Employee & Community Health

The skinny on skin

2/25/2019 by Dr. Paul Takahashi

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Not all of our organs are on the inside. One we wear on the outside and see every day is our skin, our largest organ. In adults, it covers 22 square feet and weighs about eight pounds. Our skin serves as a waterproof, insulating, protective shield and is packed with nerves for keeping us in touch with the outside world. 

So, it's a good idea to pay attention to this amazing organ. Here's the skinny on keeping skin healthy throughout our lives: 

Wear sunscreen. A sunscreen with a high SPF protects against skin cancer and other sun damage. Anyone from birth to 99+ should apply it whenever we go outside. Wear a hat and cover up in the sun with long sleeves and pants (check out the new ultraviolet-light screening fabrics) for extra protection. 

Don't smoke. Smoking ages our skin, making it look older and leading to wrinkles. It also restricts blood flow that supplies nutrients and oxygen essential for skin health. 

Eat a healthy, balanced diet — with plenty of water. Many of the best foods for healthy skin also promote good overall health. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Research suggests that antioxidant-rich foods like tomatoes, berries, beans, peas and lentils, and fatty fish like salmon, can help protect our skin. The key is variety — and lots of water to keep skin hydrated. 

Keep it clean, but gentle. Use warm rather than hot water when washing, showering or shaving, avoid strong and/or abrasive soaps, pat dry and moisturize all over, especially during the winter. 

Check it out. We know our skin and what looks normal for us. Regular skin checks for anything unusual, new, rough, raised, discolored or is taking a long time to heal can catch issues early. A spot getting darker, bigger or more irregular also is a warning sign. Make a note and see your care team. Some health conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, can lead skin to break down, making it more susceptible to sores and ulcers. Your care team can help manage wounds by identifying causes and working on nutrition and ways to promote healing. 

Older skin, special care. As we age, our skin ages, too. It becomes thinner, more fragile and less quick to heal. We also tend to bruise easier, especially if we're on any type of blood thinner. The bruises to be concerned about are those in more protected areas that typically don't get bumped. To protect against aging skin, keep it moisturized, avoid bumps and falls and eat a healthy, balanced diet, which includes getting enough calories, protein and fats. 

Dr. Paul Takahashi is an internal medicine physician in Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Division of Community Internal Medicine (CIM) and practices at the Baldwin Building clinic in Rochester. His interests include geriatric medicine, long-term and nursing home care, and public health.