In order to repair skin damage, you have to design a routine that suits your age, skin type, severity of skin damage, lifestyle, and budget. Although there is no one size fits all routine that will work for everyone, all remodeling routines should rely on tried and true products and techniques that are backed by scientific research, instead of chasing the latest fads. You’ll have to use some realistic goal setting and trial and error to customize your personalized skin remodeling routine in regards to the specific combination of products and techniques and frequency and intensity of their use. Here are some basic principles that every routine should incorporate in some form.
Replacing Damaged Tissue
A lot of your improvement will come from enhancing and stimulating your skin’s own healing processes. The first step in the remodeling process is removing the damaged tissue. There are two primary ways that you can stimulate your skin to do this. The first, least invasive way is to use active ingredients that stimulate your skin to break down damaged tissue and replace it with healthy, normal skin. This is a natural part of the matrix synthesis process, which slows, but does not disappear as we age. Most aging skin still has the mechanisms to achieve this. In the case of young skin that was damaged by scars or stretch marks, this process is still functioning optimally, making the remodeling process even easier.
For severely damaged skin, simply ramping up those mechanisms with topical actives may not be enough. Many regenerating techniques use controlled damage. It may sound counterintuitive, but wounding the skin in a controlled manner will stimulate the body’s healing mechanisms to repair more than the minor damage that was inflicted. The healing process will also remain enhanced for a period of time after the treatment has completely healed, allowing to further regenerate. Peels, lasers, needling, and dermabrasion are all based on this concept. In some severe methods, such as needle abrasion or medium-to-deep chemical peels, the process itself will actually remove damaged tissue, instead of relying on the skin to clean it up by itself.
The skin continually replaces its cells and structural components throughout our lives. These processes slow with age or can be overwhelmed by injury, leading to skin damage in the form of discoloration, scars, stretch marks, and wrinkles. Fortunately, there are active ingredients that have been proven to enhance the body’s regenerative mechanisms and can improve the skin on a structural level.
Many actives increase cellular turnover in the epidermis, meaning skin cells move faster through their life cycle as they travel up the layers of the epidermis. Regular exfoliation also has this effect. This leads to healthier, younger looking skin. Increasing cellular turnover alone doesn’t have much of an impact on wrinkles and stretch marks, but it can improve some types of raised scars, some fine lines, and is very useful for discoloration.
Other actives actually work on the fibroblasts to increase matrix synthesis, if they can reach the dermis. It is easier to increase collagen production than elastin production, which is why sagging skin is so much more difficult to treat. But there are a few products and techniques that can increase formation of all components in the skin matrix. Regenerating the skin matrix, both in quantity of fibers produced and normalizing the pattern of their mesh like arrangement, is how you can achieve drastic results in the appearance of wrinkles, scars, stretch marks, and even mild to moderate skin sagging.
Creating Ideal Environment for Regeneration
Since so much of your improvement relies on your body’s own regenerative processes, it’s important to help them in every way. This goes beyond skin care products and techniques. Although that is essential, you can enhance or sabotage your results with your diet and other factors.
Sun Protection – Sun exposure is the biggest contributor to aging skin. UV exposure generates free radicals that damage our DNA, leading to mutations in skin cells that make then unable to function properly. The sun’s rays penetrate all the way into the dermis, where they break down collagen. About 80% of that exposure comes from everyday living, so only using sunscreen in the summer at the beach is insufficient. A good sunscreen used daily can reduce this exposure by up to 85%. When you are using strong skin care products, sun protection is even more important. Many ingredients make your skin extra sensitive to the negative effects of sun exposure, and others are degraded by UV rays and won’t be as effective. They best course of action is to wear a physical sunscreen lotion that contains zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide with an SPF of 15-30, or higher if you’ve recently used a chemical peel. If you find sunscreen makes your face break out, try using powder sunscreen or mineral make up with an SPF factor.
Controlling Inflammation – Inflammation is a natural part of the body’s healing process. There are two types of inflammation: acute inflammation, which is a short-term response to injury, and chronic inflammation, which means that your entire body is constantly in a state of minor inflammation. Chronic inflammation is one of the biggest contributors to the aging process, both inside your body and for your skin. It makes it difficult for all of your body’s regenerative mechanisms to function properly, which is obviously very bad for your overall health. It can have a serious negative impact on your skin remodeling efforts. This condition is very common, but usually imperceptible until there is a major problem, like a heart attack. Chronic inflammation is caused by an inflammatory diet, especially one that is high in processed sugars. Diet is critically important for your skin, but is often overlooked.
Nutrients – Your skin is a functional organ, and has its own nutritional requirements. It needs an adequate amount of vitamins, minerals, fats, and other nutrients. When your skin is remodeling, it will need even better nutrition than normal. You can get most of these nutrients from whole foods, especially vegetables. Taking a skin care supplement is also ideal, but not as a substitute for a healthy diet.
Antioxidants – Using antioxidants, both internally and topically, can help your skin deal with everyday environmental stress, including sun exposure. They clean up damaging free radicals and help recycle skin nutrients. Used topically, antioxidant products can help soothe the irritation associated with of certain skin care actives.
