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The face readers: what experts know about your beauty habits

Whether you're a side sleeper or SPF avoider, skin and aesthetic experts are able to 'read' your skin during a treatment

While specific goals are usually discussed during consultations with an aesthetic doctor or facialist, it’s what their expert eyes see that shines a revealing light on our skincare and lifestyle routines or habits—the good and the bad.

A close inspection of our faces gives them more information than we realise. For example, they might notice how much sleep we get and what side we sleep on, if we’re daily sunscreen users or even need to up our water intake.

In my case, experts have long divined that I practice what beauty editors affectionately call ‘tits up skincare,’ applying everything—retinol and sunscreen included—from hairline to breasts. At age 50, my décolletage is relatively toned and wrinkle-free, whereas when the area is neglected, it will age faster and more obviously than a cared-for face.

The upside of this facial detective work is that specialists can better advise on the tweaks we can make to optimise our skincare and the results of treatments, making the pre-treatment consultation as well as the treatment itself so important. We asked EV Experts to reveal what they can commonly tell about a client’s habits and the switch-ups that will improve them.

They can tell… you often sleep on one side

“Over time, sleeping on one side can lead to deeper wrinkles on that side of the face, particularly on the forehead and cheeks,” reveals Dr Emmaline Ashley, EV Expert and Founder, Ashley Aesthetics. “This is something that often becomes apparent during injectable consultations, when patients point out a static wrinkle that only appears on one side.”

It’s something Dr Ashley finds herself discussing in particular with clients who think that muscle-freezing injections have stopped working, when in reality they have developed sleep lines over years. “While it's challenging to change lifelong sleeping habits, sleeping on a silk pillowcase to minimise friction and wrinkle formation is a small but positive step to take,” she recommends.

They can tell… you’re not using a retinol or exfoliant

Skipping skincare steps happens to even the most fastidious of us on occasion, but regularly neglecting to ensure dead surface cells are being sloughed away and deeper down replaced by fresh ones, will mean the complexion looks lacklustre and becomes congested.

“I can see it in people's skin when they are not routinely exfoliating as it appears quite dull, and they may also develop blackheads, whiteheads and spots,” says EV Expert, GP and Aesthetics Doctor Dr Ahmed El Muntasar. “Exfoliation, particularly chemical exfoliation, is so important to help with cell turnover and improve the skin quality.”

Try adding a nightly vitamin A formula, swapping it for an AHA-based exfoliator once a week if you want to improve tone; BHAs if you have oily or acne-prone skin, or PHA's for those with sensitive complexions.

They can tell… you’re using harsh products

“Overuse of harsh cleansers, exfoliants and other actives can strip the skin's natural oils, leading to dryness, irritation, and redness,” explains Dr Ashley. “These patients are often skincare enthusiasts, knowledgeable about ingredients and always want to try the next big thing.

"Sometimes they come to be frustrated that their skin never is quite right and we have to discuss that they are actually irritating their skin with too much product. If the skin barrier seems compromised, I recommend a gentle cleanser and that we focus on skin barrier repair to restore balance. Once their skin is calm and healthy again, we can slowly introduce appropriate actives one at a time to target specific skin concerns if needed.”

They can tell… you pick at your skin

The misconception that picking at a spot will make it miraculously disappear faster may go a long way to explaining why it’s such a common habit. “Picking or squeezing blemishes can leave behind scars, hyperpigmentation, and inflammation,” warns Dr Ashley. “Particularly in skin of colour, post-inflammatory pigmentation can leave a discolouration that lingers for months after the initial lesion has healed. I gently address the habit and explain the potential long-term consequences.”

Rather than attacking with fingers, Dr Ashley recommends applying spot treatments containing salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide or a retinoid to help clear blemishes without the need for picking. “If you absolutely cannot resist, make sure you have clean hands, use gauze or Q-tips and cleanse before and after with an antimicrobial like Clinisoothe+,” she adds.

They can tell… you drink enough water

“It’s evident in the skin quality because if you’re dehydrated, the skin looks dehydrated too,” says Dr El Muntasar. Think more pronounced lines and wrinkles, a flaky texture and dullness. “The skin on the hands and lips in particular can look really dehydrated. It’s really important to drink plenty of water and although not scientifically backed, most experts recommend drinking eight glasses per day.

"The best way to know if you're hydrated or not is based on the colour of your pee: you want it to be clear or a straw-like colour.” You can also try the simple skin turgor test: pinch the skin on your cheek, chest or back of your hand—when you release it, if skin doesn’t immediately return to normal, you might be dehydrated.

They can tell…  you use sun protection

“Consistent sun protection leads to a smoother, more even skin tone with fewer fine lines and dark spots,” encourages Dr Ashley. “Those who neglect sunscreen often have more pronounced wrinkles, sun spots and a rougher texture. While this is certainly obvious in older patients who have spent a lifetime in the sun, I can see tell-tale signs in patients even in their 30s if they have not been good with sun protection!”

While Dr Ashley suggests that chemical peels or laser resurfacing may help improve skin texture and reduce the appearance of sunspots depending on the extent of the damage, it’s never too late to prevent further harm by using a broad spectrum SPF50 sunscreen every day, rain or shine,” she advises.

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