Skincare 101: The Ultimate Guide for Keeping Your Skin Healthy This Summer and Beyond
Rebecca Robin, IIN Content Editor
Your skin is your body’s window to the outside world.
Healthy skin is more than what meets the eye. Did you know that your skin is the largest organ in the body? Your skin is not only a vital protective layer, it’s also a natural detoxifier that works to support your inner organs. Your skin is a visible reflection of what’s happening inside your body and is an indicator of your overall health.
Your skin has three layers—the epidermis, dermis, and hypodermis.
This is the outermost layer of our skin that produces melanin and creates our skin tone. It also provides a waterproof barrier, preventing germs and pathogens from entering the immune system or damaging muscles and bones. As the outer visible layer, it gives insight into any malfunctions underneath the surface—in the form of acne breakouts, rashes, blemishes, or wrinkles.
This is the layer underneath the epidermis that contains connective tissues, blood capillaries, nerve endings, hair follicles and sweat glands. As a support to the dermis, this layer contains 70% of our collagen content—the protein that forms a fibrous network of cells where new skin cells can grow. The dermis helps sweat out toxins from the body, and strengthens immune system cell communication and function.
The hypodermis is the final layer of deeper tissue made of fat, connective tissues, and larger blood vessels. This layer plays a role in regulating your body temperature, providing insulation against the absorption of cold and the loss of heat.
Longer, sunnier days are calling us outside (safely!) and as we all spend more time soaking up the sun, our skin can experience changes due to dryer conditions and UV ray exposure. We are also sweating out more water and exposing our skin to environmental factors such as pollen, airborne allergens, and humidity. Proper sun protection in addition to a nutrient-rich diet is critical to ensure that your skin is able to do its job as the body’s barrier to the outside world.
So how can you get that smooth, glowing complexion, reflecting optimal health from the inside out?
Here’s a breakdown all of the vitamins, nutrients, and protective measures that can help you cultivate healthier-looking skin and maintain a youthful, radiant glow:
Antioxidants are anti-inflammatory agents for the skin.
Your diet is a core component in nurturing healthy skin. You can start by integrating antioxidant-rich foods into your meals—like tomatoes, mangoes, blueberries, spinach, dark chocolate, and green tea. An anti-inflammatory, colorful diet will limit the production of free radicals that damage skin cells, and improve certain immune responses such as enhanced antibody production, and support natural killer cells that fight infection.
Antioxidants work to reduce inflammation, even your skin tone, prevent acne breakouts, and reduce the formation of wrinkles. They can also help firm your skin and reduce fine lines, resulting in a smooth, youthful complexion. Finally, antioxidants can alleviate sun damage from UV rays, promoting the regeneration of skin cells.
Antioxidants include vitamins A, B3, C, and E—all integral for the health of your skin:
Vitamin A is not found abundantly in the body, so you will need to obtain it from outside sources, ideally from the food in your diet, but also from supplements. A common source of vitamin A is derived from beta-carotene, a pigment found in carrots and sweet potatoes. Beta carotene gets converted to vitamin A in the body.
We can also obtain vitamin A from retinol, a dermatologist recommended ingredient that is found in many skincare products.
The benefits of retinol include:
- Anti-aging effects on the skin - Retinol binds to retinoid receptors within skin cells, activating genes that regulate collagen production and help reduce wrinkles and fine lines
- Improved cell production and turnover
- Help in treating acne, eczema, and sun damage spots
Vitamin B3, commonly found in the form of water-soluble niacinamide, helps increase natural lipids found on the skin’s surface to retain your skin’s moisture content. By applying it topically on the body, vitamin B3 can increase keratin—a protein that firms the skin and helps smooth out the skin’s texture.
A newly discovered form of vitamin B3 called Nicotinamide riboside (NR) has also shown powerful benefits when applied to the skin. NR works to repair and restore cellular health and function, and can also be converted into nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+), an essential coenzyme that the skin loses naturally with age. NAD+ gives your skin cells a boost of energy by reinvigorating the cell’s metabolism, helping your skin appear fresh and rejuvenated.
