More than a great wardrobe or a skilled hand with make-up, healthy glowing skin is the key to turning heads.
Just ask Kelly Campbell, a Los Angeles public relations consultant and mom. She regularly gets stopped by strangers complimenting her on her seemingly poreless, lit-from-within complexion.
The key to that gorgeous skin? She was born with it.
“Honestly, I’ve always been lucky to have good skin," Campbell says. “Except when I was pregnant and I broke out from all the hormones, I’ve never had trouble with my skin.”
Yes, some people win the hereditary lottery when it comes to good skin, just as others are blessed with the kind of metabolism that lets them eat vast amounts of pizza, chocolate, and Chunky Monkey without gaining an ounce.
“Not all skin is created equally,” says Paula Bourelly, MD, a dermatology professor at Georgetown University. “You can’t underestimate the value of genetics.”
But genes are just the starting point. Beautiful skin is also about good skin care habits, practiced day in and day out.
Here are, from top dermatologists and Campbell herself, the secrets to stunning skin.
No. 1 and No. 2: Smoking No, Sunscreen Yes
Imagine two people starting out with the same exact DNA. One smoked and sunbathed, the other avoided both. Would that make a difference in the appearance of their skin?
Researchers have the answer to that, and it’s a resounding yes.
A team of experts led by plastic surgeon Bahman Guyuron, MD, of Case Western Reserve University analyzed photographs of the faces of 186 pairs of identical twins taken at the Twins Day Festival in Twinsburg, Ohio. The twins had also filled out detailed questionnaires about their lives and daily habits.
It turns out that siblings who smoked and spent lots of time outdoors without wearing sunscreen looked years older than the brother or sister who shunned cigarettes and tanning. They had more fine lines, deeper and more plentiful wrinkles, and their skin was more mottled.
Bourelly isn’t surprised. “Many of the things that my patients complain about -- dull, rough skin, and uneven skin tone -- are related to chronic sun exposure,” she says, “and studies have shown that smoking is associated with premature wrinkling.”
Her straightforward advice: Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays with an SPF of 30 or higher, even on cloudy days, and reapply every two to three hours you’re outdoors.
And, for the sake of your overall health as well as your appearance, don’t smoke.
No. 3: Consider Retinoids
Studies have shown that the vitamin A derivatives known as retinoids unplug pores, help clear up acne, reduce fine lines, boost the production of collagen, lighten brown spots and freckles, and improve skin texture.
The retinoids – which have even been shown to help treat precancerous skin lesions -- is sold by prescription only under names that include Renova, Retin-A, and the generic Tretinoin.
“A retinoid should be the foundation of any topical antiaging regimen,” says dermatologist Paul M. Friedman, MD, co-author of Beautiful Skin Revealed: The Ultimate Guide to Better Skin.
Friedman, who is a professor of dermatology at the University of Texas Medical School and also at New York’s Weill Cornell Medical College, recommends that men and women make a retinoid part of their evening regimen beginning in their 20s.
The downside is that retinoids can initially cause dryness, flaking, and redness.
Dermatologists say that starting out slowly, applying a pea-sized amount of retinoid every second or third night, can help your skin adjust to the powerful ingredient.
Or consider an over-the-counter cream, gel, or serum containing retinol. This nonprescription version of a retinoid works more gradually and gently but is still effective in rejuvenating your skin.
No. 4: Keep Skincare Simple
Overuse of products is the biggest mistake people make in their skincare regimens, says Jeanie Leddon, MD, PhD, a dermatologist in Boulder, Colo.
“Some patients come in with a grocery bag full of products and wonder why their skin doesn’t look or feel great," Leddon says.
Bombarding your skin with a host of different ingredients can be irritating, Leddon says. What’s more, used in combination, some ingredients will cancel out each other’s benefits.
For example, the acid in salicylic or glycolic acid breaks down ingredients like retinol, hydroquinone, or Vitamin C. “More,” says Leddon, “is not necessarily better.”
Friedman agrees: “The products necessary for beautiful skin aren’t glamorous, and include a simple cleanser, sunscreen, moisturizer, and a retinoid or retinol.”
What’s more, the simpler your skincare regimen, the more likely you are to stick with it.
No. 5: Give Products Time to Work
Just as using a half dozen or more products at any one time can overload your skin with too many ingredients, so can changing the products you’re using every couple of weeks.
Sure, you might want to adjust your beauty regimen seasonally; swapping, say, the oil-free moisturizer you use in the summer for one that’s more emollient during the winter, when frigid temperatures and indoor heating can rob your skin of moisture.
And if your skin is reacting with swelling, redness, or burning to a new product you’ve tried, stop using it immediately.
But in general, Leddon says, finish the entire tube or bottle of a skincare potion before you write it off as ineffective.
No. 6: A Balanced Life Leads to Your Best Skin
Campbell says, “I don’t have a secret” when it comes to her traffic-stopping gorgeous skin.
But then she reveals a host of healthy daily habits: She’s a vegan who starts her day with a mango, blueberry, and spinach smoothie, shuns processed foods and buys organic fruits and vegetables at her local farmers market; teaches yoga part-time; practices a vigorous form of yoga daily, and gets a solid seven or more hours of sleep a night.
All these elements of a healthy lifestyle undoubtedly help keep Campbell’s skin looking its best.
Regular sleep, Friedman says, optimizes the natural secretion of human growth hormone to promote cell turnover and collagen production while exercise increases circulation and the flow of nutrients to your skin.
Activities like yoga and meditation help keep stress in check, which in turn reduces the release of stress hormones that worsen conditions like acne, eczema, and rosacea.
Meditating regularly may even make treatment more effective. In one study, people with psoriasis, a condition that causes itchy, scaly skin, listened to meditation tapes while they received ultraviolet light treatments. The results: They healed four times as fast as nonmeditators.
The key to gorgeous skin turns out to be a mix of science, common sense, overall good health habits, and a simple stick-to-it skincare regimen. The spinach smoothie is strictly optional.