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Skin problems and skin care (or the lack of it) begin at day one and continue for a lifetime. At no point in time is a person immune to a skin condition that could be life-changing or even life-threatening.
Evidence-based medicine tells us three things about skin and skin care. First, because we are living longer, we are dealing with problems of aging skin more than previous generations.
Second, when we spend more leisure time outside, we often don’t protect our skin, and the incidence of skin cancer is higher than at any time in history.
And third, because of an increase in skin-related problems, health-care professionals are seeing more cases of skin disease, and are making faster progress in detecting, treating, and preventing it. For example, the survival rate for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is nearly 99 percent when diagnosed and treated early.
We could avoid many of the problems associated with skin and minimize the cost of skin repair by cleaning it, moisturizing it, and protecting it—all three, every day. Skin problems do not discriminate. The rules of skin care apply equally to men and women of all ages and all colors.
Cleanse: But Don’t Overdo It
The surface of our skin collects dust, dead skin cells, germs, makeup, and oils. Dirty skin is prone to infection, and a mix of those substances can cause body odor.
The goal is to keep skin clean without overdoing it, but some cleansers are safer and more effective than others. Here are some suggestions from the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) for finding and using just the right kind.
- Use a gentle, non-abrasive cleanser that does not contain alcohol, which can irritate and dry the skin. Start with the mildest option. Bar soaps may be the most likely to irritate the skin. Liquid cleansers and facial cleansers are other options, and while they can leave too much oil on the skin, they are generally milder than bar soap. Syndet (synthetically produced detergents like Cetaphil, Dove, and Aveeno) soaps are among the softest bar options.
- Wet your face with lukewarm water and use your fingertips to apply a cleanser. Anything else (including washcloths) can irritate the skin.
- Don’t scrub your skin.
- Rinse with lukewarm water and pat your skin dry with a soft towel.
- Wash your face once in the morning, once at night, and after sweating. Perspiration irritates the skin, so wash your skin as soon as possible after sweating.
Choosing a cleansing product depends on the person and the product. What works for one person’s skin may irritate that of another. People who have sensitive skin should use a gentle cleanser that hydrates. Those with oily skin or who are acne prone might consider using a foaming or salicylic-based cleanser to get rid of oil and dirt. People with dry skin do better with a cream cleanser that can help retain moisture.
Among the most common mistakes in cleansing one’s face are using the wrong kind of cleanser, using water temperature that is too high, forgetting to wash your face in the morning or evening, washing too often, and scrubbing your face too long (more than 20-30 seconds). And perhaps the biggest mistake is not moisturizing after cleansing.
Moisturize: Twice a Day
The first rule of moisturizing is to do it at the same time (or times) every day. Skin has the lowest level of hydration at the end of the day, so moisturize twice a day, especially if you have dry skin.
The penalty for not using moisturizers is dry skin that can crack, thicken, or become flaky. In addition to hydrating the skin, moisturizers replenish the skin, reduce damage, and help skin cells function normally.
Moisturizers contain ingredients called ceramides (fatty molecules that limit the loss of water and act as a barrier against harmful substances), humectants (glycerin and hyaluronic acid that reduce the loss of moisture), emollients (another name for moisturizers that soften the skin),and occlusives (petrolatum and other oily substances that block the evaporation of water). One other important ingredient is water, which is often the first one listed on a product label.
Hundreds of substances have been included in moisturizers, most of which do not have a scientific basis to support their use. Ceramides, humectants, emollients, occlusives, and water have been proven to hydrate skin when applied appropriately. Avoid moisturizers that contain alcohol and fragrances. Find a formula that is good for your type of skin (dry, oily, sensitive).
- Do it every day, twice a day.
- Apply at the same time every day.
- Moisturize immediately after cleansing your face.
Protect: Avoid Overexposure
Over-exposure to the sun causes 90 percent of all skin cancer, and it plays a significant role in non-cancerous conditions such as aging skin, actinic keratosis, rosacea, and vitiligo. We can do things to prevent or lessen the harmful effects of the sun’s UV rays. But protection requires more than a general “be careful about staying out in the sun too long” attitude. Protection starts with sunscreens.
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