Skin Care for Active, Outdoorsy Women

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Races like the GORE-TEX TransRockies Run (August 14-19, 2012) can wreak havoc on your skin. Women’s Adventure shows you how to prevent and repair damage.

In a nutshell, sunscreen and antioxidants are the most crucial components of an outdoorsy woman’s skin care regimen. And, while smooth and healthy skin is not quite that simple, getting (and keeping) a radiant complexion doesn’t have to be—and in fact shouldn’t be—complicated either.

An outdoor woman’s skin needs extra attention. Your outer shell gets a beating as you play in the sun, wind, and dirt every day. “An outdoor woman’s skin is pushed to the limit,” says adventure enthusiast and motorcycle chick Michele Carter, who founded Adventuress Skin Care, a line inspired by and created around her on-the-road lifestyle. Michele goes on to say, “If a woman spends a lot of time outdoors, her skin may be drying and is in danger of premature aging: sun spots and wrinkles. Because she’s exercising, her skin could be irritated by fragrances and synthetically derived ingredients, too.”

Michele hired chemist Mosoomeh Wake—formerly a liaison between core scientists and marketers for brands like L’Oréal, Chanel, and Estée Lauder—to develop the line. “I knew which claims were bullshit and which had science to back them,” says Mosoomeh, who gave us the no-B.S. version of a good skin care regimen.

An active woman should focus on cleansing, protecting against sun and wind burn, and repairing damage via antioxidant vitamins C, D, and E.

Look for a cleanser that doesn’t strip away your skin’s natural fatty acids. .”Consumers have been taught that if their skin is squeaky clean, then they’re really cleaning,” Mosoomeh says, emphasizing that many people’s perceptions are misguided. “If we’re working with really mild cleansers, we have to add something that creates a bit of foam to satisfy the customer, even though foam doesn’t necessarily up the product’s effectiveness. It’s good to use really mild surfactants that remove makeup and oil but not natural sebum.”

Routine exfoliation is also necessary so products apply evenly, stay on longer, and are more effective. One major skin care debate: chemical versus mechanical exfoliants (scrubs). Both operate on the surface, but chemical exfoliants also go into the pores. If the grain of mechanical exfoliants is the wrong size, it may not do any good. In fact, it may only irritate the skin.

The most effective chemical exfoliants are AHAs and BHA. Alpha hydroxy acids—such as glycolic, lactic, malic, and citric acids—are naturally found in fruits, milk, sugarcane, and molasses. Beta hydroxy acid (or salicylic acid) has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties so it works well on blemish-prone skin. “For them to be operative, they have to have a PH of about 4. The PH cannot be any higher though, as it would unbalance the skin’s natural PH,” Mosoomeh says, delving into the science of AHAs and BHA. “Natural fruit acids are phenomenal for skin. Some of these synthetic acids are atrocious.”

Dr. Neal Schultz, who’s been practicing dermatology for 30 years, agrees: .”Glycolic acid is the gold standard of chemical exfoliants, as it’s clinically proven to give results of exfoliation without the harsh side effects.”

After cleansing and exfoliating, moisturize. Choose a moisturizer with anti-aging ingredients—such as carrot extract (with beta-carotene), green tea, or olive oil—and SPF to protect from damaging rays that cause sunburn, wrinkles, uneven skin tone, freckling, and skin cancer. It goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: If you do nothing else in the way of skin care, at least wear sunscreen.

Guard against the effects of harsh wind and sun with a solid protective layer. “If your skin has already been exposed, it is sensitive, so applying a chemical sun factor is not the way to go,” Mosoomeh says. “You also have to create a physical barrier for the wind. That’s why we use waxes.”

Use topical antioxidants to prevent signs of aging and precancerous DNA breakage, and even reverse early skin damage. A serum with vitamin C to repair damaged skin is the most effective and easiest to come by. It also adds some minor sun protection, so it’s perfect for daytime wear. At night, apply an anti-aging vitamin A serum, but never wear it during the day, as vitamin A increases sun sensitivity. In terms of age-erasing products, women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant should avoid retinol.

Don’t fret if that routine sounds too laborious; you can make it work. “Busy people want to use fewer products,” Dr. Schultz says. “To use fewer, you need more combination products. In the morning, use a moisturizing sunscreen. If you’re active during the day, reapply sunscreen. Reserve exfoliants for before bed, when you have more time.”

