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How to save your skin in extreme conditions

December 10th 2015 / Anna Hunter

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Whether you’re flying home for Christmas, running in biting winds or burning candles at both ends, we’ve got some SOS skin solutions for dramatic damage limitation….

Central heating, stormy weather, a packed social (...and work) calendar, increased stress levels, travel fatigue and a sudden seasonal spurning of salads and the like (too cold, too virtuous) can leave skin, not to mention body and mind, feeling and looking less than glowing. Short of cancelling Christmas, stopping the clock or wrapping up in cotton wool, here’s how to minimise the effects of extreme circumstances on your skin, whether they’re par for the course or self inflicted.

Sleep Deprivation

Despite leaving home in the dark and returning in similarly pitch black circumstances, high quality sleep isn’t always a given during the winter months. Whether due to work pressure, a newborn or box set addiction, getting enough sleep (Dr Guy Meadows thinks that between 7-8 hours is the average requirement) can be elusive at any time of year, but we tend to feel especially groggy when the sun’s AWOL. As if the clumsiness, frustration and general blah feeling of five hours or less weren’t enough, it’s also one of life’s events that immediately shows up on your face; if you’re lucky you’ll be dealing with dark circles and dullness, if your skin’s really having a tantrum it could throw up anything from acne to eczema, or you know, both as is the case with our Eczema Files writer. Not the stuff of dreams. ELEMIS co-founder Noella Gabriel gives us the good news about what sleep does for our skin, and how to fake fresh faced if needs be:

“Sleep is when skin essentially ‘empties out’ and replenishes. Skin renewal peaks between 11pm and 3am, so there’s no better time to pack in the antioxidants and beneficial active ingredients that while you’re sleeping, as the skin’s ability to absorb them is at its highest."

“If you’re not sleeping well, however, there are few tricks you can try to revive your complexion and restore a bit of calm. To get rid of ‘fatigue face’ very quickly, I recommend applying heat. Warm your hands and apply your favourite facial oil. You don’t have to do anything fancy; basic massage and simply placing the face into the palms of the hands will boost circulation, and the combination of heat and oil softens and plumps the skin immediately.”

“If you’re approaching bedtime again and want to make the most of the hours you do get, use ELEMIS Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm, £39.50, as an overnight treatment for when skin is especially tired and depleted. The decadent oils and nutrients work wonders in even a fairly short amount of time for both face and neck.”

“There’s also a specific group of essential oils that I’d recommend to address broken sleep and help yourself to feel better. Look out for lavender, chamomile and and rosewood in everything from spa treatments to herbal teas. To get your fix at home, you’ll find at least one of these ‘wind down’ trio in the ELEMIS De-Stress Massage Oil, £34, or cult Frangipani Monoi Body Oil, £34.”

Ideally you’ll have someone on hand to rub them into sore spots, but even self administered after a challenging day, they can make a difference to disturbed sleep patterns. You can also get the most out of even snatched hours of sleep by investing in a silk pillow (Iluminage’s even boasts anti-ageing benefits). I KNOW, but bear with me here, as silk doesn’t drag on the skin or absorb precious nocturnal skincare. Plus, it works miracles to downplay bedhead (afro-haired woman will attest). If you suspect that the culprit for your tossing and turning is possibly deadline driven, the following advice should help to kill (or rather, put to sleep) two birds with one stone…

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Stress and long working hours

Sure, the Christmas period brings along tidings of comfort and joy, but sometimes you don’t get a chance to sit down and actually appreciate said fuzzy festive feels until right before the big day. Because, work. Christmas shopping for your extended family. No turkeys left. Tree lights keep fusing. Boiler’s just gone. There’s an unexpected item in the bloody bagging area. I could go on, but seasonal stress is not unheard of, and that too can impact on your otherwise poreless and serene complexion, which can, hilariously, lead to even more stress.

Noella has some scary insight as to the effects of stress on the skin…

“Increased stress levels can affect the skin quite dramatically, sometimes triggering the likes of acne, rosacea and premature ageing. Once we struggle with managing our stress levels, adrenalin can become like a loose cannon, keeping the body ‘switched on’ and processing at a very fast pace. This has a direct effect on our breathing, which becomes sharp and shallow, and as a result our skin is robbed of its main source of energy (oxygen) and begins to function inadequately.”

The takeaway message here is basic but vital: ‘breathe’. Though fundamental to sustaining life, breathing deeply actually doesn’t come as naturally as it should to the stressed out among us. Learn how to breathe freely no matter what activity you’re embarking upon, and adding a little aromatherapy to your routine should encourage you to stop and smell the roses when times get stressful and your breathing quickens. If taking time out for a massage isn’t an option, inhaling one of the ‘anti fatigue three’ as above should help to redress the stress balance, as will taking up gentle, breath regulating exercise such as yoga, pilates and swimming. High impact, intense, cortisol surging workouts could max out stress levels, whereas the likes of yoga and swimming will help you to digest and de-stress without the drill sergeant shouting, and could have the welcome side effect of improving sleep too, which in turn decreases stress.

If long working hours are unavoidable but making skin look noticeably wan (the computer screen glow ain’t so desirable), Noella thinks that concentrating your efforts in one area is a good starting point:

“Nowadays there’s such a high demand for eye products because of the stressful, screen based lifestyles we now lead. We’re constantly staring at our phones, tablets and computers, and all of them put a strain on our skin, and our eye area in particular. In this way, skin condition isn’t necessarily dictated by age anymore, and I’ve definitely seen a surge in customers requesting eye treatments.”

