Healthy Skin & Solving Skin Problems
What’s making you look older (and less healthy) than you are?
No matter what you are (or are not) wearing, your skin can be your best accessory. Smooth, supple and soft all over, at any age it can be a sign of inner and outer beauty. But when it is neglected, or when you are not eating or exercising as you should, it can become inflamed, dry or prematurely wrinkled. Here, we look at how you can handle some of the most common skin problems.
What happens: “Hormones are the cause of dry skin in both men and women,” says Kathy Fields, M.D., cofounder of Rodan & Fields Dermatologists in San Francisco. “As we age, our declining hormones negatively affect the hydration in the skin. There is less moisture and an increase in water loss. It is more abrupt with women as they reach menopause, and occurs more slowly in men.”
In winter, colder, drier outdoor air and indoor heating systems further dehydrate the skin.
Solutions: Head off dry skin by taking shorter, faster showers using the coolest water you can tolerate, suggests Dr. Fields. Use mild, creamy cleansers and apply moisturizer to still-damp skin after a morning shower and at night before going to bed. Best bets: moisturizers that contain alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) or urea. “AHAs and urea offer skin a two-for-one: They act as humectants, trapping water molecules in the skin, which leave skin hydrated, and they slough off dead skin cells,” she says.
Another tip: Try wearing cotton gloves over well-moisturized handsat nighttime. When you wake up, your skin will feel smoother and more supple. When dryness is accompanied by redness, cracking and itchiness, use a heavy moisturizer and hydrocortisone cream, says Dr. Fields. If that doesn’t work, consult a dermatologist. You may have a more serious skin condition, such as atopic dermatitis, psoriasis or eczema, which are not caused by neglect or dry air. There is a genetic component to eczema, for example, demonstrating that this condition is, in part, inherited. Your dermatologist can prescribe medications to help ¬strengthen your skin’s barrier function and soothe persistent irritation.
Dull and Rough Skin
What happens: When your complexion lacks luster, it may be suffering from an accumulation of dead cells on the skin surface, sun damage or smoking, which can also cause rough spots and pigment irregularities, says West Palm Beach, FL, dermatologist Kenneth Beer, M.D.
Solutions: Use night creams with glycolic acid or retinols to brighten skin by removing dead skin cells. Also effective are mild facial scrubs, when used once a week. Twice a month, use a mask containing vitamin C to brighten and moisturize. At the doctor’s office, try microdermabrasion to smooth uneven surface layers.
What happens: If your skin flushes and blushes easily, you may have rosacea, a skin condition that can affect anyone, but especially fair-skinned people. The hallmark of rosacea is flushing on the face, nose and cheeks, which is sometimes accompanied by visible capillaries that can appear to be broken or can even look like pustules. Rosacea isn’t acne, but it can be mistaken for it.
The cause of rosacea is unknown, but according to Mary Lupo, M.D., a New Orleans dermatologist and immediate past president of the Women’s Dermatologic Society, “The most common theory is that blood vessels dilate—perhaps due to neurological stimulation—and trigger inflammation. Rosacea is often hereditary. Sunlight may also be a factor, because it causes inflammation and dilation of small vessels near the skin’s surface. So, as with many conditions, rosacea is multifactorial.”
Your Diet and Your Skin
How you nourish your skin has a direct health and beauty benefit. “Foods can be pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory,” says Nicholas Perricone, M.D., a dermatologist and author of several best-selling books. (Some critics dispute Dr. Perricone’s assertions, but he is quite adamant.)
Face-friendly foods include:
- Colorful fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as low-glycemic carbohydrates such as whole grains, beans and lentils.
- Cold-water fish (wild Alaskan salmon, halibut, sardines, herring, anchovies, etc.), nuts, seeds and olive oil, all of which contain healthy fats, such as omega-3.
- Water—six to eight glasses of water per day—and antioxidant-rich green tea.
- Fish, shellfish, poultry and tofu, which contain protein. Protein does not cause spikes in blood sugar, which speeds up aging.