You’ve invested in the retinol, you’re using vitamin C daily and you’re applying a weekly exfoliation mask.
However, if your skin is still looking lacklustre, what other options do you have?
Thankfully, renowned facialist Abigail James says a glowing complexion isn’t just about skincare and that we need to look past ‘miracle creams’ and approach our regimes from a 360-degree point of view.
The award-winning aesthetician’s second book, The Glow Plan, integrates practical facial massage with inspirational lifestyle tips, including nutrition advice and yoga techniques, to get your skin glowing from the inside out.
Here we ask Abigail for advice on how we can start boosting our skin so we can head into the bare-faced summer months with confidence.
For face massage, just add a teaspoon
‘Lymphatic drainage is a form of gentle but highly effective massage that encourages the movement of lymph fluids around the body,’ says Abigail, sharing tips for a healthy look without expensive lotions.
‘These methods can be incredibly beneficial for skin and body health – even for those with a condition like acne or rosacea. Other forms of massage are generally too stimulating for these skin types.
‘Whether or not you have a skin condition, lymphatic drainage can be immensely calming and help reduce puffiness.
‘While many people advise using oil when performing lymphatic drainage, in my opinion, the extra “slip” can mean we miss the all-important lymph and limit results.
‘The lymphatic vessels are as fine as silk strands, and if you press too hard, you’ll flatten them. Imagine the light pressure of a 20-pence piece resting on the pads of your fingers, then try to recreate this sensation throughout your lymph drainage practice.
‘The lymphatic system doesn’t have a pump (such as the heart) to move lymph around, so it relies on muscular movement and a very slight peristalsis (or wave-like) motion.
‘The point is to move the skin over tissue, applying a little pressure before releasing. The lymphatic system is a like a traffic jam.
‘We need to move the traffic at the front of the queue before the rest of the cars can continue on their journey. For this reason, we always start at the neck, then work up to the face, then back down again.’
If you think you need fancy gadgets for a facial massage, think again. Abigail says teaspoons are easily accessible, easy to use and do the trick just as well.
Here’s a quick facial massage to try at home:
Foods to boost your skin
There is a lot of hype around vitamin products, but Abigail says we shouldn’t underestimate the power of food and a good shopping list is all you need – and will save you some money.
‘There are two forms of vitamin A – retinol and beta-carotene,’ she explains. ‘You find retinol in meat and eggs, while beta-carotene can be found in orange fruit and vegetables like carrots, sweet potato, pumpkin, squash and apricots. Asparagus, kale and spinach are also good sources.’
And for a vitamin C hit she suggests watercress, kale, broccoli, red pepper, tomatoes, citrus fruits, strawberries and kiwi.
‘Vitamin E is an important antioxidant as it helps protect against free radical damage by absorbing radiation from UV light so include seeds, nuts, olive oil, wheat germ oil, rainbow trout and avocado in your diet.’
Thankfully red wine is still on the menu. ‘Resveratrol is another powerful free radical scavenger, which you can find in red grapes, red wine (in moderation), raisins and acai berries,’ she adds.
‘And, if you’re suffering from dark under-eye circles, try increasing your intake of vitamin K-rich spring onions, asparagus, broccoli, spinach, lettuce, kiwi and cooked rhubarb. Leafy green vegetables, in particular, bring incredible skin benefits, so try and squeeze some into your diet every day.’
‘Acupressure follows the same principles as acupuncture, except it uses fingers rather than needles. It’s deeply calming, and I love including it in my night-time skincare routine,’ Abigail says.
‘The technique involves stimulating the internal organs via chi channels (meridians).
‘To perform facial acupressure, use your thumb or a finger to press firmly into each point. You can rotate or pump on each point, or just hold for five to ten seconds while breathing deeply and slowly.
‘Don’t worry about finding the exact point: you’ll be stimulating local nerves and tissues even if you’re not on the perfect spot. This will improve circulation, release tension within muscles and free the flow of energy and blood.
