Read the news and you'd think invasive surgery and high-octane chemicals were the only avenues to beauty. But holistic wisdom says otherwise. "People are becoming more aware of the connection between health in our internal systems and the outward glow that results," says dermatologist Dr. Alan Dattner, who has a private practice in New Rochelle, New York, and also serves as president of holisticdermatology.com. "With natural beauty therapies, you're enhancing your total well-being along with your appearance." In search of beauty that's natural and vibrant, we enlisted integrative doctors, holistic aestheticians, and innovative beauty experts to reveal their key practices and techniques for looking your best without going under the knife. What we found is that with only a few changes -- whether tried-and-true or more unexpected -- you can radiate vitality in bright, smooth skin, eyes that shine, and hair that bounces. This three-part plan shows you how.
You've heard it before, but the basics bear repeating. Good habits create a virtuous cycle in health and beauty. And since our bodies have a remarkable capacity for renewal, it's never too late to start making smart choices.
"It's important to change your diet from within," says Susan Ciminelli, holistic aesthetician and author of "The Ciminelli Solution: A 7-Day Plan for Radiant Skin." Like Ciminelli, many experts agree that one of the first steps toward healthy beauty is to eat antioxidant-rich foods that fight free-radical damage. To get the essential fatty acids that keep skin moist, choose superfoods like walnuts, flaxseed, and avocado. You'll also want to fortify with calcium found in foods like tofu and kale: Without enough, skin loses its suppleness and gets the crinkly, brittle look of premature aging, says Ciminelli. And stay regular by eating plenty of fiber. Since the skin (a major organ of elimination) has to handle waste the colon can't, toxins generated by constipation can cause a dull, sallow look.
"Gentle" is the operative word here. Intense scrubbing and harsh chemicals can strip natural oils, resulting in prematurely aged skin. Choose a moisturizing creamy cleanser (never soap -- it's too drying even for oily skin) followed by a warm water rinse, which opens pores and increases blood flow. Pat your skin until damp, not fully dry.
Normal: Dr. Hauschka Cleansing Cream, drhauschka.com
Dry: The Organic Pharmacy Carrot Butter Cleanser, newlondonpharmacy.com
Oily: Jurlique Face Wash Cream, saffronrouge.com
The sun's ultraviolet rays are public enemy No.1. They break down skin's structural tissues (collagen and elastin) and cause wrinkles, brown spots, and rough patches. Protect yourself with physical sunblocks formulated with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which reflect light. Studies in European medical journals suggest some chemical sunblocks that use avobenzone and octyl methoxycinnamate can become unstable in sunlight and cause oxidative damage or hormone disruption.
Eminence Sun Defense Minerals SPF 30 face powder, skin-one.com
Soleo Organics Sunscreen, saffronrouge.com
Jason Natural Cosmetics Chemical-Free Sunblock, drugstore.com
While your mind rests, your skin works overtime. At night, microcirculation -- an oxygenating and waste-removal process that takes place in the skin's capillaries and lymphs -- increases as cells renew. Without time for these cleanup and renewal processes, the skin becomes less effective at protecting itself from sun and pollutants during the day. "Skin has its own circadian rhythms," says dermatologist Dr. Jeannette Graf, author of "Stop Aging, Start Living." "If you don't sleep enough, it can't do what it needs to."
With the basics down, it's time to expand your horizons and try something new. Who knows? One of these techniques might make the difference between pretty and gorgeous.
Massage Your Face
This is a great way to loosen muscles scrunched into habitual expressions. "This brings blood to the surface, clears out puffiness, and reduces fatigue in the skin," says Chris Haas, owner of Ra Organic Spa in Burbank, California. Don't have time for an appointment? At home, all you need is a customized facial serum. Barbara Close, founder of Naturopathica, recommends a base of evening primrose and avocado oils with rose geranium, lavender, and German chamomile essential oils for dry skin, or apricot kernel oil with juniper, lemon, and rosemary oils for oily skin. Starting at the chin, move your hands in small circles and continue to the cheeks, around the eyes, and to the forehead. By doing this, you're stimulating circulation and bringing more nutrients to the skin. Follow with a warm compress to increase the absorption of the serum.
Try It At
Natural Face Lift, Ra Organic Spa, Burbank, California, raorganicspa.com
Carita Pro-Lifting Facial, Bella Sante, Boston, bellasante.com
Related: DIY Face Masks and Scrubs
Last year, the FDA proposed a ban on synthetic hydroquinone, a common ingredient in skin lighteners, citing it as a potential carcinogen. But natural options abound for evening out your complexion. According to dermatologist Dr. Susan Taylor, lighteners work by inhibiting tyrosinase, an enzyme that causes the production of melanin (excessive amounts cause dark spots). Look for arbutin (found in cranberries, mulberries, and bearberry leaves), licorice extract, kojic acid (from mushrooms), resveratrol (common in mulberries and red grape skins), and rosehip oil. The most effective formulations include one or several of these lightening agents coupled with the use of an acid (like glycolic) to help skin slough dead cells.
