You know working out is important for keeping your body strong, but what steps are you taking to keep your skin strong? Your skin is your body’s largest and fastest-growing organ, covering an average of 22 square feet of your body from head to toe. Your skin works as an insulating buffer between you and the outside world, keeping you warm when it’s cold out and cool when it’s hot. It helps keep the good stuff (your organs, muscles and blood) in and the bad stuff (viruses, bacteria and chemicals) out. Needless to say, it’s pretty important and worth protecting, both for your general health as well as your appearance. Here’s how you can ensure your skin is as strong as the rest of you.
1. Slather on Sunscreen
You might be tired of hearing it, but it’s still true and still important: Sunscreen is the most important way to protect your skin. “Use a broad-spectrum SPF of 35 or more applied every morning, rain or shine, in office or out of office, to prevent sun damage,” says Ava Shamban, M.D., a Beverly Hills-based dermatologist at Ava MD. This goes way beyond just worrying about future wrinkles. “Since the ultraviolet light is radiation and penetrates the skin, it not only makes it unattractive, it also causes a loss of function from the perspective of the immune function of the skin,” she says. With more than 5.4 million new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer treated each year in the U.S. (and an estimated 73,870 new cases of invasive melanoma -- the most fatal form of skin cancer), the message bears repeating: Wear sunscreen. Every day. Even when it’s cloudy or you’ll be staying inside.
2. Up the Ante on Protection With Antioxidants
Environmental factors like car exhaust, cigarette smoke and pesticides can all lead to free-radical damage of your skin. Free radicals are also created by your body as a normal by-product of your metabolism, though they’re increased with a lack of sleep, excessive stress or poor eating habits. Luckily, you can battle free-radical damage with antioxidants. “Antioxidants stabilize free radicals so that they don’t damage your collagen and elastic tissue,” says Debra Jaliman, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and author of “Skin Rules: Trade Secrets From a Top New York Dermatologist.” Here’s a bit of the science behind this principle: Free radicals are unstable oxygen molecules with a single electron. Antioxidants arrive on the scene and share an electron with the free radical, making it stable and uninterested in attacking your collagen. “Some of most powerful antioxidants are vitamin C, niacinamide, grapeseed extract, resveratrol and green tea,” says Dr. Jaliman. Look for skin care serums with one of these ingredients to help strengthen your skin.
3. Go Nuts Over Nuts
When you’re noshing on nuts, choose walnuts specifically, says registered dietician Beth Warren. “Walnuts contain the highest amount of plant-based omega-3 essential fats (ALA) than any other nut. They are also loaded with copper, a mineral that boosts collagen production.” Packing walnuts as a snack or throwing them into a salad for dinner will help improve your skin’s complexion and texture as well as slough off calluses. “Walnuts also have protein, which helps boost collagen production along with biotin, a B vitamin, that helps with hormone function and improves the health of the skin,” says Warren. If you’re not a fan of walnuts, try other skin-strengthening nuts like almonds or Brazil nuts.
Related: 10 Foods That Are Bad for Your Skin
4. Seal in Moisture
Dry skin doesn’t feel good, but did you know that it’s actually weaker as well? “If the skin gets dried out, it gets micro-fissures where bacteria, fungus and viruses and can enter,” says Dr. Ava Shamban. “If your skin is too dry, it compromises the barrier function of the skin.” This is even more important during the winter months, when skin is at its driest due to cold temperatures, low humidity and indoor heating, says Taylor Chang-Babaian, celebrity makeup artist and author of “Beauty Rewind.” Look for facial lotions with hyaluronic acid, which can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water. Or try non-water-based moisturizers like coconut or almond oil and be sure to apply immediately after showering to ensure maximum absorption.
