Here’s What Foam Rolling Is Actually Doing When It Hurts So Good

Roll through the pain. We’ve all done it—in that it “hurts so bad I want to stop, but I know if I stop I’ll regret it” sort of way. Maybe before a run, after a particularly grueling lifting session, or on our recovery days. We will roll our muscles into submission, we think.

Why? Well, because we’re supposed to, and something about fascia. And adhesions. And tight muscles. Yeah, that’s right…right?

The thing is, most of us who diligently foam roll do so because we’ve been told we should. Maybe you even notice that your muscles seem to feel better when you do, so you keep at it, because why not? But have you ever stopped to ask what foam rolling is actually doing and whether it actually works the way you think it might?

To help you figure out what’s really going on when you cringe in delight, we combed through scientific journals and talked to some of the world’s leading foam-rolling experts. Here’s what you need to know about the popular warm-up and recovery tactic.

The benefits of foam rolling could range from warming up your muscles to actually helping you recover faster after a workout.

Right now, the limited research that’s out there suggests that foam rolling may be able to do most of what you hope—like warm up your body for a workout, help you recover from one, or just loosen tight, achy muscles, Pablo B. Costa, Ph.D., associate professor of kinesiology at California State University, Fullerton, and research committee member for the National Strength and Conditioning Association, tells SELF.

For example, a small, 16-person 2018 study from the University of Stirling in the UK found that after foam rolling, it took less effort for a muscle to produce a given amount of force. Its findings bolster previous (again, pretty small) studies in which people reported that they felt less fatigued when they foam rolled as part of their warm-up.

Meanwhile, an eight-person study in the Journal of Athletic Training suggests that foam rolling after a workout can help reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness, and therefore boost your performance in later workouts. After all, a lot of times, what slashes your performance during one workout is the fact that your muscles are still sore from your last one, Polly de Mille, R.N., C.S.C.S., director of performance services at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, tells SELF.

And a comprehensive review published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy concluded that foam rolling promotes short-term increases in range of motion. According to de Mille, research consistently shows that foam rolling can increase muscle flexibility, which means you feel less tight and probably perform your workouts with better, more efficient, and safer form.

As you’ve probably noticed, these are all really small studies—and Lewis J. Macgregor, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist and lead author of the University of Stirling study, explains that despite the fact that most physical therapists, exercise physiologists, and fitness trainers fervently suggest foam rolling, when it comes to nailing down the benefits, we just aren’t there yet.

“It is hard to say why scientific evidence is lagging behind popularity,” Macgregor says. “I suppose it is just the usual case that it takes a long time to build up the level of research that is needed to provide solid evidence on any technique or intervention.”

Translation: It takes a long time and requires many different steps to arrive at conclusions and recommendations that can be generalized widely. Still, foam rolling is a go-to recommendation for warming up before a workout, improving mobility, and helping with soreness, thanks to what professionals have observed it can do in clinical settings.

So how does foam rolling actually work? Short answer: We don’t really know. Long answer: We do have some (pretty good) theories.

The leading one is focused on myofascial release. But what is fascia—and why would you want to “release” it?

“Think of fascia as the sausage casing surrounding every muscle fiber, every organ, every nerve fiber, every bone in the human body,” de Mille, says. The analogy isn’t that far off. Have you ever noticed a thin, almost see-through layer of tissue coating your chicken breasts? That’s fascia, de Mille says.

Within the muscle, this fascia exists in multiple layers. First, it wraps around every individual muscle fiber or cell. Then, it wraps around bundles of muscle fibers, called fasciculi. Lastly, it wraps around the entire muscle body. Together, these layers of fascia, apart from helping to give muscle its shape, attach to tendons and bones to help you pull, push, squat, run, bike, whatever it is you want to do.

The thing is, all on its own, muscle fascia is pretty solid and not very pliable, Costa says. That could theoretically limit range of motion, or give you that feeling of stiff, tight muscles.

That’s especially true if the fibers that make up your muscle fascia form what’s called “adhesions” or “trigger points,” de Mille says. “Ideally, all of these fibers are sliding by each other with ease as you move, like silky hair, but sometimes these fibers can get like hair that got some ice cream in it and it’s all stuck together.” Experts say that these tangles in fascia can form for a variety of reasons such as muscle injury, inactivity, disease, inflammation, or trauma. For whatever reason, “the tissue binds to each other, loses elasticity, and forms taut bands of tissue that can be painful,” de Mille says. Myofascial release may help separate these fibers and re-establish the integrity of the tissue.

“Muscle fascia displays a thixotropic [science speak for “shake the ketchup bottle to make it liquidy”] behavior, where, when it is moved it becomes more compliant and malleable,” he says. So, he explains, applying pressure and moving the fascia, even microscopically, could allow the fascia, and therefore the muscles, to separate, relax, and become more flexible.

Meanwhile, foam rolling could also improve your workouts by literally warming your muscles. “The friction induced by foam rolling on targeted muscles might also help to increase temperature of the fascia and muscles,” Costa says. Warming up your muscles before exercise helps loosen up the tissues and joints and increase range of motion—which helps you move better during your workout and protect you from injury.

Post-workout, increasing blood flow to the tissues you just used can help speed up recovery time, Dan Giordano, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., co-founder of Bespoke Treatments Physical Therapy, tells SELF. In fact, it’s one of the best ways to help minimize that lingering post-workout soreness known as delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS.

However, Macgregor argues that foam rolling isn’t about myofascial release at all, but instead neurological changes within the muscles themselves.

“It seems more likely that, when we foam roll, imbedded nerve receptors are being stimulated in that region, rather than any structural alterations occurring,” he says. “This can still lead to a perceived ‘releasing’ effect, which is the feeling that people seek when they foam roll.” While he says scientists can still only speculate about the exact mechanisms, it’s possible that foam rolling triggers receptors that talk to the brain, and the brain responds by instructing the muscle cells to more or less loosen the heck up.

de Mille, who believes it’s likely that foam rolling benefits come from myofascial release plus neurological changes working together, adds that foam rolling may work by helping to tell your nervous system to reduce pain signals from the muscle. (That’s the idea behind the popular TheraGun and other similar self-massage tools.)

And that brings us to the hurts-so-good pain that is foam rolling, the explanation for which is actually pretty simple.

“When you apply pressure to these hardened bands of tissue, you stimulate the pain receptors that are compressed within them,” de Mille says.

But here’s the thing. She says foam rolling shouldn’t hurt—and that’s a sentiment echoed by Costa and Macgregor, too. “Muscle soreness from exercise will feel more pronounced if you apply pressure to the tender area, but foam rolling itself shouldn’t really hurt at all,” Macgregor says. “I think that it’s dangerous to assume that if foam rolling is painful, that that means it’s ‘working.’”

If it is painful, a few things could be going on. You could be pressing too hard (likely) and actually causing damage (relatively unlikely), have some existing severe muscle damage or injury (pretty darn unlikely, but get checked out by a doctor if you suspect you’re really hurt), or are rolling tissues you shouldn’t be (extremely likely), Costa says. In general, if you experience pain that is sudden, sharp, or doesn’t start improving after a few days, it could be a sign you’re actually injured and should check in with a doctor.

For example, he and de Mille explain that people love to climb on a foam roller to roll out their IT band, which runs up the side of the thigh from the knee to hip, and is super sensitive to foam rolling. But the pain you feel when rolling the band is actually your body begging you to stop.

“The IT band is just a big, long, band of connective tissue, so rolling it won’t necessarily ‘release’ it,” de Mille says.

Giordano echoes that you should never roll your IT band. Mostly, because it’s a waste of time and probably not getting at the root of the problem. “If you’re having IT issues, it’s probably coming from your hip,” Giordano says. He suggests foam rolling at the hip instead, and working some hip exercises into your routine to “start to stabilize the hip and take pressure off the IT band.”

