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Cleansing Problem Skin

Getting Beautiful Skin Image Gallery Cleansing skin problems can be tricky, but follow these basic guidelines to keep your skin healthy. See more pictures of ways to get beautiful skin.
©iStockphoto.com/Lidia Ryzhenko

Sometimes skin seems like nothing but trouble. Between dry and flaky skin, oiliness, and acne-prone patches, you might feel like there's a daily battle between you and your skin. You attack with soaps, cleansers, toners and moisturizers, but your skin just counterattacks with itchiness, pimples and inflammation.

Truthfully, however, your skin is your friend. It's a barrier between your body and the outside world, protecting you from microorganisms and pollutants in your environment. Part of this protection is an oil produced by your skin called sebum. It keeps bad stuff out and holds good stuff (like moisture) in. It's a good oil, but it can cause skin problems when it's produced in excess. When you wash your face, you want to get rid of dirt, dead skin cells, makeup, pollutants or microorganisms and excess sebum -- but you need to maintain a protective layer of oil.

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Although basic cleansing principles apply for all types of skin, problem skin presents some unique challenges. People with oily skin need to focus on removing the dirt and grime while refraining from any extreme measures that will strip oil from the skin and leave it unprotected. People with dry skin have to choose products that won't further dry their skin but will replenish moisture without clogging pores or causing irritation. And when skin is inflamed because of allergies, chemical irritants, eczema or other conditions, you have to take special care to avoid irritation.

For tips and techniques on forging a peace treaty with your skin, read on.

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Because natural oils are important for healthy skin, the goal of cleansing oily skin is to remove the excess oil, dirt and dead skin cells, while leaving some of the good oil on your skin. If you clean too harshly or too often, the protection provided by this oil will be lost. Gentle cleansing with a mild cleanser is the key to success with oily skin.

To begin, wash your face once or twice a day with a cleanser that's specifically formulated to be mild. There are many such products on the market. Don't scrub too hard. And absolutely do not use any kind of harsh or overly alkaline soap on your skin -- it will remove all the oil from your face, good and bad. Even if your oily skin frustrates you, remember that your goal is to have healthy skin, not dry skin. Dried-out skin that lacks its protective layer of oil is more prone to wrinkling and irritation.

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Once or twice a week, you can use a mask that contains mud or clay. These masks draw oils out of the skin, and many people have been able to achieve results that last for days at a time.

Some mild cleansers contain special ingredients that are able to exfoliate skin without causing dryness or irritation. They can remove dead skin cells and excess oil, so they help prevent acne -- a problem that often concerns folks with oily skin. Among these ingredients are beta hydroxy acid (such as salicylic acid) and alpha hydroxy acid (such as glycolic acid). These two acids are often found in products meant for blemish-prone skin. Choose products with low concentrations of these acids.

There are many types of problem skin, and oily is just one of them. You may have the opposite problem: dryness. If so, you'll find a cleansing routine on the next page.

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If you have dry skin, you may be surprised to learn that your daily cleansing routine shouldn't differ much from one for oily skin. The problem with dry skin is that it doesn't produce enough oil and, while that may mean you get fewer pimples, it also means that your skin lacks protection from the elements. You're more likely to show wrinkles, lines and other signs of aging. And seasonal changes hit you especially hard. When the weather turns colder and you kick on the furnace, all of a sudden there's little to no humidity in the air. Your skin looks dull and your hair stands up with static. You might be tempted to skip washing your face and opt to slap on some moisturizer instead.

That would be a mistake. With the right cleanser and a few tips, you can get your skin clean without drying it, even in the winter. Again, the key to cleansing any problem skin is gentleness. Limit your cleansing to once a day. Choose a cleanser that is mild and, if possible, made for dry skin. Never use any type of harsh or overly alkaline soap on dry skin -- that's going to make matters worse. Lotion-type cleansers -- often with the words "cream" or "milk" in the name -- may work well. These cleansers do a good job of cleansing the skin without drying it out.

