, but acidophilus is a naturally occurring bacteria in the digestive system that helps keep your body clear of bacteria formed from consuming food.  The capsule simply helps replenish the body's supply as you would if you were to eat foods like yogurt that contain these live cultures (the pill just has a stronger dose of it).  It definitely has helped my mini viruses since I started taking it!  But one surprising side effect was that it helped reduce my the occurrence of zits as well.  As we commonly hear, acne forms as a result of bacteria.  However, we often fail to hear that this includes bacteria within the body in addition to the bacteria on the skin's surface.  Since acidophilus helps control bad bacteria in the body, it can help control its manifestations such as acne as well.

2.  Don't be scared of oils.
If you have oily or blemish-prone skin, you've pretty much been programmed to look for "oil-free" products only because oil + oil = super oily and super oily = the perfect environment for pimples to form.  The truth is that certain types of oils can be irritating or clog your pores, but many of them are actually suitable for oily skin.  Specifically, many synthetic oils and mineral oils can lead to breakouts.  Baby oil is a mineral oil and can aggravate acne.  First of all, there are often scents and fillers in baby oil that can make you break out.  Secondly, these lubricating oils are heavy, aggressive, and sit on the top
of the skin (rather than penetrate it), which can clog your pores.  Steer clear of products that have mineral oil and petrolatum as an ingredient (especially if it's listed first) because they are inexpensive ingredients that artificially leave the skin feeling soft.  However, pure oils like argan oil or grape seed oil can actually help with blemishes.  Pure oils are much lighter, more delicate, and get absorbed by the skin, rather than clog pores.  Plus, they nourish and repair the skin as well as help fade acne scars.  Josie Maran even makes a 100% Pure Argan Oil Light ($48 at Sephora) with a semi-matte finish that is more ideal for those of us with oily skin.  Don't be afraid of these types of oils in your serums, moisturizers, foundation, concealer, etc. and instead, look for claims such as "free of synthetic oils" or "free of mineral oil."
For more information on pure oils:

And sometimes you have to fight oil with oil.  Cleansing oils can actually help reduce oiliness.  How?  Oils mix with other oils, so a cleansing oil can cling to sebum (oil) on the skin and pull it out of pores as it is rinsed away.  Just like regular cleansers, they lather.  Plus, they leave your skin feeling soft without any oily residue.  They do make cleansing oils that target those with dry skin as well, so just ensure that you're not using one of these types of products.  I really like the Amorepacific Treatment Cleansing Oil ($50 at Sephora).  You can also try the Boscia Tsubaki Cleansing Oil-Gel ($28 at Sephora) if you prefer an oil-gel formula instead. 

3.  Be gentle and maintain a good moisture balance.
It's our natural instinct to try and treat acne aggressively...using a blotting
tissue every hour to eliminate excess oil, washing our faces religiously, and using "strong" products.  However, practices like overwashing and overblotting can actually make skin oilier.  When your skin is stripped of its oils, it produces more, and constant oil elimination trains your skin to constantly produce oil.  Limit face washing to twice per day: morning and night, and limit oil blotting to 2-3 times per day.  Even though you have oily skin, you should be moisturizing following cleansing for the same reason.  Your skin needs a certain amount of moisture to remain supple and elastic and if you're not feeding it moisturizer to do so, your skin will produce oil to do the job.  If you feel that creams are too heavy for you, try a lighter moisturizing gel like the Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Gel ($26 at Sephora) instead.  Harsh ingredients like sulfates can also overstrip skin of necessary oils and cause irritation, so look for labels like sulfate-free.  Sulfates are most commonly found in cleansers and are an inexpensive ingredients that act as surfactants and foaming agents.  Give gentler products such as those designed for normal or sensitive skin a try.  I must say that after switching from a traditional benzoyl peroxide acne-fighting gel cleanser to a more soothing and softening rice-bran based face cleanser, my skin was much clearer and smoother.  The calming properties of more gentle products can reduce irritation and inflammation that causes acne.
For more information on skin, oil, and moisture:

4.  Keep your skin environment clean.
As we discussed earlier, bacteria certainly allows for the formation of pimples, so it is important to keep your pores squeaky clean.  In addition to washing your face, make sure that you're washing the items that touch your face.  This includes your pillowcase.  Grease and dirt from your skin, clothes, and hair can get all over it and transfer to your face while you're sleeping.  Also, make sure to wipe your yoga mat and telephone with a little bit of alcohol or witch hazel every now and then.  Lastly, I know it's a pain, but make sure that you're washing your makeup brushes weekly.  They touch your face every day and can transfer bacteria as well as contaminate your makeup with bacteria if they're not clean.  Simply rinse them with warm water and soap and then allow them to dry...the whole process only takes a few just need to bring yourself to actually do it.  Similarly, always wash your hands before applying makeup, especially if you're using your fingers to apply it. 