The best way to reap the benefits is to roll regularly, and to focus on just your muscles.

Always, always, always stick to rolling your muscles, rather than ligaments like your IT band or joints like your knees or elbows, de Mille says. You should also skip your lower back, Giordano says. “If you foam roll your lower back, it could cause the muscles surrounding [the vertebrae] to go into spasm,” he says. “The risk really outweighs the potential reward” since this part of your spine is pretty nonmobile anyway.

Stick to your glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves, traps, and lats. You can lightly roll the meat of your shoulders, but should avoid the actual joint. Same with your arms and elbows.

For best results, de Mille suggests adhering to a near-daily rolling strategy. After all, just like all things exercise, you have to be consistent to get the best results. Macgregor similarly notes that the effects of foam rolling seem to be short-lived, so rolling today won’t necessarily help you next week. Aim to roll before and after workouts, or just any time you’re feeling tight.

Giordano suggests spending 30 seconds on each spot you want to roll. If you have more time to dedicate to it, Costa suggests doing three sets of 30 seconds, with 10 seconds of rest in between, on each muscle group you’re trying to target.

During those bouts, de Mille recommends dividing the muscle that you’re rolling into three segments—bottom, middle, and top. Give each section a few passes, move onto the next one, and then after having hit each of them, polish things off by giving the entire length of your muscle some more love.

At the end of the day, remember that just like any other workout recovery method, foam rolling should be used as a tool to help you feel better during and after workouts. That means that you can and should tweak your rolling habits to whatever works best for you. So don’t stress about sticking to a strict schedule—start with rolling when you feel like you need it or simply when you have time, and take it from there depending on what feels right.

Get These Luxury Beauty Deals at Nordstrom’s Anniversary Sale Right Now

The Nordstrom Anniversary Sale 2018 has officially started, and while I’m excited to take full advantage of markdowns on shoe and clothing brands, I’ve got my eyes peeled for all of the beauty deals—especially on my favorite luxury brands, like Kiehl’s and Jo Malone. Starting today through August 5, Nordstrom is offering deals on luxury beauty products that seem almost too good to be true, and although I’m already running out of space in my apartment to house my existing products, I’m ready to kick the weekend off with some new ones. Check out some of my favorite luxury products on deep discount, ahead. Hurry, these awesome savings won’t last long.

Asthma Pathophysiology: Here’s How Asthma Works in the Human Body

Today, we’re conducting a mini biology class diving into the pathophysiology of asthma, as in, exactly how asthma works in the human body. (Just call us SELF University.) If you’re always ready to dig into the details of how certain health conditions work, you’re in luck. Same goes if you have asthma and you’re not sure why your respiratory system seems to lose any semblance of cool in some situations.

The way asthma works is pretty complex, but it centers around the airways in your body that help you breathe.

Your airways extend from your nose and mouth to your lungs and work to carry air in and out of your body, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). They may be upstanding workers and do this job just fine. But, if you have asthma, your airways can get inflamed when you’re exposed to certain triggers. “[Asthma is] really a disease of inflammation,” Timothy McGee, D.O., a pulmonologist at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital, tells SELF, because inflammation is what kick-starts the asthma chain of events.

This airway inflammation can cause swelling that prompts the muscles around your airways to constrict, making it harder for them to transmit life-giving oxygen and carry waste products like carbon dioxide out of your system. It also throws your airways’ mucus production into higher gear than usual. These factors can create the (im)perfect storm that leads to asthma symptoms including shortness of breath, a cough, wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe), chest tightness, and more.

It’s entirely possible to have a pretty mild reaction to a trigger, so your symptoms go away on their own or respond quickly to medication. But if they get worse, you might have an asthma attack (also called an asthma exacerbation), which can be life-threatening.

There’s a wide range of triggers that can spark asthma’s domino effect, but some are more common than others.

Asthma triggers vary from person to person, and different doctors will see some more than others. Dr. McGee, for example, tends to encounter a lot of patients whose asthma flares due to pollen, dust mites, and mold. Pulmonologist Ryan Thomas, M.D., director of the Multidisciplinary Severe Asthma Team at Michigan State University, tells SELF he often sees patients whose asthma is exacerbated by a viral infection or exercise.

Other common triggers include pet dander, cold air, air pollutants and irritants like smoke, certain medications including beta blockers, aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, strong emotions such as stress, sulfites and preservatives added to some foods, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition that causes stomach acids to back up into your throat, the Mayo Clinic says.

If you read that list and noticed a lot of overlap with common allergens that transform certain seasons into hell on Earth for some people, you’re right on target. It’s not uncommon for people with asthma to also grapple with allergies, thanks to a fascinating yet also inconvenient phenomenon known as the atopic march. The atopic march is when people with one kind of allergic disease, like eczema, tend to develop others, like allergies and asthma, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense that when your body has an oversensitivity to certain substances, like dust and pollen, encountering them might make your system light up like a pinball machine, with all sorts of allergy-related symptoms manifesting in many different ways.

Luckily, there are plenty of medications designed to help target asthma’s pathophysiology and stop your airways from freaking out.

If you have asthma, you should sit down with your doctor and create what’s known as an asthma action plan, a written document that spells out the treatments that help keep your asthma under control, along with the protocol you should follow if your symptoms start getting worse. Your asthma action plan may need tweaking at various points because it can take some trial and error to land on the best way of handling your condition.

In general, doctors tend to prescribe two types of drugs for asthma: quick-relief medications and long-term preventive ones.

Quick-relief treatments are meant to calm your airways ASAP when your asthma symptoms act up. Many of them are known as bronchodilators, meaning they fight that airway constriction that starts the asthma cycle, according to the Mayo Clinic. The most common type of quick-relief treatment is short-acting beta agonists, which you breathe in through an inhaler and which typically act within minutes.

Long-term preventive medications, which include things like allergy medications and inhaled corticosteroids, are designed to control your asthma so you’re not as likely to have symptoms in the first place, the Mayo Clinic says. The goal with these drugs is to reduce inflammation in your airways as a whole, so you’ll typically take them every day. “When there is less baseline inflammation, there is a smaller response to triggers, which leads to fewer symptoms,” Dr. Thomas explains.

So, now you know the pathophysiology of asthma. Use this information for good, not evil.

OK, there’s really no way to use this for evil. But, if you have asthma or if you have loved ones who do, knowing this might help make life a little bit easier (or at least answer some questions you had). And if you don’t have asthma and were really just curious about its pathophysiology, well, crushing a biology question at your next trivia night definitely counts as using this for good.


13 Things You Absolutely Should Know Before Getting the Copper IUD

Deciding you’re ready for an intrauterine device can feel like you’re getting initiated into a very exciting, slightly mysterious contraceptive club. But before you start dreaming about life with an IUD (hello, whole entire years of pregnancy prevention), you still have at least one other major choice to make: hormonal or copper?

See, you could opt for a hormonal IUD like Mirena, Skyla, Liletta, or Kyleena, which all use progestin to thin your uterine lining and thicken your cervical mucus so it’s more difficult for sperm to reach an egg. Or you could go the copper route instead. Here’s what you need to know about this form of birth control.

1. The copper IUD, manufactured under the name ParaGard, changes the environment in your uterus to make it toxic to sperm and eggs.

Sounds like magic, but it’s just science. ParaGard is a plastic T-shaped device that, like other IUDs, fits snugly inside your uterus. The difference is that while hormonal IUDs emit progestin, ParaGard has copper wire coiled around it. That copper produces an inflammatory reaction which interferes with sperm movement, egg fertilization, and possibly implantation, thus preventing pregnancy, according to the Mayo Clinic and ParaGard’s prescribing information. You can think of it kind of like a permanent spermicide, Brett Worly, M.D., an ob/gyn at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells SELF.

