We’ve all seen those women IRL — the ones with strikingly great, glowing skin — and, in a moment of mental pause, wondered, how? (And it’s even more perplexing if they aren’t wearing makeup.) Turns out, most of them are doing some, or all, of the same things on a daily basis. Here’s what they’re getting right.
1. They use sun protection. All. The. Time.
You’ve heard it about a thousand times for a reason. Few things bear repeating more than “wear sunscreen,” and this essential edict is also one of the simplest to follow.
“The most important rule of sunscreen is to use it,” says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. He suggests using a product with at least SPF 30 and reapplying it every two hours (more often if you’re sweating or swimming).
Moisturizers with sunscreen are only getting better, sheerer, and easier to wear, so there’s no excuse not to wear one daily. New formulas may also protect against infrared heat, which, says Zeichner, is associated with worsening of pigmentation. As with every what, there’s a respective how and a when: for sunscreen, it’s using at least a quarter-sized dollop for your face, and wearing it even indoors if you’re near a window, as UV light can penetrate glass.
There’s sun damage you can see right away (a burn), and the inevitable damage you’ll meet down the road in the form of wrinkles, lost elasticity, sunspots, and dullness. Women that have managed to avoid the latter have also likely spent a lot of time protecting themselves from — or avoiding — the sun.
2. They make sleep a priority.
Nighttime is prime repair time for the skin. Our circadian rhythms are such that certain activities are reserved for the morning, and vice versa. At night, the body stops focusing on basic functions like digestion and puts its energy toward restoration.
“It’s when your skin cells rest and repair themselves from damage sustained during the day,” says Zeichner. “If you are not sleeping as much as you should, this may not occur at an optimal level.”
While dark circles and sallow skin are common giveaways, sleep deprivation has also been linked to accelerated skin aging and impaired skin function. Levels of cortisol — the “stress hormone” — may rise, leading to increased oil production and acne. With insufficient sleep, you may also miss out on the delivery of nutrients to the skin that happens at night.
Whether circumstantial or chronic, lack of sleep is a real — and difficult — thing, and because this isn’t a sleep-exclusive missive, I won’t get too much into that here. But consider this a no-judgment topic. When you can, make sleep a genuine priority; a commitment to yourself, if you will. You’ll feel better, and it will be reflected in how your skin looks as well.
3. And self-care, too.
Arguably the only thing more stressful than stress itself is feeling stressed about what that stress is doing to your skin.
Stress prompts the adrenal glands to release hormones like cortisol, which aids the body’s “fight-or-flight” response to stress. But, always the overachiever, it may also contribute to inflammation and sensitivity. High levels of cortisol are also tied to worsening of conditions like rosacea, acne, and eczema.
So pick something you enjoy — exercise, meditation, massage, deep breathing — and do it regularly to alleviate stress. Or try this technique from celebrity aesthetician Renée Rouleau: Hang your head upside down for three minutes a day. “This helps to bring blood flow back to the face and makes a big difference in getting — and keeping — an inner glow.”
4. They eat fish and vegetables. Often.
“You are what you eat” is one of those clichés that’s just common sense. Eating something in the “bad” category may not result in an instant pimple, but it isn’t doing your skin any favors.
A total nutritional overhaul isn’t a must-do here. Instead, look to the Mediterranean diet for inspiration. It incorporates healthy fats (from olive oil, nuts, and fatty fish like salmon) and antioxidants (green, leafy vegetables) — all great for your skin. Berries, too, “are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to slow down the aging process,” says Rouleau, who also recommends citrus fruits and broccoli as sources of vitamin C.
And lest one forget, water. You know how it’s said that feeling thirsty means your body is already dehydrated? The same must go for the skin. I personally feel drier when I don’t drink enough throughout the day, so I know it’s dulling my skin, too.
5. They use the right tools for the job.
Some skincare ingredients just work, end of story. These include vitamin C, hydroxy acids, antioxidants, and retinol, “the best-studied over-the-counter ingredient to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles,” according to Zeichner.
The right type of exfoliation makes skin glow-y, not red, and helps topical products penetrate instead of simply sitting on the skin’s surface. Find an exfoliating peel and use it weekly (preferably on non-retinol days), or a gentle daily scrub to get rid of dead skin.
And as obvious as it may be, it must be said: Never go to sleep with makeup on. Though makeup-removing wipes are not not cleansing the skin, they’re not completely removing oil, dirt, and pollution that build up throughout the day either. Those things end up on your pillow and are likely rubbed into your skin as you sleep. Use a makeup remover or micellar water before washing your face, or try the double-cleansing method of cleansing oil, then face wash.
And keep this in mind when trying any new skincare product or treatment: Rouleau tells us that ultimately, the path to better skin “is a marathon, not a sprint.”