How To Be AGE-Positive (And Look Fantastic While At That)

MUST-READ! In the BEAUTYCALYPSE Guide to Age-Independent Beauty Part 6 a dermatologist and preventive medicine expert talks age-positivity, joyful ageing and “natural lifting”.

The series returns with quite a bang. Today we discuss the side effects of popularised beauty treatments and the alternative, the “natural lifting” methods (I completely made up this term for the sake of brevitiy) comprising facial massages and facial gymnastics. It wasn’t an easy task to find a medical expert who would be an ardent advocate of natural, holistic treatments – someone who doesn’t sell surgeries yet no wishful thinking green voodoo either. Interestingly, I found her in my hometown, thanks to one of our earlier guests in this series.

Meet our expert in today’s interview: Nataliya Polonskaya, MD, PhD, a dermatologist with a MSc degree in Preventive Medicine, co-founder of the Aesthetic Medicine Centre OPTIMED (Moscow) and co-founder of HL cosmetics.

Nataliya Polonskaya, MD, PhD, a dermatologist withan MSc degree in Preventive Medicine, co-founder of the Aesthetic Medicine Centre OPTIMED (Moscow) and co-founder of HL cosmeticsNataliya is a strong proponent of self-respect, self-acceptance, and self-love. She advocates an efficient, caring, joyful and natural approach to what’s widely known under the not-so-positive term “anti-ageing”. Just as there is the “body positive” mindset, Dr. Polonskaya is age positive.

She lives in Moscow with her husband, their children and their family dog. Passionate travellers, they share their impressions of our world’s fragile beauty on the blog

For those of you who speak Russian, check out Nataliya’s HL YouTube Channel, OPTIMED clinic website, and the HL website for many free resources.

Due to Nataliya’s insane time schedule, we worked on this interview for over six months, finding one hour here, one hour there for a Skype session. Because she’s basically a walking skin health encyclopedia with a strong focus on non-invasive and natural treatments as well as a very down-to-earth approach to ageing, and I’m a real health and sustainability geek, keeping up with the most recent scientific finds, you can imagine the hours it took to write it all down.

I hope you’ll be entertained and enlightened upon reading this interview. There are a lot of fantastic beauty and lifestyle takeaways for everybody. Also, Dr. Polonskaya is a great conversationalist, astute, precise and witty.
But maybe grab a cup of delicious tea before you start – we don’t want you to dehydrate reading! 😉

Guide to Age-Independent Beauty:
Joyful Ageing & Age-Positivity

Q: Nataliya, in your decades of work, have you ever seen that rare beast, that “healthy, radiant” skin?

A: It is rare, but sometimes I do see people in their forties who “never did anything”, with a skin that’s so healthy it literally glows. This is a gift and it’s vital not to mess it up with harsh treatments.

Q: I often read about “types of ageing”. Is it a myth or a real thing?

A: To be honest, I don’t “type” my patients, I analyse the problems they may have. And it’s also not strictly about the process of ageing alone; healthy skin is an age-independent benefit.

Typing and typing systems are relevant for the distribution of products and solutions. It’s like a palette: find the type and then do this, apply that. It’s a sensible system for someone without a broad medical or cosmetic knowledge base. It makes explaining easier, it even sounds a bit scientific. But when you work one on one, there’s no need for any typing.

Q: Your clinic offers anti-ageing solutions up to corrective surgery, but you personally don’t offer anything even close to it. Can you explain your position?

A: I stand for the maintenance and for the use of the natural resources of our body. And because I’m completely outnumbered when it comes to my philosophy, I need to be quite a fierce proponent of the natural approach.

Everybody shall decide for themselves, but when patients seek my advice, I never prescribe any injections, any kind of surgery myself. My weapons of choice are massages, gymnastics, peelings. If patients decide to undergo some surgery, I’m there to advise and to support the regeneration.

My team and I, we’ve been working with patients for twenty years and counting following these principles, and I can say I don’t see any benefits of trying invasive treatments as the first and foremost solution, any at all. Our patients look great, look healthy, look graceful and dignified, and, most importantly, they are happy with their looks.

I see this as a problem of our time: people are trying to look younger and younger but it’s a fight you can’t really win, so they lose the benefits of age instead, the dignity, the wisdom. It’s become rare to see an elder person at peace with their age. Seriously, when I see this in people, it makes me want to hug them. 🙂

Just to be clear: I don’t advocate giving up, I advocate holistic self-care. Today’s beauty industry and the knowledge we have on healthy food make self-care and skin health maintenance affordable.

