Skin Care for Your Whole Body
I was recently discussing skin and body care with Wendy of Av Jorden (and maker of that amazing coffee scrub pictured above) when we stumbled upon a point which caused us both to shake our heads. We were both remiss because we've noticed a disturbing trend of people neglecting one very important skin care step - exfoliation.
I talk a lot about how important it is to exfoliate as part of your face care routine, but today I'm actually referring to more than that. I'm talking about exfoliation (and other skin care) for the rest of your body. It is just as important, but I'll admit even I am guilty of neglect. Let's think of this as a good review session for all of us, on the importance of practicing skin care for your whole body.
The Building Blocks
When you think about body care, it can be just as overwhelming as face care in terms of the options. There are so many products on the market and so many different versions of the same thing. Just think about how many options you have for soap. From bar soap to liquid body wash and everything in between. And that's just to get you cleansed. What about the rest? Let's start by breaking down the steps that should be a regular part of your body care routine, and then we'll get into the rest of the details. Bare minimum (in my opinion) should be cleansing, exfoliating and moisturizing and in that order. Each have a very specific function, starting with the cleanse.
Cleansing: You want to wash with a soap or body cleanser to wash off dirt, excess oils, sweat, pollution, etc. every time you shower. Depending on your skin type and climate, you will wanted to look for a cleansing product that is antibacterial and possibly moisturizing. Look for soaps that contain ingredients such as shea butter, glycerin or olive oil which will not strip the skin like regular soap. In terms of liquid vs. bar soap, it mostly comes down to preference as they are mostly similar. This is basic stuff for most of us, so I'll move on.
Exfoliating: Here's where things get more nuanced and we start to drop the ball. If you're wondering why we don't scrub first, it's because we want to get all the dirt off with our cleanser. Scrubbing is for another thing entirely - getting rid of dead surface skin. If you're only cleansing and not exfoliating, then the job is only half done. Getting rid of the surface dryness will then allow your moisturizing product to penetrate better and your cells will generate new healthy skin.
That said, you don't need to exfoliate every time you cleanse. Doing so could actually be detrimental and irritate your skin. As with your face care exfoliants, less is more. Think every other day or every 3-4 days depending on how sensitive your skin is. You don't want to strip your skin of too many natural oils either. A few times a week is plenty.
Now, when it comes to how we exfoliate, you have a lot of options. You may find one more compatible with your skin type or you may like to switch it up. Either is fine. I recommend having at least two options and maybe rotating regularly, as each method has its own benefits. Let's discuss.
Types of Exfoliation for Your Body
Body Scrub: This is probably the most common method used by people who exfoliate. Scrubs are a rather delightful treat, as they can be not only very aromatic but also very moisturizing and pampering. Often made from sugar, salt, honey, and oils, they provide natural exfoliation and hydration. Depending on your preference you can look for light exfoliation from things like jojoba beads and coffee grounds, to more gritty exfoliants like nut powders and fruit seeds. The variety is one of the best parts about using scrubs!
Scrub Gloves/Towels/Loofahs: Popularized in the late 90s, textured scrubbing tools come in many forms. From natural versions like a loofah to synthetic sponges, these are great tools that can be used in conjunction with your body wash, soap or scrub to enhance exfoliation. New technology even allows you to choose how much exfoliation you want at different levels of intensity. Just be sure to wash them regularly are replace them frequently.
AHA/BHA Exfoliating Washes: Think of these as an "active" body wash. Similar to a glycolic cleanser for the face, active body washes incorporate enzymes or other forms of chemical exfoliation to help loosen dead skin on the surface and exfoliate as you cleanse. I like using these types of products in conjunction with shaving my legs, in addition to the natural exfoliation that shaving provides. These cleansers are also great to use a couple of times a week, if you struggle with breakouts on your back or elsewhere on the body.
Dry Brushing: Although it's not for everyone, dry brushing is something most people should do on a regular basis. Dry brushing is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Using coarse brush, you brush upwards in small circular strokes, starting at your feet and working your way up the body toward the heart. You do not want to scrub too harshly or break the skin. The idea is to gently exfoliate but also encourage circulation, and help rid the body of toxins. All of which are good for your skin. Dry brushing is even thought to help diminish cellulite. The best time to do dry brushing is first thing in the morning for a few minutes before showering. However, you should still take days off and not exfoliate with a dry brush every day.
