**By Catherine Pham, MD**
As a dermatologist, I often hear from patients that they don’t have time for intensive skin care. However, people should still take care of their skin by doing the basics over their lifetimes.
Good skin care and healthy lifestyle choices can help delay the natural aging process and prevent various skin problems.
Protect yourself from the sun
Planning to escape the winter “blahs” in a sunnier location this year? Don’t forget that one of the most important ways to care for your skin is to protect it from the damaging effects of overexposure to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. And here’s a timely reminder for skiers and snowboarders: UV rays can be just as damaging on the ski slopes as on the beach. A lifetime of sun exposure can cause wrinkles, age spots and other problems, like skin cancer.
For the most complete sun protection:
• Use sunscreen – Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Apply it generously and reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or heavy sweating.
• Time your outdoor activity – Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest.
• Wear protective clothing – Cover your skin with tightly woven, long-sleeved shirts, long pants and wide-brimmed hats. Also consider laundry additives, which give clothing an additional layer of UV protection for a certain number of washings. For winter sports, cover your head to protect your scalp and wear wrap-around style sun glasses or goggles with UV protection.
Smoking makes skin look older and contributes to wrinkles. It narrows the tiny blood vessels in the outermost layers of skin, which decreases blood flow. This depletes the skin of oxygen and nutrients important to skin health.
Smoking also damages collagen and elastin, the fibers that give skin strength and elasticity. In addition, the repetitive facial expressions people make when smoking can contribute to wrinkles.
If you smoke, the best way to protect your skin is to quit. Ask your doctor for tips or treatments to help you stop.
Daily cleansing and shaving can take a toll
To keep it gentle:
• Limit shower or bath time – Hot water and long showers or baths remove oils from skin. Limit shower or bath time and use warm, not hot, water.
• Avoid strong soaps – Strong soaps can strip oil from skin. Instead, choose mild cleansers.
• Shave carefully – To protect and lubricate skin, apply shaving cream, lotion or gel before shaving. Use a clean, sharp razor. Shave in the direction the hair grows, not against it.
• Pat dry – After washing or bathing, gently pat or blot your skin with a towel so some moisture remains on your skin.
• Moisturize dry skin – If your skin is dry, use a moisturizer that fits your skin type. For daily use, consider a moisturizer with SPF. Ointments and creams are better for dry skin since they are more effective at sealing in moisture. Lotions, which are often in pump bottles, have a high water content that tends to evaporate off of skin.
The effectiveness of anti-wrinkle creams depends, in part, on the active ingredient or ingredients. Common ingredients that may result in slight to modest improvement in the appearance of wrinkles include:
• Retinol – Retinol is a vitamin A compound, the first antioxidant to be widely used in nonprescription wrinkle creams. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals – unstable oxygen molecules – that break down skin cells and cause wrinkles.
• Vitamin C – Vitamin C may help protect skin from sun damage. Before and between uses, wrinkle creams containing vitamin C must be stored to protect them from air and sunlight.
• Hydroxy acids or exfoliants – These substances remove the upper layer of old, dead skin and stimulate growth of smooth, evenly pigmented new skin.
• Coenzyme Q10 – This ingredient may help reduce fine wrinkles around eyes and protect skin from sun damage.
• Tea extracts – Green, black and oolong tea contain compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
• Grape seed extract – In addition to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, grape seed extract also promotes wound healing.
• Niacinamide – This substance is related to Vitamin B-3 (niacin). It helps reduce water loss in the skin and may improve skin elasticity.
A healthy diet can help people look and feel their best. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. Although the association between diet and acne isn’t clear, some research suggests a diet rich in vitamin C and low in unhealthy fats and processed or refined carbohydrates, might promote clearer skin.
Uncontrolled stress can make your skin more sensitive and trigger skin problems. To encourage healthy skin – and a healthy state of mind – take steps to manage stress. Set reasonable limits, scale back your to-do list and make time for things you enjoy.
A dermatologist can help people create a personalized skin care plan by assessing your skin type, evaluating your skin’s condition and recommending products likely to be effective. If you’re looking for more dramatic results, a dermatologist can also recommend medical treatments for wrinkles, including prescription creams, Botox injections or skin-resurfacing techniques.