Aside from its immune-boosting benefits, vitamin C is known to help reduce the effects of photoaging in the skin from exposure to UV rays, eliminating hyperpigmentation and wrinkles in the skin. Its antioxidant properties also play a role in collagen synthesis and the regeneration of healthy skin cells. This results in the production of elastin—an essential protein that gives your skin the ability to reshape after stretching or contracting, and an overall enhanced complexion.
Vitamin E oils are a common ingredient in many skincare serums and moisturizers. It is often applied topically as a spot treatment for acne scarring or a way to lighten dark spots or scars on the face.
It can help regenerate new skin cells, often used as an anti-aging treatment. Research suggests that vitamin E is beneficial to the wound healing process. As a fat-soluble vitamin that is ample in our diet—found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables—the body can store large amounts of vitamin E in your liver or fat tissue for later use.
Healthy fats are essential to your diet—and your skin!
Healthy fats and oils are key to help your skin maintain a natural glowing complexion, and prevent it from getting wrinkled or dry. You should try to consume monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in nuts, seeds, avocado, and fish. These unsaturated fats are better for your heart, and can help your skin stay moisturized and firm.
Fatty acids are crucial for the proper function of our cell membranes as well as vital for maintaining the surface of our skin, preventing excess water from evaporating from the skin’s surface. Healthy fats can help seal moisture inside the skin, and create stronger cell membranes that are protected from environmental irritants.
Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically, are an integral part of one’s diet, found to help prevent sunburns and reduce the severity of skin redness after UV exposure. There is also evidence that it can alleviate certain symptoms of photosensitivity disorders such as dermatitis and melanogenesis. Omega-3s are found in foods like salmon, mackerel, pastured eggs, flaxseeds, and chia seeds.
Collagen helps your skin cells bind together and form a strong, smooth barrier.
Skincare experts and professionals have referred to collagen as the “fountain of youth.” A natural and abundant protein found in the body, collagen binds tissues together and works as the scaffolding that holds your skin cells together. This protein helps wounds heal quicker, makes your skin appear plumper, and increases elastin production in the skin.
As we age, our bodies production of collagen decreases. Taking a collagen supplement can help slow your skin’s aging process and reduce dryness and wrinkles. We can get collagen from protein in our diet such as beef, chicken, fish, and eggs, or from a supplement – collagen is often used in powder form. Collagen contains essential amino acids that aid the body in replacing dead skin cells with a strong new layer of skin. Amino acids can also support your gut health, strengthening the intestine wall and sealing leaky guts.
In an effort to increase collagen in the body, you will want to limit inflammatory foods in your diet such as refined sugar and artificial trans fats, which can cause a breakdown of the natural collagen that we have. This can result in dry, stiff skin.
As a remedy to collagen loss, a facial massage or the use of a jade roller can encourage collagen production by improving blood circulation and stimulating lymphatic drainage. A facial massage will stimulate the movement of lymph fluid, alleviating facial puffiness and firming your skin.
Prioritize your gut microbiome—and skin microbiome—for healthy skin.
When something’s wrong in the gut, it can translate into problems in the skin. This connection between the gut and the skin is known as the gut-skin axis. When the digestive system has trouble eliminating toxins, it looks to your skin—your largest organ—to eliminate the toxins. This can result in acne, eczema, or dermatitis.
Refined sugar and processed foods can wreak havoc on the gut. The gut microbiome needs to be nourished with an individualized, nutrient-rich in order to feed its unique gut flora. The best way to feed your gut flora is to experiment by making changes in your diet or lifestyle. Maybe you’re consuming too many dairy or gluten products? Perhaps you’re experiencing higher levels of stress or not enough hours of sleep? A change for your gut health can result in a clearer complexion and overall improved health.
Similar to the gut microbiome, the skin microbiome needs balance too! Harsh soaps and scrubs can strip away some of the essential oils and bacteria that are necessary to your skin microbiome. Bacteria can create a barrier against harmful pathogens and microorganisms, fight inflammatory diseases like psoriasis and eczema, prevent and treat acne, and help heal burns and scars.
