By Aimee Heckel
Between quarantine and limited social interactions this year, I have grown lazy about my appearance. Why would I change my yoga pants and put on mascara if I was barely going to leave the house for 46 days? Plus 46 days. Plus 46 days. (Will this ever end?)
At first, it seemed like a time-saver. But as the days drudged on, I began to feel disconnected from myself. Sure, I’d managed to check off six years’ worth of home improvement tasks and catch up on every season of “90 Day Fiance” (not proud of that one), but I’d done so at the cost of my own self-care. I missed feeling cared for. I missed feeling put-together. Not to impress my co-workers.
It only took me four months, but I finally realized the only real reason to ever wash those yoga pants, apply mascara and feel beautiful was for myself. Enter: the self-improvement phase of the pandemic. I decided to start with the foundation of all beauty. It was time to upgrade my skin care regime.
I swapped my trash reality TV shows (read: finished watching them all) for educational audio books, and I ended up listening to a book that transformed my way of thinking about skin. The book, “Relearning Skincare: The Story of Skin and The New Way,” was written and read by Boulder esthetician Danny Neifert. At the heart of the book: Everything we’ve been told about skincare from the modern mainstream may be backward.
In her fascinating book, Neifert explains how she believes many of the common treatments we use in the name of improving our skin may actually be doing more harm than help in the long run.
The premise of many anti-aging treatments is to basically injure your skin to kickstart the production of certain things that lead to a more youthful appearance, akin to breaking down your muscles when you lift weights to make them grow back bigger.
Except skin doesn’t work that way, Neifert asserts. While your skin may initially bounce back and look plumper (due to inflammation, an injury response), she claims skin never fully bounces back 100 percent. After an aggressive treatment, your skin produces new skin cells, but after that fades, your skin may end up looking worse, not better, leading you to need to return for more treatments, she says. It’s a cycle that leads some people to need to return to the esthetician month after month in search of that initial, temporary boost.
But during a pandemic, when it’s difficult (if not impossible) to visit a spa, that can leave you feeling helpless.
I decided to use this strange time to try some deep skin healing — at home.
Treat Not Trauma
Instead of traumatizing your skin, Neifert is all about treating it well. Like any living organism, she believes your skin needs food (healthy nutrients and vitamins that it can absorb), water (hydration), shelter (acid-mantle repair that provides protection from the elements) and space (allowing for detox relief, so skin can be skin). Her simple product line and skincare treatments offer just that.
Neifert runs Skin Harmonics, with an office in Boulder, Colorado, and Santa Barbara, California. You can learn all about her products, unique approach and try them for yourself via her website, www.skinharmonics.com.
Neifert actually used to work as a traditional esthetician. However, over time working with clients, she says she saw the same pattern: It wasn’t helping. If anything, it seemed to be expediting the aging process.
In many of these aggressive treatments, Neifert explains, one purposefully damages the top layer (the epidermal layer), which forces the below layer of skin (the dermal layer) to work overtime to produce skin cells to replace the top layer. This looks great — temporarily, Neifert says. Plus, your skin is swollen from the injury, so it appears plumper. It’s really just inflamed and overly stimulated which looks like a “glow,” she says.
But soon, the swelling subsides, and the dermal layer’s hyper-production returns to normal, leaving an exhausted and depleted dermal layer. This over-exercised layer begins to thin and deplete, she says.
“You see it as the years go by: skin that’s too sensitive, skin that’s dull between sessions, blotchy skin, the coloring is off, this skin hyper pigments [freckles] easily and is more affected by the sun,” Neifert says. “There’s an atrophy that happens with the skin. It sinks into a dismal depression because its life force is being drained away.”
Neifert says she saw too much damage and decided to return to her roots.
Return to Roots
Neifert, who was born and partially raised on the Navajo reservation, was immersed in herbs and a connection to nature. When she became a mother, she stumbled into deepening her studies even further.
“When you’re handed this perfect bundle of skin straight from the heavens, the response hit me right in my heart,” she says. “I gave my baby her first bath and put something on her called Baby Magic from Kmart in a pink container. When I smelled my baby, she smelled synthetic, like cotton candy, like plastic. It was a purple-pink rainbow synthetic cocktail, and I knew it was wrong. I felt like I’d committed my first motherly mistake.”
She gave her baby a bath to wash the lotion off and decided to just rub simple olive oil on the skin instead. She began researching aromatherapy, took a course and began making products at home: toothpaste, triple-milled soap, shampoo, cuticle oil, you name it, hundreds of products.
She made products for friends and family and sold them at art shows, before she decided to get licensed as an esthetician.
About 15 years ago, all of her knowledge started coming together: her upbringing around natural plants and healing, the aromatherapy, the skincare studies. But this time, what she realized the skin needed — topical nutrition that would feed the dermal layer to support it in naturally creating new skin cells — she couldn’t make this in her own kitchen. She learned about “dermal nutrients” (something your skin can metabolize, translate and actually use to make new skin cells, like food for your skin) from Dr. Ben Johnson.
“Everybody talks about nourishing the skin, but no one’s really doing that unless you’re using bioavailable nutrients topically that are holistically engineered properly with a specific delivery ingredient,” she says.
In other words, feed your skin instead of traumatizing it.
“Send food, not bombs,” she says.
She created The Skin Sanctuary of Taos in New Mexico and worked from there from 2006 to 2010, before relocating to Santa Barbara, California, and opening a second office in Boulder.
The Story of Skin Harmonics
Neifert recently released her own product line, Skin Harmonics. The line is simple, with only five products that provide the most important fundamentals of skin health.
“These are the stars, the big hitters. They do the one thing and the one thing stellar,” she says.
First is Devote, oxygenated rose water, a hydration mist made with organic Bulgarian rose water and medical-grade ionized water. After washing your face or taking a shower, mist this on to hydrate.
Then is Fortify, the serum. Depending on your skin’s needs, there are three levels. The first (Level 0) is to rehabilitate overworked skin. It is ultra gentle, contains no dermal nutrients and is all about hydrating, rebalancing and recalibrating the skin.
The other two serums contain dermal nutrients; the second level has double the amount for skin that is extra hungry and sun damaged. Most people benefit from Level 1.
After the serum comes the most unusual product of all: Lamina. It’s the ultimate barrier restoration cream that feels more like a pomade for the skin than a lotion. You must warm it up with your hands to get it soft enough to apply and wait a minute to massage in. It absorbs and creates a barrier that traps the hydration in your skin.
There’s a learning curve to apply this. It’s no ordinary moisturizer. But the first time I tried it overnight, I woke up the next morning and barely recognized how soft and moisturized my skin felt. In one application.
Neifert calls it a “radical product, basically a new skin care category.” She adds, “It does something no other product can do.”
The other two Skin Harmonics products are Bright, a potent vitamin C powder that you can mix with the serum to pack an extra punch, and Revive, a creamy, gentle exfoliation product you use once or twice a month.
The problem with the clean beauty movement is that it often is too gentle to yield real results, Neifert says.
She calls Skin Harmonics clean beauty and beyond.
“We are building healthy skin actively and correcting acne and sun damage at the same time,” she says. “I’m here for the people who really care about their skin and are weighing these factors: purity, effectiveness, earth-friendly packaging, simplicity and cost. I’m offering a holistic path for people who really want to do the right thing, get results and are ready for something different.”
Aimee Heckel is a Colorado-based writer, specializing in health and fitness, luxury travel and fashion. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.