Tips to Protect Your Skin

Your skin plays a vital role in protecting your body, so it’s important to take steps to promote skin health. Caring for your skin doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming, and can quickly become second nature, like brushing your teeth.

You can keep your skin looking and feeling great by guarding against a slew of skin woes, from chapped skin to premature aging to skin cancer. “We’re talking about things that happen over decades,” says dermatologist Samantha Conrad, MD, in practice at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

That’s why it is important to develop healthy skin habits —and it’s never too late to start. Here are five skin protection tips you can incorporate into your routine right away.

Limit Sun Exposure

You’ve heard the message a zillion times, but there’s good reason — ultraviolet rays emitted by the sun cause many types of skin damage, including:

  • Skin cancer
  • Wrinkles
  • Freckles
  • Age spots
  • Discolorations
  • Benign growths

Using skin care products that offer ultraviolet protection is one of the best ways to help keep your skin looking fresh and youthful. Try these tips to help protect your skin from the sun:

  • Use sunscreen every day and reapply regularly whenever you’re outdoors for extended periods. “I encourage people to use sunblock that is more mineral- or physical-based,” says Dr. Conrad. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends using sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.
  • Cover up. “It’s really about protection — that means wearing hats and protective sun clothing,” says Conrad. Long sleeves and pants or long skirts give you more coverage.
  • Stay indoors when the sun is at its most intense, usually between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., according to the AAD.
  • Combine sun protection strategies. A study published in January 2017 in JAMA Dermatology found that beachgoers using an umbrella alone for sun protection were more likely to get sunburn than those using sunscreen alone — but neither strategy completely prevented sunburn. The researchers concluded that combining multiple strategies offers the most protection from the sun’s harmful rays.

Keep in mind that tanning beds are just as harmful as direct sunlight, as they also emit ultraviolet rays, according to the AAD.

Stay Hydrated

“Drinking enough water/fluids is important for your general health,” says Karyn Grossman, MD, a dermatologist in private practice with Grossman Dermatology in Santa Monica, California, and spokesperson for the AAD. She recommends starting the day with a cup of green tea for hydration, caffeine, and antioxidants.

In addition to drinking enough fluids, keeping your skin moist is essential to skin protection.

“Dry skin can have small gaps in the skin barrier that allow entry of bacteria and fungus,” says dermatologist Michael Lin, MD, medical director of the Advanced Dermatology and Skin Cancer Institute in Beverly Hills, California.

Skin that is properly hydrated retains pliability and is less likely to become chapped, scaly, or flaky. Try these tips to keep your skin hydrated:

  • Use the right moisturizing cream or lotion for your skin. “Look for moisturizers with hyaluronic acid, ceramides, or coconut oil,” says Dr. Grossman. “Always apply on damp skin. This keeps the moisture in the skin.”
  • Take warm (not hot) showers or baths and limit them to between five and 10 minutes. It seems counterintuitive, but exposure to water actually dries out your skin, Grossman explains. If dry skin persists, consider cutting back on the number of baths you take.
  • Invest in a humidifier. “If your skin tends to be on the dry side, using a humidifier in your bedroom at night and in your work space during the day can help keep the air hydrated, which can prevent the air from zapping moisture from your skin,” says Grossman.

Take Health Precautions

Cold sores are caused by a viral infection of the skin bordering the lips, while bacteria can contribute to acne and other skin conditions. Paying close attention to what touches your skin can help lower your chances of exposure to germs. Start with these tips:

  • Don’t share any personal items, such as lip balms or toothbrushes, with others.
  • Don’t share drinks with other people.
  • Avoid touching your face with your fingers, and avoid facial contact with objects that have been used by other people, such as telephone receivers.
  • Don’t pick at cysts or splinters. Instead, ask your doctor to help you with these skin conditions, says Grossman.

Being prompt with first aid is also important, she says. If you get a bug bite or a scratch, “get on it right away.” Grossman recommends cleaning the site, applying antibiotic ointment if there is a break in the skin, using a clean bandage, and cleaning the site twice daily as it heals.

