how do I get my radiant skin back?
September 18, 2011 7:29 AM   Subscribe

The skin on my face has not been as smooth and radiant the last couple of years. I am 26, female. What can I do to get it back to normal, or if this is the new normal, how can I prevent it from getting worse?

Up until a couple of years ago, I had awesome skin that strangers would compliment me on. I've been on the pill for many years, which prevents most acne, but even when I had a few breakouts, the rest of my skin was just nice - smooth, radiant, healthy looking. Now it just looks.... older, kind of "meh," I have some tiny little blackheads that are not too visible but overall make my complexion worse, and even though I break out less (hormones must have finally calmed down?), overall my skin just looks duller and worse. No wrinkles yet, but one definitely doesn't immediately think "oh that girl has really nice skin" when they look at me.

Some info: I am 26. I've worn powder on my face since I was ~16, since my skin has always gotten really shiny and oily. The ironic thing is that only in the last couple of years is when I became diligent about using sunscreen on my face every day - and my skin has been getting worse and worse! Is it just unavoidable because I am getting older? Is the extra product getting rubbed on my face what is making it duller? The women in my family who have nice skin even when they are much older have never used anything on it - makeup or sunscreen, and have always believed "don't put anything on your skin, it'll make it worse than it is when it's all natural."
I prefer to keep using sunscreen because, well, that's supposed to be good for me, I guess? Although I am really tempted to go sunscreen-free and makeup-free for a month now that the sun is getting weaker to see if that makes a difference. Is a month enough time to see changes, if the problem really is caused by too much stuff applied to my face?

What can I do to get a healthy glowing face again, or to prevent it from getting worse? Is this what facials and chemical peels are for (I've never had either one). If yes, what kind should I get? How long would the effects last? Is there some magical product that I should be using? Are there specific ingredients in makeup that I should avoid?

I get enough sleep, drink more than enough water, eat mostly healthy (at least I get enough fruits and veggies even on days that I eat crap food), exercise a lot, wash my face twice a day, I'm not under any stress.
posted by to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
It's great that you wash your face twice a day, but are you following up with toner and moisturizer? I know you don't want to put extra stuff on your skin, but the right products are very light and unobtrusive. From what I understand, blackheads are caused by lack of moisture in your skin (your skin overcompensates for the lack of moisture by producing extra oil, thus blackheads). Also, try exfoliating with a scrub 3-4 times a week if you aren't already.

I got a sample of Earthen Instant Peel in my Birchbox last month, and found it really helped me get that little "extra" cleanup on my skin--it scrubs off a disturbing amount of dead skin off your face without irritating your face at all. It's a bit pricy, but cheaper than a facial would cost.
posted by litnerd at 8:08 AM on September 18, 2011

You might want to try exfoliating your skin every few days - just squirt some of your facial cleanser onto an exfoliating glove or pad and go over your face in circles. (As you get older, your skin doesn't exfoliate itself naturally as efficiently as when you were younger, helping it along can make a difference in giving your skin a 'youthful glow'.
posted by Kololo at 8:13 AM on September 18, 2011

Exfoliate. Try that before anything else. You can probably switch up your foundation/powder too, but try this first:

Almost-free method and amazingly effective method: put some baking soda in the palm of your hand. Put a drop of whatever facial cleanser you use on top. Add a couple of drops of water and rub all between your hands to mix. Apply to face with both hands, massaging into skin for 30-60 seconds. Do NOT scrub, just massage. Rinse and follow your regular moisturizing routine.

Expensive but worth it method: Use the Philosophy Microdelivery Peel. Switch your daily cleanser to the Microdelivery Exfoliating Wash.

Seconding using a good moisturizer. Go to Sephora and ask for some help and request samples of the various types they recommend so that you can try them out first.
posted by mireille at 8:13 AM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am around your age too with similar issues. I have never done a facial or chemical peel, but I use this philosophy microdelivery peel once a week and mineral make-up with SPF 15 (always wear your sunscreen!). It killed me to pay that much for a peel, but the stuff lasts forever. My skin is visibly more even, smooth, and radiant. I think that the mineral make-up as a sunscreen is better for my skin, because traditional sunscreens (lotions, even the oil-free ones) clogged my pores and made things much, much worse.

