Good skin care — such as avoiding the sun, washing your skin gently and applying moisturizer regularly — can help delay the natural aging process and prevent many skin problems. These simple skin-care habits will help you protect your skin to keep it healthy and glowing for years to come.
1. Protect yourself from the sun
The most important way to take care of your skin is to protect it from the sun. Ultraviolet light — the invisible but intense rays from the sun — damages your skin, causing deep wrinkles, dry, rough skin, liver spots, and more serious disorders, such as noncancerous (benign) and cancerous (malignant) skin tumors. In fact, most of the changes seen in aging skin are actually caused by a lifetime of sun exposure.
For the most complete sun protection, use all three of these methods:
- Avoid the sun during high-intensity hours. The sun's rays are most damaging from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Reduce the time you spend outdoors during these hours.
- Wear protective clothing. Cover your skin with clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts, long pants and wide-brimmed hats. Also, keep in mind that certain clothing styles and fabrics offer better protection from the sun than do others. For example, long-sleeved shirts offer better protection than short-sleeved shirts do. And tightly woven fabrics such as denim are better than are loosely woven fabrics such as knits. Several companies now make sun protective clothing (SPF clothing), which is specifically designed to block out ultraviolet rays while keeping you cool and comfortable.
- Use sunscreen. Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) greater than 15. Apply liberally 20 minutes before going outdoors and reapply every two hours, after heavy sweating or after being in water.
2. Don't smoke
Smoking accelerates aging of your skin and increases wrinkles. Skin changes from smoking can appear in young adults after 10 years of smoking.
Smoking causes narrowing of the tiny blood vessels in the outermost layers of skin. This decreases blood flow, depleting the skin of oxygen and nutrients, such as vitamin A, that are important to skin health. All of these factors increase damage to the elastic fibers (elastin) and collagen, which give your skin strength and elasticity.
In addition, the repetitive facial expressions you make when smoking — such as pursing your lips when inhaling and squinting your eyes to keep out smoke — may contribute to wrinkles. It's also possible that repeated exposure to the heat from burning cigarettes may damage your facial skin over time.
3. Wash your skin gently
Cleansing is an essential part of caring for your skin. The key is to treat your skin gently.
- Use warm water and limit bath time. Hot water and long showers or baths remove oils from your skin. Limit your bath or shower time to about 15 minutes or less, and use warm, rather than hot, water.
- Avoid strong soaps. Strong soaps — those most capable of stripping oil from your skin — can leave your skin dry. Instead, choose mild soaps or detergent substitutes with added oils and fats. Good choices include Dove, Vanicream, Cetaphil and Purpose.
- Avoid irritating additives. If your skin is sensitive, avoid products containing perfumes or dyes. These can irritate your skin and may trigger an allergic response.
- Remove eye makeup carefully. Use a soft sponge, cotton cloth or cotton balls when removing eye makeup to avoid damaging the delicate tissue around your eyes. If you wear heavy, waterproof makeup, you may need to use an oil-based product, such as Eucerin, Aquaphor or petroleum jelly, to remove makeup.
- Pat dry. After washing or bathing, gently pat or blot your skin dry with a towel so that some moisture remains on the skin. Immediately moisturize your skin with an oil or cream.
4. Moisturize regularly
Moisturizers help maintain your skin's natural moisture levels. They work by providing a seal over your skin — to keep water from escaping — or by slowly releasing water into your skin.
The moisturizer that's best for you and the frequency with which you need to moisturize depend on many factors, including your skin type, your age and whether you have specific conditions such as acne. A good way to test if you need a moisturizer is to wait 20 minutes after bathing. If your skin feels tight, you should apply a moisturizer.
Select a moisturizer with an SPF of at least 15 to help protect your skin from damaging ultraviolet rays. If you have sensitive skin, look for products free of heavy dyes, perfumes or other additives. If your skin is very dry, you may want to apply an oil, such as baby oil, while your skin is still moist. Oil has more staying power than moisturizers do and prevents the evaporation of water from the surface of your skin. If your skin is oily, you may want to skip moisturizing.
5. Shave carefully
Shaving is a common and inexpensive way to remove unwanted hair. But shaving can cause skin irritations, especially if your skin is thin, dry or very sensitive. For a smooth shave:
- Press a warm wash cloth on your skin before shaving to soften the hair. Or shave after a warm bath or shower.
- Don't shave dry skin, which can cause razor burn. Apply shaving cream, lotion or gel before shaving to protect and lubricate your skin.
- Use a clean, sharp razor. If using an electric razor, don't use the closest setting, which can aggravate the skin.
- Shave in the direction of hair growth, not against it.
- Rinse your skin afterward with warm water.If irritation does occur, apply a lotion that doesn't contain ethyl or isopropyl alcohol. Though alcohol and alcohol-based products may feel cooling, they don't really soothe irritated skin because the alcohol evaporates rapidly from the skin.