The Glowdown: A Derm Shares Her Skincare Secrets
The Glowdown: A Derm Shares Her Skincare Secrets
Want to know everything there is to know about our most complex organ, our skin? You’re not alone. We tapped Dr. Julie Russak, MD, founder and CEO of Russak Dermatology Clinic and Russak+ Aesthetic Center and a fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology, to answer our most pressing questions. From SPF to collagen, she’s covering it all. Let’s dive in…
Tell us about yourself and why you chose to get into the field of Dermatology?
I grew up in Russia where taking care of yourself and your skin is a part of everyday life for every woman. I remember my mother having a book where she wrote down all the Russian skincare recipes and face masks passed down from generation to generation. Once I came to America, I became more of a scientist rather than anything else. I started working in a lab, and one of the genes that I worked on ended up being a gene that is primarily involved in melanoma, which is a form of skin cancer. Then I started working on discovering how to treat melanoma, which led me to dermatology. Dermatology is an absolutely amazing field where you can really combine science discovered in the lab and translate it directly into the beauty of the skin, which is really a reflection of who we are on the inside.
Do you have any skincare or beauty “hacks” that you swear by? What makes you look and feel youthful?
Being happy, being calm, and being centered definitely reflects on our skin, and there is a scientific basis for this. When you’re stressed or anxious, high levels of cortisol are released in the body, which creates inflammation in the skin, which means your skin becomes red and blotchy. When I go away every summer to the Peak Health Retreat, a health retreat high up in the Swiss mountains, I hike often in solitary, which balances myself, and I truly do notice a difference in my skin within a couple of days.
Since I can’t do that every morning in New York, I at least try to bring myself to that serene state when I wake up. When I wake up, I don’t get out of bed right away. Instead I move my pillow out from under my head and lie completely flat with my head slightly tilted upwards, and I go through five things that I’m grateful for in this life. By laying completely flat, you improve lymphatic drainage from the area under your eyes, so that it doesn’t settle into the bags under the eyes. You’re also decreasing the initial rush and stress of waking up in the morning. This helps balance yourself, bring down cortisol levels, and decrease inflammation in the skin.
What skincare tips would you suggest for someone in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50+?
In our 20s, we think we’re invincible and that we’re never going to age, but it’s extremely important to remember that what you do in your 20s will affect how you look in your 50s. Therefore, in the 20s it’s all about prevention of outside damage, so what I tell my patients is sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen!
Our 30s is when the first very early visible signs of aging start to appear. Very often aging has already started happening under the skin, which is important to be aware of, to prevent damage before it’s too late. In our 30s our bodies are still very metabolically active, so it’s important to support our metabolisms with a good diet. Taking care of yourself from the inside out will promote long-term health of how your skin looks from the outside in. I also recommend to start paying attention to your neck, décolletage and hands in your 30s. We often neglect these areas with sunscreen, but these are the areas that really start to show your age in your 40s and 50s, so it’s important to prevent that earlier on.
In our 40s, our body is not the same as it was in our 20s or 30s. The majority of women in their 40s are at the peri-menopausal age, which means that hormones are starting to change. Our skin is very hormone dependent, so when we start noticing a decrease in estrogen being produced, or fluctuations in estrogen being produced, the skin gets dry. In the early 40s, I strongly suggest using products that support and boost collagen production, and starting procedures that increase collagen production. Collagen is very much controlled by our hormones so this is crucial during these years.
The 50s and above is really a menopausal age for most women, which means that our hormones are not at the same level as they were in our earlier ages, which determines many factors in our skin. At this age it’s imperative to become very regimental with your skincare routine, since your skin needs a lot of support from both the inside and the outside. The skin becomes much drier, so it’s important to use products that have a heavier oil content. Hydration is very important when we start losing bone mass and supportive structures, which is when procedures such as fillers come in to help restore underlying support structures. This is the age you want to become very good friends with your dermatologist and aesthetician!
What are some little things I can do every day to avoid wrinkles?
To avoid wrinkles, it’s important to use a good moisturizer to keep your skin hydrated, use antioxidants to protect your skin from environmental damage, use vitamin C to boost collagen and elastin production, and use sunscreen daily to protect your skin from outside environmental damage and UV radiation that destroys collagen.
In general, anything and everything that helps boost collagen production will help you prevent wrinkle formation, and anything that causes collagen disruption will add to wrinkle formation. Eating foods that contain antioxidants increase the body’s ability to repair itself will also add to healthier looking, less wrinkly skin.
What foods are good for your skin?
There are many nutrients and food sources that can lower the body’s inflammation and boost our repair mechanisms. Five key antioxidants that have much scientific data on promoting skin health and decreasing skin cancer are: turmeric, beta carotene, lycopene, polyphenols, and selenium.
Turmeric, a gold-colored spice, decreases the effects of free radicals on lipid rich cell membranes, maintaining cell wall strength and integrity, helping to reduce inflammation and increase DNA repair.
Beta Carotene, found in yellow and orange hued foods, such as squash or carrots, is one of the strongest antioxidants there is. It converts to its active form of vitamin A once it’s in our body. Vitamin A boots our immune system and prevents damage to mitochondrial DNA, the organelle that produces energy in our body.
Lycopene is an antioxidant found in tomatoes, grapefruits, citruses, mangoes, red peppers, and more. It protects tomatoes from turning brown when exposed to UV radiation, and it can do that for our skin too. A number of studies show that people eating tomato rich diets are 40% less likely to get sunburned, and we know that sunburns significantly increase one’s risk of developing skin cancer.
Polyphenols, found in highest concentration in green tea, but also in cocoa powder, oregano, cloves, star anise, and celery, can directly improve the skin’s DNA repair mechanism and indirectly lower its inflammation cascade.
Lastly, selenium, found in beautiful Brazil nuts, is a powerful antioxidant linked to healthy skin. A recent study confirmed that people with a higher selenium diet have a 31% lower risk of developing skin cancer.
Let’s talk Botox, give us the 411!
Botox is actually the brand name of a molecule called a neuromodulator. There are several of them now on the market: Botox, Dysport, Xeomin, and Jeuveau. What they do is block signals from nerve cells that tell your muscles to contract, so the muscle relaxes. They don’t really “freeze” your muscles. We use Botox very differently nowadays than in the past. We use much less of it, which allows us to maintain natural facial movements but decrease in the strength of muscle contraction, so lines don’t form lasting creases in the skin.
I tell my patients to start Botox when they start noticing a line appears not only when they’re moving their face, but when they stop moving and the crease stays behind. It’s different for everyone: some people need Botox in their 20s, some in their 30s, but everyone will need it sooner or later if they want to prevent lines and wrinkles.
What is one innovation in dermatology that you are excited about?
I’m very excited about the movement of medicine in general towards improving our own bodies ability to regenerate, rather than us just doing something to the body. In dermatology, we’re starting to use more of patients own PRP (platelet-rich-plasma) and stem cells to boost that regeneration.
What are your thoughts on Dr. Laszlo and his prescriptions?
What appeals to me most about Dr. Erno Laszlo’s skin care is the concept of customization. Every person is unique so you cannot have a “one size fits all” approach to skin care. We are starting to realize that now more than ever, how important customizable skin care is for all of us. Dr. Laszlo was a pioneer of that concept in creating different prescriptions for each unique woman, and even in the early 1900s he was already paying attention to not only skin on the face but realizing the importance of taking care of the skin on your neck, décolletage and body.
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