A Day in the Life of Your Skin

Why scratching feels so good, moisturizer is my saving grace, and salmon is my favorite food.

5-Vitamins-That-Will-Give-You-the-Healthiest-Skin-Ever-Without-a-Single-Pill-418657471-wavebreakmedia-fbwavebreakmedia/ShutterstockThree alarm snoozes, a leg scratch, and 14 eye rubs later, you roll out of bed and plod into the kitchen to make coffee. You’re totally entitled to take it slow after a tough week, but I wish you’d rub me less. I’m thinnest around your eyes. At only about 0.05 mm thick — half the thickness of computer paper — I get tiny tears in capillaries from all that manhandling, making me look discolored and older. Oy, make that 15 eye rubs. (Try out these skin care tips that dermatologists use.)

My Favorite Shower Routine

Adequately caffeinated, you head to the bathroom to shower. As you wait for the water to warm, you give me a good scratch and then another. It always happens more this time of year. The dry air sucks moisture out through my top layer, which makes me irritated. Literally.

Dryness triggers an inflammatory response: Immune cells as well as pro-inflammatory proteins and other enzymes go wild, activating itch receptors that send signals to your brain. The result: your fingernails raking across me (not so gently, I might add). I know it feels good for a second — scratching may engage pleasure and reward centers in the brain. But if you keep at it, I’ll get even more inflamed, which will cause those itch receptors to refire. And a vicious circle continues. All. Winter. Long.

As much as you want to linger under the soothing stream of water, I beg you to stop after ten minutes. Long, hot showers strip away my natural oils, as do soapy cleansers. The fact that you switched to a gentle, soap-free body wash for this time of year is perfect — it’ll get rid of dirt but leave some oils to help me stay lubricated. I’m also grateful that you skipped washing your face this morning. If I could make a PSA for this, I would: Ladies, you don’t need to wash your face twice a day (especially if you have dry skin). One cleansing at night gets rid of the debris that can clog my pores. Scrubbing again in the morning may remove too much oil.

After a quick pat-down, you dip into that new jar of moisturizing ointment and start slopping it on while I’m still damp. Ahhhh. Hello, happy place. This is exactly what I need — it’s thick and petroleum-based and contains ceramides. These lipids occur naturally in my top layer, but this time of year, I welcome an extra dose. They trap water molecules to help me stay smooth and dewy. Avoid these 8 ways that you’re probably showering wrong.

I’m Tougher than I Look

You’re always doing things to “boost your immunity.” If only you knew that I’m your first line of defense against germs! All three of my layers — my outer epidermis, thickest middle dermis, and bottom fatty layer — protect against invading bacteria, fungi, and other undesirables. That’s also why I’m lucky you’re so diligent about moisturizing. If my outer layer gets too dry, tiny cracks can develop, which leaves me looking scaly — and you more prone to skin infections and inflammation.

But if I’m intact, I must say, I do my job well. Like right now. You decide to take your kids to story time at the bookstore — talk about a germ zone. But I handily thwart the bugs you encounter: lurking along the escalator and spread all over the toys and board books in the kiddie section. I may feel soft, but don’t be fooled. I’m as tough as nails. My epidermal cells create a dry, acidic environment that’s hostile to bacteria. These cells also have a secret weapon: tentacle-like appendages that seek and destroy germs. And they secrete enzymes that help foil unwanted visitors.

When you bump into a table display, it’s my innermost layer of fat and collagen cells that absorbs the shock and protects your inner organs, and it’s my blood vessels that bear the brunt of the jolt. Hip-check the table hard enough, and it’ll break the capillaries near my top layer, causing blood to leak into the surrounding tissue and form that unsightly mark. As the hemoglobin in the blood — which gives the bruise its purplish color — breaks down over time, the bruise turns Technicolor, fading to greenish yellow and then golden brown. Soon enough, I’ll be back to normal as white blood cells finish repairing the damage.

My Big Winter Worry

I’m glad you layered a cotton T-shirt under your sweater; the wool is a little abrasive. (It can even trigger a rash if I’m feeling particularly sensitive.) And thank goodness for your gloves. That sanitizing gel you squirted on after leaving the bookstore strips my natural oils. The gloves block the harsh outdoor air and help trap whatever moisture I have left.

But if I can complain for a sec, I don’t get why you skipped the face lotion with SPF 30 this morning. You moisturize anyway; it can’t get any easier. Even applying a face powder with SPF would be better than nothing. Maybe you don’t realize that as long as it’s daylight, those ultraviolet rays are around, regardless of the weather. In winter, there can be up to twice as many UVA rays as UVB — these penetrate deep into me and contribute to cancer and most of the problems you see in your skin: the wrinkles that make you cringe, the dark spots on your hands, and the saggy neck you hate in photos. It makes me, well, crawl when you don’t use sunscreen religiously. Here’s how you can fight dry skin in the winter.

Feed Me Well

As you pass your favorite restaurant on your way home, you decide to treat the kids to an early dinner. Burger and fries for them; salmon and broccoli for you. You know this choice is smart for your waistline, but it does me good as well. The fish is packed with omega-3s, which can help replenish my natural oils as well as fight inflammation; the broccoli has loads of vitamin C, which my cells require to make collagen, a protein that makes me firm and supple. And thanks for skipping dessert! Sugar molecules bind to my proteins, which compromises the fibers that keep me taut. (Translation: wrinkles.) Try eating these foods for beautiful skin.

Trust Me, Beauty Sleep Is Real

You’re turning in early tonight, which is exactly what I need to do my repair work. All day long, I’ve been making fresh new cells and pushing up dead ones to the top to be sloughed off. This renewal process speeds up during deep sleep. In roughly a month, my top layer will be fully regenerated.

Humidifier on? Check. Face washed? Yup. Another rubdown with ointment? Love you. Now I just hope the kids let you sleep through the night. People who get uninterrupted, high-quality sleep show half as many signs of aging as poor sleepers. Good sleepers have fewer fine lines, better elasticity, and more even tone. I’ll also recover more efficiently from stressors, and let’s face it: I’ll look more attractive. I’m the first one to say that beauty is supposed to be more than skin-deep. But I also know that when I’m healthy, you feel beautiful — and that’s worth all my efforts.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest