People say that beauty’s only skin deep; it’s what’s on the “inside” that counts. Our insides are certainly important, but skin is your first layer of defense against the outside world. Skin can also give important clues to your overall health. Learn to take good care of your skin, so your skin can keep taking good care of you.
Skin protects your body in many ways. “The skin provides a barrier to protect the body from invasion by bacteria and other possible environmental hazards that can be dangerous for human health,” said Heidi Kong, M.D., a dermatologist with the National Institutes of Health.
Skin plays other roles, too. It contains nerve endings that let you feel when an object is too hot or sharp, so you can quickly pull away. Sweat glands and tiny blood vessels in your skin help to control your body temperature. And cells in your skin turn sunlight into vitamin D, which is important for healthy bones.
Skin can also alert you to a health problem. A red, itchy rash might signal allergies or infections, and a red “butterfly” rash on your face might be a sign of lupus. A yellow tint might indicate liver disease. And dark or unusual moles might be a warning sign of skin cancer. Be on the lookout for unexpected changes to your skin, and talk with your doctor if you have concerns.
Your skin can become too dry if you don’t drink enough fluids or spend too much time in sunny or dry conditions. “While washing hands is important for good hygiene, washing your hands too much can also lead to dry skin,” Dr. Kong said, especially if you wash with hot water and harsh soaps. To treat dry skin, use moisturizing creams or lotions, and use warm instead of hot water when you bathe and wash your hands. You can also try using a humidifier to make the air in your home less dry.
The sun can damage your skin as well. Sunlight contains ultraviolet light that causes sunburn and makes your skin age faster, leading to more wrinkles as you get older. “There’s a strong link between UV exposure and skin cancer,” Kong adds. So protect your skin from the sun. Wear hats and other protective clothing, use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, and restrict your time in the sun during the late morning and early afternoon hours, when sunlight is strongest.
Many skin researchers like Dr. Kong are studying the skin’s microbiome—the bacteria and other microscopic organisms that live on your skin. Some of these microbes can be helpful. Evidence suggests that they boost the body’s infection-fighting immune system and help keep you healthy. “But there are some skin diseases with known associations with certain microbes,” Dr. Kong said. “We’re trying to understand how those microbes differ between healthy people and people with skin diseases.” In the long run, scientists would like to find ways to support healthy skin microbes while reducing harmful ones.
Tips for Healthy Skin
- Wash up. Bathe in warm—not hot—water; use mild cleansers that don’t irritate and wash
- gently—don’t scrub.
- Block sun damage. Avoid intense sun exposure, use sunscreen and wear protective clothing.
- Don’t use tanning beds or sunlamps. They emit the same harmful UV radiation as the sun.
- Avoid dry skin. Drink plenty of water, and use gentle moisturizers, lotions or creams.
- Reduce stress. Stress can harm your skin and other body systems.
- Get enough sleep. Experts recommend about 9 hours a night for teens and 7 to 8 hours for adults.
- Speak up. Talk to your doctor if you notice any odd changes to your skin, like a rash or mole that changes size or color.