The skin is the body’s largest organ. It acts like a protective shell as it is not only waterproof, but it helps protect the body from bacteria, infection and viruses. The outermost layer is called the epidermis, followed by the dermis which is much thicker and subcutaneous fat which forms the bottom layer. Each layer performs different roles:
Epidermis – This layer is in charge of making new skin cells, giving your skin its colour (by making something called melanin) and protecting your body with cells that form part of your immune system.
Dermis – This thicker layer contains your sweat glands, nerve endings and the roots of the hairs on your body. The dermis contains glands that create oils to keep your skin soft and waterproof and blood vessels that feed the skin and remove toxins through the blood stream.
Subcutaneous fat – The bottom layer connects the dermis to your muscles and bones through a special tissue and it also transfers the blood vessels and nerve cells that start life in the dermis to the rest of your body. This is the layer of the skin that controls your body temperature and stores your fat to protect muscles from any impact.
Keeping your skin healthy is important, and there are basic lifestyle choices you can make to ensure it gets the best care. However, there are common skin conditions that may require extra help from medicines or treatments. We’ll discuss these further, look at how to protect the skin in the sun and suggest healthy choices you can make with your diet to keep your skin in shape.
Common skin conditions
Here are some common conditions that affect the skin. Some can be more serious than others and they can all have a detrimental effect on people’s lives as they can cause serious discomfort. Some of the most common skin complaints are:
- Atopic eczema
- Cold sores
- Warts and verrucas
Treatments such as antihistamines, antibiotics, moisturisers, topical steroids and antiviral creams may be prescribed by a doctor to relieve symptoms or heal the condition. Some skin complaints like atopic eczema reduce or go away entirely as people grow older, others have no cure (e.g. psoriasis) but can be managed with a series of treatments.
Find out more about common skin complaints and their possible treatment here
Sun damage and safety
Sunburn is not only painful but also can increase your risk of developing skin cancer. UV (Ultra Violet) radiation from the sun is transmitted in three wavelengths: A, B and C. UVC doesn’t penetrate the earth’s atmosphere, but UVA and UVB rays can harm the skin.
UVB rays are responsible for sunburn and are linked to increasing your risk of malignant melanoma and basal cell carcinoma (types of skin cancer). A sunscreen with a high SPF (sun protection factor) will help block UVB rays and prevent the skin from burning. You can burn your skin even when it is cloudy but when out in the sun it is especially important to protect your skin from UVA and UVB rays and wear a suitable SPF.
What to eat to keep skin healthy
The condition of your skin will be affected by the types of foods you regularly consume. Eating a healthy, balanced diet will help your skin to function as it should, not to mention look clearer and stay soft and supple. The skin naturally wrinkles with age and can also develop some discolouration, but this process can be sped up by things like overexposure to the sun, bad nutrition and harmful chemicals found in products we place on the skin.
Some things you can eat or drink to help maintain healthy skin are:
- Fruit and vegetables – eating 5 portions of fruit and veg each day might seem like a mammoth task, but the vitamins and minerals found in them will help to keep your skin functioning and looking good. Foods like carrots, kale, papaya and spinach all contain natural antioxidants which help to keep the skin firm and can reduce the appearance of scars and sun damage.
- Vitamin C – Also known as a ‘super antioxidant’ this ascorbic acid helps with the healing of wounds and maintains healthy skin. Good sources of vitamin C are oranges, broccoli, potatoes and strawberries.
- Vitamin E – As well as helping the immune system, vitamin E helps your skin to stay healthy. Nuts, seeds and plant oils like olive oil are great sources. The recommended daily amounts are 3mg for women and 4mg for men.
- Selenium – This helps prevent damage to skin cells and tissues and can be found in food like fish, eggs and brazil nuts. However, too much selenium can cause a condition called selenosis which can lead to loss of skin, hair and nails.
- Healthy fats – avocados, oily fish and nuts and seeds can provide fatty acids which moisturise your skin. They also contain vitamin E.
- Zinc – zinc-rich foods like lean red meat and wholegrains help with the functioning of the glands in your bottom layer of skin that produce oil and keep your skin soft. It also helps with repairing damage to the skin.
- Water – Staying hydrated gives your skin the moisture it needs to stay flexible. You can also get fluids and moisture from eating cucumber, courgette and watermelon.
Things to avoid for healthy skin
As well as adding certain foods to your diet to help maintain healthy skin, there are certain things you could avoid too:
Smoking – It has been suggested that smoking reduces the elasticity of the skin by reducing the body’s production of collagen (a protein that supports skin strength). Smoking also reduces blood flow to the skin, reducing the amounts of oxygen and nutrients it receives.
Alcohol – Your skin can become dehydrated when you drink alcohol so make sure you stay hydrated by drinking water, soda water or fruit juice in-between alcoholic beverages.
Harsh soaps or bathing products – Washing too often or using harsh soaps can wash away the natural oils that keep your skin healthy. Using alcohol free products will help to keep your skin hydrated and can avoid unwanted irritation too.
For advice from the NHS on skincare and conditions try their Healthy skin and skin conditions page.
The information in this article intended as general advice only. If you or your family members require medical advice or have any medical concerns, please contact your GP
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