TAKING CARE OF THE SKIN YOU'RE IN
Lead, antimony, almonds and ashes to define the eyes; sesame and olive oils mixed with herbs and spices to bathe bodies; henna or red ocher to add color to faces and fingernails; mud baths, enhanced with crocodile dung, to beautify the skin; lead and arsenic to whiten the skin and give an impression of a leisurely indoor life...these sound like beauty recipes that might have come straight from the pages of a modern magazine for trendy women don’t they? Think again though—these are all beauty secrets from the pages of history—and they were often lavished on men—usually wealthy, powerful men.
Grooming aids for men (and women) date back about 10,000 years to the early Egyptians, who believed that the cleaner and more attractive a person was, the stronger their spiritual connection to the gods. Consequently, the Egyptians spent considerable time and money on making themselves beautiful and employed many different types of cosmetics. Men and women alike owned makeup kits, wore perfumed oils and created elaborate hairstyles. There were practical benefits to the Egyptians’ love of cosmetics as well—dark kohl gave shape to eyes while it reduced sun glare and herbal oils helped keep skin from drying in the harsh climate and probably repelled insects too.
The ancient Greeks adopted the Egyptians’ use of cosmetics, but were less concerned with increasing spirituality and more interested in fostering inner harmony and happiness. The Romans came along later with their purely hedonistic ways and cosmetic use became strictly a means of enhancing pleasure. They bathed in pure oil perfumed with the costliest ingredients and crocodile-enhanced mud baths were used to keep skin looking its best. Wealthy Roman men used nail polish made of sheep fat and blood and dyed their hair with caustic potions—at least until it fell out! They routinely wore eye and face makeup and jewels.
The ancient Celts used woad, a plant similar to indigo, to tattoo or dye their bodies blue, both for religious rites and as battle “dress.” This was another cosmetic with practical application though; woad acted to stop bleeding and heal wounds, as well as creating a fearsome appearance.
Cosmetic use tapered off as the Church rose to world power. Bathing was considered dangerous and usually only occurred once or twice each year, and vanity and personal ornamentation were often equated with godlessness, except among the wealthiest and most noble men. Things began to change again during the reign of Elizabeth I with face makeup becoming very popular with the upper classes. Unfortunately, the makeup was made of lead and arsenic and brought an untimely end to many fashionable men. Perfumes were again in vogue and elaborate waxed and powdered wigs were worn.
Cosmetics were frowned upon during the Victorian era and thought to be a sign of bad morals and men, especially, discontinued their use. While women have almost always enjoyed a certain amount of cosmetic enhancement it has only been in the last several years that men’s personal care products and cosmetics have seen a broad comeback. In 1994 British journalist Mark Simpson presented the world with the term “metro-sexual,” which he defined as any man who has a strong sense of personal aesthetics and spends a fair amount of time and money to enhance his looks and lifestyle. This has created an explosion of products and services ranging from skin and hair products to television programs, spa services and cosmetics created specifically for men.
Whether your skin is male or female it deserves care and nourishment. Skin protects us from infection and injuries; it eliminates toxins and waste from our bodies, so when we break out in a rash it is usually a sign that something else is wrong. Skin conjures Vitamin D from sunlight and helps keep us hydrated. It makes sense to do as many things as possible to take care of our skin, from buying quality skin products to eating well and sleeping enough. Our skin absorbs the things we put on it, so reading ingredient labels is also important.
While the Co-op doesn’t currently stock makeup for men, there are several other products geared to guys and their personal care needs. If you are planning to buy Dad the same-old after-shave for Father’s Day this year, this might be the time to try something new.
Shaving products might be the most obvious male-oriented category. Men have been shaving their facial hair just about as long as they have been growing it, though the practice has had variations throughout history influenced by religion, fashion and location. Razors have been made from almost anything that could be sharpened, including clamshells, shark’s teeth, stone, and flint. The Pharaohs were buried with razors made of gold and copper; we’ve seen straight edges, double and triple blades, swivel heads and triple-rotating-head electric razors that dispense facial conditioner for a “moisturizing and soothing shave.”
You won’t find gold razors or triple-swivel-head technology in our Health and Wellness department, but we carry a large assortment of shaving creams, gels, brushes and soaps, as well as recyclable Preserve razors and a basic Gillette model. The Preserve razors have handles that are made of 100% recycled plastic and at least 65% comes from recycled Stonyfield Farm yogurt cups. They can be recycled in any facility that accepts #5 plastics or you can send them back to the manufacturer in prepaid mailers that are available in the Health and Wellness department. You will also find after-shave balms and creams to soothe tender skin and fragrances ranging from traditional bay rum to Herban Cowboy’s vegan cologne.
