Healthy skin is vital to long-term health and wellness, but it’s also about aging gracefully.
By Amber Erickson Gabbey
Colorado has 300 days of sunshine. In winter, that means you can ski and bike on the same day. But that comes at a price.
“People age poorly here,” says Dr. Lisa Scatena, a Boulder-based dermatologist. Because of all the sunshine, photo-aging—or premature aging caused by exposure to UV radiation—is common. Have you ever thought about what the climate is doing to your skin?
Why Skin Care Matters
For many, the topic of skin care conjures thoughts of fragrant lotions, makeup and Botox. Sure, there is a cosmetic component, but there’s also a serious health component.
The skin is the largest organ, serving as a protective layer that allows nutrients in and keeps toxins out. Having healthy skin is vital to long-term health and wellness, but it’s also about aging gracefully.
“When an elderly gentleman comes in, just getting him to use moisturizer is a challenge,” says Scatena. On the other side of the spectrum, some people go regularly for facials or peels and follow home-based skin-care regimens religiously. Many fall somewhere in the middle, wanting healthy skin without too much effort. But that may not be enough.
Common Skin Threats
The sun is the biggest risk. The sun’s ultraviolet rays are made up of UVA and UVB. UVA is what causes premature aging, sunspots and wrinkles. UVB is what causes sunburns. Both UVA and UVB cause skin cancer. Sunscreen helps minimize the risk, and is one of the best preventive tools.
Dryness is also a big concern. Low humidity equals dry air, and indoor heating and wind make it worse. Dry, flaky, chapped or itchy skin, called xerosis, is so common in the winter that it’s expected. The actual dryness occurs when you lose the natural oils. These oils usually keep the skin moisturized, but when they strip away because of low humidity, wind, drying soaps, hot baths or aging, you need to work harder to bring that moisture back. The good news is you can do something about it.
Four Steps to Maintain Healthy Skin at Home
“As we age, skin starts to look dull and lifeless,” says Scatena. “The solution is to promote cellular turnover. It’s difficult here [in Colorado], but not impossible.”
Bonnie Taylor, a skin-care specialist, recommends a simple, four-step process to keep your skin healthy and beautiful this winter:
Cleansing is an important twice-daily step to keep your skin clean, and mostly refers to the face. A good cleanser removes makeup, dirt and grime to clean the slate before applying a moisturizer, sunscreen or foundation.
With soap and other cleansers, the blander, the better. Look for cleansers with shea butter or simple formulas designed for sensitive skin.
After cleansing, you should apply moisturizer—also twice—daily. Moisturizers should be applied to the body immediately after bathing. Scatena recommends liberally applying lipid-based moisturizers, generally found in a tub or squeeze tub (rather than pump or bottle). These fats help the product penetrate into the skin.
“Many people can’t afford fifty-dollar moisturizer, so I recommend you look for FDA and dermatologist-approved products like Cetaphil, Aquaphor or Eucerin,” says Scatena.
Exfoliation is an often-overlooked but vital step. “Exfoliating sloughs off dead skin—that dry, crusty layer prevents absorption—helping your products work better,” says Scatena.
Mechanical exfoliation uses something abrasive to physically scrub the skin, like a loofah, brushes, sugar/salt scrubs, etc. Microdermabrasion fits into this category.
Chemical exfoliation uses a chemically based product to remove dead cells. Some options are only available in medical offices, but others, like glycolic acid, are over-the-counter.
Scatena cautions against at-home chemical exfoliants because they could burn or irritate the skin (while mechanical options are generally safe). “With exfoliation, remember that more isn’t better,” she says. “Once per week can make a big difference.”
“Sunscreen is super important year-round,” says Scatena. “And just applying it in the mornings doesn’t cut it. You need to reapply every two hours, even in the winter and even on cloudy days.”
Scatena recommends a broad-spectrum (meaning it blocks both UVA and UVB) sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher.
The challenge is knowing which products are best. Scatena recommends caution. “Don’t fall into the trap of believing the hype,” she says. “There’s no such thing as a quick fix in a bottle.” But hypoallergenic and fragrance-free are generally best because they decrease risk of irritation.
Taylor recommends trial and error. “Try products, see how it goes, watch for a reaction and adjust if the result isn’t great,” she says. “And if you don’t like how the product feels, smells or applies, try something else.”
For those on a budget or with a preference toward natural, you can make products at home with avocado, honey, coconut oil, etc. Homemade products are generally pretty safe, but Taylor recommends using high-quality ingredients. “Being in Boulder is great because we have a ton of resources to take classes or find recipes,” she says.
Lifestyle Changes for Great Skin
In addition to effective products and consistent skin-care regimens, Dr. Lisa Scatena recommends the following lifestyle changes to help protect your skin this winter:
* Put a humidifier in your house/bedroom to add moisture back into the air.
* Avoid long, hot showers.
* Only soap where you stink (like armpits and groin).
* Drink plenty of water.
* Get adequate sleep.
* Exercise regularly.
* Don’t smoke.
* Don’t pick at your skin.
* Add fatty acids and fish oils to your diet.