The Skinny on Skincare
SKIN — IT HOLDS IT ALL TOGETHER.
As the body’s largest organ, and the most exposed, skin needs a little TLC if it’s going to stay healthy for the long haul. And that’s where Jean Liu Urquhart, M.D., comes in. Both a board certified dermatologist and dermapathologist, Dr. Urquhart works with Mountain Dermatology Specialists in Eagle and Vail. She looks at your skin and it tells her things about its sensitivities and inclinations; she gets it under a microscope and it reveals even more. Most of her patients visit for annual skin cancer screenings, but she also sees people for acne, warts, rashes and skincare regimens.
“We have a few different elements we have to work with at high altitude when we’re talking about skincare,” she said.
They go like this:
» Sun Exposure
» Cold Exposure
Any one of these elements deserves a response. Put them together and they demand one. “You combine them and they can wreak havoc on your skin,” she said.
Luckily, there’s a fairly straightforward way to deal with the conditions.
“Dryness is the number one thing that I talk about in the winter months,” she said. “There are lots of things that can contribute to dryness.”
She cites the low humidity rate as well as a love of hot water as major contributors. Soap can dry out the skin, too. “It strips the skin of natural oils and hydration,” Dr. Urquhart explained. “I ask people to soap the face, armpits, groin and feet — wash those areas.” But leave it at that unless some other area demands special attention.
Though many people use lotion, she says to kick it up a notch and find a moisturizing cream. The difference between lotions and creams comes down to the amount of water and oil they have in them. And don’t think of moisture as something that only comes topically from the outside. Get ahead of the game by staying well hydrated on the inside. Water, water, water.
Faces are a special case and need a little bit more care than the rest of your body. She recommends washing the face twice a day, as well as moisturizing and protecting it (first with cream, then with sunscreen).
But beyond that, she has recommendations for those interested in combating, or at least slowing down, “pre-cancerous change.” Wrinkles, sun spots, dark areas
and dull skin aren’t necessarily harbingers of ill health, but still can be dealt with.
- Hyaluronic acid gels help seal in moisture, especially when layered beneath a moisturizer.
- More specialized treatments such as microdermabrasion or chemical peels can accelerate the exfoliation process and ultimately provide more access to the benefits of moisturizers.
- Topical antioxidants bind the potentially damaging free radicals that are born when the sun hits the skin. They are meant to help neutralize the threat, and might include ingredients such as Vitamin C, Vitamin E, green tea derivatives and niacinamide.
- Growth peptides are small proteins that stimulate collagen growth. They help with wrinkle reduction and improve the overall texture of the skin.
- Retinoids are Vitamin A derivatives that help prevent pre-cancerous change, and can help alleviate fine wrinkles, fade sunspots and reduce acne. Retinoids are the family name, but they include such products as retinol, tretinoin, tazarotene and adapalene.
You didn’t think you were going to get away without talking about sunscreen, did you?
“I give this spiel a lot, every day,” Dr. Urquhart said, laughing. “Sun protection is very important to prevent some skin cancer and aging. Sun damage is caused by UV light and triggers advanced aging signs like brown spots and wrinkles.”
Of course the best way to avoid the sun’s effects is to avoid the sun, period. But that’s a little unrealistic. Do try to minimize exposure from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., as that’s when the UV index is highest. That’s not always possible, though. Who wants to start skiing at 3 p.m.? Instead, opt for hats and long-sleeved shirts. “In our climate and altitude, use SPF 30 or higher, and reapply every two hours,” she said.
And though SPF 60 might sound like the protection of SPF 30 doubled, it’s not.
“The amount of protection is proportionally smaller,” she said. And keep in mind, not all sunscreens are created equal. Dr. Urquhart recommends finding one with broad-spectrum UVA and UVB. Her preferred active ingredients are zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, avobenzone and Helioplex, so find a sunscreen with at least one of those.
Take care of your skin, and your skin will take care of you.
You’re in hot water!
Hot showers and soaks in the hot tub might be relaxing, but they also dry out the skin. Dial back the hot water exposure a bit and you likely will see a difference in your skin’s ability to stay moisturized.
Dr. Urquhart says to scale back on your topical retinoid use. Try twice a week to avoid unnecessary dryness, and mix a pea-sized dollop with a dime-sized amount of moisturizer.
The Doc recommends:
Moisturizing soaps such as Cetaphil, Dove and Olay. Moisturizing creams such as Cetaphil and VaniCream.