5.  Reconsider what other products you're using.
Just remember that your face comes in contact with more than what you directly put on your face.  Any body mists, hairsprays, shampoo, or conditioners that you apply can get onto your face and clog your pores.  Cleansing products like shampoos may have irritating sulfates that allow for breakouts, while thick conditioners contain fats that sit on the skin and clog your pores.  The solution is simple.  Make sure to wash your face after washing or conditioning your hair or simply sweep away impurities with a cotton ball and toner after spraying body spray or hairspray especially if you're planning on putting on makeup afterwards.

6.  Add some charcoal to your skincare regiment.
One of my favorite new products to recently hit the market is the Boscia Konjac Cleansing Sponge with Bamboo Charcoal ($18 at Sephora).  Charcoal is becoming a hot ingredient in skincare because it acts as a magnet that draws out impurities and detoxifies pores.  The Boscia sponge made a great addition to my routine.  In addition to naturally antibacterial bamboo charcoal, konjac root also works to fight impurities and softens.  Since the sponge is super soften, it is gentle enough to use even around the eye area and provides the extremely mild exfoliation that is appropriate for daily use.  The Origins Clear Improvement Active Charcoal Mask to Clear Pores ($24 at Sephora) also contains charcoal and is a great weekly treat for your pores.

These measures don't necessarily replace the need for using some type of acne treatment whether it is prescription or over the counter.  Instead, it can work with these treatments in helping you reduce blemishes.  For example, I use a prescription retinoid acne treatment that helped significantly reduce but not eliminate my blemishes, and taking a probiotic helped to reduce them further.  And of course remember to practice other good skincare habits such as removing makeup before sleeping, exfoliating regularly, etc. that help ward off acne.
For more information on treating acne with natural products:

When you have acne, the focus of your skincare regiment tends to be on getting rid of it, and you often forget about taking measures to prevent aging.  However, it is important to be doing so since eventually acne will become less of a concern and aging will begin to accelerate.  First, using an eye and lip cream daily should not interfere with any acne products that you're using.  I really like the Caudalie Polyphenol C15 Anti-Wrinkle Eye & Lip Cream ($49 at Sephora).  These two areas are the most delicate and susceptible to wrinkle formation and are not common areas for pimple formation as a result.  Additionally, antioxidants provide good protection against stressors like pollution and the sun that can age your skin, and it is very easy to find acne products that also contain antioxidants.  Try the bliss Steep Clean Mattifying Toner Pads ($38 at Sephora), which help refine pores, regulate sebum production, and eliminate bacteria from the skin's surface while providing antioxidant protection against aging.

For those of you who have struggled with acne, hope this helps!  What tricks to you use to keep your skin clear?

**All product recommendations are toxin-free.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Effective Beauty Solutions from Your Kitchen

Although there are tons of natural, DIY beauty recipes out there, I know that many of us (myself included) are not comfortable enough with their perceived level of efficacy to actually incorporate them into our daily routines.  Contrary to this belief, there are a few ingredients that you can find in your kitchen that are as effective as products that you would purchase at the beauty supply store.  Check it out:

1.  Body Lotion 
Coconut oil has been the most popular natural product for skin and hair recently because it is hydrating, softening, nourishing, and provides antioxidant protection.  Most store-bought moisturizers contain synthetic ingredients that produce these effects.  Coconut oil has all of the skin loving properties without the fillers and chemicals.  I rubbed it all over my body immediately after showering as I would with an ordinary body lotion, and it left my skin softer than any other product has.  It does feel a little bit greasy at first, but it does absorb to a more matte feel.  Just make sure to get organic coconut oil if you can.

2.  Pore Strips
Drugstore pore strips are great for removing impurities and blackheads, but many of them are very harsh and can stretch out your pores in the process.  Luckily, baking soda can do the trick.  It naturally draws out impurities from the skin and can even be used to help remove splinters.  Simply mix a teaspoon of baking soda with a tablespoon of water to create a paste.  Cut a pore strip sized piece from a paper towel and allow it to soak in the paste for a few minutes.  Afterwards, stick it onto your skin as you would with a store-bought strip - the moisture will allow it to adhere to the skin.  And voila!  You have your very own pore strip that will clean your pores without stretching them out.

