Monthly Archives: February 2017
Your skin is affected by everything from the sun to irritating laundry detergent and cigarette smoke.
And it can show — with anything from redness to wrinkles, and in some cases even skin cancer. But before you resign yourself to the effects of your environment on your skin, consider the five most common culprits of skin damage and find out what steps you can take to avoid them.
1. Sun exposure. The sun is the biggest cause of skin damage, says Faramarz Samie, MD, PhD, director of Mohs Surgery and vice chair of the department of dermatology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York. The ultraviolet rays of the sun break down the various components of the skin such as collagen and elastin that help keep your skin looking smooth. These rays also affect melanocytes, which can lead to changes in your skin’s pigmentation. What’s more: The aging effects of the sun eventually show on your skin as wrinkles, age spots (patches of brown spots), and possibly skin cancer.
To avoid skin damage that can be caused by the sun, dermatologists advise staying out of the sun during the middle of the day when the sun’s rays are strongest, wearing protective clothing such as a hat, and using a broad-spectrum sunscreen — one that protects against both UVA and UVB rays — with a sun protection factor of 30 or higher. Don’t forget to reapply every two hours for maximum protection.
2. Free radicals. One of the ways the sun damages your skin is through production of harmful substances called free radicals, which are unstable oxygen molecules with a single electron. In short, doctors think that ultraviolet light from the sun can lead to damaged DNA and skin damage, Dr. Samie says. Free radicals may even play a role in the development of skin cancer. They are also the result of exposure to tobacco products or other environmental factors. Some skin care products contain antioxidants such as vitamins C and E that can help lessen the effects that free radicals have on your skin. Eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, which contain antioxidants (especially berries, broccoli, carrots, and spinach), can also promote healthy skin.
3. Smoking cigarettes. Overall, the skin of a smoker isn’t as healthy and doesn’t heal as well as a nonsmoker’s skin. It also has a tendency to wrinkle easily. That’s because smoking cigarettes causes your blood vessels to constrict, or become more narrow, and that lowers the amount of nutrients and oxygen that reach the skin and keep it healthy. As a result, the skin loses elasticity, meaning it can’t snap back into shape as easily. This lack of nutrients also makes it harder for skin to heal when you have a wound, and can lead to skin ulcers. In women, smoking leads to lower estrogen levels, which dries out the skin.
Cigarettes can also cause the skin on your face to become dry, more prone to wrinkles and stretch marks, and appear dull and gray, according to Smokefree.gov, a website created by the Tobacco Control Research Branch of the National Cancer Institute. Wrinkles can appear in smokers as young as in the early thirties, but quitting can help you avoid premature aging.
If you have trouble quitting, talk to your doctor about the best smoking cessation option for you. Nicotine gum, inhalers, lozenges, nasal spray, and patches can all help you quit, along with prescription medications such as bupropion, varenicline, nortriptyline, and clonidine.
4. Irritants. Certain chemicals in cleaning products and laundry detergent can cause red, irritated skin and allergies in people who are susceptible, Samie says. For example, ammonia and bleach have a tendency to irritate skin. These chemicals may cause contact dermatitis, which causes scaling, irritation, and sometimes even a chemical burn. People with sensitive skin may experience more skin irritation than others. There are also over 3,000 substances in our environment that can cause allergies.
The easiest way to protect your skin from irritants is to avoid contact, either by wearing gloves when you clean or wash dishes or by switching to less irritating products. Also, moisturizing your skin can help. Some people may need an antihistamine or steroids for treatment.
5. Smiles and frowns. As you age, your skin loses elasticity, which means it loses the ability to snap back into place after you make facial expressions the way it did when you were younger, Samie says. As a result, your skin is more likely to show wrinkles even when you’re not frowning or laughing.
While there’s no need to avoid showing expression on your face, you can try to combat wrinkles by preventing skin damage from the sun by using sunscreen. You might also consider using over-the-counter or prescription wrinkle creams or other topical medications to smooth out the skin. Also, there are many procedures available to reduce wrinkles, including microdermabrasion, chemical peels, laser resurfacing, and injectable fillers such as collagen.
If you haven’t been protecting your skin, it can start to give away clues about your age. Fine lines and wrinkles begin to appear, along with brown spots and rough skin patches caused by sun exposure. Your skin might be producing less collagen, and dead skin cells don’t flake off imperceptibly anymore. If this sounds like your skin, it’s time to turn to anti-aging products and treatments to slow down, reduce, or even reverse the signs of aging and regain younger-looking skin.
Any skin that’s been regularly exposed to the elements can be expected to show its age and needs special care to maintain its youthful look, says Sonia Badreshia-Bansal, MD, CEO and medical director of Elite MD, Inc. Advanced Dermatology, Laser, and Plastic Surgery Institute in Danville, Calif.
Your Anti-Aging Action Plan
At-home and doctor’s office procedures can have a visible impact on your complexion, giving you back younger-looking skin.