Related: 6 Skin Care Ingredients to Avoid
5. Moisturize From the Inside Out
Just as important as keeping your skin protected on the outside is keeping it moisturized from the inside out. “That means drinking enough water and minimizing caffeine and alcohol intake as well,” says makeup artist Taylor Chang-Babaian, as both caffeine and alcohol can dehydrate you. The skin contains roughly 30 percent water, which contributes to its resiliency, plumpness and elasticity. A 2011 study from the Department of Nutrition at the University of North Carolina highlighted the fact that water intake can indeed improve skin thickness and density as well as increase skin hydration. But you can revise the hard-and-fast “eight glasses of water a day” mantra. According to the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine, the majority of healthy individuals meet their daily hydration needs just by letting thirst be their guide. And don’t forget that some of your water consumption comes from hydrating fruits and vegetables and liquid-based foods like soups.
6. Wash Your Face -- Correctly
It might seem simple enough, but washing your face is a key step in keeping your skin safe. “It’s important to wash your face when you come in from outside to wash off any pollution that may be on your skin,” says Dr. Debra Jaliman. While it’s critical to wash off the day’s pollutants, you can cause more harm than good if you strip your skin of its natural oils (remember: moisture equals protection). Opt for lukewarm water (not hot) and a gentle cleanser like Cetaphil or the oil-cleaning method, which relies on soothing oils to remove makeup and toxins on your skin while still keeping it moisturized.
7. Go Greek
Still haven’t made the switch to Greek yogurt? Your skin may be suffering. “The high protein content in Greek yogurt, about twice as much as regular yogurt, contributes to stronger skin,” explains dietician Beth Warren. Protein is an essential nutrient in building collagen, a key component of strong, supple skin. “Collagen is one of the most valuable proteins in your body. It is a cement-like material that binds together the cells in your body, leading to more skin elasticity,” says Warren. Add some to your regular breakfast or use as a substitute for mayo, oil or cream in some of your favorite recipes like pasta sauce, salad dressing or cupcake frosting.
8. Build Strength With Microneedling
Often called derma rollers or microneedling, these handheld devices contain thousands of tiny needles that you roll all over your face and make thousands of tiny holes. The procedure makes microscopic injuries to the skin that send the skin into recovery phase, encouraging your skin to create new bits of elastin and collagen. Sound scary? It’s actually relatively painless, since the needles are so small and commercially available devices have very short needles that are tricky to misuse. At-home devices can provide subtle improvements in scarring and wrinkles, while microneedling devices at a dermatologist office often have longer needles that can cause slightly more pain, but also more substantial results.
9. Eat (Don’t Apply) Your Collagen
Collagen is a key building block of strong skin, and many creams and lotions claim to contain this magic ingredient to make your skin supple and glowing. But here’s the rub: The collagen molecule is too large to penetrate the skin from the outside in. Just like any lotion, a collagen cream may moisturize your skin and make it appear stronger and more supple, but it’s really just sitting on top of your skin. For true skin strength, collagen must come from the inside. While there is some debate about the effectiveness of collagen supplements, a 2013 German study found a statistically significant improvement in skin elasticity in a group of women ages 35 to 55 years who took a collagen hydrolysate supplement compared to a group that took a placebo.
What Do YOU Think?
How do you protect your skin? What does your daily skin care regimen look like? Does it involve a nutrition plan as well as lotions and potions? What are some of your favorite foods for healthier skin? Do you have a skin care product that you absolutely swear by? Have you ever visited a dermatologist for skin care advice? Did he or she ever tell you any of the facts listed in this slideshow? Share your thoughts, suggestions and stories in the comments section below!
- Ava Shamban, MD
- Skin Cancer Facts
- Debra Jaliman, MD
- Beth Warren Nutrition
- Water, Hydration and Health
- Dietary Reference Intakes: Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate
- Can Micro-Needling Improve the Appearance of Wrinkles and Acne Scars?
- Oral supplementation of specific collagen peptides has beneficial effects on human skin physiology: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study.
Kate Bayless is an accomplished writer covering lifestyle, health, travel and parenting with bylines across the web at sites like Prevention, LivingHealthy, Babble and Momtrends as well as national glossies like Parents and Fit Pregnancy.