Did you know that your skin changes each year that you age? As we age, our skin changes in a variety of ways. When we are young, our skin is elastic and resilient. As we age, our skin loses elasticity and wrinkles begin to appear.
Most of what we consider aging skin actually comes from sun damage. Sun exposure leads to roughness, texture changes and discoloration. You may notice that skin appears dull, thin, fragile and uneven or mottled. Smoking also has a damaging effect on the skin. Those who smoke heavily and tan a lot have the most wrinkles.
How can you mitigate the effects of aging? Here’s how:
#1: When in doubt, reapply.
Sun protection is the key to help prevent skin cancers and the effects of aging, as it causes fine lines and wrinkles. Wearing sunscreen in the summer months is a must, especially in Vermont. You exposed to sunlight directly – and indirectly when it bounces off water. There are now many moisturizers with sunscreen to make applying even easier.
We often think of our face first when applying sunscreen. Try this: Squeeze sunscreen out on the back of one hand. After you apply it to your face and neck, rub the backs of your hands together. We tend to forget to apply sunscreen to our hands. But hands are some of the first body parts to show sun damage.
Reapply every 2-3 hours or as needed. Sunscreens can lose their potency and may be unable to serve their purpose after some time. They often get rubbed or washed off. Reapplying will aid in the protection of your skin.
In addition to using sunscreen, try to cover up every day with sun protective clothing. Avoid sun at peak hours of intensity (11 am to 3 pm). When possible cross to the shady side of the street (it can cut your UV exposure by 30 percent!).
#2: Protect your pout!
We also tend to forget about our lips when it comes to sun exposure. The sun leaves the lips dry, with fine lines, or even produces skin cancers due to the delicate lip tissue. Protect your lips with a hydrating lip balm that contains 30 SPF and higher and reapply regularly. The other thing to know is that cancer of the lip can be quite serious, and it relates directly to the number of burns you receive.
#3: Develop a skin care routine.
Cleanse daily, exfoliate a few times weekly, and moisturize twice daily (day and night). It’s as simple as that. Use a gentle cleanser. Do not use harsh soaps and do not over wash. Washing too much will dry your skin out.
#4: Exfoliate regularly.
As we age, our skin cell turnover slows down. The rate at which new cells replace dead cells or we remove or shed dead decreases. Exfoliation helps speed it back up. It also lessens fine lines and wrinkles, opens clogged pores, and helps fade sun-damaged spots.
Don’t forget your legs! Yup, you can exfoliate your legs too. I recommend exfoliating two-to-three times per week. Use a product that is gentle on your skin.
One of the best ways to moisturize your skin is to remain hydrated. This means drinking enough water but also means applying a moisturizer while your skin is still moist after a shower. Skin already suffers from volume loss as we age, leading to fine lines and wrinkles — don’t help it along! Choose a moisturizer that targets your skin concern.
If you have dry, itchy skin, and moisturizing doesn’t improve it, consult your doctor. Itchiness can result from many different causes, and sometimes this can be very difficult to figure out.
#6: Amp up the antioxidants!
Your skin is your largest organ — so nourish it right.
Eat a diet with antioxidant-rich foods. Load up on fruits and vegetables and foods with healthy fats, including salmon, nuts, and olive oil. Green tea is a great source of the antioxidants called catechins. Avoid too much alcohol and too much carbohydrate. These can make skin appear older, more ruddy, and increase puffiness and inflammation.
#7: Be aware of poison ivy, oak, or sumac.
These poisonous plants contain an oil called urushiol. Poison ivy has three leaves together and is shiny and green/red. When the oil penetrates the skin, it generally causes a rash and allergic reaction within 72 hours. Intense itching, blisters filled with clear fluid, streaks or patches may occur.
Wearing long-sleeved clothing, pants, boots and gloves is often the best protection. Avoid going into areas where these plants grow. You can also try to protect your skin with a skin care product called ivy block barrier. Ivy block barriers contain bentoquatum, which helps prevent the plant oil from penetrating into skin.
If you come in contact with poison ivy, wash with soap with a lot of lather to remove the oil. Wash clothes and everything you had on when you came in contact with the plant to avoid potentially spreading the oil.
While skin is healing it may be helpful to take cool showers and warm baths. You can also use cool compresses and apply hydrocortisone cream. The rash may last up to 21 days and can be very severe. Seek help from a medical professional if the rash becomes intolerable or covers most of the body.
#8: See a professional regularly.
Visit your doctor annually for a skin check. Be sure to track changes in your skin. Check moles, birthmarks, or other parts of your skin by following the ABCs:
- Asymmetry (one half of the growth looks different from the other half)
- Borders that are irregular
- Color changes or more than one color
- Diameter greater than the size of a pencil eraser
- Evolving, meaning changes in size, shape, symptoms (itching, tenderness), surface (especially bleeding), or shade of color
See your doctor right away if you notice any of these signs. Skin cancer is curable if detected early enough.
Danielle DeRosa is the first, and currently the only, licensed medical aesthetician on staff at a Vermont hospital. At UVM Medical Center, she helps patients deal with skin changes due to aging and sun exposure. She shares her advice for protecting your skin as you age, particularly during the summer months.
Join Danielle on Monday, April 23, 6 – 7:00 pm in the Davis Auditorium at the UVM Medical Center for more tips and techniques in her free class “Spring Into Summer! Skin Care Tips for Health Aging.” Registration is required. To register, contact Kristine Buck at Kristine.Buck@UVMHealth.org, or register online by clicking here.