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How to Cleanse Your Skin Properly

Cleansing and exfoliating are crucial parts of our skincare routines, but is it possible to overdo it and cause more harm than good? RHEA CARTWRIGHT consults the pros on how to cleanse and polish effectively without damaging your skin’s protective barrier.

Regardless of your skin type, cleansing at least once a day is essential. “Cleansing properly is vital for keeping skin healthy and functioning well,” says celebrity facialist and skincare expert Sarah Chapman. “It removes dirt and grime that can block pores and lead to breakouts.” However, over-cleansing or exfoliating in the pursuit of an enviable glow can prove problematic. Here’s how to get it right…

Maintain equilibrium

Balance is key to maintaining healthy skin that looks and feels its best. When we over-cleanse and over-exfoliate, skin can become damaged as the protective outer layer is stripped of its natural oil. “The skin barrier is absolutely vital in protecting you from environmental aggressors, water loss, irritation and bacteria,” explains Boston-based dermatologist Dr. Ranella Hirsch. Unfortunately, overexposure to water, harsh cleansers or exfoliating ingredients can damage this barrier and strip away its natural lipids. As many of us double cleanse, choosing a gentle cleanser is vital for protecting your skin’s delicate balance.

Damage control

A taut, tight feeling is often the first sign of over-cleansing or over-exfoliating – and squeaky clean is never a good thing. “When your skin barrier is compromised, the skin is weakened and cannot function properly, so skin can often produce flaky patches, become inflamed and feel itchy,” says Megan Felton, co-founder of skincare consultancy service Lion/ne. “When left unchecked, it can lead to sensitivity, redness, breakouts, dehydration or premature aging.” If you’re a chronic over-cleanser, regain your complexion’s harmony by introducing proven skin saviors. Pai Skincare’s Instant Kalmer is formulated with calming oats to soothe irritation, while Elizabeth Arden’s Advanced Ceramide Capsules are essential when you’re on the go.

SOS skincare

“Cutting out active ingredients is the first thing to do when the skin barrier is damaged,” advises Dr. Hirsch. “Products containing retinol, exfoliating acids or high percentages of vitamin C should be avoided until your skin is calmer [to avoid additional irritation].” Facial-cleansing devices and physical exfoliators should also be paused while the skin is feeling vulnerable. “Exfoliation should never be a daily thing. Weekly is best, or even monthly for more delicate skin.” Instead, opt for products that will hydrate and support – probiotics are particularly anti-inflammatory and deliver good bacteria.

Soothing and strengthening ingredients

Using restorative and nurturing ingredients will help to restore your glow. “Ceramides are [skin’s] building blocks, so they are great [for helping to] restore the barrier,” says Felton. The Nue Co. formulations focus on soothing and strengthening, while Paula’s Choice Clinical Ceramide-Enriched Firming Moisturizer is rich enough for dryer skin. “Moisturize with [products containing] ingredients that will help to rebuild the protective layer, such as cholesterol, fatty acids, vitamin B5 and glycerin,” says Dr. Hirsch. This will also help your skin to maintain its new-found moisture levels.


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