Naturopathica Botanical Skin Brightener, naturopathica.com
Caudalie Contour Cream Eyes and Lips, caudalie.com
If you're up for something completely different, these remedies deliver results without surgery or exotic lab concoctions. The beauty boost they provide just might surprise you.
It's one of the most powerful ways to get your systems back on track-and your skin glowing. "A detox is not about fasting or deprivation, but about giving your body a rest and holiday. By ridding your body of inflammations, your skin looks clearer, brighter, and less puffy," says functional medicine physician Dr. Mark Hyman, author of the new detox manual "The Ultrasimple Diet." In the book, Hyman eases you in with a prep week that eliminates processed food, refined sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. A weeklong detox follows, built around greens, lean protein, and skin boosters like flaxseed, a natural laxative containing essential fatty acids as well as vitamins and minerals.
Look to the Farm
They may seem like unusual beauty picks, but goat's milk and ghee are skin-friendly and extremely emollient. Goat's milk has more calcium, vitamins, and triglycerides (fats) than cow's milk-and its short-strand protein structure means it's particularly suited to skin absorption. The milk's lactic acid makes it a spa favorite for buttery-soft skin. Ghee, or clarified butter, is an Ayurvedic staple used to moisturize and purify the body. It's also a great digestive and detox aid because it stimulates the liver to secrete bile. Rogers Badgett, owner of the Raj, an Ayurveda health retreat in Vedic City, Iowa, suggests ingesting a quarter teaspoon of ghee in the morning and night (this is not recommended for overweight people or those who have weak digestion). Some centers also use it in Netra Basti, a purification treatment said to balance the pitta dosha and bring luster to the eyes. It's not for the squeamish: In a reclining prone position, you slowly blink as a skilled technician gently applies warm ghee to your eyes. Afterward, your closed eyes are wiped gently and the residual oils moisturize skin and soften lines.
Our Goat's Milk Picks
Dr. Alkaitis Organic Universal Mask, alkaitis.com
Steppin' Out Ayurvedic Foot Cream, lippmancollection.com
Canus Goat's Milk Moisturizing Lotion, walgreens.com
Try It At
Warm Goat Milk Manicure and Pedicure, the Carneros Inn, Napa, California, thecarnerosinn.com
Kate Somerville's Signature Facial, at Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, Hawaii, fourseasons.com
Virgin Gorda Goat Milk and Honey Wrap, Little Dix Bay, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands, rosewoodhotels.com
Our Ghee Pick
Pratima Ayurvedic Rejuvenating Oil, pratimaskincare.com
Try Ghee At
The Raj, Vedic City, Iowa, theraj.com
Life in Balance Ayurvedic Rejuvenation Center, Seattle, ayurvedaseattle.com
Soak It Up
If the words "extraction" or "microdermabrasion" cause you to wince, take heart. Holistic spas now use hydrofacial treatment, a delicate but effective treatment that uses water-based suction for exfoliation. A wand with an angled plastic tip glides over skin, paring off dead skin and then delivering serums into opened pores. The gentle suction stimulates blood flow and works out clogged sebum around sensitive areas like the nose, says Sarah Becker, an aesthetic supervisor at Sen Spa in San Francisco. Afterward, skin appears bright, clear, and velvety soft.
Try It At
Sen Spa, San Francisco, senspa.com
Mind and Body Day Spa, Atlanta, mindandbodydayspa.com
Aziz Salon, Day Spa & Skin Wellness, Austin, Texas, azizsalon.com
Get to the Point
Although needles in the face sounds intense, an acupuncture facelift is safer than its surgical counterpart, and adherents claim it can counter some of aging's toughest problems: crow's feet, eyebrow creases, nasolabial folds, and jowls. As in traditional acupuncture, the practitioner inserts 10 to 20 wire-thin needles along body meridians and into facial acupuncture points to balance chi, or energy. "When you're treated with acupuncture, you're adjusting things internally," says New York-based acupuncturist Shellie Goldstein. "You're relaxing too-tight muscles to get rid of wrinkles, and you're stimulating and strengthening too-loose muscles that cause drooping and sagging." This isn't a one-time fix, though; most clients will need monthly maintenance. And don't expect the tight, sculpted look of cosmetic surgery, says Goldstein. "We lift and tone cheek muscles and relax forehead muscles and creases to give a really healthy, open look."
Try It At
Sea Change New York Wellness Center, New York City, seachangeny.com
Shellie Goldstein, New York City or Amagansett, New York City, hamptonsacupuncture.com
Newport Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine, Middletown, Rhode Island, newportacupuncture.com
And speaking of natural beauty...