Combating The Most Common Skin Conditions
Not everyone is blessed with perfectly beautiful skin. As we age, the skin goes through changes that may be related to different factors - internal or external - including hormones; nutritional status; loss of fat, collagen or melanin; genetics; stress; slowing cell turnover rate; disease process that involves inflammation; smoking or drinking alcohol; exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) and other environmental pollutants like chemicals and toxins; weather or climate conditions; and improper or lack of skin care. As a result, a large number of people are experiencing one or more skin conditions - blemishes; excessive dryness or oiliness; dark spots or hyperpigmentation; and early signs of aging or fine lines and wrinkles.
Incorporating regular healthy skin care routine, taking care of your health from an early age, and avoiding overexposure to the sun help prevent or delay the occurrence of these skin conditions. If you neglect your skin or your health and live an unhealthy lifestyle, it will be difficult to counteract these conditions no matter what or how much product you use on your skin.
Blemishes are areas of discoloration or noticeable imperfection on the skin like acne, acne scars, sun spots or uneven skin tone. They may be irregularly shaped, flat or raised. Treatment varies depending on the type of blemish.
Acne may be the most common blemish or skin condition that affects millions of people around the world. Please read my other blog titled Acne - Myths Debunked, for a detailed discussion of this condition. Acne is an inflammatory condition that happens when a hair follicle or a pore on the surface of the skin gets clogged with sebum or keratin. Acne most commonly develops during puberty, when hormonal changes cause the body to produce too much sebum, but can occur at any age, possibly due to oxidative damage caused by free radicals. Treatment varies depending on its severity and other factors. Over the counter medications like Benzoyl Peroxide and Salicylic Acid may be effective in treating mild acne but usually offer temporary symptom relief. Prescription medications including topical or oral antibiotics and retinoids may be necessary in treating moderate to severe acne but could potentially cause untoward side effects or adverse effects. Products containing antioxidants like Vitamins A, C and E have been showing promise in the treatment of acne because of the idea that oxidative stress due to free radical damage may be involved in the occurrence of this condition. Studies have strongly shown that antioxidants, whether ingested or applied topically, protect against and treat free radical damage. The best way to protect your skin against free radical damage is avoiding excessive exposure to the sun between the hours of 10am and 4pm but this is almost impossible for a lot of people. Generously apply and reapply sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher that contains minerals Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide throughout the day, and wear sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats and proper clothing. Sulfate-free facial cleansers gently and effectively remove dirt that may get trapped in the pores. Most cleansers contain foaming agent sulfate (SLS or SLES) which is known to irritate the mucous membranes and may potentially be absorbed into the bloodstream and cause toxicity to the major body organs leading to long-term health effects. There have been discussions about the benefits of taking the B vitamin Biotin, Zinc Oxide, Vitamin C and Omega-3 Fatty Acid supplements in maintaining or promoting skin health. As always advised, if taking any supplements, follow directions on the product package. If unsure about their safety, have a discussion with your physician before starting any supplementation.
Some people have chronic dry, itchy, flaky, scaly, rough or irritated skin that may be uncomfortable. Over time, dry skin may result in the early or premature formation of fine lines and wrinkles. Dry skin is noted when its moisture content is less than 10%. Poor hydration or nutritional status, genetics, inflammatory skin diseases, hot or cold weather conditions, low humidity, use of harsh cleansers or other products with sulfate, and long hot showers all contribute to the depletion of the skin’s lipid layer which covers the surface of the skin. Replenishing the skin’s moisture is imperative if you want to keep it soft, smooth and supple. Proper moisturization of the skin helps repair the skin barrier, reduces water loss and increases its water content, and restores the lipid’s water barrier function. A balanced diet that includes foods rich in essential fatty acids helps in the production of the skin's natural oil barrier which is important in keeping it younger looking. Avoiding too much caffeine, alcohol and smoking also contributes to healthy looking skin. Taking shorter, lukewarm showers and bathing no more than 20 minutes at a time using sulfate free products are the simplest steps you can take to prevent dry skin. If you love bathing or can’t avoid it, adding natural bath oil into your bathwater may help keep your skin moist. Exfoliating with a gentle sugar or salt scrub regularly sloughs off dry, rough skin. Applying a generous amount of natural oil or cream, moisturizer or lotion made of natural ingredients that include oils and butters to damp skin right after shower or bathing helps the skin retain moisture and stay hydrated all day. This is also true for the face, the hands and the feet. After cleansing your face (twice daily is recommended) or washing your hands or feet, it is crucial to moisturize them as commercial soaps and facial cleansers are usually harsh on the skin’s surface due to sulfate. Find gentle, sulfate free, noncomedogenic products with humectants such as glycerin; emollients such as squalene, mineral oil, lanolin, and fatty acids; and proteins such as collagen, elastin and keratin. If you live in an area with low humidity, consider using a humidifier in your bedroom. Moisturize your lips with a lip balm frequently including before bedtime.
Excessive production of the skin’s natural oil called sebum can make your skin look shiny or greasy. This process can also result in acne. Look for oil-free noncomedogenic cleansers and moisturizers and wash your face no more than twice a day with lukewarm water. Washing the face too frequently can lead to the production of even more oil that can block pores. Using a toner or astringent after cleansing and before moisturizing can help remove residual oil on the skin and control shine. When buying cosmetics, choose powder products instead of liquid. Gently apply blotting paper on your skin to remove excessive oil throughout the day especially if wearing makeup. A regular facial every 3 or 4 months may also help control the problem.
Dark Spots, Discolorations, or Hyperpigmentation
Hyperpigmentation, also known as dark spots, sunspots or uneven skin tone, is another form of blemish that is caused by overproduction of melanin, the skin’s natural pigment whose production is influenced by exposure to ultraviolet rays (UVR), hormones, and skin injury. Dark spots are generally flat and most commonly found on the face and hands. There are several treatment options for dark spots that include exfoliation with Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs), topical medications, and other more advanced procedures like chemical peels and laser treatments at your dermatologist's office. Hydroquinone is a topical bleaching agent that effectively treats hyperpigmentation. Stopping it would cause the return or worsening of discoloration because the skin becomes even more sensitive to UVR so regular application of sunscreen is highly recommended when using this product. Its use is controversial and even banned in some countries because it is thought to have carcinogenic effects. Retinoids and antioxidants are safer alternatives. A regular facial at least once every 3 or 4 months with antioxidants or AHAs can help control hyperpigmentation.
Fine Lines and Wrinkles
As we age, the skin’s cells divide slowly and the dermis begins to thin. This process results in loss of elasticity or stretchiness of the skin. Our skin has also had sufficient UV exposure by the time we reach old age. It also starts to lose its ability to retain moisture, make oil or sebum, and to heal. All of these factors contribute to the wrinkling process. Some people may prematurely develop fine lines or wrinkles, either due to internal or external factors. While we can’t control genetics and hormonal factors, other than taking care of our health and practicing a healthy lifestyle, there are ways to prevent them. A healthy diet that consists of healthy fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals; exercising; avoiding too much stress; and avoiding smoking and drinking alcohol and excessive caffeine contribute to well nourished, plump and youthful looking skin that lasts through old age. Avoiding excessive sun exposure and wearing sunscreen is, again, highly important. Free radical damage is the number one cause of premature signs of aging and could even lead to other more serious problems that include skin cancer or melanoma. Retinoids, topical Vitamin A agents, can help stimulate collagen production in the skin, helping to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Creams or moisturizers that contain humectants, emollients, AHAs, and antioxidants applied twice a day help the skin retain moisture, stimulate collagen production and prevent oxidative damage.