If someone told you that you could only wear one outfit for the rest of your life, how well would you care for it? Think of the events you might attend. Imagine the looks you'd get if your outfit were ragged, scuffed or stained. Now consider this: How well do you care for your skin on a day-to-day basis? Do you do all you can to keep it soft and supple? To prevent or minimize wrinkles? How do you protect your skin from stresses, and how can you help heal and nourish it?
Your skin is the largest organ in your body and one of the most dynamic. It accounts for 15 percent of your body weight and covers 12 to 20 square feet (1.1 to 1.9 square meters). A full 70 percent of the skin is water. Another 25 percent is protein, and the final 5 percent consists of fats. The skin has roles as a sensory organ and a structural support for tissues, and it can even convey emotion when we blush with shame, sweat with anxiety or turn pale with fear.
All these traits come from the skin's three important layers. The surface layer is the waterproof epidermis. This is the layer we scrub to exfoliate, the layer that sometimes looks dry and chapped if mistreated. The middle layer is the dermis, and this is where the action is. The dermis is what gives the skin its suppleness. It is also the portion of the skin that is responsible for healing wounds, and it's where sun damage and scarring occur. The third and deepest layer is the subcutaneous layer, where sweat glands, hair follicles and blood vessels can be found. It's an area of support structures, where the skin is nourished from below.
We start out with good skin, but years of neglect -- or worse, abuse -- can take their toll. While some factors, like sunlight and gravity, are impossible to completely avoid, we can all take some simple steps to look younger and feel better about our skin. Next, we'll show you how.
Tips for Better Skin
Many factors go into maintaining healthy skin tone and quality. Here are some simple steps that can make a big difference.
Check Labels. Going to the beauty counter is like going to the supermarket -- there are millions of products, and often you have no idea which are healthy and which aren't. And many offer double robbery: They weigh down your skin and lighten your pocketbook. Look for products that list an active ingredient and a particular concentration. Vitamins and supplements in topical products usually have to be in the 1- to 10-percent range to really do something for or to your skin. The formulations also need to be pH-balanced, and the active ingredient must be able to penetrate the skin. Your best bet is to try reputable brands, but even some of those use ingredients that could only enter the skin in a science-fiction movie.
Cream it on. The list of ingredients that can really make a difference in the skin is small. Here are some good ones to know:
- Vitamin A is a valuable skin care nutrient. But too much -- or use on sensitive skin -- can be problematic and lead to issues with wound healing. Use these products with care. They're often referred to as retinols or retinoids at the pharmacy.
- Vitamin C is best as a 10-percent concentration of L-ascorbic acid.
- B vitamins that can benefit your skin include vitamin B3 (niacin or nicotinamide) and vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid).
- Vitamin E is the major lipid-soluble antioxidant in your skin. Topical vitamin E needs to be in the form of DL-alpha-tocopherol to make a positive difference to your skin.
- Choose a water-based, fragrance-free skin lotion with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 10 for daily use. This helps to moisturize your skin while protecting your face from the sun. This step may also help combat wrinkles and fight the risk of skin cancer.
Take the tape test. To take your facial fingerprint, pull out a roll of clear tape. Make sure your face is clean (without makeup, sunscreen or moisturizer for at least two hours). Place a piece of tape vertically on the middle of your forehead from your scalp to the area between your eyebrows. Move it to the outside corners of your eyes, across the apple of each cheek and above your lip. Press gently in each spot, leave it for a few seconds, and carefully remove. Check the tape for lines and flakiness.
- If your tape is completely smooth, you have the skin of a typical 30-year-old.
- If you have flaky or dead cells but no lines, you have the skin of a typical 40-year-old.
- If you have flaky cells and small lines, you have the skin of a typical 50-year-old.
Follow the links on the next page to learn more about the nutrients that make skin beautiful.