November marks the celebration of an important health holiday, National Healthy Skin Month. This health event was started in 1997 by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) to encourage people to pay closer attention to their skin and learn how to live in ways that promote healthy skin.

At Lompoc Valley Medical Center, our family medicine and internal medicine providerswork with patients every day to help them achieve their healthy living goals. Read on to learn what you need to know about skin and how to take care of your skin to safeguard your future health.

The Importance of Your Skin

Your skin is an amazing organ that serves as one of your body’s most significant structural components and lines of defense. Your skin is also one of the most revealing ways that you showcase yourself as an individual, learn about your environment, and connect with others. Your inner physical health can greatly affect your skin, and the reverse is also true—experiencing an uncomfortable skin condition can take a toll on your mental and physical well-being.

The Basics of Skin Health

Knowing the basics about your skin can help you learn how to best care for your skin. Your skin is a living organ that functions as a barrier between everything that lies beneath and the world at large. If a pathogen (such as a bacteria or virus) is trying to gain entry into your body, your intact skin is a formidable enemy, thanks to its triple layer of protection—the epidermis, dermis, and hypodermis.

Each layer of skin has a separate function, and together all three layers work to protect you, sense things in your environment, regulate your body temperature, and control how much water you release through sweat. The skin cells on the outer layer of your skin, the epidermis, are continuously replacing themselves. However, the skin cells in the deeper layers do not replace themselves. Taking care of your skin means making changes that affect your skin from the outside in and the inside out.


Cleaning Your Skin

It’s important to clean your skin regularly to help remove dead skin cells from the top layer of skin and keep your pores from getting clogged with dirt, oil, makeup, or bacteria. Experts recommend the following tips when it comes to a proper skincare routine:

  • Wash after waking up, before going to bed, and after an activity that causes you to sweat.
  • Instead of using hot water, which can dry out your skin, use lukewarm water.
  • Using a circular motion with your fingertips, apply a mild skin cleanser that matches your personal skin quality (dry, sensitive, oily, etc.).

After cleaning your skin, it’s also important to pat your skin gently to dry (don’t scrub with a towel) and apply a non-comedogenic (non-pore-blocking) moisturizer.

How Your Skin Changes Throughout Your Life

You may have noticed the difference between the skin of a newborn baby and the skin of that baby’s grandmother. As you age, your skin ages too. Over time, your skin cells lose their ability to hold onto water, causing your skin to appear drier. Your skin also becomes less tight and plump, giving way to wrinkles and laxity. This is because the proteins in your skin cells, known as collagen and elastin, are broken down over time.

Your skin becomes thinner as you age, making it more vulnerable to tearing. Cumulative damage from UV rays also changes the nature of your skin, causing pigmentation and increasing your risk of developing skin cancers. While these skin changes are inevitable, there are many things that you can do to slow the process down and continue feeling great in your own skin.

How to Protect Your Skin Over a Lifetime

Your skin is a very visible representation of your overall health, and the lifestyle habits that affect your overall health also affect your skin health. Here are a few actionable tips to help you preserve your skin health and reap the benefits of a skin-friendly lifestyle.

Protect Your Skin From Damage

One of the biggest threats to your skin’s health is the ultraviolet (UV) rays that come from sunlight. Sunlight can cause immediate damage in the form of sunburns, but it can also cause other chronic problems like skin cancer, premature aging, and wrinkles. According to the AAD, the best way to protect your skin from the sun is to wear sunscreen every day, using a broad-spectrum and water-resistant form with an SPF of 30 or more.

You should reapply this sunscreen every 2 hours if you remain outside and wear clothing and accessories to further protect your skin. It’s also essential to avoid tanning beds. According to the AAD, tanning beds can increase a person’s risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma, a skin cancer, by 67 percent. If it is a personal priority for you to have tanned skin, experts recommend using a tanning product.

Eat Healthful Foods

There is no magical meal that will transform the appearance of your skin. However, skin experts note that a diet that supports your health overall will also support good skin health. Make sure to follow general dietary recommendations by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, as these contain vitamins that can support your skin cells.

Healthy fats, such as those found in olive oil and avocados, can also boost the health and appearance of your skin. You should also drink water instead of sugary drinks or alcohol, as these beverages can increase inflammation and negatively impact the appearance and health of your skin.


Avoid Picking at Your Skin

It may be tempting to try to “pop” a zit when it appears in an unsightly place on your forehead, however, picking or manipulating your skin can negatively impact the health of your skin. Picking at your skin can cause damage and increase the likelihood of scars and infections. Your fingertips and fingernails can add oil and dirt to problem areas. Instead, you should try to leave your skin alone and let your body heal naturally while you’re following a gentle skincare routine.

Exercise Regularly

When you exercise, you may feel a rush of blood to your face. That “flushed” feeling comes from the increased blood flow to your skin. Exercise can nourish your skin by increasing the oxygen and nutrients that are delivered, just as exercise can benefit your body’s other organs.

However, skin care experts note that it’s important to gently clean your skin after exercising to avoid the buildup of sweat and dirt, which can clog your pores and negatively impact your skin health. Taking a shower after exercising, or at least washing your face, can help you maximize the skin health benefits of exercise without experiencing negative side effects.


Sleep Consistently

Getting the proper amount of sleep can have many benefits for your health, including your skin health. Researchers have found that people who are rated as “good sleepers” have higher skin health and lower skin aging scores. Their skin can recover faster from exposure to UV light, they have fewer circles under their eyes, their skin can stay more hydrated, and they also have a better self-perception of their own appearance. Experts recommend getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night for optimal health benefits.

Avoid Harsh Skin Care Products

According to the AAD, “less is more” when it comes to skin health. It may be tempting to splurge on skin care products that advertise anti-aging benefits or wrinkle protection, but many of these can actually irritate your skin or cause dryness, which can age your skin.

Similarly, scrubbing harshly with cloths or facial scrubs can increase the inflammation of your skin and make it harder for blemishes to heal. Instead, the AAD recommends prioritizing basic skin care. This means using a gentle cleanser, applying sunscreen every day, and making sure to keep your skin moisturized.

Don’t Smoke Cigarettes

According to AAD, smoking can speed up skin aging. Smoking can also impact your circulation, which can make wounds take longer to heal. There are also certain skin diseases that researchers believe are linked to smoking, including psoriasis and hidradenitis suppurativa.

Get Screened for Skin Cancers

You may be surprised to learn that the most common cancer in the U.S. is not breast cancer, colon cancer, or lung cancer – it is skin cancer. In fact, according to the AAD, 1 in 5 Americans will experience skin cancer at some point. While many skin cancers can be treated and even cured when detected, others can spread quickly and be deadly. This is why it is so important to get a regular skin check with your healthcare provider. This can be done at an annual physical.

Keep an eye on any spots in your skin that have a different color or shape, especially if they are growing rapidly or bleeding. This is especially important if you have light-colored skin, a family history of skin cancer, or a personal history of excessive sun exposure.

Taking Care of Your Skin with Lompoc Valley Medical Center

Feeling great in your own skin can help improve your self-esteem and quality of life, At Lompoc Valley Medical Center, our family medicine and internal medicine providers are experts at helping you adopt healthy living habits that can keep you feeling your best throughout your lifetime, and this includes an emphasis on skin health. To learn more, visit us today.

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