Tuesday, April 7, 2009

10 Steps to Healthier Skin

That skin changes with age is one of life's universal laments. The most common manifestation of these changes is dry skin. Drying skin emphasizes wrinkles and contributes to flaking, cracking, and itching. Although dry skin is a natural consequence of aging, it can usually be controlled with simple, easy-to-follow measures that help keep skin moist and young-looking.

What Causes Dry Skin?
Secretions from oil and sweat glands decrease as you age. These secretions originate in the dermis (the innermost layer of skin) and reach the epidermis (the outermost layer of skin) through pores leading to the surface. Once the secretions emerge, the oil traps sweat (which is primarily composed of water) just under the exposed surface of the epidermis. As a result, the skin retains moisture and remains well hydrated. Oil and water secretions are abundant during the teen years and early adult life, but over time these secretions lessen and the skin gradually dries out.

Other factors that contribute to the problem include thinning of the skin with aging, as well as loss of the fat and supporting connective tissue. Cold weather, dry air, bathing too frequently, using harsh skin-care products, and allergic reactions can also be factors.

Keeping your skin well hydrated will improve its appearance and keep it healthy. The following suggestions are effective, inexpensive, and easy to implement.

1. Avoid direct sunlight.

In addition to causing dryness, sun exposure is the leading cause of skin cancer. It is best to minimize sun exposure, especially during the peak sun hours of 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., when the sun's rays are the most intense. A wide-brim hat is a useful tool to block direct sunlight exposure.

2. Use sunscreen daily.
Routine use of a sunscreen prevents the damaging effects of the sun and minimizes its drying effects. For regular, everyday use, an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 is most likely adequate. Higher SPFs of 30 to 45 are recommended for high sun exposure activities such as skiing or travel to the beach.

3. Bathe only once daily.
Bathing more frequently can worsen the skin's dryness by stripping away the natural protective oils of the skin. Although bathing more than once a day may seem to relieve itching at first, it is counterproductive in the long run. Hot water should also be avoided in an effort to minimize drying of the skin.

4. Use bath oil cautiously.
Although bath oil is an effective moisturizer, adding it to bathwater is dangerous because it makes the tub slippery. Also, the residue may be difficult to clean from the tub. If you do use bath oil, add it to the water after you've been soaking for 15 minutes; otherwise the oil coats your body and prevents water from penetrating your skin. A safer use of bath oils is to smooth it on the skin after you get out of the tub.

5. Use mild soaps.
Mild soaps such as Dove, Lever 2000, or Camay are less drying. Soaps such as Ivory, Zest, Irish Spring, or Dial are more drying and should be avoided if dry skin is a problem.

6. Pat yourself dry.
Vigorous rubbing disrupts the smooth skin surface. Gentle patting is much less irritating and will decrease drying, flaking, and cracking of the skin.

7. Use a humidifier.
Low humidity will dry the skin. If the air in your home is dry, a humidifier can raise humidity and slow dehydration of the skin.

8. Don't overheat your home.
Overheating lowers your home's humidity. The lower the humidity, the faster the skin will lose water.

9. Moisturize.
You should moisturize at least once daily, whether you bathe or not. The best time to moisturize is immediately after bathing, because that's when the moisturizer can trap the water into the skin. Many over-the-counter products such as Moisturel, Purpose, or Vaseline Intensive Care are available.

10. See a dermatologist.
The dermatologist has the final key to youthful skin. Alpha hydroxy acids and Retin-A creams have been shown to reverse the signs of aging and return a more youthful appearance to the skin. Laser therapy, which can remove liver warts, age spots, spider veins, broken blood vessels, red blotches, or birthmarks, can also remove years from your appearance.

You should have your dermatologist evaluate persistent dryness, itching, eczema, blisters, or sores. These may be an indication of a more serious medical condition, such as cancer, liver disease, kidney disease, diabetes, thyroid disease, lupus, or anemia.

The dermatologist also has a variety of prescription treatments that can benefit dry, itchy skin.

Following these steps will contribute to youthful, healthy skin. Even though aging is inevitable, these measures will help to slow the age-associated changes of the skin.

It is never too late to start treating your skin with care, and it is possible to regain a more youthful appearance.

Dr. Steven Hodgkin MD
Aesthetic Skin & Laser Medical Center
For questions, email me at askdrstevenhodgkin@gmail.com

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