Keep your skin healthy

People say that beauty is only skin deep; It’s what’s “on the inside” that counts. Our insides are certainly important, but the skin is the first layer of defense against the outside world. Your skin can also give important clues about your overall health. Learn how to take good care of your skin, so your skin can continue to take good care of you.

Your skin protects your body in many ways. “The skin provides a barrier to protect the body from invasion by bacteria and other potential environmental hazards that can be dangerous to human health,” says NIH dermatologist Dr. Heidi Kong.

The skin also performs other functions. It contains nerve endings that allow you to sense when an object is too hot or sharp, so you can quickly move it away. Sweat glands and small blood vessels in the skin help control body temperature. And skin cells convert sunlight into vitamin D, which is important for bone health.

The skin can also alert you to a health problem. An itchy red rash may indicate allergies or infections, and a red “butterfly” rash on the face may be a sign of lupus. A yellow tint could indicate liver disease. And dark or unusual moles could be a warning sign of skin cancer. Watch for unexpected changes in your skin and talk to your doctor if you have concerns.

Your skin can become too dry if you don’t drink enough fluids or spend too much time in sunny or dry conditions. “While handwashing is important for good hygiene, overwashing can also lead to dry skin,” Kong says, especially if you wash with hot water and strong soaps. To treat dry skin, use moisturizing creams or lotions and use warm instead of hot water when bathing and washing your hands. You can also try using a humidifier to make the air in your home less dry.

The sun can also damage your skin. Sunlight contains ultraviolet (UV) light that causes sunburn and causes skin to age faster, leading to more wrinkles as you age. “There is a strong link between UV exposure and skin cancer,” adds Kong. So protect your skin from the sun. Wear hats and other protective clothing, use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30, and restrict your time in the sun during the late morning and early afternoon hours, when sunlight it’s stronger.

Many skin researchers like Kong are studying the skin microbiome – the bacteria and other microscopic organisms that live on the skin. Some of these microbes may be helpful. Evidence suggests that they boost the body’s immune system which fights infections and helps keep you healthy. “But there are some skin diseases with known associations with certain microbes,” Kong says. “We’re trying to understand how those microbes differ between healthy people and people with skin diseases.” In the long term, scientists would like to find ways to support the health of skin microbes while reducing harmful ones.

For tips to keep your skin healthy, see the “Wise Choices” box.v


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