I keep watching the work of plastic surgeons, I see the patients, I see the not-so-gorgeous results of different procedures and treatments. And I have absolutely no reason to doubt my point of view yet.

Q: Can you share some of those observations?

A: Okay, so Botulinum toxin is said to be one of today’s most “gentle” methods, along with radio wave lifting and fillers, there are clear indications and so on. But what this method does, it makes you look good today. What about tomorrow?

If the treatment was correct, if the dose and the placement were correct, you’ll look trim and good right away. Some will experience a harmonious result, while others may feel like they’re wearing a mask. But yes, if the treatment was correct, the result may be really good – at first.

Sometimes a Botulinum toxin treatment is also a lazy solution. Let’s say a rotatory spasm patient: that’s a condition in which the hypertension is hard to remove with exercise only. But if someone has neck pain from hours spent at a computer? A few moves, a simple exercise are enough to fix that.

So back to observing patients with Botulinum toxin treatments. What happens over time, if you keep getting treatments, is the following. Let’s say you keep getting injections on the forehead (which is also the most common kind of treatment). If your muscles are kept inactive for a long time, the microcirculation is disturbed as a result, and not just in the treated area, but also below. The tissues retain water, the middle part of the face, the lower part of the face start looking slightly bloated, heavy, saggy. Your forehead stays smooth, but the rest of your face looks swollen and grey.

When the muscles are constantly paralysed, the skin’s own regenerative abilities decrease dramatically. Most people know that movement is healthy and good for us: healthy joints need workout, a healthy body needs movement. Why should it be different for a healthy face?

Also: you can actually control your frowning yourself in order to avoid undesired wrinkles 😉

And as for contour correction, it is actually not gentle at all: first, it’s always an injury, then there are side effects like collagen fibrosis. You get fillers, tissues sink in, and you need to fix that again. Can you get a smooth, plump face with treatments like those? Yes. But it looks absolutely different from a naturally smooth and “plump” face of a teenager! Also, if you stretch tissues, you’ll need to cut away the excess tissues at some point – and the rehabilitation after such a surgery is slow. If your tissues get additional weight from fillers, the sagging doesn’t look healthy at all. Another common side effect are oedemas that occur when the natural lymphatic drainage is disturbed.

So you see, it’s beyond me how people don’t realise that even minimal surgeries will mean constant maintenance – and constant decay. Back in the day you could argue that your looks matter now and won’t matter in ten years. But with our life expectancy rising, the price for today’s comfort has gone up. The alternative, however, is fantastic: the euphoria of “I have built these looks myself!”

Q: You’ve talked about the observation of side effects, so, in our opinion, who has aged elegantly and in grace?

A: The best examples of most graceful ageing? Elina Bystritskaya, Queen Elisabeth II.

Dr. Nataliya Polonskaya – screen from YouTube channel
Dr. Nataliya Polonskaya shares both her vast beauty knowledge and her passion for travelling on her YouTube channel.

Q: Many people – beauty bloggers included – rely heavily on skincare products, often using dozens of different lotions, masks, oils, serums, creams and so on. So do we need that many products? And how many products do we need for a healthy, youthful skin at all?

A: I think you certainly don’t need dozens. You need as much skincare as your skin actually demands. And up to a certain age you don’t need any. If we’re talking about clinically healthy skin of course – healthy skin without anything like dermatitis, inflammations, furunculosis, acne.

Normal, healthy skin can occasionally get drier or oiler. And in principle, it doesn’t need any product.

Only when you start feeling some discomfort, when your skin looks matte, uneven, dry to the level of feeling “spiky”, and your complexions turns greyish, this is the moment when you need to help your skin. Usually, a little product a few times a week would be enough. Even a good toner can help. Or you can alternate toner and moisturiser, right until your skin feels fine again. This is when you stop using products. We need skincare when we’re sick, when the weather is hard on our skin in the winter, or when we’re lacking vitamins. But when you’re fine, your skin’s usually fine, too. It’s an organ designed to function without any other help than water, food, and movement.

You need skincare and medical advice however if you have issues like pigmentation or capillary problems.

But if your skin gets dry, oftentimes simple tweaks in your lifestyle can be enough – an air improver for your office, for example. Examine your lifestyle to see if something causes stress for your skin. Are you using waterproof foundations, what are you eating, do you drink enough water? Also: our skin is the last in line for the water we’re consuming, so you may get puffiness and still have dry skin. Skin health is a fascinating and complex matter.