3.  Eye Makeup Remover 
Rather than remover pads or baby oil, simply use olive oil to remove your eye makeup every night.  Just put a few drops on a cotton ball and gently sweep makeup away.  It will remove even stubborn mascara, while conditioning, hydrating, protecting, and soothing the skin (much better for your skin than baby oil) and lashes.  I know that many people don't like oily eye makeup removers, but they do help reduce pulling around the delicate eye area and help keep the area hydrated to prevent aging.  Plus, you should be washing your face after removing makeup every night anyway, which should remove any oily residue that may be bothering you. 

4.  Bleach
Most of us are familiar with the concept of putting lemon juice in your hair and sitting out in the sun to bleach it.  Lemon is also a natural skin lightener that is much safer and gentler than hydroquinone.  Thus, feel free to rub it on knees, healed scars, armpits or other areas that are dark or discolored, or try using it to bleach hair.  Use it daily for a few weeks to see visible results.  Be careful when using lemons anywhere on your's photosensitive, meaning that it attracts sunlight and can make you more sensitive to the sun. 

Truthfully, these grocery store solutions can do the trick just as well as your traditional pore strip or makeup remover would.  In fact, they may be better overall options than drugstore beauty products because they are often less expensive.  A bottle of olive oil is cheaper than a pack of makeup remover pads.  More importantly, many drugstore products contain many fillers, preservatives, dyes etc., which can be irritating to the skin and detrimental to your health.  Even natural products or "paraben-free" products contain these types of ingredients, though they may pose less of a threat to your skin and health.  Overall, these food solutions are much more natural and healthier options.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Discovering Hawaiian Beauty Products


Aloha!  I just got back a few days ago from my family vacation to Maui.  First of all, I must say that it is one of the most beautiful places on Earth with some of the friendliest people.  I was surprised to discover how popular skin and body care were and was inspired by many of the innovative beauty products that I encountered.  After experimenting with some of them myself, I truly believe that Hawaii is the home to some of the world's best beauty products.

What's so great about Hawaiian skincare products?  Why?

1.  Luscious, exotic flora = Products are natural and smell wonderful
Hawaii's natural beauty is breath-taking.  Almost everywhere you go, there are naturally growing palm trees, coconut trees, plumeria flowers, and hibiscus flowers to name a few.  Since nature is an important part of the state's character, many of the popular Hawaiian beauty brands are natural, featuring botanical ingredients like gardenia, pikake, and plumeria that tone, protect, and nourish skin.  For example, classic Maui brands like Island Essence produce moisturizers with scents like White Ginger and Lokelani Rose.  Luckily, the Hawaiian love for pure and natural products means that many Hawaiian products including Island Essence lotions are toxin-free.  I was delighted to find that all of the natural products that I came across were super efficacious and felt great.  Many of the fragrances use floral extracts and oils rather than synthetic ones, making them healthier for your skin and body as well as lighter and more natural smelling.  Sometimes, I think floral scents are too heavy or old lady smelling, but the ones that I found in Hawaii were surprisingly refreshing. I bought some Moku Pua Body Mist in Plumeria Jasmine ($12) at a tropical fruit plantation with nourishing and moisturizing essential oils.  I try and stick with natural products when it comes to fragrance because you're putting it on a large area of skin.  It's hard to find a good natural body spray or perfume since there are only a few on the market.  Moku Pua makes a variety of them as well as other nice natural hair and body care products.

2.  One of the state's biggest industries is agriculture = Products feature really powerful fruits
The state's climate allows for tropical fruits such as pineapple, lilikoi (passion fruit), and papaya to flourish.  These fruits contain enzymes to brighten and even skin tone by providing mild chemical exfoliation, vitamins A and C to promote cell turnover and growth, and other antioxidants to protect the skin from aging.  And everywhere you look, you will see coconut trees.  Recently, on the mainland, coconut oil has been the beauty buzz word for its extremely softening, hydrating, naturally antiseptic, and antioxidant properties, but Hawaiians have been using it for a while. This skin saving ingredient can be found in many of the moisturizers, soaps, and scrubs in Hawaii.  Maui Soap Company makes a selection of beautiful moisturizing glycerin soaps in a variety of different scents all infused with coconut oil.  My personal favorite is the Mango Papaya with mango and papaya extracts.  In addition, Hawaii is known for its cultivation and manufacturing of sugar cane.  Sugar scrubs like the Maui Soap Company Sugar Scrub ($10) provide soothing mechanical exfoliation that is much more gentle than salt or nut grains.  This scrub also contains macadamia nut oil, another Hawaiian staple, which helps heal, soothe, and nourish skin.

