As the largest organ of the body, the skin’s most obvious function is to serve as a covering that protects the body against germs, cold, heat and injury. Beyond that, our skin helps regulate the body’s temperature by the evaporation of perspiration and by contracting or relaxing the superficial blood vessels to conserve or release heat.
A major organ of sense, the skin is laced with an elaborate network of nerve endings, but in varying concentrations. In some areas—such as the fingertips—the skin is extremely sensitive, while in others—such as the buttocks—it is not.
Vitamin D is synthesized by the skin through the action of sunlight. When destroyed or injured in any part, the skin has extraordinary capacity for quick regeneration.
The skin reveals a great deal about how we feel physically and emotionally. The onset of sickness may make a person pale; embarrassment causes some of us to blush; a food allergy may announce itself by a rash. The skin is indeed our ‘birthday suit,’ reflecting the changes of adolescence and middle age.
It is important to know then, what types of care will help it and what will not.
Care of the Skin
Normal skin needs chiefly to be kept clean with soap and water. Always use a clean washcloth, rinse thoroughly, and dry well. There’s no need for germicidal or antiseptic soaps to protect your skin against bacteria; they can be irritating and healthy skin is not bothered by most germs that land on it.
The best way to protect your skin against infection is to take care of cuts and abrasions properly.
Shaving (for Men)
Every man is absolutely sure that his method of shaving is the best ever devised. Whatever the method, an occasional cut or infection can result from shaving. The ordinary small cut will stop bleeding if you merely dab cold water on it with pieces of clean tissue. Then stick on a piece of dry tissue. Usually by the time the shave is finished, you can remove the tissue gently with cold water, and the bleeding has been effectively stanched.
In cases of infection, shave around the infected area. Discontinue using a shaving brush if that is your method. Use a new blade each time, and shave the non-infected portions of the face first. If the infection covers a fairly large area, your doctor may want you to continue shaving daily, even over the infection, so that the medicine he prescribes can penetrate better into the infected hair follicles. Follow your doctor’s advice.
Excess Hair in Women
Whether or not women wish to shave their legs or underarms is a matter of individual choice. Contrary to some old wives’ tales, shaving does not cause hair to grow back coarser or thicker.
Excess hair on the face, which can be inherited or caused by a hormonal change in the body, may cause embarrassment for some women. The simplest method of eliminating it is to shave it off. Do not pluck or shave hair growing from a mole; trim it with scissors instead. Don’t try to rub off facial hairs with a pumice stone, since this can irritate the skin.
Wax treatments, more painful than shaving, last only until the hair grows back again. Chemical depilatories can be dangerous, especially if they get in your eyes. Remember that none of these methods will remove hair permanently.
The only permanent method is electrolysis, involving the insertion of a tiny needle into the hair follicle. It can be dangerous, unless done by an expert.
Wrinkles are part of the natural process of aging and, for the most part, should be accepted gracefully. The millions women spend annually on cosmetics to avoid facial wrinkles are simply wasted.
Dermatologists place some of the blame for wrinkles on sunshine. This means you should be careful about the amount of sunshine you expose yourself to. If you prize a deep tan, be aware that constant tanning does have a drying and sagging effect on the skin. In most cases, you tan now and pay, in appearance, later.
Another cause of wrinkles, especially on the hands, is too much soap and water. The average housewife rinses her hands frequently and is likely to wash dishes several times a day. With that much washing away of the body’s natural oils, it is wise to wear rubber gloves for household chores requiring water and to rub on a good hand lotion from time to time. This will also help protect the skin from eczema, an itchy, sometimes swelling irritation that, while not contagious, can be extremely hard to get rid of. A common cause of eczema is long exposure to detergents and other household chemicals.
The only way to eliminate facial wrinkles once they appear is by cosmetic surgery. Commonly called a ‘face-lift,’ the operation is expensive, and the effects last only a few years. Recently, operations for removing large bags under the eyes have also been done successfully.
