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Taking Care of Your Skin

You come into this world wearing it, and you’ll wear it every day for the rest of your life. What is it? Your skin! Are you taking care of yours? If not, you’ll want to read this…

A hard worker

Your skin is the largest organ in your body. It makes up roughly 15% of your body weight and is made up of water, protein, lipids, minerals and chemicals. Skin has three layers:

  1. The epidermis is the protective outer layer. It renews itself regularly by shedding old cells to make room for new ones.
  2. The dermis is the middle layer. The most important part of your skin, it delivers nutrients like collagen and proteins to the epidermis to keep your skin looking good. Blood vessels, glands, hair follicles and nerve endings live here.
  3. The subcutaneous layer is the innermost layer. Also known as the skin’s “shock absorber,” it keeps heat and moisture in, protects your bones, supports the blood vessels and nerves, contains sensory and motor nerves and stores the nutrients the dermis and epidermis need to stay healthy.

Your skin works hard 24/7, removing toxins from the body as it sheds old cells, helping the body to eliminate oil and perspiration, drawing in the oxygen that’s vital for cell life, and protecting you from infections and other environmental attacks.

So what can you do to protect your skin?

Natural enemies

You probably already know that the sun—or more specifically, ultraviolet rays from the sun—can change the look of your skin more than any other environmental factor. But climate, seasonal changes and air pollution can also wreak havoc on your skin.

But, so can your lifestyle. Stress, lack of exercise and sleep and poor diet—routine for college students—can all affect the way your skin looks, repairs itself and ultimately ages.

Common skin problems

Whether you’re worried about acne or athlete’s foot, dry skin or razor burn, a mysterious rash or common warts, skin problems can happen at any age. Most skin problems will resolve on their own or can be treated easily with over-the-counter remedies. Others—like frequently recurring cold sores or a sore that does not heal—could be a symptom of something more. When in doubt, check with the school physician or your family doctor. And be sure to seek medical help immediately if you develop a rash while taking a medication. This could be a sign of a dangerous allergic reaction!

Click here for a slideshow of 20 common skin problems.

Skin care basics

The bottom line is this. Taking care of your skin doesn’t have to take a lot of time. But if you want your skin to look good for your lifetime, the time to start taking care of it is now. Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Wash your face every night. Like mama said, healthy skin begins with a clean face. A mild soap like Dove or gentle cleansing cream will keep your face clean without drying it out. And if you wear makeup, be sure to take it off before you go to bed. Click here to see which cleansers are best for your skin type.
  2. Moisturize every day. The best time to moisturize is after your shower or when your skin is damp. A good moisturizer doesn’t have to be expensive. Click here for six great moisturizers under $20.
  3. Exfoliate once or twice a week. A gentle scrub with tiny grains will help slough off dead skin cells and give your skin a nice fresh glow. Don’t overdo it, or you could be doing more harm than good.
  4. Use sunscreen. Skincare experts say sunscreen is the most important part of your skincare regimen. Look for a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, and wear it every day!

Your Skin - 10 Questions Students Ask

The more you know about taking care of your skin, the better you’ll be able to make smart decisions about your skin care. See how many of these questions you can answer!

Q. How can I tell the difference between a normal mole or freckle—and skin cancer?
A. Most moles and freckles are harmless—but not always. Look at yourself in the mirror and get to know what your moles and freckles look like. Keep an eye out for unusual changes, and if you see something suspicious make an appointment with your doctor or dermatologist. Know the ABCDEs of skin cancer:

  • A is for asymmetry. Both sides of a mole or freckle should look the same.
  • B is for border. Early skin cancers (melanomas) may have scalloped, notched or uneven borders.
  • C is for color. Healthy moles are usually one color. A melanoma may be several different shades of brown or black; it may even turn red, blue or another color.
  • D is for diameter. Check out anything that is larger than the size of a standard pencil eraser (about ¼ inch).
  • E is for evolving. Any change in size, shape, color—or something new like bleeding or scabbing—is a danger signal.

The Skin Cancer Foundation says, “If you can spot it, you can stop it.” Examine your skin regularly, and check out for more information.

Q. Is it a cold sore or an STI?
A. Almost everyone gets a cold sore on their mouth or face at some point in their life. A cold sore is usually caused by herpes simplex-1. Genital herpes, a sexually transmitted disease, is usually caused by herpes simplex-2. However, both forms of this virus are highly contagious and are spread through contact with an active blister. And both can spread from the mouth to the genitals, or vice versa.

Q: What about warts?
A: Warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Certain types of HPV cause common warts on hands and feet, while others cause genital warts. Both are highly contagious, but only genital warts are typically spread through direct contact during vaginal, anal or oral sex. Genital HPV is the most commonly transmitted STD. There are 40 different strains of genital HPVs!

Q: Are tattoos safe?
A: Getting a tattoo is a pretty big commitment, and it’s not without risk. The most common risks are infection, allergic reactions and scarring. And if the needles used to create your tattoo aren’t cleaned properly, you’re also at risk for hepatitis, tuberculosis, tetanus and HIV—the virus that causes AIDS. Tattoos are meant to be permanent, so be sure you want one before you get one. If you do get a tattoo, don’t pick at the scabs or you might increase the chance of infection (and damage the design). To find out how to care for a new tattoo, click here

Q: Is permanent makeup safe?
A: Permanent makeup is a lot like a tattoo. Over time, permanent eyeliner, for example, may fade and blur and wind up looking like eye shadow. Permanent makeup may be removed by laser surgery, but be warned. The procedure may leave darkened patches or spots just under the surface of your skin, and these are irreversible.

Q. Is tanning safe?
A: Only if you’re dying to get skin cancer! Over 90% of skin cancers are related to UV exposure. Tanning also leads to skin discoloration and premature wrinkles. And tanning beds are just as unhealthy as the sun.

Q: What can I do about my acne?
A: No matter what you call them, zits can really ruin your day. Lifestyle changes like these can help you control most breakouts.

  1. Wash your face every night, even if you don’t get in until 3 a.m.. Not washing can lead to clogged pores, and you know where that leads.
  2. Try over-the-counter acne lotions with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid as the active ingredient to dry out oily skin and promote exfoliation.
  3. Dirt and oil can contribute to acne. Whenever possible, keep your hair, your hands—and the telephone receiver everyone else—away from your face.
  4. Don’t squeeze. Picking and squeezing can cause infection and lead to scarring.
  5. There are many ways to treat acne, including antibiotics and prescription lotions. Speak to a doctor or dermatologist if your acne shows no sign of clearing up.

Q: Can Botox prevent wrinkles?
A: Yes, but only where there is muscle movement, like between the eyebrows, around your mouth or across the forehead. For larger areas, like your cheekbones, the only things that will keep you wrinkle free are wearing sunscreen, not smoking and using products that promote collagen production.

Q: How can I tell if a product is safe for my skin?
A: Read the ingredient list for starters. Log on to to check the safety of ingredients in the makeup you use. Look for products that have been tested for safety and will not harm the environment. Know the name of the manufacturer and try to buy organic when you can.

Q: Are there hangover helpers for my skin?
A: Alcohol is dehydrating, so it’s a sure bet your skin will look parched and blotchy after a night of drinking. Your eyes will probably be puffy, too. No matter how wasted you feel, try to remove your makeup before you hit the sack. A good bronzer, blush and concealer will help cover up the damage the next day. Click here to try College Candy’s tips for face-saving hangover concealers. But remember, the only real cure for your skin is time, rest and drinking plenty of water.

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