But yeah, that peel is one of the best parts of my week.
posted by ohohcyte at 8:17 AM on September 18, 2011

Regular exfoliation coupled with an antioxidant treatment may help brighten your skin. You can have a professional treatment at a salon, but there are also lots of good products you can use at home too. In my experience, pro-treatments (ie a microdermabrasion facial or an acid peel) get more dramatic results while home treatments tend to be gentler on the skin and kinder to the wallet.

I have used both chemical and physical exfoliants and I prefer the latter, but I know lots of people love the former for brightening and revitalising skin. Here is a good explanation of what chemical peels are and how they work.

You should either speak with an aesthetician or visit your local department store and get some samples of different products to help you determine what's right for you. Follow the directions carefully and be gentle at first, especially with chemical peels - you'll need to start out with low concentrations if you choose that route. You should also check out some antioxidant serums with stable vitamin C or low concentrations of retinol as these ingredients can really brighten and improve your skin tone.
posted by wigsnatcher at 8:18 AM on September 18, 2011

I would try a new sunscreen. Even if you use a pretty nice one it wouldn't hurt to switch it up. I changed my foundation a few years ago from one department store brand to another and suddenly my skin cleared up. Also I've had a good experience with microdermabrasion. And also the poor man's chemical peel aka Nair the weaker one for your face.
posted by whoaali at 8:22 AM on September 18, 2011

I'll dissent a little and say that if you want truly great skin, you may have to stop wearing make-up or toner or anything. Make-up is actively damaging to skin; the only women I know over 30 with clear, wrinkle free skin have worn almost no make-up for years, wear hats against the sun and wash with water or (at most) a mild soap. My mother is 54, and has fewer eye wrinkles than I do, and since I have very similar skin the only reason we can think is that she often wears a hat in summer and she has never worn eye make-up (whereas mine appeared for the first time when I started wearing eye-makeup).

But of course, that's a pretty big decision. My mom doesn't believe in make-up, so not wearing it is her default. Me, I think it's lots of fun, but seeing the effects has made me consider make-up as a sometimes-fun rather than an everyday thing.

Sunscreen - I don't know about. It may be that part of your "radiance" was actually some light tanning, so the sunscreen (while certainly a healthy choice) has stopped that from happening.
posted by jb at 8:33 AM on September 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Skin types are so different that the only universal answer should be "stay healthy, keep moisturized, and keep sunscreen on." What moisturizers and sunscreens are going to be good for your face is a different question. Personally, I have to keep experimenting. The closest thing I have to any data is that my mother looks fabulous, and she has been using this Clinique lotion for twenty-five years.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:20 AM on September 18, 2011

jb has it, the less you put on your face the better. Use hats to protect yourself from the sun and use a washcloth with warm water in the shower to exfoliate. I use (100%) almond oil to "moisturize" right after the shower as I have dry patches. I rub a tiny amount in (on my nose and brow) and then blot a few minutes later when I am towel drying my hair. I haven't worn makeup or sunscreen or any products on my face daily since I was in my mid twenties and I am now 35 and get compliments on my skin (more so when I'm eating right and staying healthy). Reading the above comments suggesting a chemical peel once a week make me shudder. It's way cheaper and better for your skin and avoids so many sketchy chemicals to just leave it alone!

You might find this useful. It's a cosmetics database that lists the ingredients in most products (make up, soap, shampoo) you can put on your skin and known and unknown safety risks of each. It helps you put into perspective all those ingredients that you can't pronounce that you spread all over your face.