3.  Warm, sunny weather = Hawaiians know about sun care 
If you walk into a CVS or Rite Aid in New York City, you'll find that most of the products in the sun care aisle are chemically-derived sunscreens with controversial ingredients like oxybenzone.  In Hawaii, it is very easy to find good mineral-based sunblocks that can help deflect rather than absorb sun rays (as chemical sunscreens do) to offer you the best protection during those beach days.  You can find natural mineral blocks like the Elemental Herbs Sunscreen SPF 33 ($8), the EWG's #1 rated sunblock, and the Coola SPORT Citrus Mimosa Mineral Sunscreen ($36) at many shops and craft fairs.  Unlike many typical drugstore sunscreens, many natural Hawaiian sunblocks have a more subtle scent and lighter feel.  And many of them offer more beneficial skin ingredients like the nourishing jojoba and almond oils as well as the shea butter and cocoa butter found in the Native Maui Organic Mango Extract Sunscreen SPF 30 ($38).  In addition, Hawaiian brands like Maui Organics make excellent after sun care products.  Soothe irritated or sunburned skin with the Maui Organics Cool Aloe ($15).  While most after sun aloe products are filled with preservatives, dyes, etc., this Cool Aloe has only two ingredients: organic aloe vera gel and lavender oil.
For more information on chemical vs. physical sunblocks:

The only downside to Hawaiian beauty is that many of these products tend to be on the pricier side.  It may not be financially feasible to use all of these products daily, but I would definitely recommend trying a product or two if you have the opportunity.  You can find many of the popular Hawaiian personal care brands in most gift shops if you ever travel there or order them online. 

Additionally, one of the state's biggest industries is hospitality, and Hawaii has some really nice spas.  Many of the treatments incorporate the best of Hawaii's natural products into their treatments.  Book yourself one!  It's a great way to sample the islands' wonderful beauty products and beauty services.  I had a Hanakatsumi Body Ritual, which consisted of a manual and chemical exfoliation, massage, and hydrating coconut creme wrap.  My skin still feels super soft...I highly recommend it!

Overall, Hawaii was heaven for a healthy beauty junkie like myself :) 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Beauty Secrets from Asia

Growing up, my grandmothers used to remind me to moisturize my skin every day.  As Chinese immigrants, they were extremely frugal people and never spent a dime on anything...except good moisturizers.  Why?  In Asia, there tends to be a holistic attitude toward skincare, which is reflected in the use of ingredients inspired by nature and the belief that our skin is a reflection of our inner health and wellness.  

Within the last few years, beauty has gone viral.  People everywhere have been able to share skincare tips, product reviews, and makeup looks through YouTube videos, social media, and blogs.  In the process, beauty secrets from different countries have crossed borders and spread to places like the U.S.  Many European beauty brands entered the American market decades ago, and more recently, more Asian brands have made their way here as well.

There is a lot that we can learn from Asia when it comes to beauty.  The Asian philosophy is to be as gentle as possible to your skin, which means refraining from pulling or tugging on skin.  While we in the U.S. as well as in the Western world like to tan, Asians strive for fairer complexions.  Why?  Well, it all relates to status.  Historically, in the Western world, having a tan signified that you had the financial resources to take vacations in expensive, sunny destinations.  On the other hand, in the Eastern world, a tan complexion meant that you were a part of a poorer class that made their living from physical labor in the sun.  Thus, in Asia, sun protection is important (parasols and wide brimmed hats are a must on sunny days).  