Do not waste your money on lotions and creams that promise relief from wrinkles. Those containing skin food cannot do what they claim because, like any other organ, the skin is fed by the body’s circulatory system. Lotions that contain hormones may be dangerous, and wearing a wrinkle mask to bed will do little good.
Some cosmetic treatments provide a look of temporary improvement, either by stimulating circulation or by an astringent action that tightens the facial skin, but no permanent change is effected.
In general, the skin is better off without heavy applications of makeup, but most of the cosmetics on the market today will not hurt your skin unless you are allergic to them. Because pancake makeup, covering lotions, and powder may clog the pores, wash them off or remove them with cleansing cream every night.
Good diet, good health, exercise, and sleep will do more to keep the skin looking young than anything you can buy in bottle. What else will help? A more cheerful and realistic attitude about aging.
Pigmentation and Sunburn
Skin color is determined by the inherited amount of a dark pigment, called melanin, in the skin. The purpose of melanin seems to protect the skin from harmful rays of the sun. individuals with red or blonde hair and fair skin have less melanin than darker people, and because light individuals cannot produce enough to protect themselves, are more likely to suffer burning from exposure to the sun.
If you tan easily, it is because the sun stimulates your skin to produce more of the pigmenting substance. A complete lack of this pigment, rare among humans, causes albinism—a condition characterized by pink irises, a pink-white skin, and white hair. Albino people must be extremely careful to avoid sunburn.
Freckles are caused by an excess of pigment in some patches of the skin. Don’t bother with freckle removers; they do no good. The opposite condition, white spots called vitiligo, is owing to a lack of pigment in scattered patches.
Some women have found that contraceptive pills cause dark patches on the skin, especially around the hairline. If this happens, consult your doctor about discontinuing the use of the pill.
A suntan does not benefit the skin. In fact, years of heavy tanning can age the skin, causing a leathery, wrinkled look or, in some cases, skin cancer. Nor do you get more vitamin D by tanning; your body needs only a minimal exposure to sunlight to make this vitamin. No matter how easily you think you tan, be careful to build up your exposure to the sun slowly to avoid serious sunburn.
Sunscreen lotions filter out some—but not all—of the sun’s burning rays. Lotions that contain paraminobenzoic acid, or red veterinary petroleum, have been proven effective; they should be reapplied after swimming. Baby oil, olive oil and mineral oil help prevent drying but have no special screening properties.
Only experience can teach you what your own tolerance is for the sun. avoid making sunbathing a painful experience!
Perspiration and Body Odor
The odor of perspiration is caused by the action of bacteria on organic elements in our perspiration. Though antibacterial or deodorant soaps control bacteria, they may be harmful. Probably the best way to combat perspiration odor is to wash frequently with regular soap and to use an antiperspirant that suppresses the production of perspiration in certain areas of the body, especially the armpits.
Most of these preparations contain aluminum or zinc salts and are safe—unless you happen to be allergic or sensitive to these chemicals. Do not use antiperspirants or any other preparation in aerosol spray can; they can be dangerous to skin and lungs.
Chlorophyll preparations do not reduce perspiration. You can check perspiration in the armpits and the hands or the feet with an antiperspirant, but the sweating apparatus must be free to work for most of the body.
Excessive perspiration may be caused by poor health; night sweats, for example, are characteristics of certain diseases. Emotional stress may also cause undue sweating. Truly offensive body odor, called bromidrosis, is relatively rare.
Vitamin D and the Skin: An Update for Dermatologists by Elio Kechichian and Khaled Ezzedine
Toxic Effects of Ultraviolet Radiation on the Skin by Yasuhiro Matsumura and Honnavara Ananthaswamy
Specific Dermatological Benefits Associated with Quantities of Lotion Transferred to the Skin by Miranda Farage, Ann Lawrence et al
Aging Skin: Histology, Physiology, and Pathology by Jeannie Khavkin and David Ellis