We all want to have healthy, beautiful skin, especially in the summer when more of it shows. Almost every lifestyle choice you make affects your skin. From what you eat, to smoke exposure; from how much you sleep, to how you banish stress, a healthy lifestyle is reflected in beautiful, glowing skin.
When ultra violet (UV) rays reach the skin’s inner layer, the skin makes more melanin, the pigment that colors the skin. It moves toward the outer layers of the skin and becomes visible as a tan. A tan does not indicate good health. A tan is a response to injury. When skin cells are injured by too much exposure to UV rays, they produce more pigment and the skin darkens. Repeated tanning also ages the skin prematurely, making you look older than you are.
Follow these tips for healthy skin throughout your life:
- Limit time in the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., even on cloudy days. Wear clothing that covers your shoulders and arms, and a hat that covers your head, neck and ears. Wear sunglasses (wrap-around is best) that block 99 percent of both UVA and UVB rays. Seek out the shade under an umbrella, tree or other shelter. Sunburn can increase your risk of getting skin cancer. The damage from UV exposure and sunburns adds up and increases your lifetime risk of skin cancer.
- Don’t avoid the sun, because it is essential for a healthy immune system and allows your body to produce vitamin D. An article published last year in the Journal of Internal Medicine says avoiding the sun “is a risk factor for death of a similar magnitude as smoking.” Researchers found that people who get a moderate amount of sun had a lower risk for heart disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and lung disease. A healthy approach to sunshine is to regularly spend some time in the sun but avoid tanning.
- Never use tanning beds or sunlamps. They are just as harmful, if not more harmful, than direct sun. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has reclassified sunlamps and ultra violet (UV) ray lamps from low-risk to moderate-risk. These skin-tanning devices emit very high amounts of UV light that have been linked to skin cancer, premature skin aging, burns and eye damage, according to the FDA.
The FDA’s strong warning statement is supported by scientific research on the growing epidemic of skin cancer occurring at younger ages. Several independent experts recommended to the FDA that they issue an outright ban on use of the devices by those under age 18.
Several studies have shown that the increased exposure of indoor tanning in childhood increases the risk of skin cancer later in life. Indoor tanning increases the risk of melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer – by 59 percent, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. While repeated UV exposure from sunlamp devices increases the risk of skin cancer for all ages, the highest risk is in people under age 18 and those with a family history of skin cancer.
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a SPF of 15 or higher every day. Reapply every two hours while outside, and after swimming, sweating or rubbing your skin with a towel. An adult needs at least two to three tablespoons to provide adequate, all-over protection.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking contributes to wrinkles by narrowing the tiny blood vessels in the outer skin and reducing blood flow. It deprives the skin of oxygen and nutrients, damaging skin’s strength and elasticity.
- Drink lots of water and unsweetened beverages. Avoid caffeine and alcohol because they can cause dehydration. Fruits with a lot of water such as melons or grapes also help you stay hydrated. If you feel thirsty or your urine is dark yellow, you’re already dehydrated.
- Treat dry skin.
- If you have dry skin, moisturize two to three times per day with lotions, creams or ointments that do not include alcohol, perfumes, scents or dyes.
- Bathe less often or take shorter showers, using warm, rather than hot water. Do not scrub your skin or rub it dry with a towel. Gently pat it dry and moisturize after bathing, while skin is still damp.
- Use a mild soap or gentle skin cleanser; limit soap to face, hands, feet, underarms and genital areas.
- Contact your doctor if you feel itchy with no visible rash, have dryness and itching that prevents sleep, have open sores from scratching, or home remedies are not providing relief.
Dry skin can be caused by medications or disease; however, the most common causes of dry skin are:
- Not drinking enough water and other liquids
- Too much sun or tanning bed exposure
- Too much bathing; bathing with hot water
- Using too much soap or harsh soaps such as antibacterial or heavily perfumed soaps
- Dry air
- Aging – we lose sweat and oil glands as we age
- Inspect your skin at least once a month for new growths, changes in skin, changes in existing moles or injured areas that are not healing. Your doctor may want you to do this weekly if you have diabetes. Skin cancer can be cured if found and treated before it spreads to other parts of the body. Know the warning signs of skin cancer. Look for the ABCDEs:
- A = Asymmetry – half of the mole or growth looks different from the other half
- B = Borders are irregular or jagged
- C = Color has changed, become uneven or has more than one color
- D = Diameter is larger than a pencil eraser
- E = Evolving – changes in size, shape, color, surface texture, or symptoms like itching, bleeding or tenderness
Contact your doctor right away if you have any of the above symptoms. Skin cancer is a serious matter that requires medical treatment. It is the most common type of cancer in the United States and risk increases with age and for those with fair skin that freckles easily. Most skin cancers are caused by the sun, tanning beds or sunlamps.
- Eat healthy foods such as veggies and fruit, whole grains and lean protein. The Mediterranean Diet is great for healthy skin.
- If “skin tags” become irritated, your doctor can remove them surgically, or by freezing or burning them. Skin tags are small, flesh-colored, usually raised growths on the skin. They are harmless and do not change or grow, but may become irritated by rubbing against your clothing.
- To avoid “age spots” or “liver spots,” limit your time in the sun and always apply a good sunscreen to prevent more damage. Age spots are harmless, flat, brown spots that are bigger than freckles. A good “fade” cream can reduce them if used frequently and for a long time. A dermatologist can remove them if they bother you.
- To stop wrinkles, reduce sun and tanning bed exposure, and do not smoke. Most “wrinkle cures” do not work. Talk to your doctor about proven options to reduce wrinkles.
- Bruises can become more common as we age and may take longer to heal. Some medications or illnesses can make bruising worse. If bruises appear with no known cause, tell your doctor.
Beautiful healthy skin is a result of making good lifestyle choices in terms of exercise, diet, moderate sun exposure, stress reduction and not smoking.