The season of chapped lips and parched skin is upon us—a state of affairs not exactly helped by the combination of cranking radiators and unrelenting chill. With months to go until the spring thaw, it’s time to take a solid look at our skin-care regimens and fine-tune as needed. Here, New York dermatologist Whitney Bowe, M.D. pinpoints four common mistakes to avoid this winter, with helpful tips for staying hale and hydrated.
Exfoliate Without Overdoing It
It’s no surprise that winter can wreak havoc on a glowing complexion, and while using peels or glycolic acid serums may seem like a quick fix to revive dull skin, Bowe warns against too much exfoliation. “Overdoing it actually can disrupt the skin barrier and lead to red, blotchy, stinging skin,” she warns. Instead, aim to gently exfoliate no more than twice a week to avoid unnecessary inflammation and any disturbance in the surface microbiome. “Remember, there are a lot of things that fall under exfoliation,” she adds, listing off a mechanical face brush, a buff puff, and even a basic washcloth.
Layer Your Skin Care
When it comes to boosting hydration, Bowe abides by a two-step layering technique: serum, then moisturizer. Highly concentrated serums are designed to penetrate deeper into the skin, fast-tracking ingredients like peptides and antioxidants, while creams seal in the moisture. As for her go-to products? Bowe singles out No. 7’s Restore and Renew Face and Neck Serum for its blend of amino acids and minerals, which help strengthen the barrier and even skin tone. For a moisturizer, she is a fan of La Roche-Posay’s Toleriane Double Repair. “The thermal water [in the moisturizer] acts as a powerful prebiotic,” says the dermatologist of the category of “ingredients that good bacteria needs to thrive and keep your skin healthy.”

Use Sunscreen Year-Round
While SPF may be an integral step in your routine during the warmer months, Bowe insists that it’s just as vital to continue wearing a layer of protection well past summer. “UV rays are present all year round,” she says, pointing out that UVA rays in particular “are the ones that do all of the damage when it comes to premature aging.” She recommends Drunk Elephant’s tinted sunscreen, which combines antioxidants along with raspberry seed and marula oils for a dewy complexion. Dr. Jart’s lightweight gel formula uses a blend of cypress water and seaweed extract for an added dose of hydration, while Neutrogena’s cult-favorite sunscreen goes on featherlight with a full-coverage veil of SPF.
Dial Down the Sugar Intake
With the revolving door of sweet treats on offer during the holidays—not to mention the occasional glass of Champagne—take note that increased amounts of sugar can take a toll on the complexion and even cause long-term glycation, which Bowe defines as “when sugar molecules bind to the collagen and elastic fibers in the skin.” Triggering free radicals, the process can lead to breakouts or rosacea. Of course, Bowe understands the temptation of indulging here and there in the season ahead. “If you’re going to drink, choose red wine,” she explains. “It’s lower in sugar and has resveratrol, which is antiaging.” We’ll toast—in moderation—to that.

Antioxidants have perhaps the most abstract of skin-saving missions: the right ones neutralize rogue free radicals before they can corrupt DNA or maim collagen. (Which sounds vaguely cinematic, but is, in fact, a very real thing happening in your skin right now.) These enemy molecules are utterly inconspicuous — arising from both internal metabolic happenings and ordinary external elements, like sunlight and pollution — but the damage they do is blatant, manifesting as wrinkles, brown spots, and skin cancer. To counter free radicals, our bodies manufacture antioxidants — part of the checks and balances of biology. We can shore up our supply by ingesting antioxidants, and more directly, applying them to our skin.

The latter we do routinely — expecting neither instant gratification nor even a spark of delight in return. In this age of impatience, of seeing is believing, we put our faith in these sticky, stinging formulas with no apparent payoff, dutifully smearing them on at the behest of dermatologists, like David H. McDaniel, an adjunct assistant professor of biological sciences at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, who specializes in antioxidant research. Because, “along with SPF and retinoids,” he explains, “antioxidants are the foundation of skin rejuvenation.” McDaniel, who has consulted for both SkinCeuticals and SkinBetter Science, recommends layering a “superpotent” serum, like SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic or SkinBetter Science Alto Defense Serum, beneath a broad-spectrum sunscreen with its own built-in antioxidants engineered to “help with pollution, infrared rays, and visible light, which may not be intercepted by the SPF itself,” he says, noting that Prevage City Smart and SkinMedica Total Defense + Repair are two of the best.

Such recommendations are, of course, based on evidence — but much of it stems from studies done on animals or cell cultures, not actual humans, which is a sticking point for skeptics. Still, antioxidant supporters consistently point to the groundbreaking research conducted by the “founding father of topical antioxidants,” Duke dermatologist Sheldon Pinnell. He was first to report on topical vitamin C’s ability to induce collagen and mitigate UV damage in the skin. He discovered how to stabilize the notoriously volatile vitamin; the exact way to formulate it for maximum penetration and longevity; and even how to supercharge it (by pairing it with ferulic acid and vitamin E to double its sun-protective powers).

Recently, antioxidants have adopted more innovative roles — like teaming up with fractional lasers to “cut healing time in half after treatment,” says Whitney Bowe, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City,. The benefits don’t end there. A trial published last summer found that SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic, used in combination with an at-home fractional device, boosts and prolongs the laser’s effects “by stimulating collagen, reducing inflammation, and diminishing free radical activity,” explains the study’s author, Roy Geronemus, a clinical professor of dermatology at New York University Langone Medical Center.

