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Ten daily skin care essentials

BY: FIT N HEALTH

Skin is the largest organ in the human body, yet it’s often woefully taken for granted. People pamper their hearts and agonize over their waistlines, but their skin can get totally overlooked.

Sure, they might spread a little lotion on dry elbows from time to time, or dab a bit of sunscreen on untanned noses before hitting the beach, but that’s often the extent of many skin-care regimes beyond a few daily scrubs with the washcloth.

That is not, however, what dermatologists recommend. Skin needs a little TLC to stay healthy, just like every other organ you have, and that means making some time for it on a daily basis. Some of this stuff is just sound advice that benefits other parts of the body as well, but lots of it is quite specific to skin. So in no particular order, here are 10 daily must-haves if you want to sport younger, healthier looking skin.

1: Cleansers

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We’ll kick it off with the basics: Cleansers are your friends. This probably doesn’t come as a big shock to anyone, but one of the simplest strategies for making sure your skin has a healthy glow is to wash it. Different skin types need different cleansers, so as with many skin-care products, look for one tailored to your specific needs.

Facing shelf after shelf of cleansers at the grocery store can be daunting, but here are a few quick tips. Fragrances and dyes can irritate some people’s skin, so you may want to avoid those if you aren’t sure yours can handle it. Mild and gentle is also a good route to go — it may feel satisfying to put your face through a super-scrub session, but an ordeal like that usually harms more than it helps. Skin doesn’t need to feel tight and dry to be considered clean. In fact, that usually means you’ve stri*ped away important layers of natural oils or left some soapy residue behind. So cut your skin some slack and it’ll thank you for it later.

2: Chill Time

Nope, we’re not recommending you spend time hanging around walk-in freezers, but we are recommending people take a little “me time” and relax. Stress can wreak havoc on even the best skin, and it causes lots of other unpleasant effects on the body, too.

If skin is under undue duress (even if bad skin is what’s stressing you out in the first place) it can eventually become thin and less able to regenerate itself. And if you thought the acne was bad, just wait until the itching, redness and eczema set in.

So try to calm down — that zit doesn’t look as awful as you think, and if you don’t get everything done on your to-do list for the day, chances are excellent the world won’t come screeching to a halt. With any luck, your skin will start to mellow out, too.

3: Exercise

You might be tired of hearing how important exercise is for good health, but how about just once more? Exercise is important for good health — including skin health. Plus, it’s really not that bad. Just try hitting the gym or taking a brisk stroll around the block, and you might find yourself enjoying the feeling of a solid workout.

Regular exercise not only helps flush out pores and fight acne, it can also aid skin by promoting toxin removal and decreasing signs of aging by boosting collagen production and diminishing wrinkles.

The acne bit tends to work like this, although like the rest of these benefits, results may vary. Stress amps up the production of certain hormones — many of which have been linked to acne flare-ups — and exercise is believed to help decrease stress levels. Ergo, less acne. A good workout also sends more oxygen and nutrients pumping through your bloodstream.

4: Nutritious Diet

Not all products that are skin-care musts are found in bathroom drawers; some pop up in the kitchen. Although more extensive research needs to be done on the subject, many foods are strongly suspected of helping skin stay young and healthy looking.

It’s a good idea to eat foods that are fresh and not overly processed — try shopping around the edges of the grocery store and avoiding the aisles — that’s where the less healthy food typically lurks. A balanced mix of nutrients, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants should keep your skin vibrant. Biotin, a type of vitamin B, helps replenish skin, along with your hair and nails. Vitamin A is big when it comes to repairing damaged tissue and maintaining healthy skin. Vitamins C and E are examples of antioxidant powerhouses that box out free radicals and work to protect skin from the sun’s fierce rays.

These sorts of good guys can be found in loads of fruits and veggies, as well as many other foods. The right kinds of protein are also important — they help cells fix themselves when damaged. One study suggests that people who eat things like legumes, vegetables and olive oil, coupled with less sugary foods and dairy products, had less wrinkly skin in old age [source: Purba]. So find a good diet that makes your skin happy and stick to it.

