Healthy Beginnings

Here’s the skinny: Protecting your body’s largest organ

No matter the products you use, one of the most important things you can do to maintain your skin is washing your face twice a day. Photo: Getty Images

Your skin is composed of three layers: the epidermis, the dermis and the hypodermis. Each has an important role in keeping us healthy and each can be monitored and treated to address skin abnormalities.

The most important thing you can do for long-term skin health is preventative care: monitor your skin, protect it from the sun and atmospheric toxins, cleanse and moisturize and address issues as soon as they may arise.

Shiloh Boyer, a registered nurse, esthetician and community health science expert working in the Reno-Tahoe region, explained that the sun is enemy No. 1 one for the skin, with both long-wave UVA and short-wave UVB rays having negative impacts.

“UVB are burning rays and UVA are aging rays. UVA is the bright sunshine day; it ages your skin, which can result in it having a leathery texture,” Boyer said. “UVB rays are also present in bright light but a better example is a cloudy day, clouds filter UVA rays but you are still exposed to UVB rays, which are more damaging long-term.

“They create abnormal cell growth, which is not seen as an obvious injury, but it does damage the dermal layer.”

Everything you put on your skin, even makeup, has an effect — don’t skimp too much on quality or you may end up using more chemicals than you should. Photo: Cassandra Walker

Research shows that sun damage is one of the most easily metastasized forms of cell growth, Boyer explained, and patients who let skin damage go untreated experience abnormal cell growth, which in turn affects other parts of the body.

The key takeaway is that it is incredibly important to protect your skin to the best of your ability and take action if you do notice something out of the ordinary.

Protect, shade, repeat

Unfortunately for your cool-factor, your best bet in sun protection is to go with the chalky, ghostlike-finish that you find with a sunscreen using zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

“If you burn in 10 minutes, you can stay out in the sun 30 times that with an SPF 30. The 50s and 40s give you a little more time, but in an 80-minute window, you’ve used up all of the protection time, so reapplication is really important,” Boyer said.

She also stressed the importance of purchasing a quality sunscreen, because the chemicals found in the cheaper, mass quantity alternatives are using a chemical barrier instead of a physical barrier, and much of the time the chemicals are more damaging to skin than the sun exposure itself.

Products for sale at skincare boutiques typically offer better ingredients and higher doses of the active ingredients, which make a difference in skin texture. Photo: Cassandra Walker

Boyer said that she has also learned of research in infrared light damage to the skin for people who stare at screens all day — there are products for skin protection and even makeup, which block broad spectrum and infrared light.

Always wear a hat for additional protection in the sunshine and even if you’re skiing or it’s not a particularly cloudy day, Boyer urges everyone to apply and reapply sunscreen.

Things to look out for

You are responsible for your body, and one of the best things you can do for preventative health care is be cognizant of what’s going on with yourself, how you’re feeling and how your skin looks.

“Any time you have an injury to the skin, it’s considered a wound,’ Boyer said. “If you’re young with no previous conditions, you probably won’t need a lot of corrective skincare, but if you have skin conditions or abnormalities, you need to go by the ABCDE guide.”

If you notice a mole that wasn’t there before, or see changes in a mole you’re aware of, use the ABCDE guide to monitor it and determine if you should see a professional:

  • Asymmetry: If you’ve always had a mole but notice one side of it is asymmetrical to the other.
  • Border: If the shape of the border of the mole has changed.
  • Color: If your mole changes from red to brown or brown to black.
  • Diameter: If the mole is getting larger.
  • Elevation: If the mole was flat and is now raised

In any of these cases, a skincare professional will perform a biopsy of the tissue in question and have it evaluated at a lab to let you know exactly what is going on.

Non-invasive tactics

Facials are wonderful treatments for removing the dead layer of skin, while at the same time infusing healthy products into the skin.

Facial treatments once a month would be ideal to keep up on cleansing, moisturizing, professional extractions and monitoring your skin. In the interest of saving money, Boyer suggests opting for a facial three times a year after big seasonal changes.

Before you head out on a walk with your dogs, be sure to apply sunscreen, and reapply after 30-40 minutes. Photo: Cassandra Walker

Broadband light treatment is non-invasive, as it does not remove tissue. Instead it uses a light on the skin to help build collagen and elastin, activating your genes so they continue to regenerate long-term on their own.

The broadband light treatment has shown a non-researched, unintended consequence of protecting patients against cancer cells.

“It can help bring out some of that abnormality of cancer cells and then those cells are no longer with you so it reduces your risk, in addition to providing overall quality, clarity and luminosity of your skin,” Boyer said.

Adopt a skincare routine

You only get one body, so take good care of it and take into consideration the fact that your skin is the largest organ you have. So, show it a little love with these main tips:

  • Wash Your Face: twice daily, once in the morning when you wake up and once before bed. You want to cleanse away residue from a night of your cells regenerating and also cleanse away the toxins that you are exposed to throughout the day, in addition to any makeup, sunscreen and sweat on the skin.
  • Nourish Your Body: You are what you eat, and your skin will thrive when fueled with healthy foods and plenty of water. Eating foods rich in Vitamin C and E will also help boost your body’s natural collagen production. Avoiding processed foods and eating a healthy, balanced diet will help correct skin issues and help create a healthy skin structure.
  • Find the Right Products: Many over-the-counter products are cheap in price, and oftentimes cheap in ingredients as well. Scrimping on your skincare regimen to save money short-term could cost you in the end when much of the active ingredients in the products you put on your face are more harmful than the sun damage itself. Stay away from products listing harsh chemicals like alcohol and petroleum in the first two to four ingredients on the label. Alcohol strips your skin, and petroleum eats up Vitamin C storage in the body. Vasaline, for example, is very damaging over time, as it clogs the skin and inhibits your natural respiratory factor, or ability for the skin to breathe.
  • Reapply, Reapply, Reapply: After cleansing your skin and before heading out for the day you should always apply sunscreen. Always. It isn’t enough to just slap on some sunblock at the start of the day either, you must reapply it frequently or it is ineffective. Keep in mind sunscreens only last 40-80 minutes at maximum.

Cassandra Walker is a special assignments reporter for Sierra Nevada Media Group. She can be reached at