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Skin problems health centre

Skin - Look after your skin

NHS Choices Feature

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Your skin works hard to keep you healthy, and you can return the favour by taking care of it. Here are some tips to help you keep your skin looking and feeling good.

Skin is made up of an outer layer, the epidermis, and a layer of soft tissue underneath called the dermis. The epidermis constantly grows up towards the outer surface of the skin and sheds dead cells.

The skin acts as a barrier to protect our body from the environment. It also regulates temperature and detects and fights off infections. Nerves in the skin let us feel things such as touch. The skin is one of the biggest and most complex organs of the body, and contains hair follicles, oil glands, sweat glands, nerves and blood vessels.

You can look after your skin from the inside by eating well. "Maintaining a healthy diet is essential to skin health," says Indy Rihal of the British Skin Foundation. "If your diet is healthy and well balanced, your general health will benefit and this will be reflected in your skin."

Sun care

Sunlight contains ultraviolet (UV) rays, which are the main cause of skin ageing and can cause skin cancer. It's important to protect skin against sun damage at any age, but take special care with babies, children and young people. A blistering sunburn before the age of 20 may double the risk of malignant melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer.

To protect yourself, don't go in the sun between 11am and 3pm, cover up with clothing, hat and sunglasses, and use suncream with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15.

Smoking

"Strong evidence links smoking to ageing of the skin, and it's one of the main environmental factors in premature skin ageing," says Rihal. "It causes wrinkles and a leathery complexion, which makes the skin look old before it should."

It is thought that smoking reduces the skin's natural elasticity by causing the breakdown of collagen and reducing collagen production (collagen is a protein that supports skin strength). Collagen naturally degrades as we get older, leading to the formation of wrinkles. Smoking makes this happen sooner. "Smoking also causes the tiny blood vessels in the skin to constrict, reducing the supply of oxygen to the skin," says Rihal.

Alcohol

When you drink alcohol, your body and skin can become dehydrated, leaving the skin looking older and tired. "Drink plenty of water to avoid drying out your skin," says Rihal. When you're drinking alcohol, try to  drink within recommended limits and have a non- alcoholic drink, such as soda water or fruit juice, between alcoholic drinks.

Keeping skin clean

Washing the skin can help prevent smells and infections, but too much washing or using harsh soaps can wash away the natural oils that are needed to keep skin healthy. Use mild soaps or bath oils.  

" Moisturising protects your skin from the elements as well as preventing it from drying," says Rihal. "Don't judge the moisturiser on its price. All moisturisers do the same job and expensive ones are no different."

If you have dry skin, don't use harsh, alcohol-based products as these can irritate skin and dry it out. If you have oily skin, avoid oil-based products and choose water-based ones instead.

People who work in jobs where they frequently have to put their hands in water or come into contact with certain chemicals can sometimes experience inflammation and itchiness on their hands. This is known as contact dermatitis or contact eczema. A doctor can advise on treatment, which usually includes special creams.

Sleep

Don't let late nights ruin your skin. "If you're deprived of sleep, this will make your skin look older and tired," says Rihal. "It can also cause anxiety, irritation and depression. This can cause more sleeplessness and the cycle continues. Make sure you get enough sleep to keep your skin looking healthy."

If you wear make-up, always wash it off before going to bed so that you reduce the risk of bacteria building up on your skin.

Feeling stressed can disrupt sleeping patterns, which can leave you looking tired and feeling run down and irritable. Consider taking up an activity, such as running, swimming or yoga.

"Regular exercise is a great outlet for stress," says Rihal. "This leaves the skin looking and feeling vibrant."

Medical Review: March 07, 2012

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