But not every study casts antioxidants in an altruistic light. In 2015, a report from the Buck Institute for Research on Aging prompted provocative headlines like, Why Antioxidants Could Actually Harm Younger Skin. When scientists knocked out a specific antioxidant gene in mice, localized to the skin cells’ energy-generating mitochondria, they found that in a young mouse [roughly equivalent in age to a 35-year-old human], the resulting increase in free radicals actually improved the ability of skin to renew,” says Judith Campisi, a professor at the Buck Institute. The free radicals can act as signaling molecules, stimulating the epidermis to regenerate. (Which, in humans, would translate to smooth, glowy skin.) In older mice, the uptick in free radicals was purely injurious, because their stem cell pool was exhausted from age. And “without stem cells, the skin can’t rebuild, so the [free radical-induced] signal was futile,” she says.

But back to that headline: Can a daily hit of antioxidant serum hurt our skin? Not likely, says Campisi (though “mega doses” of systemic antioxidants might). “It just may not be all that beneficial until middle-age when skin needs extra help safeguarding collagen and warding off skin cancers,” adds Robert Anolik, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at the NYU School of Medicine, who, in light of these findings, now reserves antioxidants for those over 40. “What this article suggests to me is that our natural capacity to control some level of free radicals may be sufficient in young people,” he says. “And it’s important to maintain the right balance of free radicals and antioxidants, [as] too much of either isn’t good.” While McDaniel calls the study “potentially groundbreaking,” he says it isn’t changing the way he treats patients at this time. Also unswayed is Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, who introduces antioxidants in the late 20s, he says, confident in their ability to “brighten dark spots, stimulate collagen, and prevent the damage that leads to wrinkles and skin cancer — at any age.”

Which ones work best? “Vitamin C still boasts the greatest amount of published research,” says Vivian Bucay, a clinical assistant professor in the department of physician assistant studies of the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio. But she’s found several to be irrefutably effective, including vitamins C and E, ferulic acid, phloretin, and green and red tea: “When we do the Canfield VISIA Complexion Analysis [which detects sun damage under skin’s surface], patients who’ve been applying these antioxidants along with sunscreen show less DNA damage after three months than those who use sunscreen alone.” And seeing is believing, after all.

We often approach pre-wedding beauty prep from the neck up. With facials to book and hair and makeup trials to schedule, it’s easy to neglect the rest of your body. But, if you’re invested in making your underarms, legs, and bikini area as smooth and bump-free as possible, there are options (beyond shaving and waxing!) out there. Laser hair removal, the buzzy beauty trend that offers head-to-toe hair elimination, is revolutionizing the way brides achieve smooth skin.

Hair-removal lasers work by zapping the pigment within the hair follicle and using heat to destroy it. Sound intense? That’s because it is. Laser hair removal is a procedure that should be left to the pros, which is why we tapped a laser specialist and a dermatologist for their insight, tips, and tricks for success. The good news is, if you approach treatment the right way, you’ll be stubble-free long after your big day. Keep reading to discover everything you need to know about laser hair removal.

You need to start early.

Unlike waxing or shaving, you won’t see the full effects of laser hair removal until months after your first treatment. The reason? “[Laser hair removal] can only effectively kill off hairs that are in the growth phase. Not all hairs are actively growing at the same time. Therefore, you need to repeat the treatment every four to six weeks to make sure you eventually hit all of the hairs during their growth phase,” explained Dr. Whitney Bowe, a New York City-based dermatologist and author of The Beauty of Dirty Skin. To ensure that you get every last hair, book your first session six to eight months before the wedding.

Expect a little bit of pain.

But not too much! “For someone who deals with the pain of waxing, laser will be a breeze for you!” said Kristen Rogers, Laser Specialist at Spruce & Bond. “It’s more of a quick pinch, something you may be not used to, so it’s slightly uncomfortable. However, it happens so fast that it’s over before you realize you’re feeling any discomfort.” Of course, pain levels differ from person to person and change depending on which part of your body you’re zapping. “For me personally, my underarms are my most uncomfortable spot to get lasered,” said Rogers. “For others, the bikini area definitely has some nerve endings in it that make it less pleasant.”

Not all lasers were created equal.

If you’re going to willingly put yourself under a laser, you need to know that the machinery is safe. Keep an eye out for Alexandrite and Yag lasers, said Rogers. “Intense pulsed light (IPL) machines can also remove hair, but only on light skin, and the quality of those machines can vary,” she continued. You definitely want top quality machines, or you run the risk of “burning or causing discoloration to the surrounding skin,” explained Bowe.

The results aren’t entirely permanent.

Rogers told us that the more accurate way to describe laser hair removal is actually “permanent hair reduction.” “You will begin to see results about two weeks after your first treatment. That is when your hair starts to fall out and you can see the follicles disappearing,” said Rogers. “But you’ll need to come back every four to six weeks to maintain these results. It usually takes a series of five treatments to achieve maximum results.” There’s still a chance you’ll be able to toss your razor for good, though. “[The technique] dramatically reduces the regrowth of the hair in the areas treated, so much so that you will likely not need to shave those areas anymore if the procedure is done properly,” said Bowe.

by Kristen Fischer
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by Tomoko Takeda Canel
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