Top 10 Truths About Skin

Say It Isn't So!

Just ask my staff, but I am a truth teller to a great degree. I am direct and sometimes pointedly graphic, much to the chagrin of those around me. Maybe it’s the doctor side of me or maybe it’s just my personality, but when it comes to educating my patients and the public about skin, I believe that the truth speaks volumes.

I don’t like to soften the blow or skirt the issue. My husband and children will attest to that. I don’t believe that I am unfeelingly blunt or I lack sympathy or empathy. To the contrary, I am deeply empathetic and compassionate. It is because I care that I give the truth. As a dermatologist, I think that most of my patients appreciate the truth and the facts.

In fact, I am even very honest to my pediatric patients. Children are really smart human beings and truly very reasonable. Many adults don’t give them enough credit. If children know what to expect and can see the composure and my confidence in them in my eyes, most of them are tremendously cooperative and calm in response. Sure, there may be some tears. It’s a natural response. I expect them, but the tears are amazingly short-lived.

When a patient, adult or child, asks “Is it going to hurt?”, I always tell them the truth. And even though the answer is almost always “yes” (because I am often found with a syringe or a canister of liquid nitrogen in my gloved hand), I make sure I honestly identify, explain, qualify, and quantify. Because when I do, I know the patient is able to better handle whatever is ahead. Truth is power for the patient, and for myself.

So shall we delve into some skin truths? Here are the Top 10 Truths About Skin as I know it.

Truth #1: Sun ages skin more than anything else.  I know that the sun’s ultraviolet rays are life-giving to our Mother Earth and her fauna and flora, but these same UV rays cause tremendous damage to the skin, ranging from wrinkles, sagging, and bagging to several forms of skin cancer. As a dermatologist, I spend a huge proportion of my work day combatting the ravages of the sun’s effects on my patients’ skin. If you care anything about your skin, please wear sunscreen and an SPF of 45 or higher. Sunscreen is the number-one anti-aging treatment. Your skin will thank you, and so will I.

Truth #2: The driver’s side of your face ages faster. It’s simple epidemiology, like a real-life science experiment, except it is happening to your own skin every single day. Believe it or not, the damaging UV rays of the sun still make their way through the glass of your car’s window. And then over the many years of driving to and from work or scooting about town, the left side of your face (and your left arm) gets sun damage cumulatively. This compounded damage makes your left side look older and can result in more precancerous and cancerous changes when compared to the right side. This is actually an occupational hazard in truck drivers. On the flip side, literally, you can imagine that in England, it’s the right side of the face that gets the extra dose of sun damage. It’s plain fact. Sun damages the skin.

Truth #3: Skin can repair itself. On a brighter note, the skin is such a remarkable organ that it is very efficient at repairing itself, if given a chance. It’s never too late to help it to do its job by taking care of your skin. Your skin repairs itself every second of every day, all the time. And remember, I as your dermatologist am here to help it do this job as best as it can. I have lots of tricks up my sleeve and am happy to help your skin be the healthiest and most beautiful it can be.

Truth #4: It is never too late to start taking care of your skin. From wearing sunscreen, cleansing, moisturizing, and getting skin exams, skincare is simple and highly effective. Beyond the basics, there are also a myriad of prescriptions, cosmeceuticals, and treatments that can help renew, refresh, revitalize, and rejuvenate any skin type and at any age. The amazing aspect of treating the skin is that because it is an external organ, not only is it exquisitely accessible for treatment of any kind, but the therapeutic results are also clearly apparent, visible, and quite gratifying. No matter what age you are, it is never too late to start giving your skin some love and TLC.

Truth #5: Tanning booths cause melanoma and other skin cancers. So does smoking. Tanning booths are in the highest category of potential cancer risk,  and are a known carcinogen to humans. In fact, studies show that if one is exposed to tanning booths before the age of 30, the risk for melanoma is increased by a very frightening 75%. “The use of indoor tanning devices (outside of medical practice) represents one of the most striking examples of an avoidable cause of lethal cancer in humans.” According to the Melanoma Research Foundation, “Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for young people 15-29 years old.” So please, don’t do tanning booths. It is like smoking to the skin. And here’s an FYI– smoking causes skin cancer. too. If heart disease and lung cancer haven’t scared you away from smoking, maybe skin cancer and wrinkled, leathery skin will.

Truth #6: 50% of adult women still suffer from acne. It’s funny, but much of the public think that acne is a teenage skin problem, until you are one of the adult ones that start to suffer from it. In fact, one of my dermatology publications Dermatology Times last month cited that “1 in 2 women in their 20s, 1 in 3 in their 30s and 1 in 4 in their 40s” get acne. That is a lot of adult women getting acne! What’s challenging is that acne in an adult woman is not as straightforward as teenage acne. Since it is highly tied to the variable, but “normal” fluctuations of hormones in women, the treatment options are just as variable, varied, and unique. Incidentally, although I never suffered from acne in my youth, I myself suffer from adult acne today. If I did not use my topical medications daily, my acne breakouts would be a constant nuisance.

Truth #7: Your skin is a healthy home for bacteria, fungi, yeast, and mites. I realize it is gross to think about, but your skin is a veritable Petri dish of wonderfully healthy microorganisms, ones that live happily and symbiotically on your body. This is what we doctors fondly term as “normal flora.” Parts of your body like your belly button, webs of your toes, your nostrils, and your armpits are especially teeming with a multitude of lovely living microorganisms because of the very special environment these warm places create. Specific types of Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, and Corynebacterium, as well as certain yeast like Candida and fungi like Rhizopus, as well as friendly six-legged mites are all very normal inhabitants of your skin. But don’t worry. These microorganisms don’t cause disease and simply live harmoniously on us in perfect balance. Just don’t get the heebie-jeebies thinking about it.

Truth #8: Cleansing your face twice a day is healthier for your skin. The act of cleansing with a gentle skin cleanser twice a day not only gets rid of the day’s excess oil, grime, dirt, pollutants, and makeup, but it also prepares your skin to optimally receive the benefits of any nutrient skincare and antiaging treatments you would be layering to follow. It just makes sense, doesn’t it? Think of it like brushing your teeth twice a day. Clean skin is healthier skin.

Truth #9: Even oily skin needs moisturizer. I recommend moisturizing the skin to every single patient whatever the skin type, because moisturizing means bringing hydrating balance back to the skin. Of course, there are specific moisturizers for specific skin types, but even the oiliest of skin types need the benefits of moisturization, too. Many patients with oily skin think that stripping the skin is the way to better skin, when in fact, it is exactly the opposite. When you aggressively strip the skin of its natural oils, your native oil glands try to overly compensate to bring the skin’s hydration state back to status quo. That’s what your body is constantly trying to achieve– status quo. Plus, stripping the skin leads to disrupting its natural barrier and exposes it and the rest of your body to increased infection and inflammation. Bottom line is moisturization is good for your skin.

Truth #10: Good genetics will keep you younger looking for longer, but great skincare will keep you younger looking, too. We all know we can’t change our genes (yet), and that looking and feeling young can be largely genetic. But we also know that a healthy lifestyle, healthy habits, and taking care of yourself can be tremendously impactful. Same goes for your largest organ, the skin. Take care of your skin and it will definitely show. Plus, it is never too late to start. Whether it’s as simple as using sunscreen every day to as involved as maintaining a regimen like my own personal anti-aging skincare routine, your skin will reap the benefits. And remember, you’re not alone, because I am right there by your side, every step of the way.

Happy, Healthy Skin!

–Dr. H

Read Dr. H’s past blog post Top 10 Myths About Skin to learn more skin facts.

Top 10 Truths About Skin