Virtually all the shaving products we carry are made with natural ingredients that many experts believe may be safer for the user and the environment. Manufacturers of conventional fragrances and skin care products use hundreds of chemicals to create a scent, improve absorption, build foam, reduce melting, retard spoilage and for a host of other reasons. Those chemicals can also irritate skin and cause dermatitis. They may cause respiratory irritation and allergic reactions and some conventional ingredients are believed to be carcinogenic. When the skin is freshly shaved, there are lots of raw surfaces, along with open pores, to absorb oils, herbs or chemicals that are applied.
There are conflicting opinions as to whether men should cleanse and exfoliate skin before or after shaving, but skin care gurus all agree both activities should happen daily. Men tend to spend more time outdoors than women; they are exposed to more environmental pollution and plain old dirt and they often sweat more than women. Cleansing the skin rids it of impurities and enables it to function well. Cleansing in this sense can mean using a simple vegetable oil-based soap or a gel or foaming cleanser that is designed to work with a particular skin type, usually oily, dry or combination. Exfoliating scrubs are new territory for most men; they remove dead skin cells and help prevent ingrown beard hairs. A scrub can be manual, as in skin brush or loofah, or it can be a granular skin care product that is massaged onto the face and neck and then rinsed off. Follow it up with shaving, and then a moisturizer to soothe the face. For guys that really want to get in touch with this new side of personal care, the experts recommend doing this twice a day, and occasionally adding a toning mask to keep the skin clear and taut. Now you know what women do during all that bathroom time!
One aspect of skin care that many men often overlook is sun care. There is ongoing debate over the danger of sun exposure versus the possible dangers of the chemicals in sunscreens. One thing that is not subject to debate is that we all need some sun exposure daily, without sunscreen, for our bodies to synthesize Vitamin D; in the summer months ten to twenty minutes per day is thought to be sufficient. Many new studies indicate that Vitamin D deficiency is common in our part of the world and may be implicated in many health problems including cancer, obesity, sleep disorders, skin problems and reduced immunity. Exposure to sunlight helps resolve depression and seasonal affective disorder and may help to maintain balanced blood sugar levels and reduce high blood pressure. When skin is overexposed to sun, it burns and repeated sunburn can increase the chance of developing skin cancer. One way to avoid sunburn is to cover up-wear long sleeved shirts, full-length pants and a hat with a wide brim, but if you are planning to work or play in our hot, humid Wisconsin summer, that probably doesn’t sound like an inviting option. It’s a good idea to build up exposure to the sun gradually, starting with just a few minutes a day if you are very fair-skinned. In addition you may want to use a sunscreen or sun block, but be sure to choose one that contains safe ingredients. Although sunscreens and blocks will help prevent sunburn, they have not been proven to prevent skin cancer. Many of these products contain ingredients that are actually known or suspected carcinogens or hormone disrupters like diethanolamine, triethanolamine (DEA, TEA), padimate-o, octyl dimethyl PABA, benzophenone, oxybenzone, octyl-methoxycinnamate (octinoxate), salicylates, and parabens and others. The Environmental Working Group recently published a scientific review of more than 1000 sunscreen products and found that 86% contained dangerous ingredients or did not provide enough protection. The EWG study results are available online at: http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/special/sunscreens/summary.php. Safer sunscreen choices can be found in our Health and Wellness department. Look for products from Aubrey Organics, California Baby, Avalon Baby, Alba Botanicals, Badger, Burt’s Bees and a new spray product from Kiss My Face.
Male or female, we sweat when we work or play hard, when we are nervous, and in some cases because of illness. When we are hot, sweat helps cool us through evaporation. According to the Mayo Clinic, a single pea-sized drop of sweat can cool almost a liter of blood by one degree Fahrenheit-pretty impressive, but when that drop of sweat meets up with bacteria on the skin, it can bloom into body odor. Americans spend millions of dollars on antiperspirants and deodorants every year to fight body odor. Mum was trademarked in 1888, the first major antiperspirant to hit the market. Conventional grocery and drug stores now display a variety of antiperspirants and deodorants that rivals the cereal aisle! These products come in fragrances that match men’s aftershaves and colognes-and they contain many of the same questionable chemical ingredients. On our shelves, with only two exceptions, you will find natural deodorants, but no antiperspirants. They contain plant-based ingredients and natural minerals and several of them match the natural fragrances found in our men’s shaving products.