By the way, exercise is a great beauty booster: when you exercise, the skin microcirculation improves, and the skin’s condition improves as well.

My skincare advice is: try staying product-free for at least two days a week.

Q: Skincare is also highly individual, right?

A: Not even theories and in-vitro tests equal life. We are complex creatures, not cell cultures, after all, our bodies are fantastically complex systems, and in-vivo hardly equals in-vitro. That’s why some people will have a better effect and others none at all. Your overall condition matters a lot. There are no fundamental miracles.

By the way what I can say as a skincare company co-owner, results can differ batch by batch. Since we work with natural actives, some batches can be more active than others (and I know, because I’m testing them all).

Q: What would you say is the top most effective non-invasive treatment?

A: Gentle salon peelings. Their way of functioning is as brilliant as simple: you start out with grey complexion – the peeling takes away the dead cells sitting on top – and you’re looking fresh and young again, because the younger skin cells show.

Q: Any additional peeling advice?

A: Have a system in place that works for you. I don’t recommend doing a cure once a year and then nothing; equally a bad idea – having a treatment once each month. It’s better to have a good peeling treatment approximately every three months. Here’s how you know if it’s time: if your complexion doesn’t look too good, but looks instantly more fresh and firm if you splash it with some toner, don’t book a peeling treatment yet 😉

Another bit of advice: don’t overdo. When I see patients who had too many abrasive peelings and radio wave treatments, at some point I see skin that almost stops renewing itself. Fascinating (not in a good way).

And don’t look to friends, bloggers and so on for advice. Talk to a professional. Everything is strictly individual.

Q: From what I know, not only treatments, even skincare regimens can be “too much”, correct?

A: Oh yes. Moisturise too much, and you can develop a form of acne. You can even manage to destroy the protective barrier of your skin. You can actually get your skin into real trouble with wrong and excessive skincare, think hyperkeratosis, eczema, broken capillaries.

Sometimes what we perceive as dry and “dull” looking complexion is just the top layer, the dead cells that don’t lay down smoothly. All you need to do is just smooth them with a little bit of a toner. You don’t even need a toner with a high acid concentration for this, and sometimes something as simple as a herbal tincture will help, for example chamomile (rich in Azulene).

Q: Speaking of natural skincare. Organic vs. synthetic?

A: I’m not a fan of pure organics. And a little mineral oil is not always a bad idea (if you don’t overdo it – and a water-silicone cream alone has no benefits), for example mineral oil used in pharmaceutics is a purified ingredient and has the benefit of causing no allergic reactions as well as of film-building. Many efficient classic pharmaceutical formulas are based on mineral oil. The question here is where do you put it and how often do you use it.

We’re also back to the premise that skincare is not the most important part of our skin health regimen: we have peelings, massages, face gym – creams are just helpers. Even masks have mostly a mechanical, short-term impact of firming the skin and tightening the pores.

Our skin is a complex organ. To nourish your skin you need to get the nutrients into the blood, you need to have a functioning microcirculation, and this doesn’t happen when you just apply a cream.

However where I see synthetic ingredients cause some skin damage is when patients get carried away with their use of colour make-up. And professional grade make-up actors use also has some side effects.

Q: Summer is almost here, what’s your comment on blogs/ magazines advice “slather on sun screen daily, even if you’re in the city”?

A: In my opinion you need sunscreen only if you’re overexposed to UV rays. When you’re at risk of sunburn. You don’t want sunburn – avoid it at all cost.

In our climate [NP refers to Central Russia, but this is equally true for most Middle and Northern European countries], in a city, on a normal summer’s day sunscreen would stop our Vitamin D synthesis, which is catastrophically bad.

Who needs sunscreen on a daily basis? Individuals with albinism, individuals with skin treatments that require them to get sunscreen, and tourists that go to places with exposure to extreme UV – mountains, seaside and so on. In a city filled with smog and toxins, the last thing you need is burdening your skin with more product.

We need Vitamin D for our health: body and mind.

Q: Lastly, let’s have a look at another tool in your beauty arsenal: facial massages and facial exercise. From your experience, honestly – does it even work?

A: Face gym, however you call or market it, is a technique that definitely works!

