While you probably know all the tried-and-true ways keep your body healthy (stick to a low-fat diet, exercise regularly, and don’t smoke), you may need a refresher on how to maintain healthy skin. It turns out that there are equally simple daily commandments to follow to ensure a healthy complexion and reduce your risk of skin cancer. Follow the advice of these expert dermatologists to help your skin be the healthiest it can.
Apply Sunscreen Every Day
Wearing UV protection daily is the easiest way to shield your skin from damage — but it’s also the habit you’re most likely to forget. If you remember to apply a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every day (and reapply it every two hours), you can help ward off wrinkles and reduce your risk of skin cancer.
Sunscreen helps block the sun’s UVA and UVB rays, which burn the skin and cause inflammation, and, over time, damage DNA, which can lead to skin cancer. “Ninety percent of skin cancers, and the effects of aging, come from the sun,” says Mona Gohara, MD, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University. Even if the forecast calls for clouds and rain, you can be exposed to UV rays, so apply sunscreen over any exposed areas of your body.
Manage Your Stress
When you’re stressed, the body releases the hormone cortisol to help it cope. Too much cortisol can negatively affect the skin. “Stress is an ager,” says Jeannette Graf, MD, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center, in New York City. “Not only is it linked to every disease, but stress causes inflammation of the skin and is directly linked to acne and rosacea.”
To limit the impact of stress on your skin and your overall health, practice deep breathing, take a yoga class, or schedule a lunch date with a friend, all of which have been shown to reduce stress levels.
Hit the Sack
While a cranky mood may be a telltale sign that you’re not getting enough sleep, not logging enough snooze time can also take its toll on your skin. “Because sleep is when your body repairs itself and regenerates, it’s crucial to get enough of it,” says Doris Day, MD, a clinical associate professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center. “If you skimp on sleep, you promote the aging process and slow healing — wounds, bruises, and sores all take longer to heal.”
Lack of sleep also affects skin conditions because it increases stress, which boosts the release of cortisol. “High cortisol levels can stimulate oil glands, which in turn can cause blocked pores and acne outbreaks,” explains Joshua Zeichner, MD, the director of cosmetic and clinical research at the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center.
Aim to get at least seven hours of sleep a day, and take short naps when possible.
Make Time to Sweat
Exercising helps you shed pounds and decrease your risk for disease; moreover, physical activity is good for your skin. “Physical activity for 30 minutes a day on most days can help reduce stress and regulate cortisol levels in the body,” says Dr. Gohara. “It also increases endorphins and blood flow, which gives the skin a healthy glow.”
Just remember to apply a sweat-resistant sunscreen to protect against damaging UV rays if you take your workout outdoors.
Cigarettes contain nicotine, which restricts the blood vessels in the outermost layer of the skin and decreases blood flow. “The decrease in blood flow results in less oxygen and fewer nutrients being delivered to the skin, which means the skin fibers weaken,” says Dr. Zeichner.
In addition, smoking negatively affects collagen, the structural protein that keeps skin firm, by causing its breakdown and decreasing its production. And that’s not all: Studies have shown that smoking raises the risk of at least one type of skin cancer and worsens existing skin conditions, such as psoriasis.
However, if you stop smoking before you see any real damage, in the form of deep lines and wrinkles, your skin may be able to bounce back.
Eat Your Skin Care
Adopt the Mediterranean diet — which calls for fish, olive oil, nuts, and a colorful array of fruits and vegetables — and your skin will thank you. “The diet is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation in the body and promote the formation and maintenance of the skin barrier,” says Dr. Graf. Foods rich in these healthy polyunsaturated fats may also help reduce incidences of acne and psoriasis.
Rich in antioxidant-packed tomatoes, leafy green vegetables, and other plant-based foods, the diet helps fight the damage caused by free radicals, and helps prevent wrinkles. The skin may also get a boost because the diet limits foods with a high glycemic load, such as white bread and sugary products, which have been linked to acne and aging.
Moisturize Your Skin
Just as applying sunscreen every day is crucial to your skin’s health, so is the daily use of moisturizers. “Moisturizing helps maintain the skin’s health by balancing its level of moisture and supporting its barrier function,” says Dr. Day.
Look for products that contain ingredients with proven track records. They include humectants, such as hyaluronic acid, glycerin, sodium PCA, and urea; and occlusives, like shea butter, jojoba oil, and petrolatum. “Products with ceramides are also helpful because they can help replace different proteins and fatty acids that the skin needs,” says Gohara. Use a moisturizer at least once a day, and adjust your routine depending on the season and weather.
If your skin is especially dry, you may benefit from the use of a moisturizing body wash, containing the above ingredients, before you apply moisturizer — you’ll reinforce the amount of lipids. “It helps to use a nylon puff because you’ll use less product and you’ll get better coverage over your skin,” suggests Day.
Don’t Pick at Your Skin
It’s all too tempting to pop a zit or pick at a scab, but it’s best to leave this sort of stuff to the professionals. “This is a big no-no, and I tell this to all my patients,” says Day. “Picking can lead to infection, and you can traumatize the skin and cause scarring.”
Dermatologists also advise against chronic rubbing and scratching because they can lead to inflammation. “Non-healing wounds and inflammation have been associated with a higher risk of skin cancer in that area,” says Zeichner. “Also, inflammation can lead to dilated blood vessels and redness, as well as premature wrinkling from rubbing.”
If you’re concerned that a wound, a deep pimple, or any other skin condition is not going away or is not healing properly, see your dermatologist.
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