Your skin is more than just the surface of your body. It is considered an organ, just like your kidneys and liver. In fact, it is the largest organ of your body. You might be surprised to learn that the typical person has approximately 20 square feet of skin.
Human skin is made of layers—the epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous tissue that work together to protect you, regulate your body temperature, and allow for your sense of touch. The subcutaneous layer includes fat and connective tissues. The dermis is one layer above that. It contains more connective tissue, along with hair follicles and sweat glands.
You may be familiar with the term epidermis and you are certainly most familiar with your epidermis. That is the outer layer of your skin, so it is the part that is visible to you. It plays the role of being the first barrier to elements. It also creates your skin tone. Caring for your epidermis is crucial for your health and your overall appearance.
First impressions are often based on appearance alone. Your skin makes a big first impression. For this reason, it is valuable to take care of your skin to ensure the color, tone, and texture look great. There are different skin types, and each requires slightly different care regimens.
The typical skin types are Normal, Dry, Sensitive, Oily, and Combination. Then, there are some special skin conditions, such as Acne, Psoriasis, and Rosacea that require special care. There are many products on the market for skin care, and science can also provide the best techniques.
General Skin Care
If you have what is considered Normal skin, then your aim is to maintain it with some general, basic skin care techniques. For anyone else, these tips will provide the basic foundation for your more specialized skin care routine:
Hydrate. Your skin (and whole body) rely on water. Drink plenty of water every day for your overall health and to keep your skin looking healthy.
Eat your Fruits and Vegetables. You likely know that you should eat fruits and vegetables for your health. What you may not realize is that the nutrients you get will also help your appearance. For examples, tomatoes provide an antioxidant that protects against sun damage. Meanwhile, avocados provide healthy fats, which your skin needs for its structure.
Eat fish and Omega 3’s. As noted, your skin relies on fat to build its structure. Good fats keep your skin looking soft and smooth. Get those fats through sources of Omega-3 such as fish and nuts. You can also augment your intake with fish oil or fish oil supplements.
Take your Vitamins. While you may aim for a balanced diet, it can be hard to get all your necessary nutrients. Because some vitamins are especially important for skin health, it can be helpful to insure adequate amounts through a daily multi-vitamin or specific supplements.
Moisturize. Your skin benefits from moisturizers and lotions, which act as an extra protection to hold in water and oils. A moisturizer will also protect your skin from outside irritants.
Protect your skin from the sun. Sun protection is about more than just reducing your cancer risk. It also keeps your skin looking younger and healthier longer. So, use sunscreen and wear a hat to protect the sensitive skin on your face from the effects of the sun.
Follow a basic cleansing care routine. For normal skin, these care steps are helpful:
- Cleanse-Use a product that is specifically designed for the face.
- Tone-Use a toner on your skin to promote skin recovery after daily damage.
- Exfoliate-This step helps to remove dead skin cells and debris from pores.
- Moisturize-Nourish your skin with moisturizers such as boosters and serums.
- Sunscreen-When you go out and about use sunscreen for protection.
Next, learn the best skin care for your skin type:
Many people do not have what is considered normal skin. Instead, you may have dry, sensitive, oily, or combination skin. Each type has certain characteristics and care needs.
What is dry skin?
From time-to-time anyone can experience dry skin. Some people may have this condition all the time. Others may experience dry skin only in the winter or certain climates where the moisture in the air is low. The extremities are especially susceptible to dry skin. Wherever it occurs, dry skin tends to feel unpleasant and has these characteristics-
- Gray or reddened skin
- Feels tight, leathery, or rough
- Itches, especially after a shower or at night
- Flakes off or peels
- Fine lines or cracks, especially around joints
- Deep cracks that can bleed
What causes dry skin?
Two things give your skin its moisture: oil and water. Dry skin is the result of a depletion of one or both of those natural moisturizers. These substances can become depleted in a dry or arid environment because it reduces the water content in your skin. Dry skin can also be caused by showering too much (especially in very hot water) because it depletes the oil in your skin.
