The skin is our body’s largest organ; it is composed of a complex system of cell layers, nerves and glands. The skin holds the body together, protects the body from bacteria and viruses that can cause infections, allows us to have a sense of touch, regulates body temperature, and can reflect how healthy we are on the inside.
Conditions that irritate, clog or inflame our skin can cause symptoms such as redness, swelling, burning and itching. Allergies, irritants, genetic makeup and certain diseases and immune system problems can cause dermatitis (inflammation of the skin), hives and other skin conditions. Many skin problems, such as acne and eczema, also affect our appearance. The effects of skin disorders can be as psychological as they are physical.
Good skin care and healthy lifestyle choices can help delay the natural aging process and prevent many skin problems. Here are some tips to keep your skin healthy:
- Get to know your skin. Self skin exams should be a regular part of a healthy lifestyle. Check for changes in mole shape or color and report them to your doctor. Screen those you love for skin concerns. Recent research shows that involving a partner in the skin self-examination process can improve the early detection of skin cancer. Starting at age 20, and every 3 years until age 40, (yearly after 40) have an examination by a doctor to screen for skin cancer.
- Protect yourself from the sun. Long-term sun exposure can cause wrinkles, freckles, age spots, rough, dry skin and skin cancers. Seek shade between 10am and 4pm, when the sun’s rays are the strongest. Wear protective clothing and sunscreen. Stay out of tanning beds. Exposure to tanning beds significantly increases a person’s risk for developing melanoma.
- Use skin care products that are right for you. If a skin care product sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Expensive products are not always better. Look for products with a proven active ingredient. Marketing terms such as “clinically proven,” “preservative free” and “all natural” can be misleading. Ask for a recommendation from your Dermatologist.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking contributes to wrinkles and premature aging of the skin. The smoke you inhale constricts blood vessels in the outermost layers of skin, which decreases blood flow. This depletes the skin of oxygen and nutrients, such as vitamin A, that are important to skin health.
- Be gentle to your skin. Daily washing and shaving can be tough on your skin. Take short, warm showers. Hot water is drying and may remove natural oils from your skin. Choose mild cleansers and always apply shaving cream before shaving. Gently pat your skin dry after a bath to keep some moisture on the skin and apply a moisturizing lotion.
- Eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of water. Iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D and vitamin E all are important nutrients to keep your skin healthy. Water is essential for keeping the skin hydrated. Dehydrated skin can speed the aging process because it inhibits its elasticity.
- Manage Stress. Uncontrolled stress can make your skin more sensitive and trigger acne breakouts. To encourage healthy skin, and a healthy state of mind, take steps each day to manage your stress level. Set reasonable limits, prioritize your to-do list and make time to do things you enjoy.
Sources: American Academy of Dermatology, Medline Plus, American Cancer Society, Mayo Clinic, Skin Cancer Foundation, and Washington and Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Centers. For additional information, consult your physician.