2. You can use ParaGard for pregnancy protection for up to 10 years. (!!!)

In terms of longevity, ParaGard is the epitome of this “set it and forget it” form of birth control, offering a full decade of pregnancy protection.

By comparison, hormonal IUDs Mirena and Kyleena are recommended for up to five years, Liletta is recommended for up to four years, and Skyla is recommended for up to three years.

3. The copper IUD is over 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy.

Research has estimated that the copper IUD fails (meaning people get pregnant while using it) just 0.8 percent of the time. That boils down to fewer than one out of 100 women getting pregnant in the first year of using the copper IUD, which is a pretty excellent success rate.

It makes sense when you think about it. Unlike birth control methods like taking the pill, you don’t actually have to do anything with your copper IUD besides getting it inserted (and then removed when you should), so the opportunities for user error go way down.

4. ParaGard doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted infections.

When it comes to birth control, only male and female condoms can prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections. So, if you’re using the copper IUD and are at risk for STIs (like if you have partners whose STI status you don’t know), you’ll still need to use some form of protection like male or female condoms or dental dams, plus get tested as often as you should.

5. Your insurance may cover the full cost of the IUD, which is good, since it can be upwards of $1,000.

An October 2017 report from the health care researcher Amino looked at 129 insurance companies, finding that the median price for a copper IUD was $1,045. That included the fees for the device itself and any costs associated with insertion (like that of your visit).

Luckily, many insurance companies currently cover these costs in full, though that may change in the future. Call your insurer or discuss the potential costs with your doctor’s office to be sure.

6. You may not be able to get ParaGard if you’re dealing with certain health issues, mainly ones affecting your reproductive system.

Some people aren’t the best candidates for the copper IUD. Those include people who have uterine issues, like large fibroids, that might affect the IUD’s placement. Having an infection like pelvic inflammatory disease (a condition in which sexually transmitted bacteria infects the reproductive organs) is also a contraindication, as is abnormal vaginal bleeding that hasn’t been diagnosed, along with a few other issues. If you’re worried something about your health means the copper IUD isn’t right for you, be honest about it with your doctor. They’ll either be able to reassure you that it should be just fine or help you find a different birth control that makes more sense for your situation.

7. Insertion can vary from feeling like an uncomfortable pinch to being very painful, but removal is generally a breeze.

During your IUD insertion, your medical practitioner will insert a speculum into your vagina, clean your vagina and cervix, then place the IUD, according to the Mayo Clinic. They do this by putting the device into an applicator tube, pushing the tube into your vagina and through your cervix, then releasing the IUD into your uterus. Once the IUD is in there, its wings will extend so it can assume its T shape, and it will start its pregnancy-preventing ways. Like all IUDs, the copper version has little fishing wire-esque strings that hang down through your cervix.

People can experience a wide range of sensations during IUD insertion. Some have described the process as “[a] few seconds of discomfort,” others like “sharp, intense, nausea-inducing pain.” Insertion may be easier if you’ve given birth vaginally before, since that means your cervix has been extremely dilated in the past. Either way, you can ask your doctor about which pain medication they recommend taking before and after the procedure, since you may experience some residual cramping. They may also be able to offer medications to help your cervix open or to try to numb it instead, although getting those drugs doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll completely bypass any pain or discomfort.

The removal process simply involves your medical practitioner grasping onto your IUD’s strings with a tool, then pulling out the device. As the IUD leaves your body, its arms will fold in. You might experience some light bleeding and cramping during this process and afterward, according to the Mayo Clinic.

In very rare cases, ob/gyns have trouble locating an IUD when it’s time for removal, in which case they may use tools like an ultrasound to find the device so they’re able to take it out.
Once the IUD is out, your fertility should get back to normal pretty much immediately, so if you’re not ready to get pregnant, you’ll either need a new IUD or another form of birth control.

8. After you get the copper IUD, you might have worse periods than before, and this effect may or may not last.

Not-so-cool potential side effect alert: The copper IUD might increase your period pain and bleeding or cause bleeding between periods, ACOG says. That’s why it’s not recommended for people with conditions like endometriosis that can already cause heavy and painful periods, Taraneh Shirazian, MD, assistant professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Langone Medical Center, tells SELF.

Some methods of birth control only seem to make your period worse because they’re not improving it, but the copper IUD can actually drive up bleeding and pain in some people. This is because of the local inflammation it causes in your uterus, Dr. Shirazian says, which can lead to extra irritation and blood.

Everyone is different, and if you experience this side effect, it’s hard to predict how long it will last. The good news is that for many people, this issue goes away or at least decreases after using the IUD for a year, ACOG says. If you’re at all concerned about how your period might change with the copper IUD, this is definitely something to bring up with your doctor.

9. Since ParaGard doesn’t contain hormones, you can use it in situations where other kinds of birth control may not be a fit, like if you’re breastfeeding or have certain health conditions.

The copper IUD has zero hormones, which can make it a good choice for breastfeeding people who want a solid form of birth control, Dr. Shirazian says. This is because there’s a slight chance that estrogen, which is in forms of combined hormonal birth control like the pill, patch, and ring, may impact your milk supply, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

Due to its lack of estrogen, the ParaGard may also offer an advantage for some people who have health conditions that can get worse when exposed to this hormone, like certain types of breast cancer that grow in response to estrogen, a history of blood clots (estrogen increases clotting factors in your blood), or high blood pressure (estrogen can raise it further), Dr. Shirazian says.

If you’re not able to tolerate hormones for some reason, definitely mention that to your doctor when trying to decide if an IUD is right for you.

10. Your partner shouldn’t be able to feel your IUD strings during sex, but if they can, your doctor may be able to trim them.

“Usually your partner cannot feel the strings,” Dr. Worly says. That doesn’t mean this can’t happen, though. If your partner mentions that they feel them, a medical practitioner can often trim the strings, Dr. Worly says.

11. The risks of expulsion (your IUD coming out) and perforation (your IUD piercing your uterus) are very low, but it does occasionally happen.

IUDs come with a small risk of expulsion, which is when your body starts to push the IUD out of you. There isn’t a ton of research on this out there, but the average expulsion incidence rate is between 2 to 10 percent of users, ACOG says. Risk factors include recently having had the IUD inserted, getting it placed right after childbirth, and a history of heavy or prolonged periods, among others. Though you don’t really need to stress about this possibility, if it were to happen to you, you might experience symptoms like bleeding and cramping, feel something hard coming from your cervix, or see the IUD somewhere outside of your body.

IUDs can also cause perforation, which is when the device pushes through the wall of your uterus. It sounds alarming, but again, the risk is really low. According to a study published in the journal Conception, out of 61,448 people who had an IUD, only 20 with the copper form experienced a perforation, which is right on par with ACOG’s estimate that this happens in about one out of every 1,000 insertions. In fact, perforation most often happens due to an error during placement. Much like with expulsion, this isn’t something that needs to keep you up at night, but if you were dealing with perforation, you would potentially experience pelvic pain (which can be a symptom of a ton of things), though you might not experience any major symptoms at all.

12. You can check the strings periodically after placement for a bit of reassurance that your IUD is still there, but that doesn’t mean you should start to worry if you don’t feel them.

If you can feel your strings protruding from your cervix, that’s a pretty clear sign your IUD is where it should be. But if you can’t, it’s not a reason to immediately assume you’re dealing with an IUD complication like perforation or expulsion. Over time, the strings often soften and curl up around your cervix, so you might not be able to feel them. (This is another reason why your IUD may be a non-issue during sex.