Of course it depends on what your goals are. What you can’t do is drastically change the anatomy of your face. But we all have those beautiful muscles under our skin, and of course you can hypertrophy some of them and have some visible changes to your features – think bodybuilding, just more subtle. The question is why would you want to do that? That’s certainly not a very healthy idea. Our facial muscles are multifunctional, and interact in a multitude of ways. So I’m opposed to drastic actions here that mimic surgery.

My philosophy is to maintain the tissue health, to slow down ageing processes in the tissues. And the effect of face gym is beautiful.

How does it work? We use our facial muscles in a certain way every day, year after year. We’re social beings. We are different in our communications, in our mimics: we’re different when we interact with our children, with our parents, with our colleagues, with strangers. At work, we might need to contain emotions or to express them: understanding, expertise, whatever it may be – this stereotypical mix of movement and tension in your face can become your mask over time. You just try and feel each facial muscle right now. Not so easy, right?

And as we age, this “mask” leads to congestion processes in the tissues, to microcirculation problems, to wrinkles, to sagging, to irregularities that manifest as a tired, angry, frustrated or unhappy facial expression. It’s that simple. So we’re not only social beings, we’re cerebral beings as well. Never forget that. It can help with everything in life. 🙂

Q: Where does one start with face gym?

A: Face gym is about non-typical movement aka movement not typical for your daily “face”. We want to remove congestions, tensions, we want to restore a healthy microcirculation. We don’t want to pump up any muscle volume. We won’t get ultra-high cheekbones or plump lips if we weren’t born with those features already. But you can start moving your face, and suddenly your eyes are more open.

The older you get, the more and the more often you need to move your face of course. Just remind yourself to shake off the rigid movement that sometimes appears like it’s set in stone: it isn’t. Your reflection in the elevator made you sad? Don’t worry, make faces, get a lymphatic drainage to improve microcirculation. (Be aware of your skin though – you don’t want to create more wrinkles when grimacing.) Our bodies are wonderful like that.

You also don’t need to follow a certain philosophy here, you can in fact get inspiration for exercise and massage from very different sources. For example, actors have that trick, their gently rub the inner side of their lips with the tip of the tongue in a circular motion, with the mouth closed, to improve microcirculation and to remove tensions. This certainly won’t give you different lips than your own, but will make your lips look a little more rosy and plump.

You can even look to different cultures for inspiration, because our life is wonderfully complex. Notice how most British people have a more toned jawline due to the specifics of articulation and pronunciation.

And did you know that people who can wiggle their ears have a naturally more smooth forehead?

It’s a good thing for your beauty to be open-minded, see? 🙂

Also the logics are so simple: you can of course stylise facial fitness or facial wellness into the mainstay of your life, you can book coachings and programmes and whatnot. Or you can make it fit your lifestyle. No time to do face gym on a busy day? Then maybe try talking with a stronger articulation. So easy.

You can decide to use any spare moment to make your life and your health better.

Even if you lay awake at night, why not use this moment to consciously relax your face? Focus on softening each facial muscle and even if this won’t relax you into sleep, it is much better than running mental horror movies – as you do when you lay awake at night.

We know of individuals who were able to feel their muscles and to restore facial symmetry after injuries. So yes, our body is a very efficient system if used wisely.

Q: One last bit of expertly beauty advice?

A: Know the dose and know the context – diluted carrot extract can help with the atrophy of nasal mucosa, but pure carrot juice will completely destroy it.

Understand the influence everything in your life has on the way you feel and look. You won’t have a youthful looking face without a toned body, because your head is part of the whole system. If your spine is healthy, your shoulders and your neck are flexible, this is your best way to a face without excess puffiness or dryness.

Be aware that aesthetic medicine isn’t medicine but an industry. Something’s wrong in our society if dermatology patients in their thirties apologise: “I’m sorry, I haven’t had anything done, you know”.

Learn to appreciate beauty at any age: the full and radiant face of a teenager is great on a teenager and doesn’t look “right” when artificially created on an older face. Learn to see the beauty, the grace, the elegance that develop as you age.

It’s fascinating how science advances in our day and age, how our understanding of co-factors in nutrients, and the context in other matters has advanced, and yet in cosmetics they pick one ingredient and start tinkering around it.

My method is simple: use as little product as possible, and only when you really need it. A human being should be independent from a skincare product or from their beautician.

And in our world today, I would really appreciate if the skincare and beauty industry would stop thinking about ridiculous growth and start contributing to our survival as a species instead.

Thank you, Nataliya!


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