Friday, January 6, 2017

Mantle Pieces

It's that time of year where we're most likely deconstructing our mantle pieces, rolling back the garlands and dismantling the stockings which once adorned the orifice through which Santa would come into our home. But aside from the mantles which surround our fireplace, there are several other applications for the word. Indeed, the word mantle, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, stands for, "a cloak or shawl, worn especially by women." Its synonyms of cape, wrap or covering can also refer to our "acid mantle", otherwise known as the thin cloak or film which covers our skin, "discouraging the growth of fungi or bacteria and protecting us from environmental assaults," according, appropriately, to The Naked Chemist. And it is this "first line of defense" which remains first in line for care.

Ho, Ho, Ho

In my Western Civ. course (circa 1999), we learned that England, being the semi-island that it is, experienced its last successful invasion in 1066. Surrounded by water, the English learned early on that a strong navy was key to securing its borders. Indeed, there are some that may say alliances and/or pens and treaties are mightier than the sword but, in the biologic sense both opinions seem true. While our acid mantles are much like our first lines of defense in terms of outside "invaders", it is in our best interest to treat our own personal navy with a sense of compassion or, at least, balance.

While we could all benefit from balance, we all need different vehicles to help ourselves get there. For me, my oily skin makes me want to reach for the nearest bottle of bleach to try and strip any excess sebum from my face. But, of course, fighting fire with fire is futile in the end. In general, what helps bring balance to any scale are two opposites. And just as they claim that "opposites attract", our skin can often benefit from a cleanser posited at the opposite end of the pH scale.

In general, the pH scale posits objects ranging from acidic to basic on a scale from 1 to 14 with acidic materials falling below 7 and basic materials "falling" above. And though the term acid mantle may deliver the assumption that its acidic, our individual mantles may be acid or basic, depending on our "makeup". According to Into the Gloss, if one has skin like mine - prone to breakouts and irritation, one's acid mantle likely registers as acidic whereas skin which is more delicate and dry likely registers as basic. In this sense, knowing which cleanser (or moisturizer) to choose becomes a bit easier. Below lies a few suggestions. Enjoy!

Dr. Hauschka's Soothing Cleansing Milk: When I was in my twenties and wanted my skin to "cooperate already", I went to the Trish McEvoy counter in Nordstrom and told them I was tried of using milk cleansers and essentially wanted something that would strip away and impurities from my face. The salesperson, being dutiful as she was, nodded in agreement and showed me what she had. Even then, however, I knew that being harsh to my skin was not the answer. When I matured and finally got a hold of my diet (see below), my skin began to clear enough for me to admit that what I needed wasn't the "bad boy" of skincare (that would foam up on your face), what I needed was the nice, "basic" cleanser that would act as a foil to my irritated and acidic dermis. In the end, cutting milk from my diet truly allowed me to use a milky cleanser. And as I grew older and my budget became smaller, I came to find that Dr. Hauschka's Soothing Cleansing Milk serves as a great, middle-of-the-road product. I suppose I should like it due to it's natural ingredients and a purity that starts with the, "intention of the farmer" but really I like it because it's sold at CVS.

Neutrogena: In the 90's, Neutrogena was pretty big and for good reason. It's use of salicydic acid in its products promised to blast away blackheads before any of us were old enough to use Accutane. That "tingly feeling" was all the rage back then, with many commercials claiming, "it's how you know the product is working." And while my skin could have benefited more from a more basic cleanser, skin which is dry, sensitive and all around more alkaline, could likely benefit from this foamy friend.

Diet: As they say, "you are what you eat". To this extent, the Alkaline Diet (which seems to be having a moment) is something we can do to help our bodies (and skin) from the inside, out. In a sense, the diet is not much of a diet at all but a way of eating healthy. Based on the premise that foods like meat, dairy and wheat can cause the body to produce acid (and thereby other ailments like cancer and arthritis), the diet promotes "alkaline foods" or those which help to keep our bodies at a more balanced pH (think, fresh fruits and vegetables). While the diet seems strict in its protocol of no meat or no alcohol, I've never been a proponent of religiously eliminating a food group from your diet based on pre-ordained structures. What I can say is that when my body began to naturally eschew dairy products, my skin became bearable enough that I wasn't self-conscious posing for pictures. We'll just say it's a "Facebook-friendly" diet.

So there you have it, a few procedures to help keep your skin (and body) in balance. Just as we refer to our significant others as our "better halves" whose differing characteristics can bring us into greater balance, we should be able to say the same about our skin care. It's that important. Psych!

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