How do I prevent dry Skin?
In most cases, there are several things you can do to keep your skin from becoming dry. If it is already dry, then you can use these same steps to keep it from getting worse or infected.
Drink more water. As you have learned, your body needs water to moisturize your skin from the inside-out. When you have dry skin, it is often a sign that you are already dehydrated. Increase your water intake. Depending on your activity level and the climate you may need more water than you think you do (you may know the recommended amount is 8 glasses).
Keep moisture in the air around you. You can do this by turning your thermostat to just the right temperature. Too much heat or too much air conditioning can both dry out your skin.
Add moisture to the air around you. You can use a humidifier to do this. This is especially important in arid climates or during cold weather months, when the air is dryer. Dry air literally pulls the water from your skin, which can leave your skin flaky and dry. However, you can prevent this with the use of the humidifier.
Reduce the time you spend in hot showers and baths. Both the length of your time in the water, and the temperature of the water can work against your skin. Spending too much time in the shower or bath can upset the normal fluid balance in the skin. The hot water can also damage the oils in your skin, as they tend to be sensitive to temperature changes.
Stop using anti-bacterial and alcohol based hand soap. Anti-bacterial hand soap, if it contains triclosan, is not all that helpful and it may do more harm than good. If the soap contains alcohol, it will dissolve the oil in your skin, leaving it less flexible and more likely to crack. Both products reduce the amount of moisture in your skin and leave you more susceptible to dry skin.
Then, these materials will also irritate your already damaged skin. You will actually be more susceptible to germs after your skin becomes damaged and even cracked.
Switch to de-caffeinated coffee. Caffeine is a diuretic, which means that it increases the rate at which water is filtered through your kidneys. More water filtered through your kidneys could leave less water in your body and in your skin. While it may be a small amount, some people are more sensitive to small shifts in body fluids.
However, if you are prescribed a diuretic, such as for control of high blood pressure, keep taking it; your life is more important than skin elasticity. Talk to your doctor about ways to keep your skin care in balance, despite the diuretic.
Get your diabetes under control. Wide swings in blood sugar concentration produce equally wide swings in your body's internal fluids. Often this results in dehydration, which will cause damage to your skin. Out of control diabetes also makes it harder for your body to make necessary repairs to that dry skin, which means the dry skin damage will last longer.
Manage your overall physical and skin health. If you have any number of skin conditions, you might be more susceptible to dry skin. These include acne, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, and seborrheic dermatitis. If you have any of these, make sure to consult with a doctor and follow their recommendations to maintain your skin.
Give your skin extra special care. When you have dry skin you especially need to use quality moisturizers and serums. You can also nourish your skin with plant based products such as avocado face masks (which you would gently rinse off) and coconut oils. In more severe cases, you may need emollients, which are non-cosmetic creams that reduce dryness and itching.
What is sensitive skin?
There is no official definition for “sensitive skin.” However, many people do find they have skin that is more sensitive. In fact, 50% of women and 40% of men describe themselves as having sensitive skin. They often notice these characteristics:
- Skin becomes bumpy, flaky, or itchy on contact with certain fibers or chemicals
- Skin may even sting or burn when you apply some types of cream or moisturizer
- Skin blushes or flushes for no apparent reason
Doctors and researchers admit that the cause of sensitive skin is still largely unknown. When they examine the cause through biopsies, they do observe differences in the amount of nerves located in the skin of people with sensitive skin. They believe the oversensitivity may be linked to neuropathy. This causes unpleasant sensations especially in response to some irritants.
In many cases, this sensitive skin is due to a more severe and diagnosable skin problem. These can include rosacea, eczema, or contact dermatitis. If you experience any of the above problems on a regular basis, you will want to take steps to prevent them and you should also consider reaching out to a dermatologist to see if there is a more serious problem.
What causes sensitive skin?
