About one in every five Americans uses a beauty filter before posting their images to social media. Some filters are purely for fun (think: birds flying around your heads or ones that turn you into your favorite animal). Others wrap your natural features. With a simple click of a button, you can instantly obliterate a zit, blur out the look of dark under eyes, or soften fine lines and wrinkles. While we’re always a proponent of doing what makes you feel confident, studies show that excessively filtering or altering your appearance showed overall lower self-esteem and a greater desire to attempt cosmetic surgery in real life to potentially mimic those effects of social media filters.
Dr. Dendy Engelman, a board-certified dermatologist, says that living in a digital world is a constant barrage of images of people looking “flawless” on platforms like Instagram. “Everyone has the right to look the way that makes them feel best, whether that calls for in-office treatments like Botox, a full face of makeup, or nothing.” As long as filters are used safely, meaning they don’t become a flawed perception of reality or a warped sense of the real you, then have fun with them. Yet, if you want great skin and defined contours in real life, there are products and treatments to consider.
Skincare for a No-Filter-Needed Look
Skincare is one of the most effective ways to get skin closer to looking like it belongs in a filter. “Facials with deep cleaning extractions can help improve large pores, but home care is even more important,” says Amber Rose Johnson, an expert esthetician and the founder of Facial Lounge. Regular use of ingredients, like glycolic acid found in Sunday Riley Good Genes Glycolic Acid Treatment, is beneficial at night as she explains that the acid helps exfoliate trapped oil. “Glycolic acid is like a workout for your skin, and applying antioxidants helps the oxidation, which is the black in blackheads,” she explains. Moisturizers and illuminating and plumping serums, including Sunday Riley C.E.O. 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum and Sunday Riley C.E.O. Afterglow Brightening Vitamin C Gel Cream, are musts for skin that looks bouncy, supple, and glowing. However, be mindful of using excessive chemicals, stripping toners, and harsh scrubs, which can irritate and inflame the skin.
Daily use of an antioxidant-rich product that offers skin-firming benefits, like Sunday Riley Pink Drink Firming Essence, will help put your skin on the path to looking more sculpted and healthier. That’s because antioxidants protect against free radical damage, which destroys the collagen in the skin — without strong, healthy collagen, the skin doesn’t look as plump or tight. And at night, use retinol, like Sunday Riley A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum, to encourage skin cell turnover.
LED tools and devices are a favorite for creating glowing skin. LED employs different colored lights to provide a variety of skin benefits. For example, red light fights inflammation and gives an anti-aging effect, and amber and green LED lights to help hyperpigmentation for improved tone. “Low-level light therapy is sustainable, chemical-free, and relies on the power of wavelengths to improve your skin,” says Dr. Ellen Marmur, a board-certified dermatologist. There’s also blue light for combating breakouts and reducing redness in the skin. LED lights are usually ensconced inside a full-face mask (think Hannibal Lecter’s mask in Silence of the Lambs sans the scary mouth grate and leather) worn over the skin for 10 minutes or so. You can also pair LED lights, specifically red light, with de-puffing tools like cryo globes (smoothing and de-puffing cooling tools), which Johnson says help contour the skin.
Merry Thornton, a board-certified physician assistant and founder of Element Medical Aesthetics, suggests using a face roller for skin that looks filtered. “This will stimulate circulation and reduce puffiness,” she says.
Smoothing In-Office Treatments
An in-office treatment performed by your derm can speed up results that you might not be seeing with your over-the-counter routine. It’ll likely give you the biggest bang for your buck, even though some are expensive. Plan a consultation, of course, to determine the valid skin concerns at hand that need attention and devise a skincare plan. But, to give you an idea of some of your potential options, our experts dive in below:
- Lasers and chemical peels: “Lasers and chemical peels can make the skin look smooth,” says Dr. Marmur. While both employ different technologies—lasers use light, heat, or energy to stimulate new collagen for a smoothing and tightening effect, chemical peels utilize acids to exfoliate the top layer of skin to reveal fresh skin underneath. They both help skin look its healthiest and brightest. “I love combining lasers and chemical peels, and in my practice, we use up to five different peels in one sitting to address skin issues such as pigment, pores, wrinkles, dullness, and acne” she shares. Anything that mildly resurfaces the skin reveals fresh new skin underneath layers of dead skin cells to reveal a glow.” Other energy-based treatments include Ultherapy and Thermage, which are more invasive but provide serious firming benefits to smooth loose skin and define areas like the chin, neck, and brows. To maintain the results of lasers and energy-based treatments, Dr. Marmur says you can continue to create great skin with light-activated at-home skin devices, like the easy-to-use MMSphere 2GO, a travel-sized LED light.
- Microneedling: Microneedling (with or without radiofrequency, which lends a tightening effect) is another fan favorite for its ability to improve skin texture. This go-to treatment also helps stimulate collagen production for thicker, plumper, smoother skin. “Microneedling creates controlled micro-injuries to the skin by triggering self-repair mechanisms while creating new collagen during the repair process. We can dramatically enhance clinical microneedling results by using platelet-rich plasma (PRP) to increase the reuptake of skin products as the micro-channels in your skin are open,” says Hulnara Castellon, a licensed nurse practitioner.
- Dermaplaning and Hydrofacials: “Dermaplaning uses a very thin razor to safely remove vellus hair (peach fuzz) from the face for skin that appears to glow and have less texture. Hydrafacials gently exfoliate and add hydrating nutrition for a youthful glow,” says Dr. Jenelle Kim, founder and master herbologist of JBK Wellness Labs
- Neuromodulators: These injectables include Botox, Dysport, Xeomin, and Juveau, which smooth the skin by limiting muscle movement and reducing the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines. “Botox is an injectable treatment that causes the muscles in the desired area to relax, which reduces the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, resulting in smoother, more youthful-looking skin,” says Dr. Dendy, who suggests doing this treatment about every three to six months. On the other hand, fillers draw water to the area to plump volume-deficient facial features, like the lips, making them look akin to what filters accomplish. Castellon adds that preventative neuromodulators and collagen-stimulating injectable agents, like Sculptra Aesthetic, help create and maintain smooth skin over time.
Diet & Lifestyle Effects on Skin
Professional treatments and supercharged skincare are the basis of healthy skin that looks filtered even though it isn’t. Yet, another factor to make sure is a part of your beauty routine is a well-rounded, healthy diet. Johnson says that the skin is a direct reflection of gut health. “It’s important to eat food healthy for your gut biome,” she adds. “When you have a healthy gut, you have glowing skin,” Johnson says to eat lots of dark berries and dark leafy greens, which are rich in antioxidants to protect the skin from damage. She also recommends regulating your hormones, as that’s a significant contributor to skin reactions.
Also, don’t underestimate the power of hydration, both through skincare and drinking water daily. Dr. Engelman says hydration is vital to improving the skin’s tone, clarity, and moisture barrier. “For healthy-looking skin and overall body health, make sure you drink enough water daily!” Casselton agrees and says staying well hydrated is the most important and cost-effective treatment you can do for the tone and clarity of your skin. “Water flushes out toxins and bacteria to support clarity of the skin,” she explains. “Dry skin is like dry soil which cracks easily and is prone to forming wrinkles and pigment.”
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