Use Gentle Skin Care Products

Washing your face is important to remove dirt, oils, germs, and dead cells from your skin. However, scrubbing your face can cause irritation and lead to chapped skin that can become vulnerable. “I find that people often over-rub, over-scrub, and over-peel,” says Grossman, who recommends avoiding abrasive exfoliation skin care products.

The AAD recommends:

  • Washing your face twice daily with warm water and a mild cleanser.
  • Gently massaging your face with your fingers, using a circular motion.
  • Rinsing thoroughly after washing to remove all soap and debris.
  • Patting — not rubbing — your skin dry, then applying moisturizer.

Know Your Skin

“Check your skin regularly for changing moles and other signs of possible skin cancer,” says Grossman.  Talk to your dermatologist about what kinds of changes should concern you.

Certain skin conditions merit a visit to the dermatologist, including frequent acne, inflamed or irritated dry skin, and skin rashes and irritations that don’t go away, as these could be signs of one of the many types of dermatitis, or skin inflammation.

However, should you ever notice any other skin problems, it’s important to get medical attention to resolve them quickly and avoid putting your skin at risk.

Treat Winter Dry Skin

A scratchy wool sweater may make your skin itchy and sensitive during the cold months, but winter weather itself poses a special threat to your skin. There’s little humidity in the air and revving up the heat indoors makes it even worse. The result: Dry skin in need of moisture, says Francesca Fusco, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and a spokeswoman for the Skin Cancer Foundation.

When you have dry, sensitive skin, it itches, appears dull, and may be flaky. Darker skin tones may look ashy, Dr. Fusco says. Dry skin can become cracked and even split. In an extreme case, dry skin can look thickened and leathery, she says.

Before you decide to relocate to a warmer, more humid climate, take these steps to sea in the moisture and repair winter skin.

Your Moisturizer: Go From Thin to Thick

While you might only need a thin lotion on your body during summer months, Fusco suggests switching to a thicker skin moisturizer, such as an ointment or cream, in the winter. Apply it when your skin is still damp from a shower.

An ointment such as petroleum jelly is the thickest skin moisturizer you can buy and will work well for treating dry skin, Fusco says. Although it can be greasy, if you put it on when your skin is damp, the greasiness will go away. “But don’t put it on the bottom of your feet because you could slip and fall,” Fusco cautions.

Creams are also thicker than lotion and are great for winter skin. If your skin is very, very dry, you may want to try one that contains alpha hydroxy acid, or AHA, to exfoliate dead skin, Fusco says.

Winter Complexion Protection

Be sure to use a separate moisturizer specifically designed for your face, Fusco says. The skin on your face is thinner and more sensitive, so always choose a moisturizer that’s labeled “non-comedogenic” because it won’t clog your pores or lead to pimples. If you have sensitive skin, it’s a good idea to look for a hypoallergenic moisturizer, adds Fusco.

Go with a lighter moisturizer such as a lotion if you have oily skin and a heavier formula if you have dry skin. If you have a combination of oily and dry skin on your face, use a lighter lotion overall and dab the areas of dry skin with the thicker cream, Fusco says.

The sun’s damaging rays can still reach your skin in the winter. Fusco recommends using a face moisturizer with an SPF, or sun protection factor. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology suggests using a sunscreen all year round, with an SPF of 30 or higher that protects against ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays.

Switch Up Your Shower Strategy

It may be hard to resist a long soak in a hot bath when it’s cold outside, but it doesn’t do your skin any favors. “Sitting in hot baths has a drying effect on the skin,” Fusco says. A better idea: Take a short, warm shower.

Keep showers under 10 minutes and apply your skin moisturizer within three minutes of stepping out. Also, avoid soaps with deodorants, fragrance, or alcohol because they can strip your skin of its natural oils.

Other Ways to Add Moisture

Using a humidifier in your home will help put moisture back into the air and keep your skin from getting dry, Fusco says. No humidifier? Fill a bowl with water and put it near the source of your heat, suggests Fusco.

Getting good-for-you fats into your diet from unsaturated sources like oils and nuts will also help skin look healthy and stay supple during the winter, Fusco says. Drinking plenty of water helps to moisturize your skin from the inside out.

Winter doesn’t have to mean itchy, flaky dry skin. Choosing the right skin moisturizer and taking some simple steps can help you look your best all season long.