Skin Health & Wellness

Protecting your skin

Your skin is a reflection of your overall health. If you're sick, tired or stressed, your skin tone, color and condition will likely show it. The added anxiety of college life, difficult access to healthful foods or limited time to exercise can make skin matters worse. To keep your usual healthy glow, read on to learn more about your skin and ways to start protecting it now.

About Your Skin

Did you know your skin is the largest organ in your body? It's also the body's first line of defense against infections and potentially harmful environmental irritants, such as allergens and pollution. So, proper skin care is essential for your health and appearance.

Your skin has three layers, including:

  • Epidermis (thin outer layer)
  • Dermis (thicker middle layer that contains blood vessels, nerves, hair roots and sweat glands)
  • Subcutaneous tissue (mostly made of fat)

Beauty Starts on the Inside

The key to healthy skin lies beyond which soap you use. Eating well, exercising, coping well with stress and getting enough rest can help keep your skin radiant and delay signs of aging later in life.

  • Eat right. It's important to eat a varied, nutritious diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and fish. Antioxidants found in foods packed with vitamins A, C and E, as well as omega-3 fatty acids, help protect the skin. The best foods include whole-grain cereals, fish, citrus fruits, berries, tomatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes and green leafy vegetables such as spinach and broccoli. Drinking green tea and lots of water is also good for your skin.
  • Exercise regularly. Exercising 1) flushes impurities out of your skin, 2) facilitates the production of sebum, the skin's natural moisturizer, and 3) improves blood flow to the skin. Your blood carries oxygen and valuable nutrients to help maintain skin health.
  • Stay stress-free. Stress has a way of showing up on your face and skin. A number of skin conditions can flare up when someone is stressed. One study found teenagers under high levels of stress--for example during mid-term exams--are more likely to have a severe outbreak of pimples. Prolonged stress can affect your immune system and lead to unhealthy, nervous habits such as nail biting or picking at the skin.

The Skinny on Skin Care

Below are some helpful hints to keep your skin looking its best:

  • Use a daily moisturizer with an SPF of 30 or higher to keep your skin hydrated and protect against the sun's harmful rays.
  • Wash your face with warm water and a mild cleanser. Be gentle. Don't scrub your skin too hard as this can irritate your skin and make pimples worse.
  • Avoid touching your face and fight the urge to pop pimples, which can lead to more swelling and redness.
  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Drink lots of water to stay hydrated and help release toxins.
  • Stay away from tanning beds.
  • Identify daily stressors and take steps to reduce anxiety (e.g., exercise, deep breathing, talking with friends, massage).
  • Choose your makeup carefully.
  • Quit smoking or don't start.
  • Get to know your skin and check for changes. Consult a dermatologist (a skin care doctor), if you have repeated outbreaks or notice any changes in your complexion.

Sun Safety and Your Skin

Even though you may feel healthier and more attractive sporting a tan, soaking up the sun can be harmful to your health. That glowing tan is, in fact, a visible sign of skin damage. When UV rays enter the skin, the skin tries to protect itself by producing more pigment and melanin, which gives the skin a golden or red color.

Too much sun can cause:

  • Premature wrinkles and skin aging
  • Freckles
  • Skin texture changes
  • Dilated blood vessels
  • Skin cancer

Although these changes won't show up for many years, the damage starts when you're young.

A Word about Tanning Beds

There is no such thing as a safe tan. UV rays from tanning beds, booths and lamps not only inflict damage similar to sunlight, but they are also much more intense than natural sunlight.


UVA rays are involved in the aging of skin and cause some damage to DNA. They are mostly associated with long-term sun damage, like wrinkles, but they are also thought to play a role in some skin cancers. UVB rays are mainly responsible for direct damage to DNA, and they are the rays that cause sunburns and most skin cancers.

Skin Cancer Alert

More than one million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States, and this number is growing primarily because many young people continue to tan, despite the known health risks. The three most common forms of skin cancer are:

  • Basal cell carcinoma
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. It typically appears as a mole-like patch and can be deadly if untreated.

It's important to start checking for unusual blemishes or changes in the pattern or appearance of freckles and moles early on. If you notice any changes, talk with your doctor or dermatologist.

Use the ABCDE rule when inspecting moles to help tell the difference between a normal mole and one that might signal a problem.

A: asymmetry - one half of the mole does not match the other half.

B: border irregularity - the edges of the mole are ragged or notched.

C: color - the color of the mole is not the same all over. There may be shades of tan, brown or black, and sometimes patches of red, blue or white.

D: diameter - the mole is wider than about one-quarter inch (although doctors are now finding more melanomas that are smaller).

E: elevation - the mole is raised above the skin and has an uneven surface.

Skin patches that continue to be itchy, scaly or painful should also be checked out.

Protecting your skin from UV radiation now can prevent premature aging and the risk of skin cancer later in life.

Top Sun Tips

Protect your skin by minimizing the risk of sunburns.

  • Use a "broad spectrum" sunscreen and lip balm with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30 that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. The higher the SPF, the more your skin will be protected from harmful UV radiation.
  • pply sunscreen 20-30 minutes before going outside.
  • Reapply every few hours, especially if you go swimming or are sweating.
  • Shield your face and sun-exposed areas of your skin, especially your back, legs, forearms and neck. Keep a hat, sunglasses and protective clothing handy to cover up.
  • Limit the time you spend outdoors during peak sunlight hours when UV rays are at their strongest (typically between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.).
  • Seek shade or create your own with a beach umbrella.
  • Find out whether you are taking any medications that increase your sensitivity to the sun; examples include, prescription acne medications or birth control pills.

Don't Believe Skin Myths

Myth: I don't have to worry about sun damage because I tan easily.

Truth: The damage inflicted by the sun and other environmental irritants accumulates over the years, so even if you don't burn, you are still increasing your risk of skin cancer.

Myth: I don't need to use sunscreen when it's cloudy or during the winter.

Truth: Although the sun feels hotter and more intense on bright, sunny days, you can still develop sunburn on overcast days if your skin is unprotected. According to the CDC, 32 percent of the UV rays still reach the earth's surface on an overcast day. It's equally important to protect your skin during the winter. Snow reflects up to 80 to 90 percent of the sun's rays, and water also increases the sun's effects. Bottom line: wear sunscreen anytime you're out in the sun, no matter what the season or climate!

Myth: Acne is a sign of dirty skin.

Truth: Acne is not caused by poor hygiene or dirty skin. Frequent washing will not improve the skin; in fact, it may further irritate the skin and reduce the effectiveness of medications. Many adolescents struggle with acne due to their changing hormones.

Myth: Tanning clears up acne.

Truth: Although a tan may temporarily mask blemishes and breakouts, the sun can dry out the skin and ultimately cause greater irritation and flare-ups.

Questions to Ask Your Health Care Provider

Here are some questions you may want to ask during your next doctor's appointment.

  • Does my diet influence my skin's health? Are there certain foods I should steer clear of?
  • hat's the best way to conceal breakouts?
  • Are sunless tanning lotions safe?
  • hen should I start seeing a dermatologist for routine skin checks?
  • How do I find a dermatologist?


  • American Academy of Dermatology
  • 1-866-503-SKIN (7546)
  • The Personal Care Products Council
  • 202-331-1770

    © 2014. National Women's Health Resource Center, Inc. All rights reserved. All content provided in this guide is for information purposes only. Any information herein relating to specific medical conditions, preventive care and/or healthy lifestyles does not suggest individual diagnosis or treatment and is not a substitute for medical attention.

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