Healthy skin is more than skin deep. It impacts your whole body, protecting it from outside threats. It is the largest organ of the human body, weighing a total of about 8 pounds and taking up approximately 22 square feet of space! Understanding how it helps us—and how we can help it—is vital to a healthy life.
Your skin is made up of three layers: the epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous layer. Each has an important role.
The outer layer, or the epidermis, is made up of dead cells that flake off or wash off on a regular basis. The dead cells are replaced by new cells that are produced in lower layers. This cycle takes approximately 28 days. Pores are located in this layer—they allow sweat and oil to leave the body. A number of conditions are associated with the epidermis, including dandruff, bedsores, psoriasis, birthmarks, moles, eczema, and skin cancer.
Beneath this is the dermis, which makes up around 90 percent of your skin’s thickness. It contains sweat and oil glands, blood vessels, hair follicles, lymph vessels, and nerve endings. It also contains collagen and elastin, which give the skin structure and elasticity. Benign bumps, oil-based cysts, and bacterial infections can start here.
The deepest layer is called the subcutaneous layer, or subcutis. Since it is made mostly of fatty tissue, it insulates your body from extreme temperature. It also provides a cushion to protect your vital organs. Conditions that are related to this layer are inflammation, lumps, and Raynaud’s syndrome, which can cause numbness.
Your skin does quite a lot for you.
- It regulates body temperature. When you get hot, blood vessels near the surface swell to let blood cool down via the process of radiation. Increased blood flow causes sweating, which helps cool the body down through evaporation. On the other hand, the skin will start shivering when it senses very cold weather, causing the vessels to contract. This keeps you warmer.
- Because it is waterproof, it helps our bodies maintain a balance of fluid and electrolytes, keeping us hydrated.
- The deepest layer contains collagen and fat cells. This acts as a shock absorber, protecting the body from injury.
- Every square inch of skin contains over 1000 nerve endings. These nerve endings sense heat, pressure, and temperature. The fact that our skin can recognize pain means it can alert us to dangers such as excessive heat, which helps us to prevent burns.
- Skin forms a barrier against harmful substances like bacteria and viruses, helping to prevent infections. It secretes antibacterial substances that also prevent infection. It protects against substances like pollution and dangerous chemicals as well.
- When it absorbs the sun’s rays, it produces vitamin D, which is necessary for tooth and bone health.
Ways to Keep Your Skin Healthy
You can see why keeping it healthy keeps your body healthy. Thankfully, it is not complicated to keep your skin healthy.
Lower your alcohol intake
Studies have shown a link between alcohol intake and skin cancers. One study found people who drink 50 grams of alcohol—five beers’ worth—are at a 55% higher risk for melanoma than those who seldom or never drink.
Be careful not to injure your skin. Cuts, scratches, and burns can get infected. Make sure to treat wounds right away.
Wash—but with limits
It is important to wash your skin to keep germs at bay. However, you should avoid very hot baths or showers. Hot water removes oils and make your skin dry.
Choose your face cleanser carefully
With facial skin care, your goal is to remove dirt and germs without removing natural moisture. Non-foaming cleansers specifically designed for the face are generally mild. Liquid cleansers do a good job and tend to be tolerated well. Bar soap is very common but can be irritating and can strip away oil. Facial scrubs are harsher, but they are great at exfoliating.
Make your environment adapt to you
The ideal humidity level in your home is 30–50%. Check yours by using a hygrometer, which costs under $20. If the humidity is low, consider purchasing a humidifier. Also note that sitting in front of a fireplace or bonfire, while super cozy, can have a drying effect, so limit your time in front of an open flame and pile on the blankets instead!
There are so many benefits of exercise, and healthy skin is one of them. Sweating helps remove impurities. Exercise increases blood flow in your skin, which then brings more oxygen and nutrients to the rest of your body.
Stop touching your face
It’s hard to do, but remember, bacteria can transfer easily from your fingers to your face. In light of that, wipe down your phone screen every now and then so you don’t transfer germs to your face.
When your skin is not hydrated, it will become dry and flaky. Drinking water can tighten pores and improve complexion.
Dry, cracked skin makes it easier for bacteria to enter. Moisturizers can help heal it. They contain agents that attract and retain moisture. Nourish your skin after washing it to lock in moisture. This is especially true after using hand sanitizers, which can dry out your hands. Don’t neglect your lips, either: use lip balm frequently.
Get plenty of sleep
Beyond dark circles under your eyes, sleep can impact skin health. The average adult needs about 7 hours or more of sleep per night. This is when your body regenerates skin.
It’s not an easy thing to do, but it impacts far more than your lungs. In fact, your risk of squamous cell skin cancer is higher if you smoke. In addition to aging your appearance by contributing to wrinkles, smoking reduces nutrients and oxygen that is needed to have healthy skin.
Protect yourself from the sun
Too much of a good thing can be bad. It’s great to catch some rays and help the body manufacture vitamin D. But even everyday exposure to the sun can cause health problems, such as skin cancer. To minimize your risk, wear sunscreen of at least SPF 15, wear protective clothing, and be especially careful between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV exposure from the sun’s rays is at its greatest.
Foods for Healthy Skin
You can keep your skin healthy by eating a balanced diet, rich in the following foods:
Cocoa flavanols—a type of chemical found in plants—can decrease scaling and increase hydration.
These contain vitamin A, vitamin E, selenium, and zinc.
This includes avocadoes, which contain vitamins C and E. It also includes olive oil, which can lower the effects of long-term sun exposure. Fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, tuna, mackerel, and herring are also helpful. They contain omega-3 fatty acids that can maintain skin’s elasticity. Linseed and corn oils can help prevent dry skin.
Vegetables and legumes
- sweet potatoes
- red and yellow bell peppers
- collard greens
A note about tomatoes: a study showed a 50% decrease in skin cancer tumors in mice who were exposed to UV light when they ate tomatoes every day.
- red grapes
Nuts and Seeds
- sunflower seeds
- pumpkin seeds
Green and white teas
Green tea can reduce inflammation, relieving dryness, flakiness, and redness, which can be the result of dandruff or psoriasis. Green tea provides some protection for sun damage. It can also assist in healing wounds as it helps renew dying skin cells. White tea may have anti-cancer properties.
Your skin does a great deal to support your body’s health. There are so many ways you can support your skin health. Follow the guidelines above to happier, healthier skin.
Note: if you have a skin problem such as a rash that isn’t going away on your own or you notice any new moles or an area of skin that has changed, make an appointment with your dermatologist. Also, talk with your doctor before adding any supplements to your regime. Zinc, for example, may lessen the effectiveness of antibiotics. You may need to avoid excessive omega-3 if you have a weakened immune system or are taking blood thinners.