You eat right, exercise, and see your doctor for all the screenings and treatments you need to help keep your body in optimal health. But what about your skin? Your body’s largest organ has its own set of requirements when it comes to maintaining its well-being. Kara Reinke, MD, weighs in with the top ten things you can do to keep your skin healthy.
1. Don’t Tan
Whether you spend time baking on the beach or getting a quick hit of color from a tanning bed, you’re exposing your skin to the same damaging UV rays. Both types of exposure can greatly increase your risk of getting skin cancer, plus they accelerate the rate at which your skin ages, leaving with you with premature damage in the form of wrinkles, dark spots, and sagging skin. The only way to truly avoid exposure to harmful UV rays is to stay out of the sun, especially when it’s strongest–between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. But that doesn’t mean you have to be stuck indoors! Seek shade, sit under an umbrella, and wear a wide-brimmed hat and clothing that protects your skin from the sun.
2. Use Sunscreen, and Reapply Often
In addition to avoiding sun exposure, be sure to protect any exposed skin with plenty of sunscreen. A recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine concluded that daily use of sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 seems to protect against aging. But for longer-lasting protection that will filter out even more harmful UV rays, look for one that promises broad-spectrum coverage against both UVA and UVB rays and has an SPF of 30 or higher.
Spending a day in the sun? Reapply every two hours, especially if you’re sweating or swimming. But even for everyday activities like walking to and from the car or sitting outside during lunch, you’re exposed to UV rays, so get in the habit of applying a daily facial moisturizer with SPF 30 every morning. Don’t forget areas like your arms, chest, or legs if they’re not covered.
3. Get to Know Your Spots
Make a point of giving your skin a once-over every month. Check to see if any of your moles or freckles have changed or if new ones have cropped up. Not every spot is a skin cancer risk, so it pays to know what you should be looking for. See the Skin Cancer Foundation’s guide to the ABCDEs of melanoma.
4. See Your Health Care Provider If Something Suspicious Pops Up
If you’re worried about something you find during a self-check, mention it to your primary care provider, who can refer you to a dermatologist if need be. People with known risk factors for skin cancer–including a personal or family history of the disease, fair skin, use of tanning beds, blistering sunburns, or lots of moles–should get in the habit of seeing a dermatologist annually for a full body skin cancer screening.
5. Subscribe to the “Less Is More” Philospophy
Skin–even when it’s oily and acne-prone–is delicate, and it usually doesn’t respond well to piles of products and treatments. If a scrub is recommended for weekly use, daily application won’t yield better results. Chances are more frequent usage will lead to irritation and may even make the problem worse.
6. Don’t Let Good Skin Habits Stop at Your Neck!
Keep the rest of your skin healthy by treating it gently. Limit exposure to hot water, which can dry out your skin. That means keeping showers short and avoiding long soaks in a hot bath or spa. Wash with a mild soap or cleanser when you shower so that you don’t remove your skin’s naturally protective oils. And apply cream or lotion while your skin is still damp to help seal in moisture.
7. Don’t Fall for Gimmicks
A lot of products on TV, online, and in the store promise the moon. But if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Save your money for something with some proof behind it.
8. Learn to Read Labels
Despite the proliferation of thousands of products that claim to address skin problems ranging from acne to aging, not all are made with ingredients that have science behind them. For real results, look for acne treatment products that contain salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide and anti-aging ones that include alpha-hydroxy acids or retinol (the prescription version is called Retin-A).
9. Reassess Your Routine If You’re Trying to Have a Baby
When you’re pregnant or trying to conceive, you know that you need to watch your diet and limit your alcohol intake. But did you know that you also need to watch what you put on your skin? Not all topical products are safe to use during pregnancy, including products that contain retinol, so ask your health care provider if you have questions about what’s considered safe, and pay attention to labels. Remember: Even products labeled “natural” or “herbal” aren’t always innocuous, so pay attention to everything you put on your skin.
10. Eat a Skin-Healthy Diet
Your skin, like the rest of your body, is healthier when you feed it well and stay hydrated. That means incorporating plenty of nutritious foods that contain good-for-you fats (like the omega-3s found in fatty fishes such as salmon) as well as several servings a day of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables.
Notably, the same study also randomly assigned a nutritional supplement of beta carotene or a placebo to participants to see if the supplement prevented skin aging. While the supplement didn’t make a difference, certain foods may guard against skin damage and more.