No other part of our body gets such devoted attention and care as does our skin. We cater to skin’s cosmetic and health-care needs, pampering it with costly creams, masks, and lotions. Last year Americans paid more than $3 billion on skin-care and sun-care products.

Here are some everyday tips for improving skin’s health and appearance:

* Add oil to your bath water, to help keep skin moist and soft. First soak for 10 or 15 minutes, then pour oil into the water. Your skin becomes hydrated with water and the oil traps the moisture inside. If you add the oil first, the oily coating over your body may prevent hydration.

* Aromatherapy can eliminate or improve dry skin. Some essential oils seem especially helpful in reducing dry skin. For example, physicians have long recommended eucalyptus oil to help reduce congestion; similarly, if added to a warm bath or applied directly to your skin it could also help reduce chapped skin. Aromatherapists claim essential oils found in geraniums, chamomile, evening primrose, jasmine, and dried nettles help treat dry, irritated skin conditions.

According to the book, Essential Aromatherapy, “Essential oils are concentrated plant essences. Although they are called `oils,’ this is something of a misnomer because most essential oils are not in fact oily…. A few essential oils are rather viscous and others are fairly solid. Most, however, are watery, with lavender, lemon, and eucalyptus being classic examples…. Of course, essential oils are characterized most of all by their individual aromas-hence the term `aromatherapy.'”

* Whatever oil you choose, use only natural, essential, chemical-free oils, like those found in your health food store. Preservatives, alcohol, chemicals, and artificial deodorants found in some oils, cleansers, or moisturizers can damage skin. These ingredients can also irritate skin, causing allergies, blemishes, and rough skin.

* Use natural, gentle soaps. Clean skin looks beautiful and all soap cleans skin, but it does not follow that all soaps keep skin beautiful. Harsh soaps can strip natural, anti-wrinkling oil from your skin. Use only natural soaps and cleansers that complement your skin type.

* After your bath or after washing your face or hands, allow your skin to partially air dry. Oil applied to wet skin helps hold in moisture.

* Hypoallergenic ingredients generally do not produce allergies; nonetheless, some people allergic to flowers or grasses may also have allergies to cleansers, oils, or moisturizers with these most natural ingredients. Know your needs and your allergies before you buy any products.

For some skin, the problem is not too little oil, but too much. Under the influence of hormonal changes and stress, certain glands can overexcrete oil. These glands, most numerous on the face, chest and back, also produce other substances that can clog skin and attract bacteria. The inevitable result is a series of breakouts.

Here are some cleansing tips for those with oily skin:

* Easy does it. Scrubbing skin squeaky clean can make oily skin worse. The more skin gets stimulated by harsh rubbing or with harsh cleansers, the more you activate the glands to produce oil.

* Use a natural product. Although only a dermatologist can treat skin problems, you can help your skin by using a cleanser specially suited for your type of skin. Natural cleansers contain pure ingredients that help keep skin clean without stimulating more oil production and worsening skin problems.

The importance of protecting against aging while cleaning and treating skin

Although aging comes naturally to skin, you can slow prematurely old-looking skin. Free radicals, unstable chemicals that form when skin gets exposed to sunlight and certain chemicals, speed aging by destroying natural oils on the skin. These oils, known as lipids, provide a cover that traps moisture within the skin.

* The hottest new skin-care ingredients to look for are alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAB) that can help undo some damage done by the sun and free radicals. AHAs promote the rapid turnover of skin cells, helping remove surface blemishes, smooth rough skin, and lighten discolorations.

* Antioxidants help to promote younger-looking skin. Unlike AHAs that help reverse damage, antioxidants help foster younger-looking skin by protecting skin from damage in the first place. Antioxidants, like vitamins A, C and E, beta-carotene, and green tea extract are known to combat free radicals.

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