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What to Know to Keep that Glow

Practical Tips for Healthy Skin

While only a couple centimeters thick, skin is the human body’s largest organ. When you think about it, our whole body is held together and protected by layers of skin. Our skin helps keep our body at just the right temperature and allows us to have the sense of touch. Skin is the protective barrier between the outside world and vital organs, tissue, bone and blood.

As we age, our skin thins, wrinkles and sags, becomes rougher and drier and loses its elasticity. The total effect of sun exposure, smoking, disease, poor nutrition, heredity and lifestyle behaviors lead to premature aging of the skin as well as many skin conditions including skin cancer.

“Every day I see patients with skin conditions that can affect their physical and emotional health,” said Dr. Faris Hawit, a board-certified dermatologist with Calvert Dermatology and Skin Cancer Center in Prince Frederick. “Just as with heart health and cancer prevention, there are many steps we can take to keep our skin healthy as we age,” he said.

Sun Exposure

The number-one factor in keeping skin youthful and healthy is protecting it from harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sun exposure, and the number-one factor in how your body processes sun exposure is the amount of melanin in your skin. People who have dark skin tones believe they are not at risk for skin cancer. However, in a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), melanoma -- a form of skin caner -- can be more detrimental in people of color because it is often detected in later stages than those who have fair skin.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the sun’s UV rays can cause damage to your skin in as little as 15 minutes—this applies to UV rays in tanning beds as well. A history of sunburns, especially early in life, can increase a person’s risk of getting skin cancer, which is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S.

By using broad spectrum sunscreen, wearing protective clothing, or avoiding the full sun during the hours between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., you can reduce the risk of skin damage. Tinted sun blocks can give skin a healthy glow without damaging skin.

Medical Conditions

According to the AAD, skin can often show signs of internal distress before diseases have been diagnosed. For example, yellow or waxy looking bumps on shins, skin tags and a thickening of velvety skin on the back of the neck and armpits can be a marker of high blood sugar/diabetes.

Yellow, waxy bumps under the eyelids, could indicate high triglyceride levels or a sign of uncontrolled diabetes. Darkening or discoloration of the skin on legs and ankles caused by varicose veins or other circulatory problems can lead to swelling that blocks blood flow to the skin, and can also be a symptom of diabetes.

Eczema, a chronic inflammatory condition, is linked to sleep disturbances and joint problems. Psoriasis, an autoimmune disorder, occurs alongside arthritis or other joint diseases, and recent studies have linked it to heart disease, stroke and poor blood pressure management.

Skin cancer can develop anywhere on the skin. The A, B, C, D, E characteristics of possible cancers are lesions ‘A’symmetrical in shape, with a jagged ‘B’order, presence of more than one ‘C’olor and are greater ‘D’iameter than the size of a pencil eraser. The most important characteristic, according to Hawit, is ‘E’volution—a change in a mole or area of the skin.


Lifestyle factors, such as smoking, alcohol and drug use, affect skin’s appearance and health. According to the National Institutes of Health, tobacco smoke quickens the natural process of skin aging and changes or intensifies the course of many skin diseases including cancer. Nicotine, both in traditional and e-cigarettes, reduces nutritional blood flow to the skin which impacts healing of wounds.

Alcohol dehydrates the body in general, including skin and will cause wrinkles and pores to be more visible. Not only does drinking alcohol agitate healthy skin, it also aggravates skin conditions such as rosacea and psoriasis. Substances in tobacco products, e-cigarettes, alcohol and narcotics will change the outward appearance and health of skin.


Nutrition plays an important role in overall skin health and dermatologists recommend a low-glycemic diet for optimal nourishment of skin.

According to researchers at Georgetown University School of Medicine, healthy dietary changes may serve as a component of therapy for certain skin conditions, including acne, aging skin, psoriasis and rosacea. Where certain nutrients, foods or dietary patterns may act as ‘triggers’ for certain skin conditions, the researchers noted, the avoidance or elimination of certain foods can be part of an overall treatment plan.

For optimal skin health, avoid foods with the highest glycemic load, such as high-sugar drinks, candy, sweetened fruit juice, white rice and white pasta, French fries, pizza and raisins.

“Although the link between diet and skin conditions is still under study, we do know that what is good for overall health, like reducing or eliminating risks for heart disease, diabetes and cancers, is also good for your skin,” said Hawit.
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