- Protect your skin. The first rule of thumb: Prevent the damage. “The best thing to do to protect your skin is prevention,” Dr. Badreshia-Bansal says. The sun is enemy number one, so you need to wear sunscreen with a sun protection factor, or SPF, of 30 or higher whenever you’re outside. You also should wear long-sleeved shirts and pants. Protect your face and neck with wide-brimmed hats, your eyes with sunglasses with UV coating. Dryness is enemy number two, making lines seem more noticeable, so choose a moisturizer made for your skin type and use it regularly to keep skin supple.
- Apply a vitamin A cream. Prescription-strength, vitamin A–based topical gels or creams known as retinoids can reduce wrinkles and produce younger-looking skin. “It helps to build collagen, which can prevent the development of fine lines and wrinkles, and to lighten dark spots,” Badreshia-Bansal says. “We also use it to treat acne, and it can help prevent precancerous growths.” Prescription retinoids include Retin-A and Renova (tretinoin), Differin (adapalene), and Avage (tazarotene).
- Bleach your brown spots. You can try lightening brown spots (also called age spots) with a bleaching cream that contains hydroquinone. “Hydroquinone helps inhibit an important enzyme in pigment synthesis,” Badreshia-Bansal explains.
- Pick up a pentapeptide anti-wrinkle cream. These anti-aging creams stimulate the skin’s production of collagen and elastin and are found in some drugstore or beauty counter products. “You’re helping to build back the support structure that’s been lost through aging and sun damage,” Badreshia-Bansal says.
- Peel to reveal fresher skin. Dermatologists use various methods to remove the top layer of skin and expose new skin. These procedures can help tighten the skin and diminish fine lines and brown spots. “By exfoliating that top layer, you’re allowing the moisturizers and other products we use to penetrate deeper and work better,” Badreshia-Bansal says. Procedures include:
- Chemical peel solutions to loosen and slough away the top layer of skin
- Laser skin resurfacing to vaporize the surface skin
- Microdermabrasion that sprays tiny particles to strip away topmost skin cells
- Plasma skin regeneration using a stream of ionized nitrogen gas to heat the skin and cause the top layer of cells to flake away
- Consider Botox. Injections of botulinum toxin have become tremendously popular as an anti-aging therapy. The injections relax the muscles under the skin and can eliminate deep lines and wrinkles around the face. Botox treatments also can help prevent new wrinkles from appearing.
You have many options available to create younger-looking skin. Factors including cost and the recovery time associated with procedures like peels will help you decide on your best course of action.
You brush your teeth and hair every day, so why not your skin? Advocates of something called dry skin brushing — literally taking brush bristles to your birthday suit — enthusiastically say you should. “Dry skin brushing is a simple but effective way of not only improving health, but also beauty,” says Tracy Piper, founder and owner of the Piper Center for Internal Wellness, a holistic health care facility in New York City.
Dry skin brushing tones the skin, reduces the appearance of cellulite, opens pores to release toxins, gets rid of dead skin cells, and aids in the circulation of blood, Piper says.
Beyond healthy skin, “dry brushing stimulates the lymphatic system, which is also known as the broom of the body,” explains Jovanka Ciares, a holistic wellness coach and nutrition consultant practicing in New York City. “One of the lymphatic system’s primary functions is to clean toxins and debris out of your blood and help your body run more efficiently. It also helps your body absorb nutrients better, eliminate residues from the outer skin layers, help redistribute fat deposits, and push toxic matter into the colon” — a claim that has not been substantiated by research.
How to Dry Skin Brush
You’ll need a dry natural bristle brush or loofah for dry skin brushing. Make sure you are dry, too. There’s no single way to do it, but you’ll always want to brush toward the heart, says Piper. She uses this technique:
- Before using the brush, use your fingertips to pump 3 times on the terminus, which is the indentation between the collarbone and the neck, to start the flow of lymph. Then use your fingertips to pump in your armpits 3 times, then 3 times where your ribcage meets in the center of your body, and 3 times in your groin area.
- Step Two: Brush down the neck into the terminus and from each breast outward toward the armpits (avoid the nipples). Brush the arms upward toward the heart.
- Step Three: Brush the abdominal area above the navel diagonally up and out toward the armpits.
- Step Four: Brush the abdominal area below the navel down toward the groin.
- Step Five: Brush the legs up toward the groin. Your palms and the soles of your feet can be brushed in small circles.
When to Do Dry Skin Brushing
To get all the benefits of dry skin brushing, Piper suggests doing it twice daily — in the morning and again in the evening. If you can only do it once a day, do it at night; this will kick-start the lymph system and help your body detox while you’re sleeping, she advises.
On a personal note, Piper says she finds dry brushing “quite calming, especially when I do it before bed,” and “the softness of my skin is very soothing and motivating to continue doing it.”
Dry skin brushing is also a skin and beauty regimen that might benefit the millions who spend hours in front of a computer screen. Stiffness in the shoulders, lower back, and hip area are very common among people who work in offices, says Ciares, and “dry skin brushing once a day for a few weeks will help you increase oxygenated blood flow in those areas and feel energized.”
