The skin on your body needs (and deserves) as much consideration as your face.
When it comes to skincare and our bodies, many of us tend to take an out-of-sight-out-of-mind approach. Our face and neck are generally more visible than the rest of us, so the beauty industry tends to focus there—and so do we. But skin on the body is often prone to the same issues as the face, and it benefits from regular attention. We asked a few seasoned skincare pros for their best advice on how to care for the skin underneath it all.
MOISTURIZE, MOISTURIZE, MOISTURIZE
We say it three times because we can’t emphasize it enough: Your body needs moisture as much as your face does. While this is a time-honored skincare truth, too many people neglect moisture because of lack of time or laziness. “The oil glands on the body are far less dense, so when people skip moisturizer the skin becomes extremely dry, resulting in cracks and fissures,” says Dr. Sonia Batra, a board-certified dermatologist and cohost of The Doctors. Moisturizing every single day after bathing is essential for maintaining the skin’s barrier function and protecting it from stressors.
Los Angeles dermatologist Dr. Ava Shamban suggests cycling moisturizers by season (lighter for summer, heavier during the colder months for optimal product retention) and zeroing in on those with ceramides, squalene, and botanically derived oils. Shea butter, cocoa butter, and coconut oil are bicoastal celebrity facialist Joanna Vargas’ body-hydrating triumvirate. “There have been clinical studies on shea butter that show improvements in wrinkles and hydration levels in the skin. Cocoa butter melts at body temperature, so it’s perfect for good penetration,” she says. “Rubbing coconut oil all over the body not only hydrates and restores the lipid layer with omega-3 fatty acids, but also increases metabolism at the cellular level.” And while it may seem obvious, Batra says the most common moisturizing mistake (even for those who are dutiful) is overlooking areas like the hands, feet, neck, and knees. For skin that needs additional TLC (that’s most of us in the winter months), there’s a new class of body serums and masks with more concentrated active ingredients. “The body can benefit from these more intensive treatments, like body serums, which can improve the tone and texture of the skin just like face serums do,” says Batra.
DON’T FORGO EXFOLIATION
Exfoliation has the same benefits for the face as for the body: glow and a smoother, more even texture. It also builds an ideal canvas for anything that follows. “Ridding your skin of dead cells allows products to penetrate better,” adds Batra. Unfortunately, says Vargas, it’s often forgotten. “Exfoliating is the key to great skin and makes a huge difference in the way skin looks, but it’s also the most frequently skipped step in at-home body skincare routines,” she says. “Using a scrub on the body increases collagen production, makes skin smooth, maintains elasticity, and keeps breakouts at bay.” For sensitive skin types and areas (like the décolleté), ditch the more intense scrubs in favor of a chemical exfoliant, which will be far less abrasive. Go through the motions at least once and no more than three times a week. You can also easily DIY a body scrub. Shamban likes a combination of yogurt, brown sugar, oatmeal, and a few drops of avocado oil; Vargas makes a version with 1/3 cup coconut oil, 1 cup coconut palm sugar, 1 tablespoon organic matcha powder, and 1 teaspoon organic honey. “Coconut oil hydrates and gets rid of inflammation, sugar exfoliates without drying like salt, and matcha’s high levels of polyphenols increase skin cell growth. The more collagen in your skin, the firmer it will be,” Vargas explains. If a professional sloughing treatment is in your budget, Vargas suggests an occasional full-body microdermabrasion. “It’s so luxurious, but also very results-oriented. You get glowing soft skin and an hour of true relaxation,” she says.
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A BID FOR BODY BRUSHING
This type of body exfoliation—which can and should be done on a daily basis—is also one of the oldest. Dry brushing, whereby a stiff, dry brush is swiped across the skin to activate blood flow, was embraced by ancient Egyptians and is a cornerstone of any solid Ayurvedic practice. Vargas, whose eponymous line has its own Ritual Dry Brush, is a longtime devotee. “Dry brushing is my favorite method of body exfoliation because it helps stimulate the lymphatic system, and it’s incredible as a cellulite treatment because it increases elasticity,” she says. Before you shower, start brushing at the tops of the feet, heading upward toward the heart. “Spend extra time on areas that tend to be more stagnant, like the inner thighs, and don’t forget the backs of the arms and the back,” adds Vargas.
