LEARN TO ACHIEVE HEALTHY, GLOWING AND RADIANT SKIN – BECAUSE YOU’VE GOT MORE OF IT!
So your hair is thinning or pretty much gone. You’re in good company: Yul Brynner, Mr. Clean, Taye Diggs, Vin Diesel and even Natalie Portman (in “V for Vendetta”) have shown us an aesthetic truth: bald can be very sexy. This might be a matter of rebranding: hair loss makes you “skin rich.”
That said, the trick is to have great-looking, healthy skin.
Here’s the buzz kill: Skin everywhere on the body is subject to infections and other conditions that are both unattractive and potentially life threatening. We all know that overexposure to sunlight causes premature wrinkling and, often, skin cancer – yet sun exposure enables our bodies to convert cholesterol to Vitamin D, the lack of which has its own serious health implications. (Message #1: find the balance.)
Conversely, the mere appearance of healthy skin spells good health and well being. In evolutionary terms, clear skin communicates reproductive viability, or at the very least an ability to nurture and survive. Somewhere in there are the roots of the Botox industry and every other product sold to restore youth to aging skin.
Products aside, the emphasis of this article is lifestyle impact on skin health: the foods you eat, your physical activities and your vices.
Understand what makes “healthy skin”
Study first what skin is. It’s a three-layer organ, and its appearance is a function of fat, bones, and muscles underneath, and your general state of health. The top layer is the epidermis; it constantly renews itself, cell by cell, about once every month. The cell membranes in the epidermis are made up of fats (lipids) and protein. Water fills out the cells from the inside. Deficiencies in fat, protein and water results in sagging, grey or wrinkled skin.
Exercise affects skin health also. Cardiovascular and strength training that induces sweat and a high respiration rate flushes the skin with nutrients. Also, perspiration and wiping the face with a clean towel removes dead epidermal skin cells.
People who are overweight often have smooth skin, even while that excess weight can lead to life-limiting disease. Conversely, anorexics suffer dry skin, acne and reduced elasticity. (Message #2: find the balance.)
Skin maladies and solutions
The first line of defense against bacterial infections is proper hygiene. Hats worn during exercise or moping your brow with a dirty towel can introduce bacteria to the skin. Over the counter soaps and ointments work with many conditions, but a persistent skin infection warrants attention from medical professionals.
More permanent skin damage is a function of sun, tobacco smoke, lack of sleep – and, alas, time itself. Behavioral changes, including smarter meals, protect your skin assets:
Sun exposure: Any darkening of the skin from sun, regardless of one’s racial skin color, in fact ages the skin. UVA and UVB skin lotions provide some protection, however imperfectly – hours in the sun ultimately take a toll. And yet more recent research shows that a lack of sunshine can create vitamin D deficiencies that can lead to bone loss and even cancer. Fifteen minutes daily on the face, hands or other body parts are recommended (in northern latitudes a hatless winter walk at noon can do it).
Tobacco: Smoking restricts blood flow to the skin and the nutrients it needs for its continuous state of renewal. It also decreases collagen, the component of skin that gives it suppleness and elasticity, and depletes the body of vitamins A and C, both important to skin health. Second-hand smoke and environmental pollutants can be damaging also.
Sleep: Seven hours a night, and take power naps (<20 minutes) when you can.
Nutrition: Certain nutrients can play a key role in improving skin health and appearance:
- Vitamin A: Dairy products (low fat is ok), dark greens, yellow and orange fruit and vegetables.
- Vitamin C: Citrus and other tropical fruits, broccoli, cabbage and collard greens – eaten frequently because the body retains it for only about four hours.
- Antioxidants: Dark berries (blackberries, blueberries, strawberries and plums) are most able to mitigate the free radicals in skin cells that are unleashed by sun and smoke.
- Essential fatty acids: Salmon, canola oil, olive oil, walnuts, flax seed provide the means for nutrients to enter cells and for waste to be removed. Further, unprocessed oils – think extra virgin olive oil – are the most potent.
- Selenium: A mineral most abundant in calf’s liver, seafood (snapper, halibut, tuna, shrimp, cod, Chinook salmon, Crimini mushrooms, barley, lamb loin, turkey, chicken, beef. Importantly, researchers at Edinburgh University have found in two clinical trials that a high level of selenium reduces the likelihood of oxidative skin damage from the sun.
Each of these foods – in balance, variety and moderation (Message #3) – also help fuel a physically active life that pumps the nutrients to the skin. Short of stopping time itself, it’s the best means to preserve youthful skin.