08/01/2012 08:53 EDT | Updated 10/01/2012 05:12 EDT

Always in the pool, Olympic swimmer Natalie Coughlin finds dryness a problem

NEW YORK, N.Y. - Natalie Coughlin has been in the pool as long as she can remember, building the muscles and learning the discipline that would lead her to 12 Olympic medals.

The 29-year-old says she feels more aware of her appearance than when she started competitive swimming (OK, she was 5 years old), but has learned that cameras go with the territory.

"I don't wear makeup when I compete," she says. "You'll just finish the final of a race and you're on TV 2 minutes later without makeup on and red in the face. It's an unusual situation, but it forces me to focus on skin and well-groomed brows. ... I'm not the type to stare in the mirror all day but I want to look as good as I can."

Many of the same things that help in her training also help her beauty routine.

"Eating well and taking care of your body is the No. 1 most important thing for good hair, good skin and good nails," she says. "Your nutritional needs show up on your hair, skin and nails."

Dryness is what she's usually battling, but she has success with leave-in conditioner as a weapon, says Coughlin, who signed earlier this year as a spokeswoman for hair-care brand Pantene. She skips the chlorine-removal shampoos, though, because she finds they not only take out the chemicals but also moisture.

Given the opportunity, she loves pampering. "I love having my hair done. When I did the Pantene commercial, it was mesmerizing with all that flipping hair. I wish I had a team of hairstylists all the time, but I don't."

When she does her own hair and makeup, she'll wear her naturally wavy hair down with "just a touch of help from the curling iron." She'll wear brown eyeliner and mascara — both "don'ts" on days she is swimming because they'll run.

She'll use a dry brush on her skin before a shower or bath, which not only exfoliates dead skin cells but also feels good. "I take a natural bristle brush and brush my entire body. It's holistic, I'll brush it toward my heart."

Her diet is a lot of fruits and vegetables, and she calls green smoothies, filled with kale, spinach, parsley, bananas and coconut water, her "secret weapon."

"It's a way to eat a gigantic salad in a condensed way," she explains.

Coughlin tied Jenny Thompson and Dara Torres for the most career medals by an American woman with 12 when the United States won a bronze in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay at the Olympics in London last Saturday night. She swam a leg in the preliminaries, but did not swim in the evening final.