13. You can actually use ParaGard as emergency contraception.

Many people don’t realize this, but ParaGard is the most effective form of emergency contraception as long as it’s inserted up to five days after unprotected sex, according to ACOG. A 2012 meta-analysis of published in the journal Human Reproduction looked at 42 studies and found that the copper IUD had a pregnancy rate of only 0.09 percent when it was used as a form of emergency contraception.

“The copper IUD causes inflammation in the uterine lining and may prevent implantation of the developing embryo,” Dr. Worly explains.

Of course, this isn’t necessarily the most convenient form of emergency contraception. If you weren’t planning on getting an IUD, pill-based forms may make more sense for you depending on how easily you’re able to access them vs. an intrauterine device, plus other factors like weight, since their efficacy may go down in people with higher BMIs.

If you’re interested in joining the copper IUD club, talk to your doctor.

It might feel like there’s a lot of information to take in about the copper IUD, not to mention all the other birth control options at your disposal. If your head is spinning, you don’t have to go it alone—that’s what doctors are for. Or, if you have nary a question and are just really excited to get that thing in there, well, that’s what doctors are for, too.


How Your Skin Changes in Your 30s—and What You Can Do About It

The age of 30 is often approached with a bit of wariness and, in some cases, downright panic. For some it can feel like a whole new chapter of life is beginning—for better or worse—and when it comes to your skin that is true.

In your late 20s, you might have already noticed a few things changing about your body. You need more sleep to function, hangovers are much more extreme, and your stomach just doesn’t respond well to certain foods (or is that just me?). Your skin is also going through a transition during this time. After 30, you might experience more dryness and irritation than you ever did. Not to mention strange spots seem to pop up from nowhere. But all this is perfectly normal, according to dermatologists.

When your skin starts feeling out of whack, you can make a few simple adjustments to your skin-care regimen to get things back in sync. We asked top dermatologists to reveal the skin changes you can expect in your 30s, and the solutions that work best to treat them.

You notice that your skin is looking a little dull.

Your skin cell turnover slows down as early as your 20s. By the time you hit your 30s new cells are visible every 28-35 days, whereas they once turned over every 14 days or so when you were a child. “This means dead cells start accumulating on the surface of the skin and interfering with light reflection,” Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center, tells SELF. “This is often characterized by a loss of radiance.”

Solution: Exfoliate twice a week.

Since your skin cells aren’t turning over as often, you can rid your skin of these dead cells manually to reveal newer, brighter skin cells underneath. This not only makes your skin more glowing, but it also helps ensure that the products you layer on top are absorbed more deeply. Dr. Zeichner suggests using a gentle exfoliating scrub, such as St. Ives Even and Bright Pink Lemon and Mandarin Orange Scrub ($4) or Cetaphil Extra Gentle Daily Scrub ($8), to exfoliate and improve skin radiance. “Start out once per week, and advance to twice or three times per week as tolerated,” he adds.

Your skin is dry, dry, dry.

Another pesky side effect of slowing skin turnover is that the top layer of skin has a more difficult time staying moisturized naturally. “It takes longer for the top layer of the skin to slough off, giving a more dull and dry quality,” Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, M.D., board-certified NYC dermatologist and clinical instructor at NYU Langone and Mount Sinai, tells SELF. “Furthermore, production of hydrating factors in the skin such as hyaluronic acid slows down and break down increases.”

Solution: Add an exfoliator with alpha hydroxy acids and a moisturizing cream.

Dr. Levin recommends incorporating an exfoliating product with alpha hydroxy acid (glycolic, lactic, citric, etc.) into your weekly routine in your 30s to help with cell turnover. (Note: If you are already exfoliating with a scrub, there’s no need to add an AHA, and vice versa.) She likes Revision Brightening Facial Wash ($32), which has both salicylic and glycolic acid in combination with vitamin C and other skin-brightening agents. Keep in mind that over-exfoliating can make dryness even worse, so make sure you’re restoring the skin’s moisture barrier with a hydrating cream. For a drugstore option, try CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion ($13). A luxury alternative is Skinceuticals Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2 ($128), which has a balance of ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids.

Your face doesn’t look as full as it used to.

“I always say that life starts to show up on our face and skin in our 30s,” Dr. Levin says. “Cell turnover slows down, skin recovers less easily from inflammation, important proteins such as collagen and elastin breakdown faster and less is made and the naturally found skin plumping sugar known as hyaluronic acid starts to decrease.” Forehead wrinkles, crow’s feet, bags under the eyes, and more prominent laugh lines called nasolabial folds are all new things you might notice in your 30s. Changing hormones also contribute to many of these changes, specifically a loss of estrogen that causes us to lose volume and bone mass in our skull, cheekbones, and jawline.

Solution: Slather on a moisturizer with sun protection every day and start experimenting with retinol.

“When someone asks me the most important anti-aging skin-care product, it is easily without hesitation sunscreen, since premature skin aging is driven primarily by the sun so protection is key,” Dr. Levin says. But in addition to wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30+, she urges the importance of a complete, multi-step skin care routine with a cleanser, moisturizer, and retinol-containing product.

“The tried-and-proven vitamin A derivative ingredients have been studied since the 1980s and have been proven to improve the appearance of wrinkles, diminish brown spots, and even out discoloration in the skin,” she explains. “At the cellular level, retinoids work by increasing collagen formation, decreasing breakdown of collagen, and normalizing cell turnover.” If you’re new to retinol, it’s probably a good idea to start out with a drugstore brand instead of a prescription since they’re usually lower in concentration and will be more gentle on your skin. Try ROC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Filler ($23) or Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Night Moisturizer ($22) a few days a week at first and then use more frequently as your skin becomes more tolerant.

You get cystic acne for the first time in your life.

You thought admission into your 30s meant your days of perusing the acne aisle of your local drugstore were over. But many are surprised to learn that adult female hormonal acne kicks into high gear during this decade, due to changing hormonal levels. Hormones can go haywire due to a myriad of things, from discontinuing oral birth control pills, pregnancy, or even simply the stressors of modern adult life

Unfortunately you can’t treat adult acne like the pimples of your teenage years. The issue, Dr. Levin explains, is that adult skin is far less resilient than teenage skin and turns over less frequently. So it takes much longer to see a result from a topical medication than in teenage skin. “Furthermore, since many adult women and men feel as though they ‘shouldn’t be breaking out,’ there is a factor of panic where patients are frequently using so many different products, which can dry and irritate the skin which makes acne worse,” she says.

Solution: Add one acne treatment to your routine.

Since the skin is more dry, sensitive and has a harder time recovering from inflammation, Dr. Levin warns against using the regular acne treatments women used during their teens years. Instead, she recommends a gentle hydrating cleanser, an active topical medication, moisturizer, and sunscreen. If you’re going to add anything else to your routine, incorporate one new product at a time as long as the skin isn’t irritated. One of her go-to acne medications is Differin Gel ($13), which used to be prescription-only and is now available as an over-the-counter retinol. “It not only normalizes skin cell turnover, but also has anti-inflammatory properties as well as improves the skin texture and tone with regular use,” she says. “It does not cause dryness or irritation of the skin and the lightweight gel can easily be used within a skincare routine as a stand alone active ingredient or in combination with other acne medications.”

Your skin seems to get irritated more often.

In addition to your skin being more susceptible to dryness, it is also less tolerant of external factors like cold and dry weather and harsh soaps. In other words, the cleansers you may have used on your face and body when you were younger without blinking an eye at the ingredients list won’t cut it anymore—they’ll quickly cause skin irritation and leave you hanging out to dry, literally.

Solution: Switch up your cleanser.

