By Jeanée Ledoux
Many of us lavish a four-part beauty routine on our face but neglect the delicate flesh south of the chin. The neck and upper chest (or décolletage, as the French say) are often on display and need some attention to stay healthy and youthful. Aesthetician Adriane Benson, co-owner of Re-Treat health and beauty center in Atlanta, shares holistic advice on cleansing, moisturizing, diminishing wrinkles, and other pampering in the “collarbone zone.”
Would you use a drying bar soap on your face? Didn’t think so. Benson says that high-quality cleansers free of soap, harsh detergents (such as sodium lauryl sulfate), and parabens are a must in the collarbone zone as well. She recommends washing with an oil- or gel-based product that dissolves dirt and makeup without stripping skin of its sebum—the natural film that repels microbes and holds in moisture. Many of her favorite formulas have a hydrating jojoba or coconut oil base plus plants, essential oils, and nourishing vitamins.
The upper chest is a large canvas, so using a high-end facial cleanser there may break the bank. Benson points out that many skincare lines, such as Éminence Organics, make a body wash that’s quite similar to their face wash, but in a larger container for fewer bucks.
Spot-treat any neck or chest acne after you cleanse. Benson’s a fan of dabbing on lavender or tea tree essential oil, both of which have antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and drying effects. These oils can also soothe a décolletage irritated by scratchy fabric or jewelry.
Removing dead cells and pore-clogging dirt will make your collarbone zone too radiant to hide under a turtleneck. When you slough off the skin’s dull top layer, you encourage cells to renew and rise to the surface at a faster rate, softening wrinkles and mimicking the glow of youth. Benson recommends two kinds of exfoliation: manual and chemical. As with cleansing, choose high-quality products free of the usual suspects, such as sodium lauryl sulfate and parabens.
Manual exfoliation not only cleans and polishes but also nourishes the skin by stimulating blood flow. Choose a scrub with fine particles for the face, such as powdered seeds or grains, and coarser ones for the chest, such as sugar or salt. Also select your ingredients based on your skin’s specific needs. For example, dry skin likes the oils in ground almonds, while greasy skin prefers moisture-absorbing oats. Feel free to use a fine scrub daily, but reserve a coarser product for once or twice a week. To make your own scrub, combine the dry ingredients with a liquid or emollient such as water, oil, yogurt, vinegar, or fruit juice.
Chemical exfoliation relies on a fruit acid, called alpha hydroxy, to dissolve dead skin cells and their bonds. You can buy an organic fruit masque, or you can make your own by throwing garden treats like citrus, berries, or tomatoes into a blender with enough water and cornstarch to make a paste. If you have dry skin, add a little oil or skin cream. Pull back your hair, lie down on a towel, smear the mixture from forehead to chest, and let the masque penetrate for at least 20 minutes. Chemical exfoliation can be stripping, so treat yourself only once a week.
When your collarbone zone is dry, Benson says, every crease is magnified. Vertical wrinkles in the upper chest caused by sleeping on your side are particularly aging. Hydrating products plump the skin, supply nutrients, and delight your senses with aroma. One of her favorite ways to stay dewy is to rub a palmful of body oil (such as jojoba or almond), plus a drop of fragrant essential oil, on the damp neck and chest after a shower.
At other times, like before applying makeup or going to bed, use a high-quality cream, lotion, or butter with an oil base (never petroleum), plus essential oils and plant infusions for medicinal action and fragrance. The combinations of plant-based ingredients that will benefit each skin type are endless—and offer endless research fun! For instance, echinacea helps oily skin, while chamomile calms rosacea-prone zones.
When you moisturize the upper neck, where skin tends to sag, Benson suggests making upward strokes while fluttering your fingers. This action tones the muscles and stimulates blood flow, which delivers a dose of nutrition.
As with the face, vary your moisturizing routine based on the seasons and your climate. In winter, when skin is blasted by drying wind outdoors and heaters indoors, use a richer moisturizer and slather your neck and chest more often.
Benson is religious about recommending SPF 30 sunscreen from face to chest—every day, in all seasons. She sees many clients with a ruddy, freckled décolletage, a sure sign of sun damage. Even if you spend most of your time indoors, you probably get more rays than you think, she says, when you’re driving to work, walking to a class, and so on.
Some people have an aversion to daily sunscreen because the liquid varieties make skin shiny and can cause breakouts. Benson prefers powdered mineral sunscreens, which use micronized zinc oxide and micronized titanium dioxide to physically (not chemically) block UVA and UVB rays. The matte minerals are dusted on like makeup, and they’re water- and sweat-proof. If you want the powder to match your skin color, look for a brand that’s tinted with plant extracts.
Antioxidant-rich foods and vitamins can fight sun damage from the inside. They’re no replacement for topical sunscreen, but foods such as berries, dark leafy greens, and green tea moderate the effects of UV radiation. Antioxidants also counteract wrinkles and neck sag.
What if you’re already feeling the burn? Zinc is anti-inflammatory, so applying mineral sunscreen to red skin has a calming effect. Aloe vera gel soothes pain and speeds healing, as does dairy butter. Coconut oil is cooling and restorative for damaged tissue. Melt it in a double boiler and add cleansing and calming essential oils, such as rosemary and lavender.
This article speaks generally of selecting natural skincare ingredients and making your own products. If you want to learn about specific formulas that are right for you, Benson recommends consulting an aesthetician with herbal training, or a manual such as Earthly Bodies & Heavenly Hair.
Jeanée Ledoux designed the projects for the book Abode à la Mode: 44 Projects for Hip Home Décor and the DVD Re-Construct: Eco-Friendly Crafts Made Easy. She writes, edits, crafts, and explores natural living in Decatur, Ga.
Image Credit: Neck and chest photo via Shutterstock