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Use lukewarm water when you cleanse. Hot water will dry out your skin and may cause irritation. Gently apply the cleanser to a wet face. Lather for 30 seconds to a minute. Then make sure you rinse thoroughly (again, with tepid water). You don't want any trace of the cleanser left on your skin. Pat your face dry.

Now for the moisturizer. People with dry skin pay special attention to moisturizer, for obvious reasons. You may want to use a heavier moisturizer in the winter, but make sure you choose one that's meant for facial use. You can apply it more than once a day. Since dry skin is often sensitive skin, find a hypoallergenic moisturizer.

Problem skin is easily irritated, so if you have dry or oily skin, you might find that at times it becomes red and irritated. If that's the case, read on.

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Since problem skin is often more easily irritated than normal skin, it can be related to more severe skin conditions. Red, itchy, inflamed skin is known as dermatitis. There are many different types of dermatitis, and each has different causes and symptoms, although these usually include some combination of redness, itchiness and swelling. If you have any of these symptoms, you may want to consult a doctor to determine the cause.

Whatever the cause, inflamed skin requires great care when it comes to cleansing. You don't want to make the inflammation any worse, and because any chemical is a potential irritant, you need to choose your cleanser wisely.

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As is the case with any problem skin, gentle cleansing is the key. That's right -- that means no soap of any kind. It means choosing a cleanser that's mild and hypoallergenic. Try to find one without fragrance or dye, since even these chemicals could increase your skin's inflammation. Cleanse your skin once a day and lather the cleanser with your fingertips rather than a washcloth or bath sponge. Use lukewarm water to rinse thoroughly and pat your face with a clean towel. In fact, you may want to simply blot your face once with a towel and let it air-dry. Apply a moisturizer that is similarly mild, hypoallergenic and free of fragrance and dye.

For more information on keeping your skin irritation-free and balanced between dry and oily, follow the links on the next page.

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Related HowStuffWorks Articles

Sources

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  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Daily Skin Care Essential to Control Atopic Dermatitis." EczemaNet. (Accessed 8/26/2009)http://www.skincarephysicians.com/eczemanet/daily_care.html
  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Facts about Sunscreens." (Accessed 8/26/2009)http://www.aad.org/media/background/factsheets/fact_sunscreen.htm
  • Bouchez, Colette. "Oily Skin: Solutions That Work -- No Matter What Your Age." WebMD. (Accessed 8/26/2009)http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/acne/features/oily-skin-solutions-that-work
  • Kunin, Audrey. "Oily Skin" DermaDoctor. (Accessed 8/26/2009)http://www.dermadoctor.com/article_Oily-Skin_99.html
  • LiveStrong. "Facial Skin Care." (Accessed 8/26/2009)http://www.livestrong.com/article/13919-facial-skin-care/
  • Mayo Clinic. "Acne." April 30, 2008. (Acced 8/31/2009).http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/acne/DS00169/DSECTION=causes
  • Mayo Clinic. "Dermatitis." December 7, 2007. (Accessed 8/26/2009)http://mayoclinic.com/health/dermatitis-eczema/DS00339
  • Mayo Clinic. "Dry Skin." November 26, 2008. (Accessed 8/26/2009)http://mayoclinic.com/health/dry-skin/DS00560
  • P & G Beauty & Grooming. "Skin Cleansing." (Accessed 8/26/2009)http://www.pgbeautyscience.com/index.php?id=664
  • P & G Beauty & Grooming. "Moisturizers." (Accessed 8/31/2009)http://www.pgbeautyscience.com/index.php?id=667
  • Skin Care Guide. "The Right Way to Clean Your Skin -- Tips for Taking Care of Your Skin." Mild Cleanser. (Accessed 8/26/2009)http://www.mildcleanser.ca/articles/mild_cleanser_1.html

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