Taking care of your skin

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By Henrylito D. Tacio

Health 101

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

THE skin is the largest organ of the body. It serves many important functions: from regulating body temperature to providing a shield from the sun's harmful effects, from maintaining water and electrolyte balance to sensing painful and pleasant stimuli.

"Anything that goes wrong with skin function or appearance can have important consequences for physical and mental health," reminds The Merck Manual of Medical Information.

The skin has three layers: the epidermis, dermis, and fat layer (also called the subcutaneous layer). Each layer of skin performs specific tasks. The epidermis, for instance, prevents most bacteria, viruses, and other foreign substances from entering the body.

The dermis is the layer that gives the skin its flexibility and strength. It contains nerve endings, glands, hair follicles, and blood vessels. Each has important role to play. The blood vessels, for example, provide nutrients to the skin and help regulate body temperature.

The fat layer is the one that helps insulate the body from heat and cold, provides protective padding, and serves as an energy storage area. The fat is contained in living cells which is held together by fibrous tissue.

"The skin tends to change throughout a person’s lifetime,” informs the Merck manual. “A baby’s skin is very soft and smooth and provides a less effective barrier against harmful substances. A baby's skin has a much thicker fat layer and a much thinner layer of protective keratin. A young adult’s skin is strong and supple. With age, the skin becomes thinner and finely wrinkled, with less underlying fat."

Aging itself results in thinning of the dermis and epidermis. Much of the underlying fat is lost as well. The skin loses some of its elasticity and becomes drier. The number of nerve endings in the skin decreases, so sensation is diminished. The number of sweat glands and blood vessels as well, reducing the ability to respond to heat exposure.

It might not seem fair, but skin problems – and many other health problems – are hereditary. The good news is that knowing your family’s medical history can give you a sneak peak of what to look out for. For instance, you've got to know that if skin cancer runs in your family, you should be extra careful to cover yourself with sunscreen lotion whenever you’re likely to be exposed for long periods to the sun.

But with some skin problems, there's not much you can do in terms of prevention, except eat right and keep it clean. If you’ve got a skin problem that’s bringing you down, you’re not alone. There are over a thousand different diseases and conditions that can affect the skin; chances are everyone will suffer from one of them.

Some of the most famous people in history have had skin problems: American Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Ronald Reagan had skin cancer; author Ernest Hemingway had psoriasis; celebrities Cindy Crawford, Elizabeth Taylor, and Madonna have moles.

Whatever the condition, if you can’t avoid it, you can at least learn to live with it. And do some of the things to keep your skin from aging, among these are:

Eat the right kind of food. “Eating a well-balanced diet and lots of antioxidant fruits and vegetables can stall or prevent chronic ailments associated with aging and add years to your life,” says Dr. Jeffrey Blumberg, associate director of the US Department of Agriculture’s Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts.

So, what kind of foods should you eat? Vitamin C – found in citrus fruits, guava, and balimbing – is one of the most important vitamins for good skin. It helps form collagen and elastin, which help hold your skin together.

Some amounts of polyunsaturated fats are good, too. They’re found in cereal grain, nuts, margarine, and milk and can help keep the skin smooth and soft.

Iron is found in green vegetables and red meats. It plays an important part in transporting oxygen and carbon dioxide through your body. The lack of iron in the body may contribute to poor health and less than “peak-performance” in everyday tasks.

Protein contains amino acids, which the skin depends on. They help the skin stretch and heal, and keep wrinkles at bay.

Vitamin A comes mostly from yellow vegetables like squash and carrots. It can help remove waste from the sweat and oil glands which is why it’s often used in acne medications.

Maintain a state-of-the art body through exercise. “The only way you can hurt the body is not to use it. Inactivity is a killer,” someone once said. Regular exercise can make a big difference in your skin. Working out gets the blood pumping, and that’s the ticket to new skin cells. The result is a definite improvement in both your ski’s color and texture. You might also see a healthy glow, because more oxygen and nutrients gets circulated to your skin during exercise.

Drink pure, clean water. To keep skin cells hydrated, drink six to eight, 8-oz. glasses of water (including vegetable broths and herb teas) per day. “Your skin will look dewy and well-nourished,” says Dr. Gary S. Ross, who specializes on preventive medicine.

Shun the sun. Sun damage produces many of the skin changes that people commonly associated with aging. Long-term exposure to the ultraviolet radiation in sunlight is responsible for wrinkles, both fine and coarse, irregular pigmentation, brown and red spots, and the rough texture of sun-exposed skin. “Therefore, wear sunscreen, hats and sunglasses in the sun,” Dr. Ross advices.

Quit smoking. Where there’s smoke, there’s aging and illness. “Cigarettes are the most important individual health risk, responsible for more premature deaths and disability than any other known agent,” said Dr. C. Everett Koop, former US surgeon general.

Smoking is a double whammy for wrinkles. “Smokers have more wrinkles than people who don’t smoke,” says Dr. D’Anne Kleinsmith, a cosmetic dermatologist at William Beaumont Hospital in Detroit. That’s because smoking robs the complexion of oxygen, decreasing blood circulation to facial skin and resulting in premature lines and wrinkles. Plus, anyone puffing a cigarette is essentially doing a lot of repetitive facial movements that add even more wrinkles.

Think positive. Beauty is more than just skin deep. As American singer Janet Jackson puts it: “Beauty comes from within. It’s sparked by an inner strength and radiance that goes far beyond physical appearance.”

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on November 08, 2011.


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