The skin is the largest organ in the body. It defends against disease and infection, regulates temperature and even aids in vitamin production. Keeping skin healthy is crucial for beauty and general health, even if most of us are interested in knowing how to keep skin looking healthy, rather than really keeping it healthy.
The best way to keep skin looking healthy – young, fair, radiant, supple, soft and wrinkle free – is to keep out of the sun.
Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun bring about a healthy-looking tan, but do much damage to the skin in terms of pigmentation, sunburn and loss of elasticity. These can lead to premature aging in the form of wrinkles, fine lines, sagging, dark skin, uneven skin tone, loss of translucency, enlarged pores and dryness. Even the best of genetics, topical skin lightening treatments and oral skin supplements would be of little use if one tans mercilessly and regularly.
Keeping out of the sun helps, but if you cannot avoid it, you will have to ensure that you use a sunscreen. This is especially crucial if sun exposure is for an extended period of time.
Assuming that one is already sensible about sun exposure, how can we then further improve our skin condition? We know that certain oral supplements are effective for good skin health, but which are these supplements and how effective are they?
The first group would be vitamins and minerals, essential for proper functioning of every organ.
The vitamins and minerals that can affect skin health include the B-complex, especially B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin) and B12 (cyanocobalamin). Overt deficiencies of vitamins B1 and B2 are known to cause special forms of dermatitis (a kind of skin inflammation). B12 deficiency is particularly detrimental to neurons and rapidly dividing cells, including skin cells.
Besides the B vitamins, deficiency of vitamin C, iron and copper also affect skin health. All three are important for the synthesis of collagen, a key structural protein in the skin, which fills the skin and gives it tone.
Vitamin A is critical for the normal life cycle of skin cells. Vitamin A deficiency causes skin to become dry, fragile and prone to wrinkles. On the other hand, excessive Vitamin A intake may cause serious toxicity and should be avoided.
Vitamins C and E, and beta-carotene have been touted as anti-oxidants that reduce free radicals. (Free radicals result in skin degeneration and aging.) However, while free radicals and the role of anti-oxidants are beyond doubt, clinical results have not conclusively proved if supplementary vitamins and other micronutrients improve the skin quality and defy the aging process.
Excessive doses can be just as harmful as deficiencies, so it is best to abide by the recommended daily allowance (RDA).
Oral supplements should go hand-in-hand with topical applications – sunscreen of at least SPF 30, creams (preferably with skin whitening agents) and moisturizer (preferably with skin lightening agents). Compared with topical applications, the effects of oral supplements are slower and subtler. Consumers have to be realistic about their expectations because results certainly will not be seen in 7 days or 2 weeks.
We recommend a holistic approach to skin health, comprising:
* A healthy balanced diet comprising all food groups as well as vitamins, minerals and micronutrients.
* Keep a happy positive mood. It is well documented that some skin conditions – such as acne and eczema – are more prevalent among the stressed.
* If you smoke, quit smoking. Smoke causes free radicals, damages the microcirculation of skin and also causes staining of teeth and other discoloration.
* Minimize sun exposure and use a good sunscreen on a daily basis.