Saturate Your Skin

Don’t let the heat beat your skin into submission
By Cara Lucas

Transitioning from winter to summer often presents a challenge for your body’s largest organ. While your skin can bear the brunt of seasonal changes, how do you keep your face from showing it?

Each season presents unique skincare problems: Winter’s dry, cold air brings on scaly and itchy skin, while summer’s hot and humid atmosphere has the potential to dehydrate your skin and/or cause sun damage. For some, it might not even be seasonal—dry skin could be an issue all year. Genetic predisposition, contact with harsh chemicals, a stressful lifestyle, or exposure to the sun are all considerations that must be factored in when determining the root cause of dry skin.

DRY VERSUS DEHYDRATED SKIN

Here’s something most people don’t understand: there is a difference between dry and dehydrated skin. Dry skin generally refers to skin lacking in oil. Dehydrated skin is characterized by lack of moisture in the stratum corneum—the outer layer of the epidermis that mainly consists of dead or peeling cells. Even those with oily skin can experience dryness.

It’s important to listen to what your skin is telling you. Heather Hausenblas, PhD, of the University of Florida College of Health and Human Performance, says you might be dehydrated if your skin:

• Feels tight. This is especially noticeable when you smile. You may feel pulling around the nose and mouth.

• Feels irritated. Dehydrated skin may feel hot or itchy. Windburn is a form of dehydration.

• Develops superficial lines. If you lightly pinch a section of skin, dehydrated skin shows fine, dry lines, and sometimes flaking.

“Your body is made up of 80 percent water, but maintaining it on the skin’s surface can be difficult,” explains Hausenblas. “A healthy, efficient epidermis should hold 13.5 percent of water. If it loses just 3.5 percent of that, it can become dehydrated.”

FACTORS FOR DEHYDRATED SKIN

Weather: The environment is a large contributing factor for dehydrated skin. Cold winds and low temperatures can dry out skin and contribute to premature aging. Forced air heating also dries out skin: warm, dry air acts like a sponge, soaking up moisture from everything it touches.

“The ideal humidity level for humans can be anywhere from 40 to 60 percent,” says Hausenblas. “Americans spend a good portion of their time inside with the AC blasting. In these types of environments we are constantly sucking vital nutrients out of the skin, which can lead to a plethora of undesirable conditions, from wrinkles to acne breakouts to itchy dry patches … not to mention feeling like your body’s running a quart low all the time.”

For those who spend much of their time in an office that blasts the AC this summer to hit a predetermined temperature, Hausenblas suggests the following tips:

>>Take morning tea and lunch breaks outside. Try and find a park where you can relax near some trees so your skin can enjoy an hour out of the office air.

>>Up your exercise. Take regular breaks to stretch, have a quick walk around the office, or go for a power walk on your lunch break. Increasing your circulation improves the skin’s appearance as well as boosting detoxification and cell renewal.

>>Always carry hand moisturizer, lip balm, and a moisturizing facial toner in a spray bottle in your bag so you can hydrate your face and hands during the day.

>>Place some leafy plants around your desk. They improve air quality by reducing CO2 and increasing oxygen in the air.

Diet: Low-fat or fat-free diets can deprive our bodies of skin-friendly essential fatty acids (EFAs), which are critical to all parts of a healthy functioning body. They protect against water loss within cells and throughout skin, helping to prevent dryness and keep skin supple and hydrated. An EFA deficiency can result in chronic itching and dry, scaly skin. Add cocoa to your diet, especially in the form of a supplement that’s rich in flavanols. Research shows that cocoa protects the skin from wrinkles and collagen damage caused by sun exposure.

“Eating foods rich in structured water—especially raw fruits and vegetables—will not only help your body hold onto water longer, you’ll get the added boost of important antioxidants, fiber, and other nutrients,” says Hausenblas.

Frequent bathing: Long, hot baths actually break down the lipid barriers in your skin and increase the loss of natural oils. In fact, so does frequent swimming, particularly in heavily chlorinated pools. Choose short showers over baths. Shower in warm rather than hot water. Remember to apply a moisturizer after you shower or wash your hands.

“A good way to hydrate the skin from the outside in is with a serum containing hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid is produced naturally in the body: over time, however, the synthesis of hyaluronic acid decreases,” says Hausenblas. “A baby’s skin is full of hyaluronic acid, which explains why babies and children rarely experience skin dehydration. Hyaluronic acid helps the skin hold onto water, plumping up cells and giving skin back its youthful appearance.”

Cigarettes/Alcohol: Smoking can have a drying effect on skin: it drains the skin and the body of vitamins A and C and constricts blood vessels, which means less blood flow. It’s almost like suffocating skin from the inside. Excessive intake of alcoholic beverages can also contribute to dry skin by accelerating dehydration.

Genetics: Intrinsic aging is the normal process of physical change over time that’s more about genetics than lifestyle. (Lifestyle-induced aging is known as premature or extrinsic aging.) Sebaceous gland activity tends to decrease with age, and the skin’s natural hydrators decline over the years. The skin’s ability to regenerate the lipids comprising the protective barrier of the stratum corneum also declines with age, as does blood flow to the skin.

Sun exposure: Like all types of heat, the sun dries your skin. Yet damage from ultraviolet (UV) radiation penetrates far beyond the top layer of skin, the epidermis. The most significant damage occurs deep in the dermis, where collagen and elastin fibers break down much more quickly than they should, leading to deep wrinkles and loose, sagging skin (solar elastosis). Sun-damaged skin may have the appearance of dry skin.

“Prolonged exposure to the sun causes water to evaporate from skin, which is why sunburned skin requires more moisture than unexposed areas,” says Hausenblas.

Getting older: In the elderly, metabolic changes and a tendency to reduce liquid intake leads to a loss of skin elasticity. Hormone imbalances that occur in menopause, hypothyroidism, and hyperthyroidism can also cause severe skin dryness.

MOISTURIZING YOUR SKIN

Fortunately there’s something we can do about dry skin. The America Skin Association suggests the following:

>>Apply moisturizing creams, emollients, or ointment moisturizers several times a day: they are fundamental in dry skin treatment because they reconstitute the cutaneous hydrolipidic film holding water in the skin. They protect damaged and sensitive skin and make skin softer and smoother. They preserve natural skin lipids and limit dehydration, trapping and sealing water in the stratum corneum.

>>Choose a non-alcohol-based moisturizer.

>>Use a mild non-soap skin cleanser. Harsh soaps remove the oils from the surface of the skin and dry it out.

>>Avoid antibacterial soaps.

>>Place a humidifier in your home or add one to the central heating system to maintain the air moisture during the winter and in dry weather.

>>Avoid rubbing or scratching the skin.

>>Avoid dehydration caused by drinking alcohol and by neglecting to replace fluids lost through sweating.

>>Avoid itchy clothing. Dry skin is especially sensitive to contact irritants, and it may worsen itching and redness.