Many people first notice their skin is more sensitive when certain fabrics (such as wool) irritate them. They may also notice skin problems in response to using certain products and types of make-up. If you become concerned about your skin, a visit to the dermatologist could help to uncover the problem. When you visit, they will run tests to find out what is causing your skin irritation. They may conduct something similar to allergy tests, which will be unpleasant.
Once your dermatologist completes their tests, if they do not find any particular underlying problem, then they may just conclude that you have sensitive skin although it is not really an official diagnosis. This is called idiopathic, since there is no clear cause for the sensitivity. Some of the possible causes can include:
- Genetics plays a role, but doctors are not sure exactly how
- Pollution, hormones, and stress can all play a role in making your skin more sensitive
- Age plays a role, and some people develop certain sensitivities over time
- Parched or damaged skin sensitizes the nerve endings
- Harsh wind, sun, heat, and cold can leave your skin feeling more sensitive
How do I manage sensitive skin?
If you have sensitive skin, it can feel miserable. However, there is hope. Some people grow out of having sensitive skin. So, if you are young, the symptoms may remit over time. If you are older, your changing hormones may stabilize over time. In the meantime, there are many steps you can take to help manage your sensitive skin:
Change your makeup and facial cleansers. Certain products that contain substances such as Retin-A, retinoids, beta hydroxy acids, and lanolin can further irritate sensitive skin. If you want to prevent discomfort, stop using products that contain them.
Also avoid using products that contain alcohol. These can dry out and irritate sensitive skin. The same is true for anti-bacterial hand soaps, which will likely only cause you discomfort.
Look for products that are marked as being for sensitive skin. Often these products are fragrance and dye free. This reduces the number of possible irritates for your skin. When you select products for sensitive skin, remember even things like detergent and fabric softener. You might not give it much thought, but these products can leave residues behind that can irritate.
Change your wardrobe. You may already realize there are certain fabrics you cannot comfortable wear. When you shop, watch what you select and choose loose fitting clothes.
Select comfortable fabrics such as cotton, silk, rayon, and linen. Cotton and silk are lighter for summer use, and help keep skin dry by carrying away excess moisture. Rayon and linen are good for winter wear, as they are heavier than cotton. If you have sensitive skin, you know that wool and other animal fibers, can cause irritation, so avoid them.
What is oily skin?
Like dry skin, anyone can experience oily skin. This is especially true during the summer when it is humid. However, some people are more inclined to have oily skin. It can be a real nuisance, detracting from your physical comfort and physical appearance. Characteristics include:
- Large and even visible pores
- Shiny appearance, especially on your nose, forehead, chin, and cheeks
- Skin may feel thick and uncomfortable
- Interferes with make-up application and maintenance
- Foundation changes color after a few hours
What causes oily skin?
Oily skin is due to oversized sebaceous glands. These oversized glands produce too much sebum, which is the oily substance you end up seeing on the surface. This results in shiny and oily looking skin. The sebum production can be further exacerbated by certain conditions such as the weather/climate and your skin care routine.
Several things can cause oily skin. Most people have at least some experience with oily skin. It is especially prevalent during puberty. Pregnancy, menopause, and certain medications can all also cause hormone changes, which can lead to oily skin.
Increased humidity can also prompt the glands to start producing more sebum. Heredity plays a major role in the likelihood of developing oily skin, and this cause will obviously be the most difficult to deal with. You will then likely face a lifelong battle of managing your oily skin. People from certain racial and ethnic backgrounds may be more at risk of oily skin.
How do I prevent oily skin?
While the occurrence of oily skin can feel entirely out of your control and perhaps even insurmountable, there are many things you can do to help prevent oily skin:
Wash your face, but not too often. Your oily skin may make you feel compelled to wash your face frequently. You might even think that doing so will reduce the presence of your oily skin. However, washing your face too often can cause or exacerbate the presence of oil. This is because it may just further increase the production of sebum.
