Why Dermatologists Say ‘Strong Skin’ Is the One Thing Everyone Should Aim For

Photo: Stocksy/Jill Chen
You can use a lot of fluffy, abstract terms to describe your ideal complexion. For instance: I would like my skin to look as glowy as an alien's (IDK what glowy actually means, but I want it). I also prefer my complexion to be happy and calm, not irritable (my mood is enough for that). One pillar of good skin that could actually use more fleshing out in hopes of achieving it? Strong skin.

Yet most people slather on products to solve problems, like brightening dark spots or squelching breakouts. Strong skin, though, should be the baseline that you're aiming for to have a healthy complexion. "Everybody wants strong skin," says Ashish Bhatia, MD, FAAD, dermatologist, chief medical advisor of Carpe, and associate professor of clinical dermatology at Northwestern University. "It's not just that your skin looks good, but that it functions the way it should."

It's a lot like having a strong skin barrier—another important aspect of good skin—but overall skin strength is more than that. "The barrier is one of the components of it, but the skin has two main layers," says Dr. Bhatia, who points out that there's the skin barrier, which acts as your first defense from outer elements and keeps moisture in, but also the layer with your hair follicles, sweat glands, and oil glands. "These need to function well, or else you'll have issues like acne," he says.

Holistic facialist Tammy Fender thinks of "strong" skin as having "enhanced immunity," meaning it's protected externally and internally... the opposite of which would be weakened skin. "If your skin's weakened, more skin conditions will arise, whether it's types of eczema, some kind of breakout, irritation, inflammation, redness, or these sorts of things," she says. Though we're all aiming to turn over cells to reveal that "glow," she says that "you have to be equally replenishing to the skin."

Now, how can you get stronger skin? These are the five rules to follow.

1. Keep your pores clear: Since pores are such an important component of your complexion, you've gotta keep them happy—which means not clogged, so they can breathe. "Universally, it's key to keep the follicles open and not let them get clogged, which can lead to acne," says Dr. Bhatia. So that's done by regular exfoliation, which sloughs off the dead skin buildup, and slathering on some form of retinol (which speeds up cell turnover to keep your pores free). As Fender notes, though, you can go too far, so start by doing this once a week and work your way up from there.

2. Stick to "less is more": When you inundate your face with active product after active product, your skin tends to rebel. "One mistake people make a lot, especially when they have acne, is that they try to scrub too much or over-cleanse," says Dr. Bhatia. "This just leads to more irritation or inflammation, which isn't something we want." So take it easy when you wash, and opt for hydrating, milky cleansers.

3. Use soothing products: It's all about playing nice with your skin, not going into combat with it (i.e. with scrubs or harsh, drying ingredients). "Serums and oils have a tendency to penetrate deep into the skin," says Fender, who created her brand's Plant Milk ($125) for the whole purpose of soothing the skin. Her advice? Look for replenishing ingredients like calendula, white lily, and carrot seed extract. Dr. Bhatia also recommends incorporating ceramides—which support the skin's barrier—and moisturizing hyaluronic acid into your routine.

4. Avoid hot water: Though it can feel good (especially when it's cold out), hot water is not your skin's friend. "Don't use severely hot water," says Dr. Bhatia. "Hot water not only directly irritates the skin, but it strips away the skin's natural moisturizers, which are necessary to help maintain the skin's barrier."

5. Protect skin from the climate: Harsh climates don't just take a toll on your body—your skin can be just as vulnerable. "Very cold, dry air or very hot air can definitely cause skin issues," says Dr. Bhatia. "I recommend using UV protection with a broad-spectrum sunscreen, and slathering on heavier moisturizers to accommodate for whatever conditions that you're in."

Pro tip: These are the best serums for dry skin, according to a derm. And this is what you should know about day and night creams in your skin-care routine. 

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