Dos and Don'ts of Healthier Skin
Dos and Don'ts of Healthier Skin

By Cheryl Lock

Your skin plays a major role in protecting the rest of your body -- but how well do you look after it? Find out some of the best ways to protect one of your body's most important assets.

Did you know that your skin is actually an organ? In fact, it's your body's largest organ by size. Skin helps hold in fluid, keeps out harmful microbes, and helps us regulate our body temperature. For such an important part of our body, it can be surprising how little attention it's given.

Besides minimizing sun damage and protecting it from dryness, there are a lot of other easy things we can do to keep our skin at its healthiest.

The following are a few simple steps you can take to ensure that your all-important barrier against the world stays glowing, radiant and -- most important -- healthy.

1. Use sun protection

With everything we know these days about sun damage, most people know how important it is to use sunscreen every single day (yes, even when it's cloudy!) -- but it still bears repeating. Sun damage can cause wrinkles, spots and other problems, not the least of which includes risk for skin cancer. To avoid all that, apply sunscreen generously every two hours (more if you're swimming or sweating), and use at least an SPF of 15. Avoid prolonged outdoor sun exposure during times when rays are the strongest (generally between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.), and wear protective clothing. (When you'll be out in the sun for long periods of time, look for clothing that offers UVA/UVB ray protection -- like these options -- not just regular clothes that cover your skin.)

2. And don't forget the night

Protecting your skin from the damaging rays of sun during the day is important, but nighttime is when your skin works hard to rejuvenate and revitalize repaired cells, so don't ignore those precious hours either. The best products to use for nighttime skin repair include retinoids, peptides or growth factors. Remember: the FDA does not regulate skin products, so claims to certain benefits can easily be exaggerated. Always check with your dermatologist if you have any questions or are looking for an expert recommendation.

3. Load up on the right kinds of foods

Eating healthy is important for pretty much every part of our body, including our skin. But what is the right kind of food to eat for healthier skin? For starters, research has shown that people who eat foods rich in vitamin C (like strawberries) have fewer wrinkles and less age-related dryness. Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties found in olive oil can help soften the skin, and pumpkin (which is high in carotenoids) helps neutralize free radicals in the skin, which keeps them from damaging cells that fast-forward aging.

4. Stress less

Stress is just plain bad for our bodies for many reasons, but the skin can be especially sensitive to fluxuations in mood. Anxiety and stress can worsen skin problems like acne, psoriasis or rosacea, but finding a way to manage your stress level (through exercise, meditation, journaling, etc.), can help reduce blood vessel over-activity.

5. Re-consider daily routines

Certain common, everyday habits can stress or dry out your skin -- and you probably wouldn't even know it. For example, prolonged exposure to hot water (in a long bath or shower, for example) can remove important oils from your skin, causing it to dry out. Certain strong soaps and detergents can do the same, so if you're sensitive, stick to mild brands. Leave some moisture on your skin after bathing by patting down your skin, rather than roughly drying every square inch, and follow up with moisturizer (with SPF!) after every shower.

6. Stay hydrated

Water keeps your skin moist and hydrated, which helps make fine lines and wrinkles less noticeable. It also helps flush out toxins and increases blood flow -- all good things.

7. See your dermatologist once a year for a full checkup

Last but certainly not least -- it's extremely important to get into the habit of checking in with a dermatologist once a year for a full-body scan to make sure your skin looks healthy. This is even more important considering the fact that -- when 1,000 Americans were polled -- over one-third of them said they rarely or never apply sunscreen to their backs when they're in the sun. (Another 43 percent said they never or rarely ask someone to assist in applying sunscreen to their backs.) Every single part of your skin deserves proper sun coverage -- so get those checkups!

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