Circulation – Your skin needs good blood flow to supply the nutrients and oxygen that it needs to regenerate properly. Most skin care techniques that use controlled damage will help improve blood flow. You can also increase blood flow by regularly using less invasive forms of exfoliation, like microdermabrasion, or by skin brushing. Aerobic exercise will also help your circulation.
Balance – You need to balance the processes that remove damaged tissue and those that stimulate skin remodeling. Over exfoliating, using strong chemical peels or needling too frequently, or too much irritation from skin care actives can overwhelm your skin’s healing mechanisms. It won’t be able to keep up and your skin will look worse. On the other hand, stimulating healing with topicals will only go so far for severe damage like stretch marks. It’s important to add new products and techniques to your routine slowly so you can evaluate your skin’s reaction. You should also take occasional breaks from your routine to give your skin some rest.
Proper Absorption – Remember, the actives in your skin care products must penetrate to your epidermis to be effective. There needs to be regular exfoliation in your routine to control the accumulation of dead skin cells. Proper hydration, from topical moisturizers and drinking enough water, will ensure that your stratum corneum is moist enough to allow your actives to be absorbed.
Strength Building – Many of the most effective remodeling products are irritating to new users. This leads a lot of people to give up on something that works because they think they can’t use it. Strength building is the process of gradually introducing a new active into your routine so that your skin has time to get used to it. Eventually, most skin will be able to tolerate the most effective products.
Maintaining the Skin Barrier – Your skin must still function as a barrier between you and the outside world. It isn’t there just to look good. Regularly using strong exfoliating products can strip your skin of the natural oils it needs to retain moisture and pliability. This is all right for a while, like a year while you are skin remodeling, but should not be continue for your entire life. If you are regularly using strong chemical exfoliators, like a twice weekly superficial chemical peel or daily 12% glycolic acid lotion, you should use a barrier repair product that contains synthetic versions of the ceramides, cholesterol, and lipids your skin naturally produces.
Multiple Actives – You’ll maximize your results by using more than one ingredient. Most active ingredients used in skin care have a synergistic effect when regularly used together in a routine. This means that the improvement you’ll see from using 2 or more actives will be exponentially better than what would be expected. For example, if Ingredient A can improve wrinkles by 20% and Ingredient B gives a 15% improvement, a total of 35% improvement would be expected by using them together. But since the ingredients work together synergistically, they give a 50% improvement by working together. The math is rarely that concrete, but that is the basic idea.
Easy on the Eyes – The skin surrounding the eyes is much more delicate than the rest of the face. It needs to be treated gently by using a heavier moisturizer, milder exfoliation, and usually lower concentrations of skin actives. The eyelids are particularly delicate. Many products will instruct you do not use them directly on the eyelids. Be especially careful when using aggressive measures like chemical peels around the eyes.
Maintain Existing Skin Health – Once you understand how effective skin care can be it can be tempting to start applying the concept to skin that is already healthy. There is a lot to be said about preserving the skin health that you already have. It is easier to prevent skin damage than it is to fix it. A preventative routine is not as aggressive as a remodeling regimen. If you aren’t yet suffering from the signs of aging, don’t start using the most powerful skin care products available because almost all of them have side effects. If you have a scar, be careful not to unnecessarily damage the good skin surrounding it. Don’t over treat your skin damage. Start with the least aggressive techniques and work your way up. Treating fine lines, shallow acne scars, and discoloration will usually not require the strongest techniques. Only use aggressive procedures for moderate to severe damage like scars, stretch marks, and deep wrinkles.
Realistic Time Frames – Since skin remodeling is based on structurally improving your skin, it takes time to see results. Many skin care products will lure you in claims like diminishing wrinkles in 4 weeks, but in reality it simply takes more time than that to regenerate the skin matrix. Keratinocytes take from 4 – 6 weeks to complete their life cycle, so increasing cellular turnover will not show much improvement until at least a month has gone by. Increasing collagen formation takes around 4 months, so you won’t see the full results from matrix regenerating products until then. It usually takes at least 6 months to significantly improve moderate to severe skin damage like wrinkles, scars and stretch marks. For many people, it will take 12 to 18 months until they are satisfied, especially if the goal is complete resolution. Be patient, and don’t try to rush the process. Remember, your improvement will be on the cellular and structural level. Once your scars and stretch marks are diminished, they will not return. Wrinkles and age spots will obviously continue to appear, but you’ll be way ahead of the game and will always look younger than you normally would.
Realistic Expectations – Your results will vary from factors like age, severity of damage, skin sensitivity, and other unique factors. Some people will not be able to achieve complete removal of their skin damage. Sensitive skin may be unable to use the most effective products. Older skin (60 years +) may lack to healing mechanisms needed to completely remove wrinkles and age spots. Severe scars that go beneath the skin layers into the deep tissues below may always be somewhat visible.
Your improvement will also depend on how strictly you adhere to a routine, including dietary factors. Maintaining a perfect balance of proper nutrition, daily application of strong actives, the right level of exfoliation and resurfacing, managing irritation, and other aspects of complex skin care regimens can be very time consuming, as well as expensive. Be realistic with how much time and energy you are willing to commit to your skin remodeling efforts.
Don’t get discouraged if your damage can’t be eradicated. The vast majority of people are able to greatly improve their skin, and gain the confidence and peace of mind that comes with looking great.