ADDRESSING SPECIFIC SKIN ISSUES
Although similar conditions may rear their head, there are significant differences between the skin on the face and the body. “The facial skin is studded with adnexal structures, or tiny hair follicles, oil and sweat glands, and nerve endings,” explains Shamban. “As you move away from the face, the density of these structures diminishes significantly so the type of skincare and frequency of use is different.” While acne on the face is often treated with retinoids, these products can overdry when you treat blemishes on the body—usually the back and chest—and actually lead to more breakouts. “Retinoids are a mainstay of acne treatment, but they can be very irritating on the body, so I usually recommend washes with benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or tea tree oil,” says Batra. Both salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide help kill acne-causing bacteria (the former, a beta-hydroxy acid, also exfoliates) while tea tree oil has mild antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, both of which are key for acne treatment.
Vargas also likes charcoal (it’s the primary ingredient in her Miracle Bar) for drawing out acne-causing bacteria from the pores, and recommends dabbing apple cider vinegar on pimples or applying it all over breakout-prone areas. “Drinking green juice daily will also help oxygenate the skin, so it will be better able to rid itself of impurities,” she adds. Because eczema—which manifests itself as dry, irritated, and itchy skin—is caused by disruptions to the skin barrier, it’s essential to treat it, says Batra, with products that restore barrier function and lock in moisture. “Look for ingredients like ceramides, free fatty acids, and hyaluronic acids in emollients and avoid products with scents and dyes,” she says. Colloidal oatmeal (or finely ground oats) is another classic eczema remedy; Vargas, whose infant son suffered from it, also likes chamomile and rosemary. “Just cook one cup each of chamomile tea leaves and rosemary in a large pot of boiling water for 15 minutes, then strain and add to a bath,” she says. “It’s my family secret for healing dry, sensitive skin.”
Keratosis pilaris, or rough protein bumps that surface on the arms, thighs, and buttocks, are another common complaint. Batra prefers chemical exfoliants, which can smooth bumps by promoting cell turnover, or more natural remedies. “Lactic acid acts as a mild chemical exfoliator, so adding two to three cups of milk to a regular bath can help,” she says. “Or try making a toner from one part apple cider vinegar, which contains alpha hydroxy acids, and three parts water. Apply with a cotton ball.”
SOME BATH WISDOM
The bath’s #metime potential is well-documented (and well-founded), but keep in mind some rules of engagement so your skin benefits as much as your psyche from all that soaking. First, regulate the temperature. “Baths that are too hot can disrupt the natural balance of oils on the skin and cause dryness and itchiness,” says Batra. “If your skin is red when you step out of the bath, it’s a sign that the water was too hot.” For the most skin benefits, swap fancy fragranced bath salts and oils for natural ingredients. “Epsom salt is a naturally occurring mineral compound made of magnesium and sulfate that helps replenish magnesium levels and ease pain, inflammation, and sore muscles,” says Batra. She also likes essentials oils (like lavender and rose) as long as they’re properly diluted in a carrier oil, such as coconut oil. And Vargas is a fan of adding green tea to her regular baths. “If the skin feels stressed, dry, and dull, putting chamomile and green tea in your bathwater will calm and brighten it,” says Vargas. “Green tea is also great for spider veins because it’s an antioxidant and will reinforce the strength of your capillary walls.” While many dermatologists suggest capping your bath time at 15 minutes to avoid dehydrating, Vargas likes to luxuriate for up to 45.
BEFORE YOU SHAVE OR DEODORIZE...
Shaving and traditional deodorants can pose problems for those prone to sensitive skin. To protect skin while shaving, Batra suggests letting warm water soften hair, prepping with an alcohol-free shaving cream or lotion, using a sharp blade, and shaving with (rather than against) the grain. When choosing a deodorant, opt for one of the new-generation natural varieties free of aluminum or heavy fragrance, both of which can irritate your skin and cause redness and rashes.