Beauty, the saying goes, is only skin-deep. But the importance of skin goes a lot deeper. Most of us think of skin as just our body’s visible outer layer, but doctors consider skin an organ, meaning that it is very much alive and charged with many important duties.
In particular, the skin is the first layer of your immune system, serving as a shield between you and legions of germs such as viruses and bacteria. It also protects your insides from sun, cold, scrapes, cuts, and moisture. And, of course, your sense of touch is crucial for everyday function.
Like any part of your internal body, your skin can be healthy or ill. It can be well nourished or malnourished. It can be exercised, and it can wear down with age or abuse. In particular, as we age, our skin becomes thinner and drier. Plus, other, more unpleasant things happen to our skin. Things like wrinkles, age spots, dark circles, and large pores, which tend to turn up like uninvited guests at a wedding.
While you can’t control your age, you can control numerous other factors that accelerate this aging process, including excessive exposure to sunlight, loss of estrogen during menopause, poor dietary habits, stress, and cigarette smoking.
Unlike the other organs of your body, you can apply medicines, moisturizers, and other healthy potions directly to the skin. For that reason alone, there is absolutely no reason you can’t have healthy, attractive skin throughout your life. To keep your skin and face young and healthy, and to maintain its natural, protective moisture, follow these tips.
1. Skip the long, steamy showers and opt for shorter, cooler sprays. Long, hot showers strip skin of its moisture and wash away protective oils, says Andrea Lynn Cambio, M.D., a New York City dermatologist. So limit showers to 10 minutes and keep the water cool.
2. Check the dryness of your skin by scratching a small area on your arm or leg with your fingernail. If it leaves a white mark, your skin is indeed dry and needs both moisture and exfoliation (that is, removal of the outermost layer of dead skin cells).
3. Treat your neck and chest like an extension of your face. Your neck and upper chest area is covered by very sensitive skin, making it a prime spot for telltale signs of aging such as dryness, sun spots, and wrinkles, says Susie Galvez, owner of Face Works Day Spa in Richmond, Virginia, and author of Hello Beautiful: 365 Ways to Be Even More Beautiful. To keep this area youthful, use facial cleansing creams that hydrate and cleanse gently rather than deodorant soaps, which can be drying. Top it all off with a good facial moisturizing cream. If this area is extra dry, use a facial moisturizing mask twice a month.
4. Run a humidifier every night in the winter to moisturize the air in your bedroom. Not only will it ease itchy, dry skin, you’ll be able to breathe the moist air more easily.
5. Take 160 milligrams of soy isoflavones per day or pour soy milk over your cereal. Soy consumption may support skin health by supplying high-quality protein needed for building and maintaining collagen, the material essential to connective tissues, says Aaron Tabor, M.D., CEO and medical research director at Revival Soy in Kernersville, North Carolina. Soy isoflavones may also act as antioxidants to protect collagen from damage caused by free radicals, highly reactive molecules that can weaken or destroy cell membranes. Free radicals can also damage DNA, create age spots and wrinkles, and depress the immune system, increasing the risk of skin cancer. Good sources of soy isoflavones include soy milk (20-35 mg soy isoflavones per serving) and tofu (20-30 mg soy isoflavones per serving).
6. Switch from a deodorant soap to one with added fat, like Dove, Oilatum, or Neutrogena. Deodorant soaps can be drying, whereas added-fat soaps leave an oily, yet beneficial, film on your skin.
7. Keep your beauty products clean and simple, particularly if you have sensitive skin. Stay away from products with color, fragrance, or those that produce bubbles or have “antibacterial” on the label, says Dr. Cambio. These can all irritate skin.
8. Smooth a couple of drops of olive oil over your face, elbows, knees, and the backs of your arms every evening. The oil contains monounsaturated fat, which refreshes and hydrates skin without leaving a greasy residue.
9. For soft, young-looking hands and feet, slather on moisturizing cream and then slip on thin-fabric socks and gloves while you sleep.
10. Tone your skin with a sage, peppermint, and witch hazel combination. Sage helps to control oil, peppermint creates a cool tingle, and witch hazel helps restore the skin’s protective layer. Combine 4 ounces of witch hazel with 1 teaspoon each of sage and peppermint leaves and steep for one to three days before applying to your skin.