"Ain't you glad you got skin", sang 1960s joker Allen Sherman, " 'cos skin is what keeps your insides in". For many people, however, having skin is not unalloyed pleasure. From those convinced that soap and water lead to dryness and blotches to those who use Cr me de la Mer (pound;800 buys 200g), skin problems are ever-present companions to mirror-gazers.
Before you take out a second mortgage, it is worth spending time reading labels of the skin products. The search for miracle ingredients to put in lotions is unceasing - Vitamins A or E, "miracle enzyme Q10", avocado oil, or products full of "sensitive skin protector". The biggest ingredient, however, will be "aqua" - water - and most of the others are chemicals that hold water and hydrate the skin. The second or third product may be "parfum", so if you do have a skin prone to allergic reactions put the pot down. Fragrances in skin-care products have been accused of not just triggering allergic reactions, but creating them. Other chemicals may include laureth sulphate, also connected to bad reactions.
The important factors are cleansing, hydration and protection from sun damage. Cleansing removes material that may infect and create spots, while hydration prevents skin scaling and cracking, and protection from sun stops burning and wrinkles (some dermatologists even claim proper sun protection can reverse light wrinkling).
Cleansing with a plain, unmedicated soap is preferable to potions. Soap is fat mixed with an alkali that emulsifies and binds with dirt to lift it off the skin. It also removes some of the skin's oils, leaving it rather dry. For hydration, you need an oily substance. Oil and water don't mix, and water cannot evaporate from skin if it has an oily barrier - women in north Indian villages use mustard oil on their skin for this reason. If there is any chance of nut allergy, avoid anything with "arachis" (peanut oil), which some studies have implicated in eczema as well as nut allergy.
For protection from the sun, you need a formulation to give a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or above, all year round. Most sun blocks contain titanium dioxide: some people are allergic to this, so shop around.
www.skincarecampaign.org for news on products containing containing peanut extractswww.caringforyourskin.comaskadermindex.html for information about skin problemswww.epinions.combeat-skincare for comments from the users of skin-care products.