Look after your skin

Your skin works hard to keep you healthy, and you can return the favour by taking care of it. Here are some tips to help you keep your skin looking and feeling good.

Skin is made up of an outer layer, the epidermis, and a layer of soft tissue underneath called the dermis. The epidermis constantly grows up towards the outer surface of the skin and sheds dead cells.

The skin acts as a barrier to protect our body from the environment. It also regulates temperature and detects and fights off infections. Nerves in the skin let us feel things such as touch. The skin is one of the biggest and most complex organs of the body, and contains hair follicles, oil glands, sweat glands, nerves and blood vessels.

Hermione Lawson of the British Skin Foundation says: "If you look after your skin, it will be able to do its job better. There are a number of ways you can protect your skin to maintain health." 

Sun care

Sunlight contains ultraviolet (UV) rays, which are the main cause of skin ageing and can cause skin cancer. It's important to protect skin against sun damage at any age, but take special care with babies, children and young people. A blistering sunburn before the age of 20 may double the risk of malignant melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer.

To protect yourself, spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm, cover up with clothing, hat and sunglasses, and use suncream with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. 

You need to spend some time in sunlight so your body can make vitamin D, which is essential for healthy bones. To find out more about balancing the need for getting vitamin D and protecting your skin from sun damage, see how to get vitamin D from sunlight.

Smoking

"Strong evidence links smoking to ageing of the skin, and it's one of the main environmental factors in premature skin ageing," says Lawson. "It causes wrinkles and a leathery complexion, which makes the skin look old before it should."

It is thought smoking reduces the skin's natural elasticity by causing the breakdown of collagen and reducing collagen production (collagen is a protein that supports skin strength).

Collagen naturally degrades as we get older, leading to the formation of wrinkles. Smoking makes this happen sooner. "Smoking also causes the tiny blood vessels in the skin to constrict, reducing the supply of oxygen to the skin," says Lawson.

Get help to stop smoking.

Alcohol

When you drink alcohol, your body and skin can become dehydrated, leaving the skin looking older and tired. "Drink plenty of water to avoid drying out your skin," says Lawson. When you're drinking alcohol, try to drink within recommended limits and have a non-alcoholic drink, such as soda water or fruit juice, between alcoholic drinks.

Facts from the British Association of Dermatologists
The average adult has 21 sq ft (2 sq m) of skin.

 

On average, each square half-inch of skin contains:

  • 10 hairs
  • 5 sebaceous (oil) glands
  • 100 sweat glands
  • 3.2ft (1m) of tiny blood vessels

Keeping skin clean

Washing the skin can help prevent smells and infections, but too much washing or using harsh soaps can wash away the natural oils we need to keep our skin healthy. Use mild soaps or bath oils.  

"Moisturising protects your skin from the elements as well as preventing it from drying," says Lawson. "An expensive moisturiser is not necessarily more effective than a cheaper one. It all comes down to personal preference."

If you have dry skin, don't use harsh, alcohol-based products as these can irritate skin and dry it out. If you have oily skin, avoid oil-based products and choose water-based ones instead.

People who work in jobs where they frequently have to put their hands in water or come into contact with certain chemicals can sometimes experience inflammation and itchiness on their hands. This is known as contact dermatitis or contact eczema. A doctor can advise on treatment, which usually includes special creams.

Sleep

Don't let late nights ruin your skin. "If you're deprived of sleep, this will make your skin look older and tired," says Lawson. "It can also cause anxiety, irritation and depression. This can cause more sleeplessness and the cycle continues. Make sure you get enough sleep to keep your skin looking healthy."

If you wear make-up, always wash it off before going to bed to reduce the risk of bacteria building up on your skin.

Feeling stressed can disrupt sleeping patterns, which can leave you looking tired and feeling run-down and irritable. Consider taking up an activity, such as runningswimming or yoga.

"Regular exercise is a great outlet for stress," says Lawson. "This leaves the skin looking and feeling vibrant."

How to apply sunscreen

An expert explains why it is important to protect your skin from sunburn to help avoid skin cancer. She also gives advice on how to apply sunscreen correctly and what to look out for when buying sun cream.

Media last reviewed: 03/05/2016

Next review due: 03/05/2018

Page last reviewed: 22/06/2014

Next review due: 22/06/2016

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