Your skin plays a vital role in protecting your body, so it’s important to take steps to promote skin health. Caring for your skin doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming, and can quickly become second nature, like brushing your teeth.
You can keep your skin looking and feeling great by guarding against a slew of skin woes, from chapped skin to premature aging to skin cancer. “We’re talking about things that happen over decades,” says dermatologist Samantha Conrad, MD, in practice at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
That’s why it is important to develop healthy skin habits —and it’s never too late to start. Here are five skin protection tips you can incorporate into your routine right away.
Limit Sun Exposure
You’ve heard the message a zillion times, but there’s good reason — ultraviolet rays emitted by the sun cause many types of skin damage, including:
- Skin cancer
- Age spots
- Benign growths
Using skin care products that offer ultraviolet protection is one of the best ways to help keep your skin looking fresh and youthful. Try these tips to help protect your skin from the sun:Use sunscreen every day and reapply regularly whenever you’re outdoors for extended periods. “I encourage people to use sunblock that is more mineral- or physical-based,” says Dr. Conrad. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends using sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.Cover up. “It’s really about protection — that means wearing hats and protective sun clothing,” says Conrad. Long sleeves and pants or long skirts give you more coverage.Stay indoors when the sun is at its most intense, usually between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., according to the AAD.Combine sun protection strategies. A study published in January 2017 in JAMA Dermatology found that beachgoers using an umbrella alone for sun protection were more likely to get sunburn than those using sunscreen alone — but neither strategy completely prevented sunburn. The researchers concluded that combining multiple strategies offers the most protection from the sun’s harmful rays.
Keep in mind that tanning beds are just as harmful as direct sunlight, as they also emit ultraviolet rays, according to the AAD.
“Drinking enough water/fluids is important for your general health,” says Karyn Grossman, MD, a dermatologist in private practice with Grossman Dermatology in Santa Monica, California, and spokesperson for the AAD. She recommends starting the day with a cup of green tea for hydration, caffeine, and antioxidants.
In addition to drinking enough fluids, keeping your skin moist is essential to skin protection.
“Dry skin can have small gaps in the skin barrier that allow entry of bacteria and fungus,” says dermatologist Michael Lin, MD, medical director of the Advanced Dermatology and Skin Cancer Institute in Beverly Hills, California.
Skin that is properly hydrated retains pliability and is less likely to become chapped, scaly, or flaky. Try these tips to keep your skin hydrated:
- Use the right moisturizing cream or lotion for your skin. “Look for moisturizers with hyaluronic acid, ceramides, or coconut oil,” says Dr. Grossman. “Always apply on damp skin. This keeps the moisture in the skin.”
- Take warm (not hot) showers or baths and limit them to between five and 10 minutes. It seems counterintuitive, but exposure to water actually dries out your skin, Grossman explains. If dry skin persists, consider cutting back on the number of baths you take.
- Invest in a humidifier. “If your skin tends to be on the dry side, using a humidifier in your bedroom at night and in your work space during the day can help keep the air hydrated, which can prevent the air from zapping moisture from your skin,” says Grossman.
Take Health Precautions
Cold sores are caused by a viral infection of the skin bordering the lips, while bacteria can contribute to acne and other skin conditions. Paying close attention to what touches your skin can help lower your chances of exposure to germs. Start with these tips:
- Don’t share any personal items, such as lip balms or toothbrushes, with others.
- Don’t share drinks with other people.
- Avoid touching your face with your fingers, and avoid facial contact with objects that have been used by other people, such as telephone receivers.
- Don’t pick at cysts or splinters. Instead, ask your doctor to help you with these skin conditions, says Grossman.
Being prompt with first aid is also important, she says. If you get a bug bite or a scratch, “get on it right away.” Grossman recommends cleaning the site, applying antibiotic ointment if there is a break in the skin, using a clean bandage, and cleaning the site twice daily as it heals.
Use Gentle Skin Care Products
Washing your face is important to remove dirt, oils, germs, and dead cells from your skin. However, scrubbing your face can cause irritation and lead to chapped skin that can become vulnerable. “I find that people often over-rub, over-scrub, and over-peel,” says Grossman, who recommends avoiding abrasive exfoliation skin care products.
The AAD recommends:
- Washing your face twice daily with warm water and a mild cleanser.
- Gently massaging your face with your fingers, using a circular motion.
- Rinsing thoroughly after washing to remove all soap and debris.
- Patting — not rubbing — your skin dry, then applying moisturizer.
Know Your Skin
“Check your skin regularly for changing moles and other signs of possible skin cancer,” says Grossman. Talk to your dermatologist about what kinds of changes should concern you.
Certain skin conditions merit a visit to the dermatologist, including frequent acne, inflamed or irritated dry skin, and skin rashes and irritations that don’t go away, as these could be signs of one of the many types of dermatitis, or skin inflammation.
However, should you ever notice any other skin problems, it’s important to get medical attention to resolve them quickly and avoid putting your skin at risk