Instead, wash your face no more than three times each day. Once in the morning, once sometime during the middle of the day and then once before you go to bed. When you do wash your face, use simple soap. Products such as astringent may help. However, you do not want to use anything too astringent or use astringent too often, because this can just irritate your skin.
Use moisturizer, but sparingly. It may seem counterintuitive to add moisture to oily skin. However, if your skin dries out, the situation is made worse as your body just wants to protect you. It does this by sending sebum production into overdrive and the result is that oily skin.
Moisturize to give your skin what it needs, but use the right types and use them in minimal quantities. Use something labeled as non-comedogenic, that will help keep the pores clear. If you spend time outdoors, find something with SPF 30 sunscreen or higher. You want to avoid a sunburn because that might just further throw off the oil production balance of your skin.
Get your diabetes under control. An imbalance in blood sugar concentration can alter the health and appearance of your skin. Most times it results in dehydration and dry skin; however, oily skin can also result from poorly managed diabetes.
Consult with your doctor. If your skin is particularly oily and if you also have seemingly out of control acne you might want to seek medical treatment. Acne especially could lead to scarring if not well-managed. Often other skin conditions can also result in oily skin, so if you have another condition, talk to your doctor about how to manage your overall skin health.
Extra special skin care. When you have oily skin, it is especially helpful to follow a skin care routine that cleanses without drying out the skin. As noted, cleanse your skin gently. Once it is dry, use a toner. This is an especially important step for oily skin because it helps to minimize enlarged pores. Exfoliation is also crucial to keep pores from becoming clogged.
If you do not have an allergy to it, salicylic acid can help reduce or prevent oily skin. This substance, along with other beta hydroxy acids, help to clear up blemishes and exfoliate the skin. However, you only need to use this if you have oily skin. Further, this should be used sparingly, otherwise you will dry out your skin too much, which will just cause more oil.
Some people with particularly oily skin that interferes with their functioning and quality of life may choose to take more drastic steps. Research is showing that injection with the Botulinum Toxin can be effective for oily skin. This is found to reduce sebum production in the forehead.
What is combination skin?
So far, you have learned about skin types that occur in isolation. However, some lucky individuals struggle with what is called, combination skin. As the name implies, this occurs when one person has more than one skin type. It can be multiple skin types at the same time or skin that varies according to the seasons.
It could even be one small area on the face that is different from the other portions. For example, on your nose, chin, and forehead, you could have oily skin. In the other areas, your skin could be dry or sensitive. This often referred to as the T-Zone because the forehead and nose take the T-shape and are oily, while the other regions have different symptoms (usually dry cheeks). Some more specific signs and characteristics include:
- Much larger pores on your forehead and nose than in other places on your face
- Shiny areas on your skin, along with other dull, flat areas
- Dandruff—you could have patches of dry skin on your scalp
- Using moisturizer on your whole face leaves parts looking reflective and damp
What causes combination skin?
When you have combination skin, your genetic inheritance is usually playing a big role. Your lifestyle and the weather will also play a role in what your skin does from day to day. On hot and humid days, your nose and forehead might become quite shiny even before lunch.
Aging and hormone changes can also exacerbate the differences in the amount of oiliness of your skin. Meanwhile, your cheeks and other parts of your skin may become drier relative to the oily portions, depending on age and the weather.
If you select the wrong products and apply them indiscriminately, it can also be more problematic with combination skin. You really need to treat each portion of your skin separately with the appropriate care regimen for the best results.
What can I do to manage combination skin?
While it may feel impossible to deal with, there are many things you can do to help prevent the problems associated with combination skin.
Take care when washing your face. You may feel inclined to wash frequently to eliminate oils, but this will only further damage the dry portions of your skin. So, instead try blotting the oily parts, and unless your face gets obviously dirty, do not wash your face more than three times per day. Use a gentle cleanser, do not scrub, and pat dry.
