While it’s true that some skin aging is inevitable, how you treat your skin can help delay the process and keep your skin looking youthful, healthy and vibrant for as long as possible. Good skin care is more than just staying out of the sun (although that’s a biggie!). Follow these simple skin rules to keep your skin glowing for life.
Avoid the Sun as Much as Possible
Let’s face it: As much as we love the sun, it’s damaging to our skin. It causes skin cancer, age spots, leathery skin and wrinkles. So the more we’re in it, the older we look. A study published in the Annals of Plastic Surgery found that sun exposure was even more important than heredity when it came to wrinkling — identical twins who shaded themselves from the sun had fewer wrinkles and looked younger overall than their siblings who spent time in the sun, despite the same genetic makeup.
Unless you’re a vampire, obviously you have to go out during the daytime. But do your best to minimize the time you spend outside when the sun is at its strongest: between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. And when you’re out, wear a hat.
Use Sunscreen Every Day
Think sunscreen is important only on sunny days? “Eighty percent of sunlight comes through on a cloudy day,” says Allison T. Vidimos, RPh, MD, chair of the Department of Dermatology at the Cleveland Clinic. So always wear sunscreen, even in the wintertime. Look for one with an SPF of 15 or higher — 30 or higher if you’re fair skinned or burn easily. It should say “broad spectrum” on the label, which means it protects against UVA rays (which penetrate deep into the base layer of the skin) and UVB rays (which are primarily responsible for sunburn). Some ingredients to look for: titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, both of which are physical blocks that reflect the sun; avobenzone (brand name: Parsol 1789) and ecamsule (brand name: Mexoryl), both of which are chemical blocks that absorb the sun. If using a chemical block, apply it 30 minutes before you go outside for maximum effectiveness. And make sure it’s paba free, says Gregory Papadeas, MD, past president of the Colorado Dermatologic Society, as the ingredient can be irritating.
And don’t skimp on sunscreen — a study in the British Journal of Dermatology found that applying less than two ounces over the body at one time can leave people with an SPF rating far lower than what’s on the bottle. Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours, more often if you’re swimming or sweating, even if the label says it’s waterproof.
Cleanse Gently and Moisturize Twice a Day
Choose a mild, fragrance-free cleanser. Avoid soaps or cleansers containing alcohol, deodorant or fragrance, all of which strip your skin of its natural oils. Moisturizers don’t actually add moisture to the skin, they lock it in — so always apply right after you shower or wash your face, and use hand cream after you wash your hands. When moisturizing after a shower, you’re actually trapping the water from the shower into your skin, keeping it from evaporating.
When choosing a moisturizer, look for ingredients like dimethicone, glycerine, lactic acid, urea or hyaluronic acid. As a general rule, creams work better than lotions because they contain more oil than water, upping the moisturizing content, says Bruce Robinson, MD, a dermatologist in New York City and spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology. For your face, choose a moisturizer that says “noncomedogenic” which means it won’t clog your pores, particularly if you have oily skin.
Don’t languish in the tub (a five- to 10-minute shower plumps the skin. A 30-minute shower prunes it), and use warm water, not hot.
Know the Signs of Skin Cancer and Do a Monthly Skin Check
Check your body once a month so you’ll be more familiar with what’s normal and what’s not on your own skin. Studies have found that melanoma deaths could be lowered by as much as 63 percent if people performed monthly self-exams. A general rule is to look for ABCD: Asymmetry, one half of a mole doesn’t match the other; Borders, the edges are irregular; Color isn’t the same all over; and the Diameter is larger than a pencil eraser. However, not all skin cancers follow those rules, so it’s wise to be on the lookout for changes of any kind.
Don’t forget your scalp, palms, fingernails, feet and toenails. Take off your toenail polish to check — melanoma often hides under and around the toenails, and melanoma of the foot is one of the deadliest because it’s diagnosed late and has already spread, according to the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. If you see anything suspicious, see your dermatologist, who is better trained to find smaller cancers. A study in the Archives of Dermatology found that those whose melanomas were diagnosed by a dermatologist were more likely to survive (because their cancer was caught earlier) than those with melanomas diagnosed by other types of doctors.
Not only is it an unhealthy, ugly habit — it truly makes you ugly, yellowing and wrinkling the face as well as the entire body. A study published in the Archives of Dermatology found that the more someone smoked, the more their skin was damaged — even on skin that never saw the sun! Smoking causes blood vessels under the skin to shrink, which reduces its blood supply, depriving it of oxygen and other vital nutrients.