A balance of bacteria is important to the gut and skin microbiome, as both are host to a variety of micro-organisms that work together to create a homeostatic ecosystem. Good bacteria come from prebiotics found in high-fiber foods and probiotics, found in foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi.
Hydration is key to a healthy complexion.
We all know how important it is to drink water, but when it comes to exposing our skin to the sun, this becomes even more important. The blazing summer temperatures can result in trans-epidermal water loss, or an excess evaporation of water from your skin. This can be remedied by drinking that extra glass of water and including more water-rich foods into your diet like watermelon, strawberries, and cucumbers. It’s also recommended that you limit your alcohol and refined sugar consumption, as these substances are natural dehydrators that can cause dry, flaky skin.
The water we consume actually hydrates all of our other organs before making its way to the skin. In addition to drinking water, for more immediate hydration for your skin, you could use serums and moisturizers to lock in the moisture. These products contain humectants that pull water from the environment and into your skin, softening fine lines and getting rid of dry patches. For those with oily skin, a hydrating serum or hyaluronic acid can be topically applied to help your skin replace and maintain your skin’s moisture.
Don’t forget to cleanse and exfoliate!
Cleansing the skin is a familiar and essential part of any skincare routine, with the goal of getting rid of any makeup, dirt, or residue that your skin picked up during the day. A good cleanser is key to help clean out your pores and get rid of dead skin cells.
It’s important to be gentle with your skin and to find products that benefit your skin type. During the summer, our skin glands tend to produce more oil due to hot and humid temperatures. An oil-based cleanser can balance your skin, helping to break apart and dissolve sebum—the oily substance produced by our skin glands.
For those who struggle to hold on to moisture in the face, a cream or milk-textured cleanser can provide more intense moisturization. These products have a lightweight texture, containing an emulsion of fat and water, that are soft on the skin. “Milk-based” cleansers remove dirt and makeup easily, and soothe redness and inflammation—leaving your face smooth and hydrated.
Exfoliation is an amazing tool that can reinvigorate your skin, but too much of a good thing may cause irritation! Dermatologists suggest exfoliating around 2-3 times a week, as physical exfoliants may cause microtears on the skin’s surface that strip your skin’s protective layer. Whether you are using a brush, sponge, or a product with exfoliating agents in it, exfoliation will help you slough of tougher layers of dead or sun-damaged skin—making room for healthy, strong skin to surface.
Using sun protection to protect your skin and long-term health.
As May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, it’s important to note that exposure to UV light is the leading cause of skin cancer. Aside from causing cancer, sun damage can also cause wrinkles, age spots, and blemishes.
Sunscreen is the most practical way to prevent sun damage and maintain healthy, clear skin. Dermatologists recommend a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB, and has an SPF of at least 30.
Mineral-based sunscreens, which contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, a combo that forms a barrier on your skin to deflect UV rays, contains ingredients that may be gentler and less likely to irritate your skin. Non-mineral sunscreens are made of synthetic ingredients like oxybenzone and octinoxate, which absorb UVA and UVB rays and convert them into heat.
Whatever you do to take care of your skin, your skin care regimen requires a bio-individual approach.
Everyone’s skin care routine will look different from one person to the next, whether you have oily, dry, sensitive, or combination skin. The skin care products you choose will depend on your skin type, sensitivity, melanin content, and even your unique microbiome! This bio-individual approach is no different from how you would choose the foods you eat, as what works for you may not work for another.
Your diet is at the core of achieving better and healthier skin, providing you essential vitamins and minerals that directly impact the health of your skin. A colorful, nutrient-rich diet provides your body with major skin-boosting benefits like more elastin for firmness, collagen for strength, and fats for a more even complexion. Plus, how you take care of your skin when you take a walk outside or when you’re relaxing at home are also key to your skin’s overall health. Before trying any new products or even supplements to benefit your skin, talk with your dermatologist about what might be best for you.
Your skin care routine can transform how you approach self-care. Check out our exclusive Healthy Skincare Guide to learn about wholesome ingredients that can transform your skin health.