Our skin is only as healthy as the rest of our body, no matter how many products we apply each day. The same habits that keep us healthy on the inside also benefit our outside and should be considered a part of daily personal care.
Whole foods, eaten as fresh as possible are a healthy foundation. The USDA recommend that men eat at least three cups of vegetables and two cups of fruit each day, as well as some protein and several servings of grains, most or all of which should be whole grains. Fats and sweets, along with alcohol, should be consumed sparingly. Men who are very active should increase their consumption of these foods, but do not need extra empty calories from sugar and alcohol. Fried foods should also be avoided—they are as bad for the skin as for the circulatory system. If your diet is less than optimal you may want to consider supplements. Most people can benefit from adding a good multi-vitamin each day. Men with extra protein needs might consider supplementing with a protein powder drink. There are many kinds available—the protein bases vary and might contain soy, whey, hemp or rice protein, and there are different flavors available as well. Many people choose to add a green drink supplement to their daily routine, especially if they aren’t regularly able to eat the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables. When thinking about your diet, don’t neglect liquids. Skin looks its best when the body is properly hydrated and summer activities may require fluids to be replenished more frequently.
Another healthy foundation block is daily exercise. Exercise builds muscles and keeps them strong—and that includes heart muscle as well as abs and biceps. Strong muscles burn more calories and improve posture and balance along with making heavy jobs easier and improving appearance. Exercise is also important for building and maintaining good aerobic conditioning; it’s a stress reliever and nature’s best sleep enhancer. Regular exercise is very beneficial to skin; the increased circulation helps to flush away toxins and bring nutrients to the skin. The added oxygen aids in collagen production which helps plump up the skin and lends a more youthful appearance. Two recent lab studies have shown that exercise helps to protect against skin and bowel cancer. Experts recommend that adults engage in at least thirty minutes of moderate activity five or more days each week. That can include fun activities like swimming, biking, soccer, volleyball and the like or things like yard work, vacuuming, and gardening. Just try to engage in things that you enjoy, that employ a variety of muscles and movements and that keep your heart rate elevated. If you want to do a good deed while exercising consider mowing an elderly neighbor’s lawn or, if it fits into your life, adopt a dog and take him on a long walk every day.
Stress relief is another important component of personal care. Stress impacts our bodies in all sorts of ways; it can cause insomnia, weight gain or loss, depression, elevated blood pressure, reduced immunity, tight muscles, and skin problems. Skin eruptions such as eczema, hives, and acne can be a direct result of stress. Exercise is a great stress-buster, but you may also want to try meditation, yoga or t’ai chi, or massage. Don’t forget to laugh often—it’s the best medicine for many things.
Sufficient amounts of sound sleep on a daily basis also need to be part of your personal care blueprint. Most Americans regularly function on a sleep deficit. We work long hours and then try to relax with rich food and beverages, often in front of a television screen. We consume caffeine to keep ourselves alert and light our homes brightly during all our waking hours. More and more people take their laptops to bed in order to catch up or get just a little more work done. All of these habits make it even tougher for us to sleep well and the deficit shows up quickly in the form of dark circles under the eyes, puffy, baggy eyelids, and a generally diminished sense of wellbeing. Studies have shown that sleep deficits and disorders contribute to a host of health issues including heart problems, obesity, depression, and diabetes as well as a higher incidence of work injuries and vehicular accidents.
If you have sleep problems there are some steps you can take to change the situation. In order to sleep well, our bodies need regular exercise, real food in moderate amounts, and fresh air. It’s a good idea to try to get to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time every morning. Your bedroom should be dark, and a comfortably cool temperature. If noise keeps you awake, try a pair of soft earplugs, or play soothing music at a very low volume. Exercise revs the body up, so try to work out early and at least three hours before you want to sleep. A warm bath at bedtime can be relaxing; herbal tea is also soothing, but avoid caffeine after mid-afternoon. Eat dinner at least three hours before bed, but you may find a light snack before bedtime helps you sleep better. Foods that contain a little protein and some carbohydrates seem to work best—try a slice of toast with nut butter or a small bowl of yogurt or cottage cheese with a couple of whole-grain crackers. Avoid foods that are greasy or very sugary, and of course skip anything that gives you heartburn. Alcohol disrupts sleep and its effects seem to be more noticeable as we get older.
Modern life has most guys wearing many different hats—whether your favorite is a fishing hat, hardhat, bike helmet or a ball cap, take a little time to nurture the skin your hat is shading.