by Lisa James
June 17, 2004
Ah summertime, and the living is
lovely: ocean fragrances wafting on a summer wind, the
summer sun warming the body and relaxing the mind.
But all that sun and wind can dry your summer skin,
making it uncomfortable and parched-looking.
Moisture counteracts the discomforts that summer elements
can bring, allowing your fresh, dewy look to shine through.
Knowing how to hydrate your skin is the key.
Skin consists of three layers, each with a different
• The deepest layer, the subcutaneous tissue, contains the
fat cells that help hold in body heat and protect the vital
organs, and that serve as an energy reserve.
• The middle layer, or dermis, is the thickest of the three
layers. It is rich in nerve endings, blood vessels, sweat
glands and hair follicles. The dermis also holds the oil
glands that keep the skin properly lubricated and impervious
to water. Two proteins, collagen and elastin, found in the
dermis support the skin's top layer and provide shape, tone
• The topmost skin layer, the epidermis, protects the body
against the outside world. It contains melanocytes,
pigment-bearing cells that determine skin color and help
guard against sun damage. The epidermis is also equipped
with immune cells that guard the body against foreign
The epidermis is further divided into five separate
sublayers. Cells are formed at the basal cell layer on the
bottom; they then push their way upward until they reach the
surface, called the stratum corneum, in a process that takes
roughly 28 days.
As the skin cells mature, they produce a tough protein
called keratin, which also forms the structure of hair and
Do you have dry skin? How well your skin holds moisture
depends on the arrangement of cells within the stratum
Fat contained in this layer, as well as natural moisturizing
factor (made by the epidermis), also keeps skin moist.
Unfortunately, as you age, the amount of natural
moisturizing factor produced by your skin decreases.
Skin Care 101
Obviously, anything that affects the all-important epidermis
can dry out your skin-sun and wind both rob skin of
For starters, just say no to tobacco. Smoking tightens the
skin's abundant blood vessels; this reduces the flow of
oxygen and nutrients, creating dryness. Smoking also breaks
down elastin, the protein that gives skin its flexibility.
The next step is to add water from within. " It takes at
least six to eight cups of pure water each day to keep the
skin and body well hydrated," notes Jeanette Jacknin, MD,
board-certified dermatologist and author of Smart Medicine
for Your Skin (Avery/Penguin).
At the same time, be careful about how you bathe your skin.
Bathing or showering for too long, or using water that's too
hot, can actually cause your skin to lose moisture for two
reasons. First, prolonged bathing washes away the oils that
help lock moisture in; second, it encourages your skin's own
moisture to evaporate after you dry yourself off.
Before you shower or bathe, Dr. Jacknin recommends using a
dry, soft-bristled brush to increase skin circulation and
gently remove dead cells. Brushing in small circles,
gradually move up your legs and arms, always moving towards
When you do get into the tub or shower, don't scrub your
skin and don't use harsh cleaning agents. Instead, go for
natural cleansers that feature such skin-friendly
ingredients as glycerin.
Feed Your Inner Skin
As your body's largest organ, your skin depends on the
nutrients in your diet. You have to feed your skin well if
you expect it to stand up to wind and sun. " Eat fish,
rolled oats and ground flaxseeds frequently," recommends Dr.
Jacknin. "These foods are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which
help the skin retain moisture." Include other healthy oils,
such as safflower and olive oil, in your meals. Supplemental
omega-3s, in the form of flaxseed or fish oils, can also
Various vitamins help make your skin happy and healthy. Skin
growth and repair requires vitamin A, while natural vitamin
E provides antioxidant protection and vitamin C promotes
creation of collagen, which provides skin with its
The B vitamins are essential to keeping dryness at bay;
without them, the skin can crack, peel and redden. Choline,
a member of the B family that helps with fat transportation
within the body, is available as lecithin.
Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is another skin-friendly
nutrient. MSM provides sulfur, which the body needs to
create healthy skin proteins. It also fights inflammation
and encourages better blood flow.
Slake Your Skin's Thirst
A good moisturizer can help arid skin return to soft
freshness. To get the most out of moisturizers, use them
consistently, and start at a young age. " [M]ost people
start to benefit from [moisturizers] in their twenties
[when] their skin begins to dry with age," state Charles
Inlander and Janet Worsley Norwood in Skin: Head-to-Toe Tips
for Health and Beauty (Walker and Company). "Moisturizers
boost skin health by preventing water loss from the skin."
The same antioxidant nutrients, such as vitamin C and
natural vitamin E, you feed your skin from within also
abound in natural moisturizers, as do an impressive variety
of herbal essences and essential oils. Aloe vera, used to
treat burns for centuries, helps ease inflammation, as does
chamomile. Fresh-smelling lavender oil helps soothe insect
bites and minor wounds. Jasmine and peppermint offset
excessive oil production.
Moisturizers: Timing and Type
The ideal time to moisturize is right after a bath or
shower, since that's when evaporation promotes water loss;
for best results, apply while your skin is still slightly
damp. But bathtime isn't the only time to consider your
skin's moisture needs. Carry some moisturizer with you so
you can use it every time you wash your hands, especially if
you're prone to cracked cuticles and split fingertips.
Match your moisturizer to your skin type. If your skin tends
to oiliness, use a water-based product; otherwise, an
oil-based formulation -jojoba oil and shea butter are good
choices-is fine. (Oily skin may first need a gentle
astringent like lemon peel or cucumber to remove dirt and
Also pay careful attention to the type of moisturizer you
use. Lotions are easy to apply, but may not stay on your
skin as readily as creams, which may be a better choice for
your face, feet and hands. By all means, enjoy the summer
sun. Just make sure your skin enjoys the summer, too, by
staying hydrated and happy.