Traditional soaps have an alkaline pH that disrupts the naturally acidic skin pH, which is why Dr. Zeichner recommends sticking to gentle, soap-free cleanser that respects the skin barrier. His go-to is Dove Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar ($9 for eight bars), which has hydrating ingredients built-in. If you prefer a liquid cleanser, reach for Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser ($10).

Your face seems to flush and stay red.

Rosacea is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that most commonly rears its head in the 30s. “Rosacea shows up on the face and is manifests as flushing, blushing, redness, and red pimple-like bumps that can be triggered or worsened by a number of factors, including hormonal changes, weather changes, stress, spicy foods, hot temperature beverages or foods, chocolate, and caffeine,” Dr. Levin explains. “Rosacea skin is finicky since it is marked with sensitivity and intolerability to a number of skin-care products.”

Solution: Lighten up your skin-care regimen to include just the basics.

Rosacea often calls for a total revamp of your skin care routine. Dr. Levin recommends patients with rosacea simplify and focus on a gentle skin-care regimen with a cleanser, moisturizer, and mineral-based sunscreen such as Revision Intellishade TruPhysical SPF 45 ($75). Also consider seeing a dermatologist for a prescription treatment. “There are many medications that can help control rosacea, but one of my favorites is Soolantra cream, which a prescription topical medication that has anti-inflammatory properties specific to rosacea skin,” says Dr. Levin.

Dark spots pop up from nowhere and don’t fade as fast as they used to.

With decades of sun exposure under your belt, you might start noticing dark spots popping up on your face. These spots are caused by years of low-grade exposure to the sun, which stimulate pigment-producing cells to go into overdrive, says Dr. Zeichner. You’ll also start to notice scars from things like acne fade at a slower rate (you can blame that crawling cell turnover again). Those with darker skin types often notice these changes in pigmentation to a higher degree. Hyperpigmentation is often made worse by hormonal changes, UV exposure, and certain medications.

Solution: Add a brightening product to your regular routine.

Hydroquinone has been the gold standard for lightening dark spots for the past 50 years. There are plenty of over-the-counter preparations at lower concentrations—usually 2 percent or less—like Ambi Fade Cream ($6). But if you don’t see any change in the spot after 8 weeks you might need something stronger. You can get a higher percentage through a dermatologist. “Hydroquinone is one of the most powerful inhibitors of a key enzyme called tyrosinase, which is important in the production of pigment or melanin,” says Dr. Levin.

Retinoids are also key in terms of exfoliating the skin, collagen remodeling, and treating discoloration. “Most of the clinical studies for brown spots have been performed with Tretinoin (Retin-A) but any retinoid such as Differin and Tazorac can also be effective,” Dr. Levin adds. Her favorite over-the-counter retinoids are Differin Gel ($13) and Skin Better AlphaRet ($110).

9 Nude Bra and Underwear Options That Really Work for Brown Skin

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to wear a beige-toned “nude” bra under a white T-shirt, only to be put on full display under the bright fluorescent lights of the office. (Insert eye-roll emoji.) Years ago, I completely gave up on all things nude. There were no shades that really faded into my milk chocolate skin. As a black woman, I discovered the best alternative to nude is black, so now, my bra drawer is filled with black options. They don’t match my skin, but they disappear under light or sheer tops, so they serve their purpose.

But recently, there has been a push to expand the idea of nude in the beauty and fashion industries. And honestly, it’s about time. Just the idea that beige is a one-size-fits-all solution to nude is bogus. My family and friends come in various different shades of brown—and we need bras, shoes, and lip colors to reflect that.

In lingerie, that means bras and underwear are popping up in all shades of brown, from dulce de leche to dark chocolate. Some of the brands are even owned by women of color, which makes it even more empowering. Yes, I could continue to wear black, but I’ve made it my mission to support the brands recognizing the diversity of skin color. So, I’ve started to branch out from basic black into a whole new range of brown. Ahead are a few of my favorite lingerie brands doing nude the right way.

Related: Forget Nude, Red Bras Are Invisible Under White Shirts

Moms Are Living for These Videos of Chrissy Teigen Saving Her Spilled Breast Milk

Anyone who’s breastfed will tell you that breast milk is basically magic. Not only does it feed a hungry baby, it does so with just the right blend of fat and fluids as well as some beneficial antibodies. So it’s no surprise that Chrissy Teigen would go to extreme lengths to save every last drop of hers.

On Wednesday, Teigen shared two videos in which she and a friend use a syringe, a turkey baster, and what looks like a shoehorn or some kind of spatula in a (mostly futile) attempt to salvage a small amount of breast milk that spilled out of her breast pump bottle.

“Spilled my breast milk, and this is how important it is in this house,” Teigen says in one of the videos.

“I am so jealous of people with plentiful boobies,” she captioned one clip on Twitter, writing alongside the other, “EVERY DROP COUNTS IN THIS HOUSE.”

The replies to Teigen’s tweets were a rare space of almost nothing but positive and supportive internet comments.

Since Teigen posted the silly but all-too-real clips online, many of her fellow moms have shared their own stories of doing whatever is necessary to save even the tiniest amount of spilled breast milk.

Some, like Teigen, have turned to syringes to recover the milk, while several others wrote about soaking it up with paper towels and wringing them out into a bottle. And all of them seemed to agree that it actually is OK to cry over spilled milk when it comes to that “liquid gold.”

Teigen often publicly (and hilariously) shares the big and little ups and downs of breastfeeding, all of which helps normalize it.

Earlier this month, Teigen posted a photo on Instagram of herself breastfeeding her second child, Miles, on one breast and Luna’s doll on her other. “Luna making me feed her babydoll so I guess I have twins now,” she captioned the photo.

Last month, Teign’s husband John Legend shared a photo of her pumping in the backseat of a car. And back in May, just a few days after giving birth to Miles, Teigen posted a photo of herself on Instagram holding him while wearing postpartum mesh underwear.

All of this helps everyone understand more about the realities of giving birth, breastfeeding, and simply living your life in the so-called “fourth trimester.”


Why Your Self-Care Methods Aren’t Working—and How to Fix That

I’ve never been much of a bath person. Perhaps it’s because the water gets tepid too fast for my taste. Or because I have OCD and the thought of “cleaning” myself in a liquid germ-swell isn’t that appealing. Or because I was once forced to take baths for a month to treat a skin condition—far more medicinal than sumptuous. A bath is certainly not, as the internet would have me believe, my road to self-care.

I’d much rather wander Home Goods, just browsing, no time limit, kinda-sorta searching for some amazing placemat set I don’t need but simply must have. Or, I binge-watch creepy foreign series. (Have you seen Dark? Exquisitely terrifying.) But nobody’s marketing Netflix as self-care.

Yet the term on every millennial’s browser has most definitely been commoditized by other industries. Using the classic “if Aliens came down to Earth today” trope, the little green guys would consider self-care synonymous with essential oils. And candles. Face creams. Even yoga pants, spa menus, vacation packages, smoothie subscriptions, and wine often now bear the promise of self-care. And there’s not a lifestyle site that’s been able to resist the siren call of the “best self-care products” roundup.

No wonder: There are roughly double the Google searches for the term today compared to this time last year, and per the November 2017 Barkley Report, “the volume of discussions surrounding self-care octupled in 2015 and 2016 compared to a decade prior.” Type in “self-care books” on Amazon, and you get 20,000 results. Head over to Twitter, and a self-care bot reminds you to stretch, drink water, and meditate every hour or so.

With all this self-caring going on, you’d think we—the wellness community—would be on the Nobel shortlist for ending stress. Yet angst has never been so pervasive, according to the 2017 American Psychological Association (APA) Stress in America survey, which showed that, from 2016 to 2017, the number of people in the U.S. who experienced a stress symptom within the past month jumped from 71 to 75 percent, which the APA calls “a significant increase.”