Now, it’s only a matter of choosing the right products and deciphering the ingredient lists of the thousands of options on the market.

Use mineral-based sunscreens and avoid chemical products. A sunscreen’s active ingredients either absorb the sun’s UV radiation, preventing it from reaching the deeper layers of the skin, or reflect UV radiation. Chemical sunscreens usually absorb UV radiation, allowing it to pass the surface of the skin but preventing it to reach the deeper layers, while mineral sunscreens reflect the UV radiation, blocking it from entering the skin at all.

Products that block UVA and UVB radiation will be labeled as offering broad-spectrum (or full-spectrum) protection. OM-cinnimate found in many chemical sunscreens absorbs UVA and UVB radiation to provide broad-spectrum protection, but most mineral sunscreens will contain Zinc Oxide and Titatium Dioxide, which are the most effective ingredients available.

Other ingredients you may see in sunscreens enhance the products’ staying power and boost the skin’s overall health. Bees wax or plant wax in lip balm and stick-sunscreens adds a protective and moisturizing layer. Bees wax and cocoa butter both contain long chain molecules that help sustain sunscreen on the skin for longer lasting protection, while Shea butter filters UVB radiation, promotes cell renewal, and increases circulation to help repair sun damage. Coconut oil, sunflower seed oil, and jojoba oil offer moisture and contain antioxidants like vitamin E, which neutralizes free radicals that cause cell damage after UV exposure. Sunflower seed oil also is high in beta-carotene, which can reduce sun sensitivity.

Nutrient-packed and anti-inflammatory aloe not only relieves sunburn but also protects skin from sun damage and eliminates free radicals. Another anti-inflammatory ingredient with antiseptic and analgesic (pain killing) powers that proves effective after sun or wind exposure: tea tree oil. Lavender is effective in after-sun lotion for its antibacterial properties used to treat burns.

While the above ingredients are worthwhile, others may do more harm than good. “Most ingredients in commercially available products are safe,” says Dr. Schultz. “Some have a bad rap though. Parabens, for example, are not going to be in high enough concentrations in any product that their alleged estrogen effect will harm.”

But that’s up for debate. Nicolette Wilson, a MyChelle Dermaceuticals esthetician, says, “We took an effective chemical product and took out all the bad stuff.” Our research finds parabens being easily lumped into that “bad stuff” category, along with other chemical preservatives (like ureas), foaming agents, and synthetic fragrances.

Avoid parabens (the most common preservatives in skin care products), PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid, often used as a sunscreen because it can block UV radiation), petrolatum (or petroleum jelly, as it suffocates the skin), triclosan (often in antibacterial cleansers), isopropyl alcohol (which strips your skin of natural proteins and oils causing lasting and harmful effects), and phthalates (fragrances).

Artificial colors and fragrances can be irritants. In the mainstream skin care industry, people choose products largely based on the smell. “It’s not good for you,” Mosoomeh says. “Natural fragrances [without all those harmful chemicals] get channeled into expensive boutiques that are super pricey.” The ingredient “fragrance” is often a concoction of several (maybe even hundreds) of ingredients, most of which are often synthetically derived.

In summary, gently cleanse and exfoliate, moisturize and protect, and repair or replenish your skin with fragrance- and chemical-free products.

How safe (or hazardous) are the products you use? Find out at ewg.org/skindeep.

We recommend

For bike tours: Adventuress Skin Care Collection and travel case, which includes Naturally Liberating Cleanser, Boldly Nourishing Moisturizer, Vividly Restorative Skin Purifier, High Performance Sunscreen, and Fearlessly Refreshing Facial Wipes. $85; goAdventuress.com

For playing in the waves: Kiss My Face Natural Mineral SPF 40 (3 oz.). $16.99; KissMyFace.com

For every day: Coola Moisturizing Face Sunscreen SPF 30 (cucumber or unscented). $32; coolasuncare.com

For all over: Joshua Tree Skin Care Organic Sun Care Sunscreen with Aloe SPF 15 ($16) or 30 ($18). jtreelife.com

For post-adventure repair: Joshua Tree Skin Care Lavender After Sun Lotion. $12; jtreelife.com

For special occasions: Try EcoLips EcoTints to get a little pop of organic mineral color on your pout. EcoLips EcoTints. $4.49; ecolips.com

For 24/7 repair: MyChelle Perfect C Serum. $41.79; mychelle.com

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