NDSU Extension - Mercer County

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Nourish Your Skin for Optimal Health

skin care, healthy skin, SPF

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Consumer Sciences

What do cigarettes, soap, stress and tanning beds have in common?

These are the four main factors that contribute to skin damage.

Chemicals in tobacco smoke can damage the skin, which results in wrinkles and sagging. Some soaps and detergents consistently damage some of skin’s healthy barriers. Stress can affect the skin, leading to conditions such as eczema or psoriasis. And tanning, whether in the sun or in a bed, leads to premature aging and possibly skin cancer from ultraviolet rays.

Most of us want to have beautiful skin, minimize wrinkles and look our “best self” for as long as we can. Sometimes you can look at a pair of hands and almost guess what kind of job that person has or at least know if the person works with his or her hands a lot. Our hands undergo a lot of stress, but the rest of our skin is highly affected as well. What does healthy skin look like?

Our skin condition depends on several factors. Healthy skin has a smooth texture without cracking, a natural glow without discolored spots or aberrations and adequate hydration. A couple of factors you can’t see are sebum concentration and pH (alkalinity or acidity). Sebum helps maintain hydration by reducing water loss from the surface of the skin and protects the skin from infection. Sebaceous glands secrete sebum, which consists of a combination of lipids, cholesterol and esters. A low pH on the surface of the skin protects the skin from pathogens (disease-causing germs) and allows good bacteria to dominate on the skin.

In some cases, poor skin condition may indicate nutrient deficiencies. For example, physical signs of iron deficiency include eczema in the corners of the mouth, skin irritation, itching, loss of skin tone, impaired wound healing and skin infections. Allergic reactions also can present themselves through rashes and itching. Many nutrients, including iron, lipids, protein, vitamin A, beta carotene, calcium and vitamin C, are involved in skin maintenance. Without sufficient amounts of these nutrients, some or all of these skin condition factors may be affected. Other factors may affect skin condition as well.

Certain foods can help prevent damage to skin. They include fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and fish. Lowering your intake of saturated and trans fats, as well as sugar and refined flour products, also can reduce the risk of skin damage. A healthy skin diet is the same as a heart-healthy diet.

During the summer months, tans and burns cause direct damage to the skin. The increase of burns and the severity of the burns are positively related to an increase in skin cancer risk. The best way to protect your skin from damaging sun rays is to use sunscreen. Apply a broad spectrum sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30 before going outside and then reapply every two hours and after swimming or sweating.

Many external factors work against us and increase dry skin, wrinkles and spotting and, thus, aging skin. Additional information is available at www.ndsu.edu/boomers.

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