Try wearing a hat / staying in the shade. A little sun is good for you for the vitamin D, but once you have your quota (10 minutes/day?) stick to physically staying out of the sun, if possible, instead of putting stuff on your face.
posted by smartypantz at 9:26 AM on September 18, 2011

And yes, I would think a month would give you a good idea of your skin's health sans product. Best results if you kick up the fruits and veggies and stay hydrated. Truly healthy skin comes from within. You don't say anything about your diet, but there are lots of foods and food products that can adversely affect your skin's appearance.
posted by smartypantz at 9:30 AM on September 18, 2011

Or rather, keep up the healthy-ish diet, and maybe try and stay super healthy for the month and avoid all crap all together.
posted by smartypantz at 9:32 AM on September 18, 2011

Are you in a position to see a dermatologist? That will probably lead to the quickest results with the least amount of guesswork. If you can, ask around to find out who's good. Dermatologists can prescribe facials, recommend makeup, and tell you whether the products you use are making things better or worse.
posted by corey flood at 10:10 AM on September 18, 2011

I was in the same place earlier this year with my skin - had always looked fine, just felt kind of dull, plus sensitive to a lot of products - and based on the compliments it had gotten both here and elsewhere, I took the plunge and bought a Clarisonic Mia. It's awesome. I went home over the summer after I'd been using it for a couple of months, and EVERYONE asked me what I'd been doing differently to my face. I use it with Cetaphil daily face wash (I wash my face once a day) followed by Cetaphil moisturizer with sunscreen, which seems to be enough for me since I don't wear makeup apart from the occasional lip gloss and mascara. My pores are shallower and less noticeable, my skin looks healthy instead of dull, and most importantly it feels better to me. YMMV, and it's certainly an investment, but for me it was totally worth it.
posted by amy lecteur at 10:23 AM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I guess I'm sort of the opposite in that I always had crappy skin but it's started looking good enough for me to get compliments from strangers now that I am 27. I stopped using all the harsh products, and I never use sunscreen(I am about as pale as it gets, and would seemingly be the target customer for most sunscreens, but I just try not to get too much sun and avoid the someone else mentioned, a little sun is good). I've also started basically using the "oil cleansing method" and pretty much only use jojoba oil on my face as makeup removier/cleanser/moisturizer, and use a scrubby thing with some olive oil soap to exfoliate. I exfoliate lightly almost every day because my skin otherwise gets flaky. Also healthy diet, exercise, etc. etc. etc...
posted by fromageball at 10:40 AM on September 18, 2011

You don't need to buy any expensive exfoliants if you want to try that. 1/2 teaspoon of caster sugar in a little bit of jojoba or almond oil is a very effective and gentle exfoliant.

I disagree that you shouldn't wear powder or makeup ever if you want to have nice skin. If you live in a city, your skin gets covered with city crud every day. Powder or foundation is not only a barrier to that getting on your skin, it can also be a light sunscreen and/or moisturizer, depending on the formula. As long as you're washing your face at night, I don't think you need to altogether avoid makeup or sunscreen as long s the formula are not causing you particular problems.

If you smoke, you should stop if you want to keep nice skin. Smoking reduces blood flow to the skin, among other things.

I just started using this serum from Skinactives and have been very happy with how even, smooth, bright, and smaller-pored my skin has been looking. Their products are really well priced for all the good stuff that is in them.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:25 AM on September 18, 2011

caster sugar = baker's sugar, or superfine. Not powdered! Regular table sugar works too, but the smaller the crystals, the more surface area in a volume of sugar. It feels softer as well.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:27 AM on September 18, 2011

Alpha Hydroxy Acid. You can get high quality in bulk at
posted by porpoise at 12:27 PM on September 18, 2011

I'm also one for not wearing too much on my face. I wash my face with my shampoo and use a damp, warm washcloth for exfoliating. I, if I do say so myself, have really nice skin and only a couple wrinkles around my eyes and I'm 44 years old. As for sun - I use sunscreen when I know I'm going to be in the sun for a while, but I'm indoors 99% of the time and don't use it then.

All that said, remember a lot of it comes down to genetics and age and some things just can't be fixed without going to extremes.
posted by deborah at 2:36 PM on September 18, 2011

What sort of moisturizer are you using? You might find a daily moisturizer with sunscreen and AHA (alpha hydroxy) helpful in fighting dullness. Neutorgena has a Healthy Skin Radiance SPF15 lotion you might like.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:51 PM on September 18, 2011

The women in my family who have nice skin even when they are much older have never used anything on it - makeup or sunscreen, and have always believed "don't put anything on your skin, it'll make it worse than it is when it's all natural."

They're right.

Learn to love your hats.
posted by flabdablet at 7:35 PM on September 18, 2011

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