Our largest organ often is our most neglected.
The average adult has nearly 20 square feet of skin that protects us from the sun and wind, insulates our bodies from infection, and stores a life-sustaining system of blood vessels and nerves. Yet we generally don’t give the skin the same consideration as internal organs such as the heart or lungs, says Dr. Stephen Webster, a dermatologist in La Crosse, Wis. (pop. 51,818).
"It’s a very complex and miraculous organ," says Webster, a past president of the American Academy of Dermatology, the nation’s largest dermatologic association. "One of the problems is people take it for granted."
The best way to care for the skin is to use sunscreen, protective clothing and common sense against sun damage. Sunshine is the biggest cause of wrinkles and blemishes associated with aging. Webster suggests wearing sunscreen every day during the summer and also in the winter when outdoors for extended periods. That includes young children, since 80 percent of sun-related damage occurs before age 18.
"All the Botox and the (chemical) peels and the facelifts that people are talking about now—if they would use sunscreen, they wouldn’t need all that stuff," Webster says.
Beyond sun protection, each area of the body has its unique qualities and needs. Here’s a quick overview on head-to-toe skin care:
• Scalp. An easy way to maintain the sensitive skin atop your head is to wash it regularly with a mild shampoo. Avoid harsh chemicals, and don’t inflame your scalp with tight braids or ponytails or hair extensions worn for long periods of time. When treating conditions such as dandruff with a medicated shampoo, be sure to follow directions.
• Face and neck. Acne is most prevalent in teenagers as hormonal changes invigorate oil glands, but adults also can get pimples. Keep the face clean and avoid clogging pores with greasy lotions or makeup. Many over-the-counter treatments work well on mild acne, but serious cases should be treated by a dermatologist to minimize scarring.
• Hands. Lotions help retain the body’s moisture and are an important defense against dry air. They work best when applied within three minutes after a shower or bath.
• Legs. For women, cellulite is the body’s way of storing fat for pregnancy. Nearly all women who are not severely malnourished have it. Weight control helps minimize cellulite and stretch marks. Guard against varicose veins by elevating the feet.
• Feet. Athlete’s foot is a fungus that thrives in a warm, dark, moist environment. Choose cotton socks and shoes made of breathable materials, use anti-fungal powder and go barefoot at home to let feet dry and breathe.
• Nails. Fingernails and toenails can reveal much about overall health, as many diseases and serious conditions can be detected by changes in your nails. If you bite or pick your nails, quit. It not only makes nails less attractive but can spread germs and lead to infection. Keep your nails clean, dry and trimmed.
Visit www.aad.org for more information.