Cancer upped my beauty game — and what I learned can improve yours

unnamed (7)Having breast cancer at a relatively young age changed me in many ways. Some were large: It helped me to recognize my strength, better appreciate the people and places I love, and taught me to live more in the present. It also changed me in smaller ways: I’m more patient, more at peace with myself and much more relaxed about “the small stuff.”

Another thing that changed after cancer and chemo was the way I look after myself on a daily basis. Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I kept my skin clean and marginally moisturized and that was about it. But six months of chemo left me looking older, tired, gray and determined to do something about it. In some ways, having cancer at 40 helped me look better at 56. Here are some things I should have been doing before cancer that I now do religiously — and they’re things you can easily do to look younger and healthier, no matter what your age:

  • Exfoliate: Keeping your skin clean is one thing; bringing new life to your complexion is another. Exfoliating does the job by removing layers of dead skin cells that accumulate over time. It can help with acne, speed up the skin’s renewal process, reduce the appearance of pores, and even lighten age and sun spots. It also allows you to get your money’s worth from serums, moisturizers and other skin products by removing debris on the skin’s surface, ensuring products penetrate more deeply. Products to try: Clinique Exfoliating Scrub, Kate Somerville ExfoliKate, Simple Smoothing Facial Scrub
  • Tone: Many people skip the toning process because they believe it’s simply not necessary. I use not one, but two, toners as part of my morning and evening skin-care routines. After washing my face, I use an acid toner to aid in the exfoliating process, followed by a moisturizing toner that rehydrates my skin. Products to try: Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha-Beta Glow Pads, Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix Pads, First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads (acid toners); Josie Maran Nirvana Hydrating Mist, Caudalie Grape Water, Murad Resurgence Hydrating Toner (moisturizing toners)
  • Mask: I’m a great believer in skin-care masks and try to have one or two “beauty nights” per week. Masks do everything from smooth and brighten to moisturize and exfoliate. Whether you’re using a peel-off mask, a traditional wash-off mask or an all-in-one sheet mask, the process is quick and easy. You can multi-task by making mask time work with your television viewing: In most cases, you can apply a mask during one commercial break and remove it during the next. I’m also a fan of “sleeping” masks — the kind you apply at bedtime and wash off the next morning. Products to try: Ole Henriksen Blue/Black Berry Enzyme Mask, Tony Moly I’m Real Rice Sheet Mask for Clear Skin, Peter Thomas Roth Rose Stem Cel Bio-Repair Mask, Freeman Feeling Beautiful Tea & Lemon Clay Mask, Formula Get Your Glow On Brightening Peel-Off Mask
  • Scrub and moisturize: I’m talking about lips. Crusty, chapped and dry lips are simply unattractive, and trying to cover the problem with lipstick or gloss just makes it worse. Your lips deserve just as much attention as the rest of your face: Smooth, plump, moisturized lips are younger-looking lips. Products to try: Lush Lip Scrub, Fresh Sugar Lip Polish, Tarte Maracuja Lip Exfoliant (scrubs); Kaplan MD Lip Mask, Dior Creme de Rose, Tony Moly Lip Balm (moisturizers)
  • Curl: Your lashes, that is. I didn’t appreciate my full, long lashes until I lost them during chemo. They grew back after my treatment ended, but never regained their previous lushness. In addition to using an eyelash-growth serum, I curl my lashes. Doing so makes the lashes appear longer while giving my eyes a more wide-awake and lifted appearance. Products to try: Shue Uemura Eyelash Curler, Shiseido Eyelash Curler, Kevin Aucoin Eyelash Curler, Sephora Show Curl XL Lash Curler for Round Eyes (my favorite)
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