Our skin is our largest and most visible organ. It is comprised of three layers: the epidermis (outer layer), the dermis (middle layer), and the subcutis (base layer). This multi-layer organ is not only our shield from the environment and the element keeping our internal organs in place, but it is also a dynamic part of our body constantly regenerating, exuding protective substances, and creating vitamin D to keep our bodies operating efficiently. Despite that the skin is such advanced system capable of maintaining itself, what can we do keep a healthy skin?
While our skin is skilled at taking care of itself, there are still plenty of healthy skin practices we can all embrace to prevent skin damage and allow our skin to function and look at its best. Here are five essential steps to healthy skin.
1. Avoiding causes of oxidation: smoke & sun
Oxidation is the process by which our skin breaks down from free radicals. Things such as pollution, solar radiation, and cigarette smoke can cause the generation of free radicals that harm the proteins (such as collagen and elastin), lipids, and DNA in our skin. This damage presents itself as wrinkles, thickening, discoloration and an overall lack of elasticity. At worst, it can also cause cancer.
For this reason, it is best to avoid the agents of free radical damage in order to maintain healthy skin. Since the sun and cigarette smoke are the main drivers of free radical production, what you can do to protect your skin is to avoid smoking (or breathing other people’s smoke), limit your exposure to the sun, and always apply SPF protection. You can also use antioxidants such as vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium and Catalase to fight against free radical damage and keep a healthy skin.
2. Your skin is what you eat
It may seem like a no-brainer, but how we nourish our body affects our skin health. Certain foods and substances can be especially damaging to our skin, while others can keep it youthful and glowing. So, how do we sort out the good from the bad? There are a few rules of thumb:
Sugar, the bitter truth
The good news is not all types of sugar are the same. Sugars in fruits, while still encouraging production of AGEs (advanced glycation end-products), don’t cause blood sugar to spike as dramatically as foods on the high glycemic index, such as processed foods, cake, and high fructose corn syrup. Vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants present in fruit balance the sugars, while also providing your skin with beneficial properties.
Damage from sugar can also be reversed. Many people who cut sugar from their diet report clearer and more vibrant skin.
Your fruits and veggies
While sugar is particularly damaging to our skin, other foods help our skin by providing it with all the nutrients it needs to function properly. As you may have heard before, eating lots of fruits and vegetables is the key to a healthy body and, as it turns out, to healthy skin.
Fruits and vegetables contain vital antioxidants that help fight free radical damage. There is a buzz around new and upcoming “superfoods,” a term that is mostly used to drive sales than to indicate nutritional value. Variety is essential to our nutrition, so instead of focusing only on superfoods, if you eat a wide, colorful range of fruits and vegetables – especially those dark, leafy greens – you will help your body and skin stay healthy regardless of any temporary hype. It’s also important to note that fruits on the high glycemic index, such as bananas and pineapple, should be eaten in moderation as they are more likely to cause a spike in your blood sugar levels.
Water is what our body needs to survive and what our skin needs to look and feel fresh. Drinking plenty of water keeps our skin cells hydrated, reduces the appearances of fine lines and wrinkles, and keeps our skin feeling supple. How much water you need varies based on your activity level, height and weight and the climate you live in, but the general advice from doctors today is to drink between half an ounce and an ounce of water for each pound you weigh. What’s most important is to listen to your body and, when you feel thirsty, reach for water over soda or any other beverage.
Vitamins & Minerals
Certain vitamins and minerals contain antioxidants that can have powerful effects on our skin by limiting the damage caused by free radicals. Look for foods that contain selenium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E to boost skin health. Healthy fats, such as omega-3s and omega-6s, often found in fish, nuts, and olive oil, are also beneficial to our skin, as they have been shown to lower our body’s inflammatory response and aid in our cell membranes’ ability to hold water.
While discoveries in nutrition happen all the time, if you eat plenty of natural products in a wide range of colors, avoid processed, sugary foods, and drink plenty of water, your body and skin will have the nutrients they need for optimal health.
3. Lifestyle: sleep & stress
Skin health isn’t separate from our overall health and well-being, and as we are learning more and more, everything is connected. There exists no body process in isolation; everything affects everything else. Accordingly, it only makes sense that our lifestyle plays a significant role in keeping our skin healthy.
There’s no doubt that in modern life, stress can be challenging to manage. Taking the time to relax, breathe, and exercise is essential for boosting circulation and giving our skin time to repair itself.
Another essential activity to prevent stress from affecting your body and look refreshed is sleep. When we sleep, we may be tuned out, but our body works hard to repair cells and produce important molecules, such as collagen. Blood flow to our skin also increases when we sleep, allowing new cell turnover to occur and giving our skin that healthy glow we all seek. Most doctors recommend 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night for maximum benefit.
4. Cleansing & hydration
Once our environment and what we put in our body is taken care of, we can turn to the surface-level things we can do to keep our skin healthy. A daily skin care routine that includes SPF protection goes a long way in keeping our skin clean and clear.
A skin care routine doesn’t have to be complicated. Ensuring your skin is cleansed from dead cells and pollutants will keep pores clear and help prevent acne and pimples from forming. Cleansers and exfoliators are products we can use for this process. While a cleanser should be used daily, an exfoliator can be used about two to three times a week. After cleansing, toning is an important step that helps us prepare our skin for a moisturizer and remove any lingering dirt or residue left after washing the face. Finally, moisturizing and sunscreen are not to be forgotten. Moisturizer is key as it re-hydrates the skin after natural oils have been stripped off through hot showers and products. You can look for a moisturizer with SPF or apply sunscreen after your moisturizer to block the sun’s harmful rays.
There are countless skin care regimens and products you can use to fight skin aging and address other skin issues; finding what works for your skin type is key. But the most important takeaways for healthy skin is that we keep our skin clean, hydrated and protected from sunlight.
5. Healthy skin = skin cancer screenings
Last, but certainly not least, regular skin checks are vital to our skin health. Skin cancer can often be detected early by staying attuned to moles and abnormalities appearing on our body. By checking the skin for changes every month, we can spot any suspicious moles or other skin spots. Consult a healthcare professional in time if you notice any melanoma symptoms, changes or irregularities.