The skin you’re in

Think of your skin as a shield. Protecting your insides, it helps regulate body temperature. It also reflects your health: by interacting with other organs, it can alert you to what’s going on inside your body. And glowing skin is great for self-esteem at any age.

The skinny? Take care of your skin, and it will take care of you. Here’s how.

Skin type is based on the amount of oil your skin secretes, which is hereditary. “Acne, oily skin, freckles, blotchiness and blood vessels – the blush some people get – are inherited tendencies,” explains Dr. Alastair Carruthers, clinical professor of dermatology at the University of British Columbia.

Your skin is also influenced by lifestyle and environmental factors. Ultraviolet rays are responsible for most of the aging we see in the mirror. Smoking, pollution and hormonal imbalances also contribute to how your skin looks.

“Sun and smoking have the greatest impact on how skin ages,” explains Carruthers. “If you have an inherited tendency for sun sensitivity, you have an increased risk for getting skin cancer if you’re exposed to the sun.”

By the te you’re in your 50s, oily skin and acne are probably a thing of the past. But as early as your 20s, your skin begins to show the effects of aging. The fine lines at age 25 deepen to wrinkles by 45.

Genetics are largely responsible for changes in collagen and elastin, the connective tissues that keep skin firm and elastic. As skin loses elasticity, it becomes drier. Underlying padding begins to disappear, and skin starts to sag. It looks less supple, and wrinkles form. Over time, skin is more fragile, which means it is more vulnerable to bruising and tearing and takes longer to heal.

Depending on your genetics and your skin care regime, you may also notice:
• Uneven discolouration
• Surface roughness
• Laxity
• Lentigines (liver spots)
• Sallowness
• Dilated blood vessels
• Benign and malignant growths

All skin is not created equal. “The skin on your face is different than the skin on your body,” says Dr. Paul Cohen from Toronto’s Rosedale Dermatology Centre. “Likely, your face has experienced more sun so will need more attention. Ensure products and treatments are skin specific. For best results, be selective.”

Problem: The thin skin around eyes is particularly susceptible to changes such as puffiness, dark circles, sagging skin, crow’s feet and furrows.

Treatment: Puffiness can be caused by too little (or much) sleep, pollution or a reaction to cosmetic products so make sure to get your ZZZs and try using eye products containing ingredients such as retinol or vitamin K to help diminish swelling.

In people with light skin tones, dark circles are actually muscle and blood vessels visible beneath the thin skin; in those with darker skin tones, it may be hyperpigmentation, making sun protection a must. Ingredients such as glycolic acid, retinol and vitamin C help smooth the upper layer of skin.

Problem: Lips are one of the most exposed areas of skin, yet they have a thin outer layer and few sebaceous glands. Sun, wind, cold and heat can leave your pucker dry and chapped. With normal aging, smoking and environmental factors, lips thin and lose elasticity; lines form on and surrounding the tissue.

Treatment: To remove surface flakes, exfoliate with lip products containing glycolic or salicylic acid. Follow up with an SPF lip balm. The upper lip is a target for sun-induced skin cancer, so like the rest of skin, requires SPF protection.

Problem: Rosacea begins with reddened cheeks, nose, chin and forehead, skin sensitivity and bumps, then progresses to more permanent ruddiness. While genetics and fair skin tones tend to make you more susceptible to the long-term progressive facial disorder, its actual cause is unclear. Theories suggest bacteria, mites, fungus, skin malfunction or psychological factors.

Treatment: See a doctor who can diagnose the disorder. There is no cure for rosacea, but you can help prevent flare-ups by avoiding triggers such as sun, hot beverages, red wine, spicy food, stress and severe temperatures such as heat, cold, wind and humidity. Wash with a gentle oil- and fragrance-free cleanser and rinse with warm water only. Do not use acne treatments or products containing alcohol, witch hazel or fragrance that cause stinging or redness. Always wear a sunscreen and avoid scratching or picking your face. Your doctor may prescribe a topical antibiotic gel or oral antibiotic or suggest laser, dermabrasion or surgery.

Problem: The skin’s loss of fat and elasticity make veins look more obvious and may be accompanied by dryness, cracking, ragged cuticles and brown spots.

Treatment: Exfoliate with a hand scrub containing glycolic acid, then lock in moisture with an emollient moisturizer. (For super soft hands, apply moisturizer at night and wear cotton gloves.) Cuticles may benefit from a softening cuticle cream. Ingredients such a hydroquin-one can help fade brown spots. Sunscreen helps prevent further damage.

Problem: Dry skin that flakes, itches and hurts is more prevalent in fall and winter when there is less moisture in the air and heated buildings. Legs are particularly susceptible to dry skin.

Treatment: Exfoliate with a loofah or body scrub and cleanse with a non-drying soap or body wash. Apply a highly emollient moisturizer containing shea butter, glycerin or urea to damp skin to lock in moisture. If your dry, itchy skin is more than you can handle, you may suffer from a chronic skin disorder such as psoriasis or eczema. See your doctor.

Problem: Dry, chapped skin is particularly problematic in winter and can make your skin itchy and rough; it can even crack – a sign of excessive dryness.

Treatment: Exfoliate to remove dead cells, then restore moisture with a hydrating cream containing shea butter, glycerin or urea. To treat calluses and corns, try a callus/corn remover. If your feet are red and cracked and itchy, you may have athlete’s foot, an infection of the outer layer of the skin caused by fungus. To avoid it, wash and dry your feet well and wear clean absorbent socks and dry well-ventilated shoes. If problems persist, see a podiatrist or chiropodist. People with diabetes should exercise caution when dealing with calluses and corns; your feet may be less sensitive, and damaged skin heals less quickly.

At the doctor’s office
While they won’t give you the same look as a facelift, there are non-surgical options.

How it works: A drug made from botulism bacteria is injected to temporarily paralyze an overactive muscle, thereby decreasing the ability to frown or squint. Can last up to six months.

Great for: Furrows and lines in the forehead and around eyes. Also used for excessive sweating in armpits and on palms and to relieve chronic migraines.

How they work: Biologics, such as collagen and hylauronic acid, or non-biologics, such as Artecoll, are injected into the fat below the surface to smooth deeper wrinkles. Collagen can last three to four months, hylauronic acid up to six months and Artecoll up to 10 years.

Great for: Deep wrinkles and plumping up lips and beneath eyes.

How it works: A stream of very fine crystals (aluminum oxide or salt) is sprayed across the skin, followed by a mild suction to exfoliate the outer layer and reveal the smoother under layer.

Great for: Acne scarring, hyperpigmentation, fine lines and overall texture.

How it works: Varied lengths of broad-spectrum light – alone or in combination with radio frequency – are directed into the deep layer of skin.

Great for: Broken blood vessels, hyperpigmentation, rosacea, acne, fine lines and wrinkles.

How it works: Tiny threads are inserted beneath the sagging skin on the brow, cheek, jowl or neck and secured to the scalp for a lifting effect. Can last three to five years.

Great for: Drooping, sagging skin.