5: Sleep

Don’t feel guilty the next time you swat the snooze button and roll over in bed. Getting a good night’s rest is a daily ritual that your skin will punish you for skimping on. That’s because sleep is your skin’s time to rejuvenate and relax. Whether you love to smile or wear a constant frown, that’s a lot of action for your skin to handle. Throw in the occasional cut, scratch, scrape and bruise, and skin is about ready to call it quits.

Skin gets busy replenishing itself during a sound sleep. It’s also great because, at least for a portion of the day, skin gets to avoid all the dirt, pollution and any other nastiness floating around in the air.

6: Sunscreen

It may sound a little extreme, but experts often recommend a surplus of sunscreen, even at times and in places many might not consider normally. It’s one thing to slap some on before you head down to the pool, for example, but what about for the ride to work or on a quick run to the grocery store? Yup, then, too.

These extreme anti-UV tactics might not be up everyone’s alley, but it’s a good idea to consider sunscreen as part of your daily regimen. That way, anytime you might be exposed to the sun, you’ll be prepared for the onslaught of skin-ravaging rays.

Also, keep in mind that despite laudable labels and proud product claims, many sunscreens can’t keep you safe all day long. They usually need to be reapplied about every two hours to maintain maximum efficiency. And for sunbathers who want a tan but manage to put on a concessionary coat of sunscreen — that SPF 2 or SPF 4 isn’t doing a heck of a lot of good. It usually takes at least an SPF 15 to keep skin healthy.

7: Bad Habits (A Lack of Them, Actually)

You’ve started wearing sunscreen and eating better. You go for a jog every morning now that you’re going to bed on time and getting a good night’s rest. But darned if there isn’t usually a soda can or a coffee cup parked innocently on your desk every day, and after work, you still enjoy the occasional cigarette or frosty cold one now and then.

These little foibles might not seem like a big deal, but they’re often displayed plain as day on your face, which suffers from activities like smoking and drinking caffeine and alcohol. Smoking slows blood flow to the skin which robs it of oxygen and nutrients, and can also lead to a more aged appearance — puckered mouths inhaling smoke and squinted eyes keeping it out can cause an abundance of extra wrinkles.

Drinking alcohol and caffeine can both dehydrate skin, so if you absolutely can’t kill your craving for a cup of joe or a glass of wine, try to make up for it by drinking plenty of water. Alcohol can also damage blood vessels over time, causing spots of skin to turn permanently red.

But now that we’ve dealt with the “don’ts,” let’s head over to the last couple of “do’s.”

8: Exfoliants

It can also be good to have an exfoliant on hand. Everyone’s surely heard those startling statistics about how dead skin cells constantly pour off our bodies in vast numbers. Only sometimes after they die, they stick around for a while and a little encouragement is needed to send them on their way.

This is where exfoliants and facial scrubs come in. They whisk away dead skin and polish up what remains, leaving it shiny and fresh. Only keep in mind, you don’t want an exfoliator that’s too rough or it can scrape your skin and leave it damaged. Get something that’s gentle and not overly coarse, especially if you tend to break out a lot, because harsh exfoliation can aggravate acne.

9: Moisturizers

We started out discussing how fundamental a cleanser is to any top-notch daily skin-care routine, so to wrap up the list, let’s return to its all-important sidekick: moisturizer. Even if you’re on the oilier end of the spectrum, you probably still need a good moisturizer, although a lighter one is usually best. One good trick is to look for one that says “noncomedogenic” on the label. (Don’t let that tricky-to-say word worry you; according to the Mayo Clinic, it just means the product isn’t likely to clog your pores.) Creams and ointments often work better than lotions for people with dry skin.

It’s best to slap on some moisturizer right after you bathe — this locks in all the water your skin was able to soak up in the shower. Just gently pat yourself dry and smooth on the moisturizer. It’ll have you looking healthier in no time, with soft, hydrated skin.