‘As most of these meridians begin and end on the face, you’re also stimulating other areas of the body to soothe inflammation and support detoxification.
‘By promoting blood flow at the skin surface, facial acupressure encourages all-important nutrients to reach our skin cells. This helps stimulate collagen production, increasing the elasticity of our skin and smoothing wrinkles.’
Colour wheel meditation
‘This is a combination of breathwork and visualisation that’s particularly useful if you find your mind racing at night,’ she says.
‘I’ve called this technique colour wheel meditation, but it’s also referred to as chakra meditation. It involves focusing on seven specific areas of the body while visualising colours and wheel-like shapes.
If you’re into chakras and healing, each chakra has its own colour. Red and orange start at the tailbone; yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet follow as you move up toward the crown of your head.
As you focus on each area of the body during this exercise, imagine breathing in the colour you’re focusing on. By doing this you distract the mind from the noise going around your head and help it to focus on something else.
However, if this sounds too mumbo-jumbo for you, the simple act of focusing on a colour and a specific area of the body, while calming is another form of meditation.’
Skincare: Go for the trio
‘How our skin looks and feels is intrinsically linked with how we feel about ourselves,’ says Abigail.
‘More than 50% of women say that skin problems hold them back from living life to the full. Remember that your skin is as unique as your genetics. So, what works for your friend may not work for you.
‘The best way to start thinking about a routine that’s right for your skin is to imagine a plate of food.
‘Just as we know that our diet should be made up of at least five portions of fruit and veg a day (ideally more) along with protein, healthy fats and wholegrains, we can imagine certain ingredients on a plate.’
You might have been told retinol is the holy grail of skincare ingredients, but if you just use that, then it’s really not good for your skin.’
With this in mind, Abigail says the top three ingredients we should be looking to include in our skincare routine are a good antioxidant, such as vitamin C, to help prevent sun damage and improve the appearance of wrinkles, dark spots, and acne.
Something for skin hydration, so either a hyaluronic acid, ceramide or oil and something that will create cell turnover like a retinol product or an Alpha Hydroxy Acid to then improve skin texture.
Drink more water
We all know the benefits of drinking water and the Eatwell Guide advises drinking six to eight glasses of fluid every day. This includes water, lower-fat milk, sugar-free drinks, tea and coffee.
Water makes up around two-thirds of our body weight and is vital for homeostasis – it carries nutrients around the body, flushes out toxins, regulates our temperature, acts as a shock absorber for our joints etc – however we are constantly losing it through urine and sweat etc so it is imperative to maintain levels.
‘Our cells throughout our body need water to function effectively,’ says Abigail.
‘Water also helps transport toxins and waste away more effectively, so drinking enough water throughout the day is key to keeping skin looking plump and hydrated as well as functioning effectively – think healthy skin, less congestion, more vibrancy.
‘Therefore, aim to drink eight glasses of water (more if it’s hot, you’re exercising or going through menopause) during the day. Gasping through a hot, sweaty commute then downing your daily quota in one go is all very well but your body will pee most of it out rather than using it to good effect.’
Take a breath
‘Working as a facialist and therapist for over 20 years, I have seen first-hand how powerful the mind/skin connection is,’ says Abigail.
‘This is something I have always been very aware of. I have found techniques such as hypnosis, guided meditation, cognitive behavioural therapy and other forms of psychotherapy can not only help alleviate the mental angst associated with skin conditions, but can also increase the efficacy of topical treatments.
‘In one study, people who listened to a mindfulness meditation programme while undergoing phototherapy treatment for rosacea needed 40% less exposure to ultraviolet light than others.’
And that’s not all – she says regular breathwork practice can bring a whole host of benefits.
‘From lowering our blood pressure and increasing infection-fighting white blood cells to oxygenating our muscles and relieving tension,’ she says.
‘As 70% of toxins leave the body via the lungs, it’s also a vital means of detoxification. Also, by controlling glucose levels, which impact cell ageing, breathwork can help get your skin glowing.’
Find out more with Abigail James.
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