Clearly, we’re doing something wrong.

When you look at its back story, self-care wasn’t about just etching out an hour here and there for life’s little luxuries. The definition used to be something entirely different. According to one French philosopher, Socrates’ most famous quote—“Know thyself”—was actually about self-care: By truly “knowing” yourself, you were caring for yourself. (Unless, of course, the history texts glazed over the S man’s passion for bath bombs.)

The phrase took a turn in 1971 with nurse Dorothea Orem’s seminal book, Self-Care Deficit Theory, which suggested that by teaching patients self-care—specifically how to be more self-reliant in maintaining their treatments post-hospital stay—R.N.s could help transform the health-care system.

The majority of the academic research on self-care in the five decades since Orem’s book still focuses on medical issues such as diabetes, cancer, and HIV. The other category of self-care studies takes aim at medical pros themselves. In 2008, one Psy.D. wrote a rallying cry, calling self-care for psychologists an “ethical imperative” against burnout, vicarious traumatization, distress, and impaired professional competence. In 2012, the APA amended its “ethics code” to include the importance of self-care among practitioners.

So, how did we get from ancient philosophy…to nurses…to therapists…to getting our shoulders rubbed with fancy-schmancy coconut oil in the name of self-care?

On a basic level, there’s the fact we’re all desperate for that magic anxiety-reducing bullet.

From a broader cultural perspective, there’s the individualistic era we live in: Technological, financial, and medical advances in the 20th and 21st centuries have given the average human more control over her economic and health destinies, sparking an emphasis on me more than we.

But I believe that, in the origin of modern “self-care for all,” the general wellness boom plays the starring role. “Professional disciplines—even those outside of the health-care profession—are talking more about wellness and self-care and encouraging employees to engage in wellness-oriented strategies,” says Talkspace therapist Rachel O’Neill, Ph.D., who co-owns a mental health business where she consults with professionals on self-care. “Over the past few years, the self-care industry has become, well, an industry.”

This industry, which has spawned “treat yo’self” memes, has in some ways overshadowed the true meaning of self-care—which O’Neill describes as “carving out some space to be fully focused on your mental, emotional, and physical well-being.”

Consider the words “fully focused” in the context of the bubble bath cliché: “If you take a bath just to get away from the kids, the minute you open the door, it’s like you didn’t even take a bath,” Fred Luskin, Ph.D., associate professor at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology and director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Projects, tells SELF. “Or how many people take a vacation, and on the plane coming back they’re just as stressed? It’s attitude and where your mind is, not just what your body is doing,” he explains. “You have to consciously practice bringing intention inward, consciously letting go of all the things that worry you, actively kiss them goodbye.”

The bit about “where your mind is” could explain why my sister, physical therapist Sarah Cleary, uses Days of Our Lives, of all things, as self-care. She, my mom, and I used to watch the soap together, and for years after we no longer lived in the same house, we’d still call each other and endlessly discuss how clueless “millionaire businessman” John Black was, or that iconic moment when Carrie slapped Sami for sleeping with Austin. “Watching it makes me happy because it makes me think about you and Mom,” Sarah says. “And I can imagine our convos about some of the story lines.”

Beyond its addictively cockamamie storylines, Days, for my sis, is an example of how self-care methods don’t always have to be self-centered. It brings her joy—and takes her mind away her stressors—because it reminds her of people she loves.

Love, it so happens, is crucial—and not just for others. “Self-care is a product of loving ourselves. If I don’t feel worthy, I’m not going to take care of myself,” says certified psychotherapist Stefan Deutsch, president of The Human Development Company and author of Love Decoded.

Like Deutsch (and Huey Lewis, if you happen to be that old), Luskin believes in love. “The biggest self-care is let yourself love and be loved,” he says. But it’s hard to do that when you’re so busy you can’t think. In fact, “the two biggest obstacles to self-care in the 21st century,” he says, “ are to always be in a hurry or always multitask. To our nervous system, this is a sign we’re in danger.”

That’s exactly why, when he was full time at Stanford and “rushing around everywhere,” he’d force himself to pause for a minute, giving himself the brain space to think, Wow, I’m really lucky that I have my two kids. Luskin goes on, “The minute you think you’re lucky, the adrenaline goes away, endorphins run through your system, and your mind shuts down that you’re in a desperate run for survival when you’re just standing in line at Whole Foods.”

So it’s not that self-care can’t involve tub time and products. But to turn essential oils and soapy bubbles into actual self-care, you’ve got to simultaneously tap into your emotional needs.

If bathing reminds you of the awesome time you had visiting the Turkish baths, bathe on, sister. If you and your college roommate used to catch up for hours with a backdrop of lavender essential oil—and sniffing it makes you happily nostalgic—stock up, and think of her when it wafts past your nose. (This is not an affront to beauty products. I love beauty products! I was a beauty editor for nearly 12 years.)

Just remember that if you’re buying lavender simply because everybody says it’s gonna calm you down—even though you don’t particularly relish the scent of lavender—it may not do much. Consumerized self-care can have potent results so long as it involves an activity you enjoy, and you also include those layers of appreciation and self love.

Since self-care has gotten so muddied over the years, you may still be wondering whether certain rituals you’ve sworn by are actually working for you. Check out these bits of wisdom I picked up from my conversations.

Self-care doesn’t have to cost a thing. Two of the biggest misconceptions O’Neill’s clients have about self-care, she says, is that it has to involve spending money and it has to be a grand event (like a full spa day). O’Neill herself makes self-care a part of her day without shelling out a cent. “I set aside ‘no phone times’—when I’m exercising or with my family,” she says. “I also practice ‘self-care breaks’ throughout my work days—one to two minutes where I’ll either do a focused breathing exercise or take a mindful walk around the block.” (Of course, if your self-care is an expensive trip or spa day and you’ve got the means, no judgment. Carry on.)

It can be something super personal and quirky, something maybe only you would enjoy. Kimberly Phillips, who works in marketing and business development, tells SELF she mixes up masks at home with lemon juice, yogurt, sugar, and olive oil. “It makes me feel good to use something my dog can lick off my face that soothes my skin. Plus, olive oil is so creamy it just feels very yummy.” (Wait, I ask, the dog literally laps it off your face? “Oh, he loves olive oil! He always licks it off,” she tells me.) She also slathers the oil on her legs, wraps them in plastic wrap, then puts on sweatpants and marinates for an hour. “Your legs are so frickin soft.” She’ll up the chill factor with music, like The Incredible String Band’s album “The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion.”

Engaging in self-care can actually involve someone else. “Say you have a decent marriage or partnership,” says Luskin, co-author of Stress Free for Good. “If every single day you ask yourself, ‘What nice thing did my partner do for me today?’ your heart will get warm and fuzzy, and you think, ‘What can I do back for them?’ In that moment, you’ve had both self-care and other care,” he explains.

Michelle Tham Metz, M.D., an ob/gyn in the Mount Sinai Health System, tells SELF she practices self-care with her 5-year-old daughter, Maika, by making paper mache sculptures. “It’s goopy and cold and it feels good to do something messy as a grown up,” she says. “It’s rewarding to do the layers, and because there really is no way to be neat about it, I don’t have anxiety about making a mess with Maika, so it’s an activity we can do together that I don’t have to micromanage her at all.”

