Skin Deep

It’s no secret that aging affects how your skin looks and feels, or that some people manage to escape the so-called ravages of time better than others.

The good news is that it’s not all just luck or good genes that keep skin looking great — there is much we can do to protect our skin as we grow older.

First, it’s never too soon to start. Research shows that the sun exposure we get during childhood can increase our risk for skin cancer later in life. Even a single, brutal sunburn during summers at the beach when you’re a child can double the risk of developing melanoma later in life. And skin that has had too much exposure to the sun ages faster than skin that has been better protected over the years. But that doesn’t mean it’s too late to take care of your skin once you reach adulthood.

Use Sunscreen and Moisturizer
The cancer-prevention benefits of a good sunscreen (broad-spectrum protection with SPF 30 or above) apply to people of all ages. And a 2013 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that adults who wore sunscreen every day — regardless of the weather — could slow the appearance of aging by keeping skin smoother and more resilient.

Other steps you can take to keep your skin healthier and younger-looking include using a moisturizer daily (not just on the face but on the neck and décolletage as well); taking fewer baths and using milder soaps and skin products to prevent dryness; and limiting sun exposure by choosing long-sleeved shirts and staying in the shade (in addition to using sunscreen).

Break Bad Habits
Other factors that effect the health and appearance of skin include smoking, drinking alcohol to excess, stress and failing to adequately hydrate — all of which contribute to skin damage. Obviously we have some control over these factors. If you quit smoking, drink only in moderation, reduce stress and drink lots of water, you’ll have healthier skin.

Change Is Inevitable
Skin naturally becomes thinner and loses some of its elasticity over the years. Many people suffer from dry spots or discoloration, known as age spots, and find bruises are slower to heal.

For Psoriasis Sufferers
If you already have a skin condition, such as psoriasis — an immune-mediated disease that causes skin cells to grow at an abnormally fast rate, causing lesions on the elbows, knees and scalp — you may notice that it grows worse with age.

The National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF) recommends that people with psoriasis use creams (rather than lotions or gels) that are fragrance-, alcohol- and chemical-free, as well as hypoallergenic, so that they don’t further irritate the skin.

Because ceramides, lipids and hyaluronic acid — vital to healthy skin — naturally decrease with age, the NPF recommends using moisturizers that contain these three components. And while sunlight helps psoriasis because it furnishes the skin with vitamin D, the NPF cautions against overexposure and encourages the use of a high-SPF sunscreen to prevent skin cancer.

People with psoriasis must be careful to take care of all of their skin — including the skin on the top of their heads. Since many people choose to color their hair as they get older, it’s important to consider using products that won’t irritate the scalp. The NPF recommends avoiding shampooing the day before getting your hair colored, as well as applying a rich mask to your hair the night before and leaving it on overnight. If your healthcare provider has prescribed a scalp psoriasis solution, use it prior to any dye being applied to keep your scalp calm. It’s also a good idea to ask your stylist to refrain from using her nails while scrubbing the scalp to avoid additional irritation.