In this corner, weighing in at 8 pounds and anywhere upwards of 20 square feet – human skin. And in this corner, the relentless and feared contender - all the environmental dangers that put skin health at risk. Dangerous as it may be, the sun is a necessity for human health. The benefits of cosmic energy span far and wide, but the indisputable immune health benefits arrive from vitamin D which are organically obtained from the sun's rays. Burn is inevitable if unveiled from the sun for an extended period of time, but one can burn even on a cloudy day. This is, in fact, the most precarious scenario, as the lack of direct sunlight lowers one's guard resulting in faint sun protection.
More than simply sun exposure can lead to poor skin health - bad habits can be just as responsible for dermal issues (i.e. the dehydrating effects from excessive drinking or the untimely signs of aging caused by smoking). It is prudent to break bad routines that exacerbate threat and adopt logical methods like staying well hydrated and using moisturizers with sun protection factor (SPF) especially when outdoors.
Dr. Michael Gutierrez of Nola Dermatology urges the importance of wearing sunscreen every day and how it is monumental in preventing premature aging and melanoma. The use of hats, protective clothing, and sunscreen are all acceptable measures in his stock of protection advice. “It's best to choose a broad spectrum sunscreen that will help prevent against UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays are present throughout the entire day and are the most influential cause of premature aging, photo-sensitivity reactions, and contribute to skin cancer. UVB rays are most present from 10:00 AM until 4:00 PM and are most responsible for sun burns and skin cancer. Make sure your sunscreen has a minimum SPF of 15 and check expiration dates, as active ingredients may degrade over time.” Other long term regimens to ensure healthy skin are outlined in Dr. Gutierrez's five step program:
Step 1: CLEANSING – You must clean your skin everyday! Use a moisturizing or exfoliating cleanser in the shower, to help remove dead skin cells and unwanted oil.
Step 2: HYDRATION – Be sure to use moisturizers and drink plenty of water everyday.
Step 3: PROTECTION – Always wear sunscreen! Even in the winter months the sun can cause skin damage/sunburns.
Step 4: SLEEP – Plenty of rest is needed to function in our daily lives, but did you know your skin needs rest too? During sleep our skin is supplied with oxygen and blood which, after a good night’s sleep, keeps us looking refreshed and well rested.
Step 5: NUTRITION – Yes, even your diet affects your skin, that is why it is important to eat well balanced meals. An example of a food that can have a negative effect on skin is sugar- it can break down the collagen and elastin in your skin.
I understand that all things start from the inside out – I'm looking at you Step 5. When asked to elaborate on diet based skin health, Dr. Gutierrez gladly produced a score of study based evidence. Of the reports, one stating that controlling carbohydrate intake helps reduce acne breakouts, especially in women suffering hormonal abnormalities, provided me a eureka moment. I have personally experienced hormonal imbalance since my late 20's; this coupled with my gluten intolerance makes me very sensitive to foods I eat. When I go off on a gluten binge I notice more breakouts on my face. Another food group with controversial links to acne is dairy, particularly milk. While I've no personal experience to share with a milk based trial, I know a girl that replaced cow's milk with that of almond, soy, and rice - within 6 months her skin's appearance improved by 75%. As a safeguard, it is recommended to keep a food diary and log any skin change or acne flares to reduce further complications.
Dr. Sharon Meyer of Uptown Dermatology stresses that skincare should be rooted in a health conscious diet and responsible lifestyle choices. “When I had acne in my teens I was told to minimize fried foods, chocolate, etc. However, in my dermatology training from 1987 to 1991, the teaching at the time was that acne was caused primarily from genetic influence. In the last few years, those teachings have expanded to also include diet as a contributing factor. Genetics is by far the greatest predictor, but it is thought a low-glycemic diet and limiting milk may help. Quoting from the book "The Sugar Detox" by Alpert and Farris - 'eating colorful fruits and vegetables, which are full of antioxidants, can improve skin health and appearance'. But there are those who eat horribly and have great skin and others that limit all bad things and break out severely, so obviously it is not all about food. Stress and hormonal fluctuations (made worse by high insulin levels) stimulate oil production and increase proliferation of skin cells that can block pores. In my office, especially with the humidity in New Orleans, I take a good look at the products and moisturizers people are using to make sure it is not too heavy or clogs pores.” She also warns that smoking and pollution are circumstantial in premature aging and further confirms Dr. Gutierrez's Step 5 by adding, “Along with environmental exposures it is also believed that excessive sugars disturb the balance between collagen being formed and collagen being broken down-thus accelerating our aging.”
Her own diet based skincare plan highlights the naturally low-carb Mediterranean cuisine. “Mona's is close to my office," says Dr. Meyer. "Healthy choices include their grilled chicken, tabbouleh, and dips like hummus and baba ghanoush. Using sliced vegetables for dips instead of pita bread limits the high glycemic influence.”
In the same neck of the woods on Maple Street you can find similar dishes at Babylon Cafe. The menu presents an array of salads while beef shawarma and gyro plates afford flavorful lean proteins. In my research I found that Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA), a component of fishes, plays a major role in skin health. I recently dined at Riccobono's Peppermill in Metairie. The anchovy infused dressing coated caesar salad won my heart, and the Amberjack entree was grilled to perfection. Eating healthy and seeing visible benefits as a result is extremely rewarding, especially when the fare is delicious.
Apart from diet, self tanners are the perfect substitute for golden radiance without noxious sun beds or pernicious basking. Abeille Nola has recently moved from Oak Street to new digs on Magazine. Owner Meg O'Reilly's most recent market trip to Las Vegas yielded some fabulous Summer finds which pair well with a health conscious glow. The forward thinking 'Queen Bee' stocks Tan Towels, a genius product that works with each individual's own proteins and amino acids in their skin to develop a unique and natural self-tan. Make Me Up owner Celeste Louapre offers spray tan services year round at her creative artistry boutique. Those desiring vacation-worthy tones can effortlessly acquire tropical color without ever leaving town.