Different Asian countries have different beauty rituals.  Here are some valuable beauty secrets from some of the most influential Asian beauty capitals:

1.  Korea
First impressions are extremely important in Korean culture, and skin health certainly plays a part.  Having good skin demonstrates that a person is healthy and takes care of him/herself.  Tons of recent cosmetic staples like BB creams that we've recently discovered in America have been around in Korea for years.  In general, Koreans are pioneers in hydrating cosmetics and often use products like water masks and cleansing oils regularly that keep skin looking radiant.  One of the newer trends that has made its way from Korea is royal jelly in skincare products.  Royal jelly is naturally derived from bee pollen and offers healing, moisturizing, anti-aging, nourishing, anti-inflammatory, and protective properties.  So, all skin types - mature, sensitive, blemish-prone, normal, etc. - can benefit from it.  Additionally, Korean products often incorporate ginseng, which is a
strong antioxidant and provides defense against aging. 
Korean Brand Product Recommendations:

2.  Japan
Japanese women age really well because they take excellent care of their skin.  Many of their skincare habits originate from the days of geishas.  Geishas wore bright lip sticks and dark eye brows, so Japanese color cosmetics are often bolder than other Asian brands.  Although it was typical for geishas to cake on piles of makeup, they still had beautiful skin because they took measures to repair and replenish it when they weren't working.  While most women in the U.S. stick to the core 3: cleansing, toning, and moisturizing, it is common for Japanese women to have daily 7+ step regiments.  In the process, they nourish their skin with super ingredients for the skin like rice bran and nightingale droppings.  Rice bran is rich in fatty acids and vitamin E that is an extremely powerful skin softener that soothes, smooths, and leaves skin feeling elastic and supple.  It also provides antioxidant protection that helps slow signs of aging.  Nightingale droppings sound nasty, but the ones used in facials are sterilized so no need to worry!  Celebs like Victoria Beckham get nightingale dropping facials regularly.  It's worth trying if you can get over the thought of
it because it has enzymes that help break down dead skin cells to exfoliate.  The droppings are also full of guanine to bring out a healthy and beautiful sheen.  Interestingly, Japan is a small country with a smaller population, but it is the second largest world beauty market.  It is the home to many powerful plant botanicals that are becoming popular in American skincare products.  One of my favorite skincare brands is Boscia, which is essentially a Japanese/American fusion brand, combining powerful Japanese BOtanicals with Western SCientific techniques (Get it?  Botanicals + Science = Boscia).  

Japanese Brand Product Recommendations
3.  China
Skincare has always been a priority for most Chinese women, since skin appearance is a reflection of how healthy a person is.  Ancient beauty secrets such as applying crushed pearl powder to the skin started in China.  Pearl powder is expensive because it is perhaps one of the most powerful skincare ingredients that you can use.  First of all, it is detoxifying and healing.  It also smooths and softens skin by stimulating processes including collagen production, cell regeneration, and cell repair.  Most importantly, it is brightening, leaving your complexion more even and with a pearly luster.  On the other hand, makeup is just starting to become popular in the China.  Decades ago, Mao Zedong outlawed self-expression through fashion so that wearing makeup, accessories, certain hairstyles, and colorful clothing were illegal.  However, now that the social and political climate in China is changing and people have
more disposable income, Chinese women seem to have a newfound love of beauty products.  In fact, the Chinese interest in beauty has grown to the point that it is currently the fourth largest beauty market after the U.S., Brazil, and Japan.  Estee Lauder even launched a brand called Osiao specifically for the Chinese market.  I wouldn't be surprised if we see the growth of more Chinese brands in the near future... 

Product Recommendations (there aren't really any major Chinese brands yet in the US)
    4.  Indonesia
    Indonesian personal care is based on Jamu, traditional, herbal Indonesian medicine.  Because of the tropical climate in Indonesia, exotic super plants flourish, and have been worked into cosmetics.  For example, turmeric, a part of the ginger family, is a strong spice that is used in Indonesian cooking.  However, it is also a strong antioxidant in the fight against aging, and its healing powers make it suitable for
    blemish-prone skin as well.  Drinking health elixirs such as kombucha supports the philosophy that what you put into your body affects skin appearance just as much as what you put on it.  Kombucha is fermented black tea that helps tighten and smooth fine lines and provides antioxidant protection.  And don't forget that the caffeine helps reduce puffiness so that you appear more awake.      
    Product Recommendations

    For more on Asian beauty secrets, check out Asian Beauty Secrets: Ancient & Modern Tips from the Far East by Dr. Marie Jhin who is a dermatologist and beauty expert.  I attended her book signing and can say from experience that she is a really knowledgeable and sweet person.  And not to mention that she does not have a single wrinkle or dark spot ;)

    **All product recommendations are toxin-free.