We all have skin in this game

What weighs between six and nine pounds, covers about 18.5 square feet and makes up about 16 percent of your body weight? Of course. It’s your body’s biggest organ. Your skin.

“Your skin separates the inside of your body from the outside world. It protects you from bacteria and viruses, and regulates your body temperature,” the National Institute of Health’s website explains. “It holds body fluids in, preventing dehydration and keeps harmful microbes out. Your skin is full of nerve endings that help you feel things like heat, cold, and pain.”

“Conditions that irritate, clog or inflame your skin can cause symptoms such as redness, swelling, burning and itching. Allergies, irritants, your genetic makeup, and certain diseases and immune system problems can cause dermatitis, hives, and other skin conditions. Many skin problems, such as acne, also affect your appearance. Your skin can also develop several kinds of cancers,” NIH says.

Let’s take a quick anatomy class about the three layers of skin. The top layer, the epidermis, is thin in some places, such as your eyelids; and very thick in others (think the bottoms of your feet). It’s in charge of making new skin cells, giving skin its color and protecting your body.

The next layer is the dermis whose job it is to make sweat, help your sense of touch, grow hair, make oil and bring blood to your skin. The bottom layer, subcutaneous fat, plays an important role in your body by attaching the dermis to your muscles and bones; helping the blood vessels and nerve cells; controlling your body temperature and storing fat.

Millions of bacteria live on the skin and, fortunately, most of them are harmless. A change to your skin can indicate that something is wrong. Rashes, hives and itching may indicate an allergic reaction, a bacterial or viral skin infection or an autoimmune disease. A mole may be a sign of skin cancer.

The dry skin that many of us will suffer with during the winter months can be more than a slight discomfort. Dry itchy skin means you scratch. You scratch and break the epidermis and all that should-be innocent bacteria gets into the wound and results in an infection.

Skin care isn’t just about making you look and smell better, it’s about preventing various skin problems. The Mayo Clinic gives us five tips for healthy skin:

  1. Protect yourself from the sun. That means using a sunscreen of at least 15 SPF even in the winter months. Even a small amount of sun exposure can cause age spots, wrinkles and, oh yes, cancer.
  2. Don’t smoke. “Smoking makes your skin look older and contributes to wrinkles. Smoking narrows the fine blood vessels in the outermost layers of skin, which decreases blood flow. This depletes the skin of oxygen and nutrients that are important to skin health,” Mayo Clinic says.
  3. Treat your skin gently. Cleansing and shaving will take its toll. Mayo says to limit bath time and to use warm rather than hot water. Avoid strong soaps and detergents by choosing mild cleansers. When shaving use a cream, lotion or gel and a clean, sharp razor and always shave in the direction the hair grows, not against it.

They also suggest that you pat or blot your skin with a towel leaving some moisture behind and if your skin is dry, use a moisturizer that fits your skin type.

  1. Eat a healthy diet. “A healthy diet can help you look and feel your best,” Mayo says. “Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. Some research suggests that a diet rich in vitamin C and low in unhealthy fats and processed or refined carbohydrates might promote younger looking skin,” Mayo says. And, be sure to stay hydrated. Dry on the inside will result in dry on the outside.
  2. Manage stress. Uncontrolled stress can make your skin more sensitive to hives and other rashes and may trigger fever blisters. It can worsen psoriasis, rosacea, eczema and other skin conditions.

Finally, see your healthcare provider if you have any changes in moles, growths, freckles or spots.

Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 208-264-4029 or kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.