The information below was developed by the National Institute of Health (NIH) and is provided to assist you in making choices about your health care. Americans spend billions of dollars each year on "wrinkle" creams, bleaching products and skin lotions to keep skin looking smooth and healthy, yet the simplest and cheapest way to keep your skin healthier and younger looking is to stay out of the sun. Sunlight is a major cause of skin changes we think of as aging-- wrinkling, looseness, leathery-dryness, blotchiness, yellowing, or pebbly texture. Still, one-third of all adults continue to sunbathe.
Sun DamageThe sun's ultraviolet (UV) light hurts fibers in the skin called elastin. The breakdown of these fibers causes the skin to sag, stretch, and lose its elasticity. While sun damage may not show when you are young, it will be evident later in life.
SmokingPeople who smoke tend to have more wrinkles than nonsmokers of the same age, complexion, and history of sun exposure. The reason for this difference is unclear. It may be because smoking interferes with normal blood flow in the skin.
Skin CancerSun damage also causes skin cancer. The chance of developing skin cancer increases as people age, especially for those who live in sunny areas of the country. The best defense against skin cancer is paying attention to the warning signs. If there is a sudden change in the look of a mole or a new spot, see a doctor. Look for differences in color, size, shape, or surface quality (scaliness, oozing, crusting, or bleeding).
Dry Skin and ItchingDry skin is common in the winter. Many people develop "winter itch" because overheated indoor air is dry. The loss of sweat and oil glands as we age may also worsen dry skin. Anything that further dries the skin (such as overuse of soaps, antiperspirants, perfumes, or hot baths) will make the problem worse.
Maintaining Healthy SkinThe best way to keep skin healthy is to avoid sun exposure beginning early in life. Here are some other tips:
Do not sunbathe or visit tanning parlors.
If you are in the sun between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. always wear protective clothing--such as a hat, long-sleeved shirt, and sunglasses.
Put on sunscreen lotion before going out in the sun to help protect your skin from UV light. Always use products that have a SPF (sun protection factor) 15 to 30.
Check your skin often for signs of skin cancer. If there are changes that worry you, call the doctor right away.
Relieve dry skin problems by using a humidifier at home, bathing with soap less often, and using a moisturizing lotion. If this doesn’t work, see your doctor.