Woman First

Skin-Care for Busy Moms

by Kathy Sena

One of my favorite “Cathy” cartoons sums up the approach many of us take to skin care. In the comic strip, we see Cathy standing in the shower, mentally tallying all the money she’s spent on facial scrubs, foaming cleansers, moisturizers and mud packs.

Then she looks down at her washcloth and realizes she’s washing her face yet again with — you guessed it — deodorant soap. (And Cathy’s got it easy. She doesn’t have to get showered and dressed while listening to Barney and making sure her 3-year-old doesn’t grab the blow dryer.)

We’re all tempted by ads — they always seem to feature a gorgeous model who’s never heard of the “mask of pregnancy” — that promise baby-soft skin, fewer “fine lines” and that dewy look.

And it’s equally tempting to grab whatever cleansing product is close at hand when you’re trying to take a quick shower, your 2-year-old is playing “peek-a-boo” with the shower curtain and you’re running late.

Does it have to be so time-consuming to get great skin? Are there ways to improve your skin’s texture and tone without risking breakouts or an allergic reaction?

We asked several national experts about facial products and cleansing techniques that are quick and easy to use, cost less than a trip to Pizza Hut and make your skin look and feel fabulous. The consensus? Getting great skin is easier and less expensive than you might think.

Know Your Soaps
Let’s start with facial cleansing. First, watch where you use that deodorant bar, says Sheila Delille, an aesthetician for the Adam Broderick Image Group in Ridgefield, CT. While deo?dor?ant soap can help your antiperspirant work better by killing bacteria, “it’s best to avoid using it on your face,” she says.

“Very gentle soaps are okay, but many soaps can leave the pH level on the face unbalanced,” Delille says. “That’s when you get that dry, pulling feeling across your cheeks.” While she does suggest oatmeal soaps for their mild exfoliating action for combination or oily skin, Delille most favors natural, fragrance-free, foaming facial washes. And the less-expensive drugstore brands are just fine, our experts say.

Alan Blaugrund, MD, a clinical associate professor of dermatology at the University of New Mexico, gives soap a bit more of a break. “I think soap and water are great,” he says, “but the type of soap you should use depends on your skin type.

“For dry skin, I like superfatted soaps or the foaming soap substitutes. If you have very oily skin, it’s perfectly okay to use a drying type of soap, such as one created to help treat acne.” Don’t worry about your soap’s drying effects too much, he says. The key to soft skin is to use a light moisturizer after washing.

For combating dry, itchy skin, oatmeal soap is a favorite with Los Angeles dermatologist Evan Libaw, MD, who suggests the soap for all-over bathing and for those who need an especially gentle cleanser.

But whether or not you choose an oatmeal soap, “I would always suggest a fragrance-free soap” to help avoid an allergic reaction, Dr. Libaw advises.

What about scrubbing granules? Who hasn’t been tempted to try to scrub away a few pimples just hours before a big event — only to be faced with red, irritated skin? Just say “no,” our experts advise.

“I don’t recommend them,” says Dr. Libaw. “It’s just too easy to injure the skin.” He would rather see his patients aim for gentle, long-term exfoliation with a natural glycolic acid product than with the much-harsher granules. Those products, too, are available in less-expensive drugstore versions. Just make sure you read the labels.

Peel, Don’t Scrub
“I’ve seen studies that show that the lateral friction used with scrubbing granules can actually induce blackheads,” Dr. Blaugrund says. When it comes to trying to clear up acne, “drying and peeling is always better than scrubbing and abrading.”

Another effective (and quick — and free!) way to remove dead skin cells and create a glowing complexion is a plain, old-fashioned washcloth, Delille says, “as long as you don’t work it too much.” Unless you have very oily skin, she says, stick to washing just the nose and chin area with the washcloth. “For the rest of the face, gentle stroking with the fingers is just fine,” she says.

Dr. Blaugrund agrees that wash cloths are good for mild exfoliation. “It’s how you use any product” that can cause problems, he says. “You can abrade the skin with your fingernails if you’re not careful.” But with gentle use, even a soft facial brush can be used.

Get Muddy
Mud masks — available for a few dollars at the drugstore — are an effective way to deep clean and reduce oil and acne problems, Delille says. But don’t try a mud mask the day before a big event.

And don’t frighten your toddler by exiting the bathroom unannounced with a mud-covered face. Try saying, “Here comes Mommy with her silly clown face!“ and laughing a bit with your child to ease a potentially anxious moment.

“Because mud masks draw impurities from the skin, it’s not unusual to see an extra blemish or two the day after you use them,” Delille says. It’s also important to moisturize after using a mud mask to avoid over-drying the skins.

Dr. Libaw and Delille suggest looking for fragrance-free moisturizers. Be wary of the word “natural” in moisturizers and in all cosmetic products, Dr. Blaugrund advises. “What exactly does ‘natural’ mean?” he asks. “Poison ivy is natural, too!”

Many manufacturers say their products are naturally based, “but if you look at the ingredients, by the time the natural ingredients are pasteurized, homogenized and ready for the shelf, they’re no more ‘natural’ than any other product out there,” says Dr. Blaugrund.

Take aloe vera, for example. “Plain aloe vera gel is a good product (and inexpensive). It soothes irritated skin and it holds water on the skin,” he says. But by the time aloe vera gel is added to some lotions, the percentage of gel is so low that it’s cosmetically meaningless — and the price goes up substantially.

Test First
No matter what products you choose to help enhance your skin, be sure to perform a patch test to determine if you’re allergic or sensitive to the ingredients.

Place a small amount of the product on the inside of your arm. Observe the spot for 8 to 12 hours, watching for redness, irritation or blistering. If you notice a reaction, make note of the ingredients in the product that are different from those you usually use. This will help you know which ingredients to avoid.

Armed with these tips for cleansing, exfoliating and moisturizing, you’ll be ready to face the world with beautiful skin — without breaking the bank. And while you’re waiting for that mud pack or moisturizer to do its magic, turn on some relaxing music, take a long, leisurely bath and... “Mommmmmy!” Hey, we can always dream.

Kathy Sena is a freelance writer specializing in family and women’s health issues.