“It’s important to determine whether the eye cream you are using suits your eyes, because the skin around the eye area is very fine and absorbs product very quickly, and you don't want to overload the area. The best way to find out is to apply the cream overnight and see if your eyes are puffy in the morning. If so, you will then need to switch to a lighter texture such as a serum. I would advise to sample the product first and see how you go.”

“As a guide, a serum is the lightest molecule, followed by a gel and lastly a richer cream.”

For instant rather than overnight results, ELEMIS Pro-Radiance Illuminating Eye Balm, £34, moisturises dry, crepey eyes with a soothing, omega rich formula, while optical blurring powders bounce light away from fine lines and dark circles. The cooling applicator is a stress melting pleasure in itself if you’re feeling hot and bothered.

Bitter Weather

If you’re more frozen than flustered, forget what you think you know about smothering skin in thick, sticky creams and try a lighter approach. Noella explains:

“During the winter months it’s important to switch to oil based products because the body is challenged to adjust to the extreme temperature changes. Milks and oils are great because they replenish the skin as quickly as possible. I also think that a woman’s best friend as she gets older is a high quality oil, I call it ‘nectar for the skin’. That’s pretty much what it looks and feels like.”

Cellular Recovery Skin Bliss Capsules, £65, are Noella’s standby oils for a shot of both daily and nighttime radiance. The zen-like rose based morning oil is blended with moringa, which according to Noella has an impressive ‘1700% more antioxidant power than any other oil’, making it a frontrunner in terms of fighting the ageing effects of urban pollution and environmental stress (add moringa to a smoothie too for ‘inside out’ goodness). Just the action (and luminous finish) of massaging in an oil first and last thing feels more nurturing and therapeutic than slapping on your moisturiser and heading for the door/ your bed as you did in summer, and the added layer of protection can make all the difference between beaming and wind battered.

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Festive Feasting

First of all, it’s fun, and we’d never EVER advise you to decline an invite in order to stay at home alone eating quinoa at this time of year. Do, however, give your body and skin a bit of time off where you can, both during an evening out itself and as party season hots up. Noella gives the orders around here:

“Alcohol is a diuretic; the body responds to it by losing extra moisture and water content. The skin results in being very tight and dehydrated, and in fact some people can experience extreme sensitivity and high colour. This is where I feel that the ‘eight glasses of water a day’ message is very important to help replenish skin and prevent the loss of skin nutrients. Moderation is the key; yes I believe that we can have a great night out, but we certainly cannot have it every night.”

“I do believe that alcohol is one of the most ageing factors. There is nothing nicer for the body than to give it some breathing space! Some people find that alcohol can be a direct cause of acne, rosacea and puffy eyes, for one thing. Once alcohol enters the body the focus of the liver is on breaking down the alcohol. The knock-on effect is that skin becomes depleted, stays dehydrated and eventually becomes very toxic. The good news is the body responds very quickly, it is a creature of renewal! A few days of eating well, exercising, sleeping and rehydrating can have a huge payoff, especially at this time of year.”

If the prospect of cold green juices makes you shudder, opt for warming, nutritious soups to pack in the vitamins (basically an IV drip of goodness direct to your visage), and add in a probiotic supplement to support your digestion in the onslaught of mince pies. Also, there’s an argument for red wine for health. I’ll just leave it here. As for exercise…

Intense exercise

Whether intense in terms of flying in the face of the wind, or intense in terms of duration and effort, hardcore winter workouts can initially leave you feeling a bit more ravaged than ravishing. There’s a lot to be said for sweat wicking layers, appropriate winter workout wear in general, lip balm and effective recovery. Noella prescribes ‘rosemary, pine, thyme and ginseng oils, along with black pepper and ideally married with sea salt’ for the easing of aches, pains and muscle soreness. Run a warm bath stat, and give yourself a buff with ELEMIS Exotic Lime & Ginger Salt Glow, £36.50. Toning, stimulating and reviving, you’ll be smooth and buzzing rather than burnt out.

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While sweating does help your skin to rid itself of grime and bacteria, leaving it to fester on your skin will only result the bad stuff hanging around, aggravating any underlying skin conditions and likely sparking breakouts. Wash your face and body pre and post exercise, and try to wear minimal makeup when you’re pounding pavements and in the gym. The less that’s on your skin, the less that’s lingering to clog pores when mixed with perspiration (delicious I know). These lightweight tints, BBs and CCs should cover the bases, and provide all important sun protection too. Seems overkill given that there’s no sun, but those UV rays are at large nonetheless.

Jet Lag

Similar to sleep deprivation, but somehow more savage. If it’s a necessary evil during the Christmas break, your buzzword is hydration. Mainline water on the flight (coffee will throw you into all kinds of body clock confusion), and board wearing a hardcore, hyaluronic acid rich moisturiser to suit your skin type, ideally layered with a tailored to you, active serum. If you’re in it for the long haul, rinse and repeat. Adequate hydration should help your skin to defend itself against harsh air conditioning and will also increase nutrient uptake in testing air cabin conditions. Get your circulation pumping at every opportunity (aisle yoga anyone?), and if all else fails, a glass or two of cherry juice will help to boost the body’s melatonin levels, the hormone that regulates sleep. A sweet cherry nightcap and a helping of snooze promoting tryptophan rich turkey and you’ll be away to Bedfordshire in no time…

This feature was written in partnership with ELEMIS

How do you keep your skin in line during the winter months? Comment below or tweet us @GetTheGloss

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