Dry Skin Brushing: Evaluating the Claims
“I am a big proponent of exfoliation in all its forms, dry brushing included,” says Alicia Zalka, MD, a dermatologist in private practice in Connecticut. “By helping the skin’s built-in mechanism of cell renewal, the act of sloughing spent cells by brushing enhances the process. This is particularly helpful on lower legs, feet, and upper arms and elbows, where dry, dull skin can linger.”
Dennis Gross, MD, a dermatologist and dermatological surgeon practicing in New York City, is less enthusiastic, however. “For exfoliation purposes, one must be careful not to over-exfoliate, and my preference is for chemical exfoliation over mechanical exfoliation, which can be too harsh on the skin.”
So can dry skin brushing detox your body? “The bottom line is that dry skin brushing can improve circulation,” says Dr. Gross. “One could theorize that increased circulation can eliminate toxins, but that is a stretch. Skin does not regularly suffer from a lack of circulation.”
Although Dr. Zalka does not believe that dry skin brushing can eliminate cellulite, she says it could temporarily improve the look of it. If you want to try dry skin brushing, “make sure the brush is cleaned or replaced regularly,” she advises. “Start gently and see how your skin tolerates it. Always apply oil or moisturizing cream to follow, or else the skin could be irritated. Do not do it if you suffer a skin condition such as psoriasis, eczema, or impetigo.”
There are claims on the Internet that dry skin brushing can prevent breast cancer. The American Cancer Society, however, says it has “no opinion” on the technique. “We have no credible evidence or research that concludes this treatment reduces the risk of breast cancer,” says Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, deputy chief medical officer of the cancer society.
In fact, there are no studies of any kind to support any of the various health claims about dry skin brushing, so it’s important to take the possibility of benefits like detox with a healthy dose of skepticism. If you want to make your outer layer shine, dry skin brushing may be worth a try though. Just make sure you use a gentle touch.
A good night’s sleep can mean good skin health because when you’re sleep-deprived, your body makes more of the stress hormone cortisol. Elevated levels of cortisol can lead to increased stress and inflammation in the body, hurting your skin’s quality.
But the relationship between skin health and lack of quality sleep can be a vicious cycle, especially with conditions like atopic dermatitis or eczema, which can lead to scratching even through the night, recent research published in the journal Clinics in Dermatologyshowed.
“Poor sleep can lead to increased stress hormones in the body that increase the severity of inflammatory skin conditions such as acne or psoriasis,” explains Jessica Krant, MD, MPH, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center and founder of Art of Dermatology in New York. This can result in increased itching, which can disrupt sleep. As the vicious cycle continues, skin conditions and sleep quality can increasingly worsen together. In contrast, skin conditions and sleep quality can also improve together. Getting a good night’s sleep will help to clear up skin, which allows sleep to improve and, in turn, will improve skin health.”
Need more convincing? Here are six reasons why not getting enough sleep detracts from skin health and your health in general:
- Not enough sleep worsens existing skin conditions. Increased inflammatory response shows up as increased acne breakouts, increased skin sensitivity, increased allergic contact dermatitis reactions, and increased irritant dermatitis — and more severe conditions mean more treatment and skin care.
- Not enough sleep detracts from your skin’s natural beauty. Increased inflammatory cells in the body lead to an increase in the breakdown of collagen and hyaluronic acid, the molecules that give the skin its glow, bounce, and translucency.
- Not enough sleep makes immune-related skin problems worse. Increased inflammation in the body throws off the body’s ability to regulate the immune system, which leads not only to getting sick more often, but also to flares of immune-related skin diseases such as psoriasis and eczema. Psoriasis is not just a skin disease; it’s also an indicator of body inflammation. “Many people with severe psoriasis actually have an increased risk for heart attacks, which is even more reason to keep stress low and get good quality sleep,” Dr. Krant says.
- Not enough sleep results in less beauty. While you’re sleeping, the body’s hydration rebalances. Skin is able to recover moisture, while excess water in general in the body is processed for removal. Not getting enough sleep results in poor water balance, leading to puffy bags under your eyes and under-eye circles, as well as dryness and more visible wrinkles.
- Not enough sleep accelerates the aging process. During deep sleep, the rise in growth hormones allows damaged cells to become repaired. Without the deeper phases of sleep, this won’t occur, allowing daily small breakdowns to accumulate instead of being reversed overnight. This results in more noticeable signs of aging.
- Not enough sleep contributes to weight gain. Sleep also helps with weight management, which is good for your skin. Sleep makes you feel less hungry, Krant explains — recent studies have linked sleep deprivation to excess snacking and calorie consumption.
Getting a Good Night’s Rest
Here are tips from Krant for getting good sleep and better skin health:
- Don’t eat a big meal too late in the day.
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day, but not late at night.
- Sleep under a warm blanket in a cool, dark, quiet room.
- Keep electronics out of the bedroom.
- Use breathable cotton sheets and wash them regularly, so they don’t collect dust mites and bacteria.
- Use laundry detergents that don’t have strong fragrances, which can be irritating to skin.