General skin care advice

Your skin provides a lot more than simply how you look. As the largest organ of the body it has lots of roles in keeping you healthy and deserves to be looked after. Make-up can cover imperfections and improve appearance but the skin is the canvas from which it all starts so the better this base is, the better the final result can be. There are several key points for skin care which apply to everyone, and these are sun care, hydration, diet, smoking and alcohol, cleansing and creams. I regularly update skin care advice on my Facebook page AGAestheticsBelfast.

Sun care

Sun is a major factor in skin aging and can lead to serious conditions such as melanomas (skin cancers). Everyone knows to take care on holidays and in the summer but the sun can cause damage all year round. Sun creams are normally a mixture of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide which reflects the sun’s rays, and chemicals which are absorbed into the skin and protect against the solar energy that can damage skin cells. There are two parts to sun cream protection – UVA which penetrates deep into the skin and often has a star system (use a cream with at least 3 stars), and UVB which protects against sunburn on the surface and uses the familiar numbered system. Most make-up creams and moisturisers will have an option of a factor 15 SPF as part of the ingredients and these provide an easy solution to the year round protection which everyone needs. In the summer a stronger protection is necessary, at least a factor 30. Putting on a sufficient amount is essential as less cream results in less than the effective sun protection desired. Current recommendations are to use about 85ml for the whole body per application, so a 200ml bottle will only last for about a full day of sunbathing. This makes online price comparison sites a great money saving aid in stocking up before travelling. Sun cream should be applied 20 minutes before going into the sun and reapplied each two hours. Where possible it is best to avoid the sun between the hours of 11am and 3pm when the sun is at its strongest. As the lips are particularly vulnerable to drying out, a factor 50 lip balm should also be used. Sun beds are often used for a year round tan and sometimes to build up a “protective” tan before a holiday. Unfortunately there is no such thing as a healthy tan and the damage builds up over time. Dermatologists recommend that sun beds are best avoided, especially for young people. For more details and advice, please click on: How to enjoy the sun safely

The picture below shows identical twins, one of whom worked outdoors and the other indoors. The difference in their appearances due to long-term sun damage is remarkable.

twins

Hydration

The body is about 60% water and staying properly hydrated is important in general health as well as for the skin’s health and appearance. Fluid retention is one of the skin’s functions but exposure to the elements and the chemicals of everyday life put it under stress. Aging skin is naturally thinner so is even more prone to becoming dehydrated. Regular fluid intake through the day (about 8 glasses of water in total) helps to flush away toxins. Good hydration helps keep the balance of fluids internally and is evident in a glowing, healthy appearance.

Diet

Skin care begins from the inside where the skin is formed. Diet plays an important role with the vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants in a healthy, balanced diet providing nutrients and helping the immune system. Essential fatty acids like omega-3 (in salmon, mackerel and soy) and omega-6 (in poultry and grains) are critical in skin cell membranes and also help produce the oil of the skin’s natural barrier which holds water in and provides a healthier skin tone. A lack of fatty acids in the diet can lead to dry, inflamed skin and blackheads.

Smoking and alcohol

Smoking makes the skin look older by damaging the collagen and elastin building blocks which make the skin supple, and also reducing the blood flow that brings oxygen and nutrients to the skin. It also physically encourages wrinkles through pursing the lips and squinting. The skin becomes yellow, wrinkles and leathery over time but the damaging facial effects of smoking can be seen after just 10 years. Smoking 30 cigarettes per day can lead to the appearance of an extra 14 years of skin aging by the age of 70. Alcohol dehydrates the skin and causes it to look years older than it should. Facial blood vessels dilate (open) and can end up permanently dilated leaving red, spidery lines. Combining the two eventually leads to the classic sallow, lined skin which can be an unwanted, permanent look.

Cleansing

Although this is something that everybody does regularly, getting the best benefits from cleansing the skin is more complicated than simply soap, hot water and a towel. Dermatologists recommend a routine that takes a little time but pay dividends over the years. First wash the hands with normal or antibacterial soap to remove the dirt and bacteria that build up every day. A gentle, unfragranced soap is best for the face as its skin needs are different to other parts of the body. Facial scrubs are popular but these may irritate the skin so an exfoliating scrub should be used just once or twice weekly. Warm, not hot, water should be used with a dollop of cleanser applied in circular motion with the fingers, taking especial care with the more sensitive skin around the eyes. Rinsing with cold water helps close the pores to minimise skin oil loss. Dabbing with a clean towel rather than rubbing minimises damage to the freshly uncovered skin. Moisturisers and/or creams should be applied within 5 minutes of finishing cleansing for best effects and at least 30 minutes before going to bed.

Creams

Moisturisers help keep skin fresh and hydrated but also provide a physical barrier to protect it against the everyday chemicals of modern living. Their main job is to help hold moisture in the outer layer of the skin, but they generally also have further ingredients to help with skin health. For all day creams a sun protection factor of at least 15 is essential long term, and a lip balm with an SPF of at least 30 is highly recommended. There are many different types of products that can be used, but non-comedogenic products are best to help prevent skin outbreaks. Gels are the lightest and cool the skin as the water or alcohol base evaporates, leaving the active ingredients on the surface. Humectants like glycerine absorb water from the air and hold it against the skin. As the skin ages it becomes less able to absorb water and needs additional ingredients like retinol (vitamin A) to replenish moisture. Emolients, like lanolin, are more oily and can be helpful with dry skin, but are often too oily for normal skins. Antioxidants such as vitamins C and E are beneficial in creams to reduce natural cell damage. Although lotions, creams and emollients are generally very beneficial and can reduce fine lines by plumping the skin, they will not remove the lines. In order to reduce or remove these lines treatments such as botox, fillers and peels are much more effective.