Next comes the part most of us know to do. Moisturize. We do this almost instinctively when our skin starts to feel dry, itchy or ashy. But often, by the time your skin is at this point, it's already late in the game. If we do our other steps regularly - particularly exfoliation - and then moisturize regularly to boot, our skin doesn't have to get to the point of no return. We can keep it soft and supple with regular care.
In addition to staying hydrated internally, you need to feed and hydrate the skin of your whole body externally. For most people this means a lotion or a body cream. Other people use oils. I'll explain both and what they are good for, but I advocate for both being part of your routine in some capacity.
Body Lotions, Creams and Butters: These things are mostly the same, save for the consistency. Lotions tend to be light weight (sometimes even taking the form of "body milk") whereas creams get thicker and body butters are traditionally the heaviest form of moisture. All are great depending on your preference. However, the more dry your skin tends to be, the more you should opt for a thicker body moisturizer. Unlike the face, the body has larger pores and can absorb thicker blends containing shea, coconut and cocoa butter. These ingredients tend to melt at body temperature and are therefore easily absorbed by the skin. (Especially if you exfoliated first. Just sayin'.)
Body Oils: For centuries, oils have been used in pure form, to treat the body and the skin. Argan oil, for example is immensely popular. Olive oil and coconut oil are other ingredients that have been used over time and are still widely used to this day. Oils are great as they provide quick nourishment for the skin. However, because they lack the water-based ingredients contained in creams, they are not always enough to properly hydrate the skin. Oils work best when used in conjunction with a cream, lotion or moisturizing scrub.
Now it wouldn't be a proper skin care blog, if I didn't remind you about the importance of protecting your skin from the sun. SPF should be worn over the whole body, every day, and should be reapplied often. You never know where sun damage could strike, so protect yourself. Your body skin ages faster due to UV exposure, so even an innocent looking tan is UV damage in action. Don't risk it, and you'll be happy later with your wrinkle-free, sunspot-free limbs.
Other Body Tips & Tricks:
You use your hands to apply all of these other products, but when was the last time you applied moisturizer or SPF to the tops of your hands? Your hands show age and sun damage just like the rest of your body. I recommend investing in a good hand cream and applying the SPF any time you apply anywhere else on the body. Be mindful to protect your lips, neck, ears and other often forgotten areas, that can still be vulnerable to dryness, aging or sun damage. Hello, elbows?
Layer Your Products
Like any face care regime, you can make the most of your routine by combining products. If your scrub is too harsh, try mixing it with a little body wash to water it down. Apply body oil directly out of the shower, while your skin is still wet, to get better moisture penetration and then protect it with a layer of body cream to really seal in moisture. You can also mix complimentary fragranced products to create your own signature scent. It's okay to embrace the fun and girly side of body care. I promise. Which brings me to...
Want to take your body care a step further? There are always ways. Getting a regular massage is good for the mind body and soul, always. But nowadays, body treatments are everywhere in the spa industry. These luxurious ritual treatments often incorporate scrubbing, dry brushing, oil treatments and more, to rejuvenate the skin. If a spa day isn't in your budget you can create your own pampering rituals at home. A good bath bomb or epsom salt bath is in an inexpensive way to cleanse and detoxify at home. Ingredients like oats, plants, nourishing and essential oils can be incorporated to soften the skin and ease the mind. Treating your whole body from time to time should be an essential piece of the self-care we all deserve.
Change it Up Seasonally
As you probably know from caring for your skin over the years, different seasons can take a toll on your skin in different ways. Summer tends to cause more sun damage and oily skin, whereas in winter we see more issues with dry and dull skin. Accordingly, you may need to vary your routine a bit, using lighter products and exfoliating more during the summer, then switching to heavier moisturizers in the winter. Sun protection is a must year round, especially in winter when conditions are harsher.
Practice good internal health habits
Of course, I would be missing something if I didn't remind you that glowing skin mostly starts from within. By following diet rich in vitamins and antioxidants, drinking lots of water, eating healthy fats and getting regular aerobic exercise, you will see the reflection of that internal wellness in your skin's overall condition.
Still have questions? I'm happy to answer. Shoot your body care quandaries to email@example.com