Self-care might not be something you do at all; it can be something you don’t do. “Setting boundaries with friends and co-workers and not overextending ourselves can help guard against burnout,” says O’Neill. Ellen Zguta, director of e-commerce site operations at a fashion company, uses this strategy. “Sometimes I choose not to pick up the ringing phone because I know I’m going to listen to a monologue instead of being involved in a conversation,” she tells SELF. “Or I know that the person is going to tell me all about how busy and exciting his life is. Meanwhile I was sitting on my couch watching Scandal with my dog. So there are times when I decide to give myself a pass to not be the always-accessible, always-happy-to-listen friend or sister because sometimes being me on my couch watching Scandal with my dog is exactly what I want to be doing.”

Which brings me back to what I want to be doing: scouring Home Goods.

Considering how crucial the emotional thought process is to making self-care methods truly productive, are my Home Goods runs legit?

They certainly check off the “no rushing” box and, as Deutsch says, “once you see what it is that relaxes you, what opens up is permission to think about yourself.” But there’s that other necessary element: consciousness, which is key for my creepfest binges too.

Luskin explains: If you just plop down and flick on the TV (or mindlessly roam the store of your choosing), you’ll finish just as stressed as you were before. But “if you take a moment before to recognize how lucky you are to have an hour or two to yourself, you prime the pump for it to have a good effect on your nervous system,” he explains. “Then when you’re done, prime your pump back by saying ‘wonderful break, now I’m going back to a good life I have chosen.’”

As I finished up this column, my 4-year-old son sidled up and asked if I would come look at the latest of hundreds of marble runs he created.

He named his latest marble run—blocks you build into a structure that allows a marble to run from top to bottom, for the unfamiliar—The Catcher.

I felt a twinge of irritation. Couldn’t he see I was typing? Couldn’t he ask my husband to admire The Catcher instead? Couldn’t I get a GD minute to myself?!

But then I thought about all I had learned about what self-care really is: about appreciation, about how acknowledging the great things in your life causes a rush of endorphins and a retreat of stress-causing cortisol, about slowwwwing down.

In that moment, I had the opportunity to make a deliberate choice: to say no, or to just be in an intimate moment with my son, no matter what else had me pulled, taffy-like, in another direction.

I looked up from my laptop and saw his cute little face, his “Tacocat is tacocat spelled backwards” t-shirt. What popped into my mind then was how cool it was that he has such an architectural streak, and that he wanted to share it with me.

I smiled. I felt happy, and proud, and lucky. A bit giddy, even. Then, I chose. I hit pause. I got up and went downstairs to admire The Catcher.

And that, my friends, is self-care.

Amy Keller Laird is an award-winning journalist and SELF’s wellness correspondent. She was previously the Editor-in-Chief of Women’s Health and the Beauty Director of Allure, and has appeared on The Doctors, Today, and Good Morning America as a health, wellness, and beauty expert. Follow her on Instagram at @aklaird and on Twitter at @amykellerlaird.


7 Questions to Ask the Salesperson—and Yourself—Before Buying Your First Vibrator

I’m not going to lie, buying a vibrator is a daunting experience. I remember my first sex shop experience. It was in the West Village in New York City and the scary middle-aged man behind the counter shot me a single glance—Was that disdain I noted? Annoyance? Aren’t customers good for business?—and that was the full extent of my customer service experience.

Similar stories are not uncommon for many women. We picture that sex shop with the half-naked mannequins in sexy nurse costumes surrounded by scary enormous dildos and bongs—but that is not the experience you have to have!

There are better options waiting for you. Bless. Feminist, sex-positive boutiques like Babeland, Please, Good Vibrations, Wildflower Shop, and Unbound (all online too!) are founded and managed by women. They hire customer service reps who are kind, queer-friendly, and genuinely knowledgeable about sex education. These spots pride themselves on being shame-free, sex-positive, and excited to make your shopping experience one you enjoy.

You want to buy a vibrator, made from the right material, from people who know everything there is to know about these products. The curators stock the store with high-end products, while the staff go through extensive training before hitting the floor. A feminist sex toy boutique does not play games when it comes to good materials and excellent service.

They can advise you on everything from the proper way to clean your toys, to the ways in which a specific vibe might make your clitoris feel. The key to getting the toy you want is asking for assistance—don’t be shy, this is literally their job. Think of the staff like the Geek Squad of getting off.

Put these seven questions in your back pocket before purchasing a vibrator for the first time (or any time, really).

1. Are all vibrators giant, scary rabbit dildos???

Obviously, you can word this one however you’d like. The point is: Don’t pretend to be an expert. You’re not an expert! That’s OK!

Sometimes the most awkward questions can really break the ice. Trust me, this is not an uncommon question. In fact, it’s a great one to set up a rapport. You want to establish with the salesperson that you’re new to this experience, but also curious and excited. They will be delighted to show you that, no, not all vibrators are terrifying, phallic, veiny contraptions.

There are a million different toys ranging from the very advanced to beginner: pebble vibes, vibrators that look like lipsticks, toys that double as jewelry (it’s true!), and even some that simulate oral sex.

Remind yourself that you’re doing something for you and this person is here to take this journey with you. Let yourself be uncomfortable. You’ll learn something.

2. What features should I look for in a vibrator?

Vibrators are complicated pieces of equipment. They seem to have an overwhelming number of buttons, speeds, and vibration patterns. Before you step into a sex shop, take some time to figure out what kind of stimulation works for you. You’ll need to spend some time with your good ol’ hand to figure out which areas of the vulva and vagina bring you the most pleasurable sensation.

Do you like pinpointed clitoral stimulation? If so, you may want to check out a smaller vibrator—size varies, but many are pocket sized. Do you enjoy penetrating yourself (or having a partner penetrate you) when seeking orgasm? Curved wands designed for internal stimulation target the G-spot, which is actually more of an area than a “spot.” It is located behind the pubic bone, inside the vaginal canal, surrounding the urethral sponge at the apex of the internal clitoris. G-spot wands can also be used as external clit vibes—just don’t stick it inside! It’s always fun to have some variety available.

You’ll also what to think about the size and shape you might be interested in. Something small? Something large? A toy that looks like household decór? Not at all sure? All fine.

The kind of toy you buy is about personal preference. They are as unique as you are! If you can give the salesperson some ideas of your style, they’ll be able to pull some options for you to check out. They’ll probably even let you turn them on! Their job is to make sure you leave happy and confident in your choice.

3. Which materials are best?

If you’re shopping in a female-friendly, feminist sex toy store, you can be pretty sure that the toys they sell are high quality. Toys come in a variety of materials, but for beginners, stay simple. Choose a vibrator made from medical-grade silicone.

Some toys are made from “body-safe silicone”; I don’t recommend buying toys made from anything under medical-grade. Think of this way: Medical grade means hospital quality. Would you want anything less high-quality on or inside your cooch?

The tissues of the vagina and vulva are highly permeable and more absorptive than skin in most other parts of the body, so you do not want to put any materials on or in it that aren’t top notch. The FDA doesn’t regulate pleasure products, meaning companies can make their toys with essentially any materials they want. This is why you have to do your due diligence. Medical grade is the best quality material.

4. How do I clean this?

You’ll want to be sure to clean your toys after every single use. Otherwise, lingering bacteria can result in a bacterial infection or the spread of STIs. This is especially important if you’re using toys with multiple partners.

The way you clean your toys is an essential part of the vibrator owner’s manual. Every toy will come with specific directions you should read carefully before use. Generally, a mild soap and water will do the trick for most toys. Some toys, such as those made of stainless steel or glass, can be boiled in water. Vibrators have motors, which means they cannot be cleaned this way. If you’re not sure what to do, just ask.

Be wary of scented or harsh soaps as they can leave residue that has the potential to irritate the sensitive skin on the vulva. If you’re looking to really invest, you can get a Uvee box, which uses UV light to remove 99.9 percent of all surface bacteria.

