We usually think about skin in terms of what we can put on top of it (like a juicy toner-serum-moisturizer sandwich). But just as important as curating the perfect skin care routine is thinking about your face in terms of skin health. As the largest organ of our bodies, skin is impacted by general health as much as our lungs, brain or heart.
“The human body generally functions in a synergistic and integrated fashion, and therefore imbalances can sometimes manifest in the skin,” says Dr. BeiBei Du-Harpur, a dermatologist and skin researcher based in London. Taking a holistic approach to your routine can go a long way toward clearing your complexion. To kick off the new year on a glowing note, here are five surprising facts that will help you practice healthier skin habits.
Your quick grocery run can trigger hours of delayed sun damage.
We all know we’re supposed to wear sunscreen year-round, but it sometimes feels like overkill on rainy winter days. Spoiler alert: It’s still a necessary step. Even brief contact between UV rays and unprotected skin can cause more serious, lasting consequences than you might think. Research shows that UV light has been shown to trigger permanent DNA damage that continues to develop even after you’re no longer exposed. “The sun may stop, but damage doesn’t, so perpetual protection is key,” says Dr. Mona Gohara, a dermatologist and associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine. Next time you run a quick errand—or sit in front of a window while working from home—do it with a sufficient layer of your favorite broad-spectrum SPF applied. Dr. Gohara also recommends using an antioxidant (like a vitamin-C serum) to further mitigate the damaging effects of free radicals from UV rays.
Your skin type may not stay the same forever.
You’ve done all the work of figuring out your skin type, but here’s a quick heads-up that things change. Whether your face is oily, dry or a combination of both, Dr. Gohara says these categories can shift based on factors including cumulative UV exposure, pollution, menopause or glycosylation (the collagen breakdown that occurs when you eat too much sugar). To make sure you’re using the right products, pay close attention to your complexion’s daily condition—don’t assume your skin is acne-prone, for example, just because you experienced breakouts a few years ago.
Besides your skin type, “there are so many other things to consider—how you react to sun, if you have marks after a pimple or how you scar,” says Dr. Gohara. “This is particularly important for those of us with darker skin tones.” Shopping with a full list of skin needs in mind will help you narrow down your perfect product, especially as internal and external factors influence your skin over time.
Bacteria could be the key to keeping your complexion in balance.
“The gut-skin axis refers to the concept of the gut microbiota having an influence on skin health,” says Dr. Du-Harpur. There’s still debate over the exact connection, but researchers do know that both the surface of our skin and the inside of our stomachs host microbiomes comprised of trillions of microorganisms that work to maintain balance.
When the skin’s microbiome is disrupted, inflammation and irritation occur. “One can conjecture that the same type of dysbiosis can occur if gut microbiome is out of whack,” says Dr. Gohara. Microbiome-regulating probiotic supplements are a popular option in supporting gut and dermal health, although the science surrounding them stops short of drawing a direct connection. Work with your dermatologist or doctor to determine if this method makes sense for you.
That packed to-do list is sabotaging your skin.
When you’re under a lot of strain, your skin will eventually show the consequences. “Stress—whether mental, physical or emotional—triggers the release of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which send signals to the skin,” says Dr. Ewoma Ukeleghe, a dermatologist and founder of SKNDOCTOR, based in London. Immediate effects include slower wound healing, compromised barrier function, excess oil production and dehydration. You might not notice them right away, but these effects compound over time until you’re faced with sudden breakouts or an eczema flare-up.
Rather than ignoring your emotions, consider this an important reminder to schedule in some chill time. Prioritize your self-care this year, whether that means blocking out time to catch up on Netflix or kicking back with a soothing bath soak and face mask.
Drinking more water won’t boost your glow, but sleep can.
Despite the number of times we’ve heard celebrities swear that drinking more water is their secret to a clear complexion, research says that it’s a myth. The water you drink reaches your other organs before it gets anywhere near your skin, and as long as you’re not dehydrated, your daily water intake won’t impact you outwardly. Shift your focus to getting enough beauty sleep instead.
“Sleep is a key regulator of hormone levels, metabolism, the immune system and the skin’s ecosystem,” says Dr. Ukeleghe. Those late-night bedtimes can trigger existing skin conditions like psoriasis, dermatitis and acne. Accumulating sleep debt also causes inflammation and speeds up signs of aging, and you can’t just make up those missing hours on the weekend. It pays to make your bedroom as comfortable as possible, so slip on a silk eye mask, invest in an aromatherapy pillow spray and drift off to healthier, happier skin.