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.
11. Select a moisturizer that contains skin-repairing humectants. Is that a new word for you? Humectants attract water when applied to your skin and improve its hydration. Good ones include glycerin, propylene glycol, and urea. Also look for skin products that contain alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), compounds that help reduce wrinkles and improve dry skin, acne, and age spots. AHAs, which naturally occur in grapes, apples, citrus, and sour milk (think buttermilk or yogurt), work by speeding up the turnover of old skin cells, making skin look younger.
12. Use a loofah daily to keep ingrown hairs and scaly skin under control. While in the shower, gently scrub bumpy or scaly skin with a circular motion to remove dead cells. For extra-smooth skin, sprinkle a few drops of an alpha-hydroxy product on the loofah before scrubbing.
13. Take rose hips every morning to help build collagen. Rich in vitamin C, rose hips (available at drugstores) can help keep skin smooth and youthful. Follow label directions.
14. Pop a high-potency multivitamin every day. Many nutrients are vital to healthy skin, including vitamins C, A, and B. The most reliable way to get them all every day is to eat well, as well as take a daily supplement.
15. Use unscented baby powder to keep areas where skin meets skin -- like the inner thighs, underarms, beneath large breasts -- clean and dry. This is important to prevent a common skin condition called intertrigo, which occurs when such areas remain moist, fostering the growth of bacteria or fungi.
16. If you're gearing up for a day in the sun, steer clear of scented lotions and perfumes. Scented products can lead to blotchy skin when exposed to the sun, says Galvez.
17. To treat dry, rough, itchy skin, try these bath add-ins:
- Half a pound of sea salt and one pound baking soda. Soak until the water is cool to detoxify your skin and soothe the itch.
- Two cups Epsom salt. In addition to soaking in it, while your skin is still wet, rub handfuls of Epsom salt on the rough areas to exfoliate skin.
- A few bags of your favorite tea. The tea provides antioxidants as well as a delicious scent.
- One cup uncooked oatmeal tied into an old stocking or muslin bag. Oats are not only wonderful for your inner health, says Galvez, but provide a healthy glow on the outside as well, leaving a film on your skin that seals in water.
- Equal parts of apple cider vinegar, wheat germ, and sesame oil. Apple cider vinegar is both antibacterial and alkalinizing (meaning it helps maintain the proper acid balance), while sesame oil and wheat germ add moisture.
- One cup powdered milk with one tablespoon grapeseed oil. The lactic acid in the milk will exfoliate your skin, and the grapeseed oil will give your skin a powerful dose of antioxidants.
18. Apply ice wrapped in a towel to dry, itchy skin. A few minutes on, a few minutes off. Allow the moist cold to relieve your skin and draw warming blood to it, but don't let your skin get so cold as to sting or hurt.
19. Smooth aloe vera gel over extra-dry skin. The acids in aloe eat away dead skin cells and speed up the healing process. Cut off an end of an aloe leaf, split open, and spread the gel on the dry area.
20. Plunk your rough, dry elbows into grapefruit halves. First exfoliate your elbows in your bath or shower, then cut a grapefruit in half and rest one elbow on each half, letting them soak for 15 minutes, recommends Galvez. The acid in the grapefruit provides extra smoothing power.
21. Hang room-darkening shades in your bedroom. They help avoid sleep disturbances or insomnia caused by ambient light. Sleep is critical to your skin's health because most cell repair and regeneration occurs while you're getting your z's; if you're not getting enough rest, your skin cannot renew itself.
22. Cook with garlic every day. A 1996 Danish study found that skin cells grown in a culture dish and treated with garlic had seven times the life span of cells grown in a standard culture. They also tended to look healthier and more youthful than untreated cells. Plus, garlic extract dramatically inhibited the growth of cancerous skin cells.
23. Go for a run, ride your bike, work out in the garden on a hot day -- anything that gets you sweating. Sweating is nature's way of eliminating toxic chemicals that can build up under skin. Plus, regular exercise maintains healthy circulation and blood flow throughout your body, including your skin. If you're exercising outdoors, though, remember to wear a sunscreen on your face that protects against UVA and UVB rays, or a moisturizer with sunscreen protection.
24. Grill salmon brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with toasted, crushed walnuts. There, you've just gotten a skin-healthy dose of poly- and monounsaturated fats, particularly omega-3 fatty acids, which studies suggest may affect the amount of sun and aging damage your skin experiences. By extension, make sure olive oil is the primary source of fat in your cooking each and every day, and try to have salmon twice a week or more.