5. Is this waterproof?

There is a lot of confusion around this one. Some toys say they are “waterproof” when what they really mean is “splash proof.” If a toy has a motor, it usually cannot be completely submerged in water. You don’t want to ruin your brand new vibrator, do you?

If it can be submerged in water it will say “water submersible” in the directions. Luckily, all you have to do is ask the salesperson. They will know for sure whether or not this toy is bathtub approved.

6. What kind of lube should I buy?

Betcha didn’t even think of this one! When you are using a sex toy of any kind, lube is an absolute must. If you don’t use lube, you can end up with soreness, rash, and even some temporary desensitization. Lube is BAE.

The salesperson will have some in-store recommendations that will go perfectly with your new vibrator. Be sure the lube is paraben-free, petrochemical-free, glycerine-free, and does not contain any flavoring because these chemicals can cause irritation and infection.

Certain lubes should not be used with certain kinds toys (or during specific sexual situations). Silicone lube, while good because it’s slippery and has great staying power, is not compatible with silicone toys. It can cause damage to your cherished vibrator.

If you’re using your vibrator with multiple partners, or switching between anal and vaginal play, you’ll want to place a condom over it before and between uses. Latex is not compatible with oil-based lubricants such as coconut oil or almond oil, which is corrosive and can cause breakage.

When in doubt, stick with a water-based lube. These lubes are the most mild and don’t come with the drawbacks of other lubes. I love the water-based lubes from Unbound Jelly, Good Clean Love, and Babelube.

7. Now that I’ve opened up about my masturbation habits and love of the color purple, what options would you choose for someone as special and magical as me?

Last, but not least, ask for a few specific, tailor-made choices to pick from. This is an overwhelming process. You can easily streamline it by having a professional do the heavy lifting for you.

Once you have three solid options, turn each of them on. Touch them. See how they feel on your hand. Your first vibrator is a magical tool for self-discovery. When you find the right one for you, you’ll know. There is a kind of cosmic connection.

Now go forth with your bad self and enjoy!

Gigi Engle is a certified sex coach, educator, and writer living in Chicago. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @GigiEngle.

What to Do if You Think You’ve Been Exposed to Asbestos

A steam pipe explosion in New York City’s Flatiron district on Thursday has raised fears about the potential for being exposed to asbestos after the material was found in the lining of the pipe.

While the air around the blast sites seems to be safe, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio says there is “real concern” that tainted debris thrown into the air from the explosion could have gotten into people’s buildings or air conditioners, NBC 4 New York reports. Nearly 50 nearby buildings were evacuated after the explosion when the 86-year-old pipe exploded around 6:30 a.m., and 28 of those buildings are in what officials are calling “the hot zone,” the news channel reports.

The mayor says that each of those buildings must be thoroughly assessed for the presence of asbestos, and residents won’t be allowed to return home until the buildings have been deemed safe. People who were in the vicinity at the time of the blast are being advised to bag their clothes and shower. The FDNY is also offering “decontamination sites” for people in two separate locations.

Asbestos is a mineral fiber that occurs in rocks and soil, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Asbestos has strong, long fibers and is heat-resistant, which is why it’s been used in the past as a building construction material for insulation and as a fire retardant. Although it isn’t mined in the U.S. anymore, it’s still present in some older homes, buildings, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. And, apparently, steam pipes.

There are a few health concerns related to long-term asbestos exposure, including asbestosis (a chronic lung disease), pleural disease (a disease that affects that area between the lungs and the chest wall), lung cancer, and mesothelioma (a tumor of the tissue that lines the lungs), the organization says.

But does that mean a one-time exposure is worrying? Probably not.

Because asbestos has been around for a long time, most people have been exposed to it at some point, the CDC says. But being exposed to it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll develop health problems. The CDC specifically says that the length and frequency of exposure matters, along with how much you were exposed to and whether you also have an underlying lung condition.

You can be exposed to it by accidentally swallowing the fibers or getting them on your skin, the CDC says. But, because it can affect the lungs, actually breathing it in may be a bigger concern, Jeffrey Weiland, M.D., a pulmonologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells SELF. When it’s handled (or, perhaps, launched into the air by some sort of explosion), asbestos can separate into microscopic particles that remain in the air and are easily inhaled, according to the CDC.

And the more you’re exposed to asbestos, the more doctors worry because being exposed for an extended period of time does increase your risk of developing lung disease or cancer, Jacque Fontaine, M.D., a thoracic surgeon and section head of the Mesothelioma Research and Treatment Center at Moffitt Cancer Center, tells SELF. If you happened to be walking by the steam pipe when it exploded, it’s less likely that you should be concerned than if you lived right there, stayed in your home, and breathed in asbestos for weeks, he explains. However, Dr. Fontaine adds, “We don’t know the exact amount of asbestos exposure that is safe versus not safe. We just know that repeated significant exposure puts you at a much higher risk.”

If you find out that your office or home has asbestos, don’t panic.

If you find asbestos-containing materials in your house, you don’t necessarily need to worry. (You’d have to have a professional come in to test for it, the EPA says, as you can’t tell just by looking whether a material contains asbestos.) Asbestos in the home that isn’t damaged or disturbed isn’t likely to pose health risk, the EPA explains. That’s because the biggest issue with asbestos is breathing it in, and asbestos only gets aerosolized if something disrupts it. So if the asbestos isn’t disturbed through renovations or construction, your risk of developing health issues is low, Dr. Fontaine says.

“Generally, asbestos-containing material that is in good condition and will not be disturbed (by remodeling, for example) will not release asbestos fibers,” the EPA explains. So, definitely call in an asbestos-trained professional if you’re planning on doing any of that kind of work (or if it has already been damaged) to take samples and possibly repair or remove it.

When it comes to your workplace, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says that if a company knows its workers are being exposed to asbestos, they’re required to protect workers by establishing regulated areas, controlling work practices, and creating engineering controls to reduce airborne levels of the material. The company is also required to make sure exposure is reduced and to give workers personal protective equipment, OHSA says. And, if legal limits and exposure times are exceeded (determined by something called Phase Contrast Microscopy, which tests the air), workers need to be medically monitored, OSHA says.

If you happen to be around asbestos at any point, there are a few steps you can take to lower your risk of having health issues.

First, wash your body and your clothes, Dr. Weiland says, because the main concern is that you’ll be repeatedly exposed to the fibers if you’re carrying them around with you.

Most people who have quick exposure won’t have any symptoms, Dr. Weiland says. In the case of the steam pipe explosion, some people might have a cough, but it’s more likely that would be due to irritants being in the air and not necessarily due to the possible presence of asbestos, Purvi Parikh, M.D., an allergist/immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Network and NYU Langone Health, tells SELF. The actual steam and debris that is aerosolized can trigger asthma attacks, respiratory distress, and shortness of breath in people with underlying lung conditions like asthma, she says.

Unfortunately, there’s no way for your doctor to tell if asbestos is in your lungs soon after you were exposed the CDC says—it can take years to see any changes in the lungs. So, if you’re concerned about the effects of repeated exposure to asbestos, check in with your doctor. Early symptoms that something might be wrong would be a chronic cough or shortness of breath that gets worse with time, Dr. Weiland says.

If your doctor suspects that you have asbestosis or another lung problem created by asbestos, they’ll likely give you a CT scan of your chest or a chest X-ray to see what’s going on in your lungs, the Mayo Clinic says. Your doctor may also give you a pulmonary function test, which involves blowing as hard as you can into a machine called a spirometer, to measure how much air your lungs can hold and the airflow in and out of your lungs, the organization says.

But, again, a one-time exposure shouldn’t create any serious health problems for you. “If you happened to walk by it, it shouldn’t cause any issue at all,” Dr. Weiland says.