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The Proper Care Of Your Skin - Part One
by Joseph Newmark, M.D.

Assistant Clinical Professor
Upstate Medical Center
Syracuse, New York

The skin is the largest organ of the body. We tend to fuss over it many times a day, yet most people don't have a good understanding about proper skin care. Here are some key facts. The skin is composed of two main layers. The top layer is called the epidermis. This layer is quite thin (about one millimeter) but provides several essential functions. The epidermis forms a strong barrier and helps protect our bodies from the outside world. Pigment cells in the epidermis help protect us from harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun. The immune system is also part of the epidermis. If we get a cut or a scrape, harmful bacteria are kept in check which reduces our chances of getting an infection. The lower portion of the skin is called the dermis. This portion is quite thick in some areas, such as the back, but can be quite thin in other locations such as the eyelids. The dermis is mainly made up of a resilient tissue called collagen. Elastic tissue provides flexibility. Try pinching your skin. Notice how it snaps back to its normal shape. The dermis also contains nerves, blood vessels and glands. Underneath the dermis is the subcutaneous fat.

When we are young the skin is smooth and firm, primarily because the skin does a good job of trapping water. Over time, the skin starts to thin and dry out. Facial muscles responsible for smiling, frowning and squinting eventually cause creases to appear between the eyebrows and around the eyes an mouth. Fat under the skin will also thin and can cause prominent creases near the nose and chin. Fat loss also leads to a sallow look of the face.

What most people do not appreciate is the devastating effects of chronic sun exposure on the skin. Sunlight contains several different types of ultraviolet light that over time cause significant damage to both layers of the skin. Unfortunately, the effects of sun exposure don't become readily apparent for many years. Did you know that there will be over one million new cases of skin caner this year and most cases are directly related to sun exposure? fine wrinkles, broken blood vessels and brown patches are some of the consequences of frequent sun exposure. Damage to the elastic tissue makes the skin have a pebbly appearance. These unsightly lesions are not part of the normal aging process!!

What should you do right now? First, take a look in the mirror. If you have any growths that scab or bleed, see your dermatologist. If you see freckling, brown patches, red lines or more than a few wrinkles, then you likely have sun damage. What can you do? It is essential to apply sunscreens as part of your daily routine. I recommend a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. Some makeup products and moisturizers may have added sunscreen and you should carefully read the label. Remember though to cover all sun exposed areas including you face, hands, ears, neck, arms and chest. You should reapply sunscreen every 60 to 90 minutes if you are swimming or if you are physically active. The sun is most intense between the hours of 10 and 3. Some people claim they do not need sunscreen because they are only out for 10 minutes a day. Remember sun exposure is cumulative. This means that 10 minutes of sun a day equals more than an hour of sun a week. Thank about that!

If you skin feels dry, it means that your skin is lacking water. Frequent hand washing, for example will strip the skin of essential oils. Bathing with harsh soaps can also cause dryness and irritation. Dry skin should be treated with moisturizers. The best time to apply them is immediately after a shower or bath. Bathing will cause the top layer of your skin to swell up with water. Applying a moisturizer within minutes of bathing will help trap the water in the skin. If a lotion does not do the job, try a cream or ointment based moisturizer, which is thicker.

Want more information about repair and treatment of lines, wrinkles, brown spots and other signs of sun exposure and aging? That will be the subject of an upcoming article. For now, remember to include sunscreens and moisturizers as part of your daily routine.

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