Contributed by Wildwood’s College of Health Evangelism
The skin is a vital organ. Indeed, with a total area of about 20 square feet, it is the largest organ of our bodies. We cannot live without it. One square inch of skin is composed of 19 million cells, 625 sweat glands, 90 oil glands, 65 hair follicles, 19,000 sensory cells, and 4 meters of blood vessels. The skin protects, provides immunity, excretes, breathes, and is involved in thermal balance. The outer part of the epidermis helps maintain fluid balance. How can we keep it healthy and slow down its aging?
1. Don’t smoke. Not only does nicotine reduce blood flow to the skin and thereby compromise the nutrition going to the skin, smoking cigarettes also decreases the efficiency with which the skin can regenerate itself. Smoking a single cigarette can reduce blood flow to the fingers by 24%. This constriction of the skin’s blood vessels can last up to 90 minutes. Smoking makes the skin more prone to wrinkles.
2. Reduce your risk of type diabetes 2. When blood glucose gets high, the body loses fluid, and consequently the skin becomes dry and itchy. If the skin becomes dry enough to crack, germs are liable to enter and cause infection. About one third of people with diabetes will develop skin problems sometime during their lives. In fact, some skin issues can actually be warning signs of diabetes. Diabetes increases the risk for fungal infections such as athlete’s foot, jock itch, and ringworm. Yeast infections of the skin and vagina are common in diabetic individuals. Poor circulation in the legs can make them very itchy and contribute to foot ulcers. If you do have diabetes, inspect your skin daily.
3. Pay careful attention to your diet. Flavonoids in berries and citrus have been associated with lower risk for skin damage and melanoma. Vitamin E from nuts, seeds, and greens helps to protect the cell membranes in skin from free radical damage. Carotenoids found in dark leafy greens and orange fruits and vegetables also provide antioxidant protection for the skin. Lycopene in tomatoes seems to be the most protective antioxidant for skin.
4. Limit your sugar consumption. Frequent consumption of sugar can damage skin by generating advanced glycation end-products (AGES). Glycation occurs as sugar attaches itself to proteins to form these harmful molecules. As AGES accumulate, they damage the collagen and elastin, the proteins in skin that make it elastic. AGES also transform the collagen fibers so they become more fragile. Consequently, the skin loses its elasticity and becomes more vulnerable to wrinkles.
5. Prevent sunburn and skin cancer. Sun exposure damages the skin’s collagen and leads to lines, freckles, wrinkles, and red, visible blood vessels in the skin. The average Caucasian needs about 20 minutes in early morning sunlight to generate vitamin D synthesis. Individuals with darker hues need more time to generate vitamin D. Sunburn occurs when excessive exposure of the skin to sunlight causes the lysosomal membranes in the skin cells to rupture. Free radicals from the lysosomes are then released and destroy skin cells. Exposure to intensive sun or tanning beds in childhood and youth is a risk factor for two skin cancers– melanoma and basal cell carcinoma.
A broad-spectrum sunscreen containing UVA and UVB protection with SPF 30 or higher applied after a short period of sun exposure can protect the skin from ultraviolet damage. Fair-skinned individuals or those at risk for skin cancer should apply it before they go outside and get their vitamin D from fortified foods or a supplement. Adults need to apply about 2 tablespoons of sunscreen every two hours when outside. Many sunscreens containing natural antioxidants help to slow down the skin’s aging.
6. Skip caffeine and alcohol. Both caffeine and alcohol dehydrate the skin. Alcohol depletes vitamin A which is so necessary for skin health. Excessive drinking causes the blood vessels in your skin to lose their tone.
7. Regular exercise improves blood flow to the skin. This is true even if the person has type 2 diabetes. As blood flow to the skin increases, more nutrients and oxygen are carried to the skin.
8. Get sufficient, regular sleep. Puffy eyes and more fine lines are obvious signs that we don’t get enough sleep. During deep sleep, the pituitary gland releases growth hormone. This valuable hormone improves protein synthesis in the skin and elsewhere in body. By promoting its premature aging, chronic sleep deprivation not only makes the skin more susceptible to bacterial infections, but also encourages skin disorders related to immune dysfunction. Accumulating deficit of sleep actually inhibits the production of collagen in the skin. Women who do not get enough sleep also experience greater water loss from the skin. Chronic insomnia can cause skin disorders related to immune dysfunction. Sleep deprivation itself has been shown to intensify both allergic and irritant contact dermatitis. One caveat: Sleep apnea is associated with increased risk of skin cancer.
9. Learn to manage stress. Stress compromises the ability of the skin to act as a needed barrier to harmful microorganisms and dehydration. The skin’s ability to heal wounds quickly and effectively is essential to good health. We now know that stress can slow the rate of wound healing. Stress creates frown lines and makes us look older. Prolonged stress, via excess cortisol, interferes with the ability of the skin to regenerate and also reduce collagen formation as well as breaking down collagen. Even perceived stress hurts the skin. For example, among healthy males, greater perceived stress 2 weeks before and on the day of getting a punch biopsy wound predicted slower healing from 7 to 21 days. Stress makes the skin more vulnerable to infections. Compounding the influence of stress, infected wounds heal more slowly and are more likely to result in scarring.
10. Learn how to manage conflict. Studies show that conflict slows wound healing in the skin.
11. Nurture and moisturize it. Good skin hygiene reduces the risk for infection and inflammation. Use gentle soap. Beware of ceramides in soaps and lotions that undesirably coat the skin.
Dry skin can come from natural aging. Dryness in the skin triggers the release of inflammatory chemicals in the skin. The natural pH of the skin also shifts. Consequently the skin’s antibacterial capacity is reduced. Dry air dries the skin. Hot showers or baths without applying a moisturizer or emollient dries the skin, especially in older individuals. If your skin is dry, you may apply a natural moisturizer after your bath or shower. Virgin olive oil is a good moisturizer. Be careful when you apply any oil or lotion to your feet– you don’t want to slide. Coconut oil helps to heal minor skin irritations.
12. Consult with your doctor. Deficiency in essential fatty acids promotes dryness in the skin. An “essential” fatty acid is one that the body does not make, so it is essential for us to eat foods that have them. If your skin is dry, check your intake of omega-3 fats. Low levels of the thyroid hormones, autoimmune disease, food allergies, chronic kidney disease are a few examples of medical conditions that can contribute to dry skin. Dry skin coupled by itching or a rash should be evaluated by a physician. Know the signs and symptoms of skin cancer. Report to a dermatologist any suspicious lesion or mole.
Author: Elizabeth J. Hall. All rights reserved by author. 2013.
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