Use a moisturizer. Select one with salicylic acid or some other beta hydroxy acid, and make sure it contains no alcohol. The acid will help keep the pores of the oilier parts of your skin free and clear, and by not having alcohol, the rest of your skin will not get unnecessarily dried out.
Use a humidifier. If you live in a drier area, a humidifier will keep your skin adequately moist. Set to the right level of output, this will also help to reduce the oily parts of your skin. This is because when you skin becomes too dry, it will send the pores into overdrive producing oil.
Stop smoking. The chemicals from smoking will worsen the condition of your skin and make it especially difficult to manage combination skin. This is because the harsh chemicals and smoke can become trapped in your pores, resulting in more oil production.
Smoking also alters the blood vessels in your face, giving you a faded or gray appearance. Finally, it also stunts healing, so any damaged skin, such as dry cheeks, will take quite some time to recover, leaving you looking poorly for some time.
Manage your diet and blood sugar. The diet you eat can have a significant effect on your skin quality. This becomes even more significant when you are prone to combination skin. Missing important nutrients or taking in too much fats or sugars can lead to extra oil output. Wide swings in blood sugar concentration can also produce swings in your body's internal fluids.
Attend to your skin health with the help of a dermatologist. Certain conditions, such as acne, eczema, and psoriasis can make you more prone to combination skin. You may need certain treatments, some of which may need to be prescribed, to apply to areas of your skin.
Extra special skin care. When you deal with combination skin, you want to address the overall skin and the individual areas. You will want to use gentle cleansers to avoid further drying out the dry areas or overly irritating the oily areas.
You can use toner to address all the pores, which can nourish dry skin while also reducing oiliness. An exfoliant can also be helpful to eliminate dead skin build up, unclog pores, and reduce oily skin. Exfoliating can also help to smooth dry and potentially rough skin.
Special skin care cases and how to care for them.
All along, you have been learning that certain skin conditions can alter your typical skin quality and require special care. Learn more about these conditions to watch for and the treatments:
Acne-This is a common skin condition, especially during puberty and other times of hormonal changes. It is characterized by pimples across the face, though they can occur elsewhere too. This can usually be treated with at home products and extra care during your skin cleaning routine. However, in severe cases you may need to see a dermatologist.
Cellulitis-In this condition, the dermis and subcutaneous tissues become inflamed. It can result in a red skin rash, that may feel warm and even painful. When it does not heal on its own, you may need medical intervention. If left untreated, the infection could spread.
Dandruff-This is skin irritation on the scalp. It usually involves scaly patches that can flake off, looking unattractive on your clothing. It can be due to another skin condition like eczema. Usually you can reduce dandruff with special shampoos and conditioners, but occasionally it could be a sign of a more severe problem, so if it does not remit, consult your doctor.
Dermatitis-This can be any type of inflammation of the skin, which can make it look red. This can take three forms: atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, and seborrheic dermatitis.
Eczema-This is also known as atopic dermatitis. It often appears as an itchy rash. It is a diagnosable condition. It is most often due to an abnormal immune system response.
Herpes-Many people associate this with the sexually transmitted infection. However, this virus is also the cause of cold sores and other skin irritations. When just a cold sore, it will usually go away after a few days. However, when due to an STI, you will need to seek medical treatment.
Hives-These are usually due to an allergic reaction. They appear like raised, red, itchy spots on the skin. They typically arise quite suddenly and will often go away once the allergy clears from your system. Home care involves taking steps to sooth the skin. If the hives are accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, fainting, or dizziness then medical care is warranted.
Psoriasis-This condition most often causes scaly, silver-colored plaques on the skin. It can occur on various parts of the body but often at the joints and in the creases of the body. There is some variation in the appearance. It is most often due to an overactive autoimmune response. Treatments will vary depending on the severity and location.
Rash-A change in skin texture and color. This is often due to irritation, but it could be the result of a medical condition or allergic reaction.
