Weather the Elements With Good Skin Care

Your apartment is as arid as a desert, and the windows don't open. The streets are full of slush, and the air is full of pollution. And if that isn't enough, your skin is dry, flaky, chapped and breaking out. You have a bad case of the Moscow Winter Skin Blues.

Moscow can be especially rough on your skin. Stress, pollution, less-than-pristine water, and extremes in temperatures and humidity are all enough to make the most perfect of complexions run for cover.

But the answer isn't a ski mask or big pair of sunglasses. You can find all the products and services you need in Moscow to regain your rosy glow.

Even people who come from a similar climate experience skin problems upon arriving in Moscow. Canadian Malti Thakkur thinks that the change of air and water in Moscow made her skin break out.

"Moscow seemed to make my skin drier than it was in Canada, but it also broke out more often," she said. "I think it was due to the change in air and also a change of products. When I ran out of the products that I brought from Canada, it took me a long time to find something that worked well here."

The good news for anyone living in Moscow and experiencing a few skin problems -- or trying to avoid having a problem -- is that now there is a wide selection of good skin care products available in different price ranges. This wasn't always the case.

Muscovite Maria Keller remembers what skin care was like in Soviet days. "It was very difficult for Russian women to make themselves more beautiful. It used to be mostly homemade creams and things. When professional products came, everyone wanted them. The quality was so much better."

Good skin begins with good skin care. The basics are cleansing, moisturizing and a good sunscreen.

Ideally, cleansers should be gentle, water-rinseable products which leave your skin clean and soft with no greasy residue. Even if you have oily skin or acne, a harsh cleanser can actually make oily skin oilier and won't clear up your acne.

There are lots of good cleansing products available. Estee Lauder, Clinique, and Yves Rocher all have a full range of rinseable cleansers. L'Or?al, St. Ives and Vichy all make effective, inexpensive products that are widely available at Russian shops and aptekas.

All these companies also make complementary toners or astringents to be used as a final cleansing step. But most dermatologists say these products are not necessary and may cause dryness and irritation if they contain alcohol.

L'Or?al's cleansing lotion is available in many Russian shops and aptekas for about $7, while cleansers from the more expensive "boutique lines" begin at about $12.

Moscow's climate makes the use of moisturizers essential. Cold and the low humidity combine to dehydrate skin, causing dryness, flaking and chapping. Most people, including men and children, will develop some "winter dryness" around the eyes, lips, and cheeks and will need to use a moisturizer.

However, people with oily skin or acne should be careful not to over-moisturize with heavy creams. Using too much moisturizer or too rich a product is a common cause of breakouts. As a general rule, moisturizers should only be applied where needed.

Moisturizers are designed to prevent rapid moisture loss and to lubricate the surface of the skin, keeping it soft and pliable. The best moisturizers are a combination of oil and water.

Dr. Olga Panova of Moscow's Center for Aesthetic Dermatology and Surgery suggests using moisturizers that contain vitamins, collagen, natural oils, and water. Panova says this type of mixture acts as a barrier against evaporation and protects the skin from the elements and pollution.

"Those new to Russia often do not use enough oil for the climate," she said. "They do not have enough healthy oil and fat in their diets, and this also affects the condition of the skin."

There are a few key ingredients you should look for when choosing your moisturizer: allantoin, vitamins, hyaluric acid, collagen, petrolatum, retinyl palitate, squaline and wheat germ oil. If you have a tendency to break out you should avoid the following ingredients: lanolin, isopropyl myristate, shea butter and zinc lauryl sulfate.

Be aware that very often the ingredients that you want to avoid are included in products designed for your skin type, so be sure to read the label. It is also a good idea to test new products on a small patch of skin overnight if you have very sensitive skin.

There are many products available in all price ranges but remember the most expensive product is not necessarily the best for your skin. You may have to try several products before finding what is best for you.

Estee Lauder's Re-Nutriv line remains very popular. Re-Nutriv products are very rich and contain many of the ingredients recommended for very dry skin. Re-Nutriv's night cream ($80), is particularly effective. Clinique also offers several moisturizers, including its Dramatically Different Moisturizer ($15). Yves Rocher makes a good wheat germ oil-based line for dry skin which includes an eye cream ($30) appropriate for all skin types.

The so-called "drugstore" lines Oil of Olay, Pond's, and L'Or?al, all of which are widely available in Russian stores and aptekas, all make a wide range of products for different skin types. Pond's eye gel (about $7) in particular, is effective on puffy, tired eyes.

Lubriderm makes a simple and effective unscented moisturizing lotion (about $10) that dermatologists have recommended for years. The lotion can be used on the face and the body, and it makes a good family moisturizer.

The final step of a basic skin-care routine is sunscreen. You need to use it everyday, even during a Moscow winter.

Sunscreen should block both UVA and UVB rays and have a minimum Sun Protection Factor of 15. Many moisturizers contain sunscreen and meet the recommended SPF levels.

But even the best skin-care regime can't prevent occasional problems. Acne breakout is common and can be aggravated by hormones, stress, and oily cosmetic and skin-care preparations.

A potentially serious condition called acne rosacea is characterized by pimples and cysts and may be accompanied by a red rash spreading from the center of the face. Rosacea and all persistent acne should be treated by a dermatologist. Less serious breakouts can be treated with staticyin lotion or erthromycin cream.

Metrogel is also a very effective antibiotic gel used to treat acne. It is usually available by prescription only. Check your local apteka or Western health clinic for these products. A dab of hydrocortisone cream will reduce the redness of most pimples, making them less noticeable. Very large acne cysts will often disappear overnight when injected with a small amount of cortisone or spritzed with liquid nitrogen by a dermatologist.

Oily skin and occasional breakouts respond very well to the new Alpha Hydroxy Acids products. AHA products speed up the cellular turnover rate, causing the top layer of dead skin cells to slough off faster, leaving you with fresher, smoother skin.

AHA products may cause a slight stinging sensation or peeling when used for the first time. It's a good idea to test products on a small area of skin if you have sensitive or very dry skin. AHA products come in different strengths and formulas. Four percent is considered the minimum concentration that is clinically effective, and 8 to 10 percent is optimal if your skin can tolerate it.

The Alpha Hydrox line of AHA products is available at Progress supermarket and includes a sensitive skin cream, body lotion, and eye cream. Estee Lauder's Fruition Extra ($59.80) is a lightweight AHA product that most skin types can easily tolerate.

If your spirits as well as your skin need a lift, treat yourself to a bit of pampering. Estee Lauder's Triple Creme Skin Rehydrator ($55) and St. Ives Clay Firming mask ($7) are both effective.

Panova and Dr. Svetlana Medvedeva offer medically-supervised facials for all skin types at their Western-style clinic (930-9178) for $20 to $30. Panova says facials are an integral part of Russian dermatology. "We use physical therapy and massage to correct different skin conditions," she said. "In the West, facials and physical treatments are not as widely used. It is part of our tradition and extremely beneficial as it can help the skin to better absorb medication."