Your skin is the largest organ in your body. It protects you from infection, dehydration, UV radiation and so much more. It is also your presentation to those around you. Given the daily assault on your skin, it’s important that you care for it properly to maintain its function and beauty.
The outermost layer of skin is called the epidermis. It is comprised of skin cells and melanocytes, which produce pigment. The keratinocytes (skin cells) start as plump, healthy cells at the bottom of the epidermis. As they age they migrate upward and become drier and thinner. It takes about 6 weeks for healthy skin cells to migrate from the bottom to the top, where they’re sloughed off. If all of your skin is turning over at the same rate, you will have even tone. If not, you will have rough and/or dark patches. Sun, alcohol and smoking all slow the migration of cells, leading to drier, tougher cells at the top of the epidermis. These drier cells can accumulate, causing a thickening of the skin.
Maintaining a healthy epidermis takes work.
- Washing your face twice a day is important, but in and of itself can cause stress on the epidermis. Choose a cleanser that is gentle and intended for your face.
- After washing you should always apply a toner, which helps to restore the proper pH of the skin.
- Once you have used a toner, apply a non-comedogenic moisturizer.
- Using an exfoliant is important to keep the migration period at around 6 weeks and to maintain the skin tone. You can use either physical or chemical exfoliants, but if you choose to use physical make sure it’s a rounded microbead. Rough ingredients can cause micro abrasions, which can lead to infection or breakouts.
- If you have sun damage or areas of hyperpigmentation (dark spots) you should also use a lightening agent. Hydroquinone is one of the most common lightening ingredients available. You can get low concentrations over the counter and higher concentrations are available with a prescription. You should only use hydroquinone as directed by your doctor.
- Retinoic Acid is the third step to healthy skin. This is not to be confused with Retinol, which is found in many over the counter skin preparations. Retinol is an inactive form, which needs to be first converted to Retinoic Acid before it is active. The actual conversion for most people is pretty low, making Retinol essentially useless. Retinoic Acid acts on the fibroblasts, improving skin elasticity, decreasing pore size and the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
- The final step in skin maintenance is prevention of further damage. Sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 should be used daily and reapplied if you are going to be outdoors.
You should also speak with your aesthetic doctor about regular peels or laser treatments. Doing scheduled maintenance on your skin will help maintain your beauty for years, but more importantly help your skin to function well, helping to maintain your general health.Jennifer Tighe de Soto, MD is a cosmetic surgeon who is board certified through the American Academy of Aesthetic Medicine. For more advice from Dr. de Soto on body sculpting and other aesthetic treatments please visit www.omahaliposuction.com where you can read her blog and see before and after photos of actual patients.