Ringworm (aka Tinea)-The name of this is misleading as it does not involve worms. It is actually a fungal infection. It is characterized by rashes surrounded by red rings. You will need an anti-fungal ointment and sometimes oral medications to treat this condition.
Rosacea-This is a chronic condition that causes red, rashy, skin on the face. It may look like acne, but it is more widespread across the face and less easy to resolve. It can be especially distressing for people because of the appearance. It often requires special make-up that will fully cover the strong red color.
Scabies-This condition is due to tiny mites that burrow into the skin. It causes a very itchy rash, often on the hands, wrists, and elbows. If typically requires medical intervention. It can be contagious so when you have it be cautious you do not transfer it to others.
Shingles-These are caused by the chickenpox virus (herpes zoster), which lays dormant in the body and can re-emerge in adulthood. It is a very painful rash, usually on just one side of the body. There is a new vaccine that can help to prevent this condition.
Skin abscess-This occurs when a local skin infection results in a large amount of pus under the skin. Often, these cannot be treated at home. They must be addressed by a doctor, who will have to open and drain the fluid, before healing can occur.
Tinea Versicolor-This looks like an area of low pigmentation of the skin. It is due to a fungal infection, caused by yeast on the skin.
Viral Exanthem-A red rash on a large area of the skin, due to a viral infection. This condition is especially common among children. It can often be treated at home and goes away on its own. If you also have other symptoms such as fever and diarrhea, seek medical attention.
Warts-These can be especially challenging to treat. A wart is a virus that has infected the skin. It causes excessive skin growth in that location.
At home remedies can include over-the-counter treatments. Some people find it helpful to cover the wart in duct tape, which reduces the air flow and kills off the virus. Sometimes you may need treatment and removal by a physician, who will often freeze off the wart.
Seborrheic Keratosis-This is an itchy growth that seems like a wart. If it is bothersome, you may want to have it removed by a physician.
Actinic Keratosis-This is a crusty or scaly bump. It often forms on sun-exposed skin. It can sometimes progress to cancer, so it is advisable to have a doctor check this out if you think you may have one of these.
What are the common treatments for these special cases?
These skin conditions often require special treatments beyond just daily washing and moisturizing. Some treatments can be purchased over the counter and others require a prescription from a doctor. Become familiar with the typical approaches:
Antibiotics-When you have a skin infection, such as from bacteria, then you may need an antibiotic to address it. Some of these are topical and can be purchased at the drug store. Occasionally, for severe infections, you may need to be prescribed an oral antibiotic.
Antifungal Drugs-When your skin irritation is due to a fungal infection, such as ringworm, then you may need an antifungal ointment. You can purchase the typical topical ointments over the counter. Occasionally, you may need an oral medication, which a doctor can prescribe.
Antihistamines-For skin irritation that is due to an allergic reaction (such as hives) then you might find relief (at least for the itching and irritation) by taking an antihistamine. You can purchase simple, basic antihistamines over the counter.
For more severe allergy cases, you might need to visit a doctor, be tested to determine what it is you are allergic to, and obtain a prescription for allergic medication.
Antiviral Drugs-For people who have the herpes virus or a skin irritation due to some other virus, an antiviral drug may be necessary to suppress the symptoms.
Corticosteroids-You might be more familiar with the term steroids. These are medications that reduce the response of the immune system. They are used when the skin condition is due to some immune response. Most often the steroid will be topical (such as hydrocortisone). However, in some severe cases, an injection or oral medication may be needed.
Immune Modulators-For conditions that are due to a severe autoimmune condition, such as Psoriasis, you may need an Immune Modulator. These alter the activity of the immune system. If this is what your skin needs, you will have to work with a dermatologist to receive a prescription. These are more serious medications and the effects will have to be monitored.
Skin Surgery-If you face skin cancer or some other types of small but unsightly blemishes (such as an unattractive mole) you might need skin surgery from a dermatologist to resolve the issue.