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Let’s Face It: New Year’s Resolutions

woman-looking-in-mirror1We hear a lot about people who resolve to make some good decisions each new year. Most of the time our resolutions involve promises to eat better, exercise more, and quit putting off some of the other things we need to do.   Unless you maintain superhuman discipline, it is very difficult to always take optimum care of your face. Face? What do we possibly need to do for our faces? Well, if we want to help maintain a healthy and even attractive body, our face is a very important part of that body. Obviously we are known by our face, as it is communicates our identity more than any other body part. Sure, our hair, our body, our voice, how we walk and talk are all important, but just one glance at a face, and we instantly know who that person is or is not.   So here are just a few of the things we might do to help maintain that special mug of ours in the new year.

1. Protect your skin from the UVA radiation.

Hey, it’s cloudy and cold, not a bit of sun in the sky. I don’t need sunscreen until it warms up….or do I? The truth is, if you spend time outdoors, there is always radiation present and our faces are rarely covered up. The winter rays, ultraviolet A rays, actually penetrate the skin deeper than their cousins, the summer UV B rays. While the summer rays are known for their tanning and burning ability, we hardly notice the winter rays. But over a period of time, these silent photons damage our skin cells, slowly altering the DNA, and accelerate the formation of future skin cancers in some people. This is particularly hazardous at higher altitudes, in the mountains on ski slopes for example. So don’t forget to apply sun block when spending those prolonged minutes outdoors. When zinc is added to a sunscreen, it bccomes a ‘block’, a physical barrier to irradiation. Most topical sunscreens are meant for summer UVB rays and do not protect from winter’s UVA.

2.  Moisturize, Moisturize

Unless you have naturally oily skin, it will dry out in the winter months since we spend most of our time in a heated location. Even with humidifiers, the air is usually drier in winter months, and the water in our skin evaporates. Plus going from inside to outside, then back inside encourages the dreaded ‘chapping’ of lips and skin. So using topical moisturizers creates a physical barrier to unwanted evaporation and this helps reduce dryness. Applying extra moisturizers to the rest of our skin is a good idea, too, and just after a shower or bath is an ideal time to do. Moisturizers that contain a bit of petrolatum, lanolin and/or mineral oil are a little more effective than those that don’t. In other words, creams work better than lotions, and the more expensive brands don’t work any better than others.

3. Old skin, young skin

Does ‘older skin’ need extra care when compared to ‘younger skin’ in the winter? Generally speaking, as we age, our skin cells lose many of the desirable characteristics of our younger cells. Natural cell turnover and reproduction slow down, and exfoliation is impeded, resulting in a thicker buildup of dead cells on the skin’s surface. We want to encourage cellular turnover and exfoliation. Skin products such as tretinoin (RetinA) help stimulate that nice turnover and consistent cell growth. Products such as the alpha hydroxy acid lotions (AHAs) help exfoliate the unwanted dead cells and also encourage living cells to hold on to their water. So yes, ‘older skin’ definitely needs a bit more coddling than younger skin. Think of it as ‘desirable maintenance’.

4. Who’s chapped?

Did we mention chapped skin and lips? Chapped lips (medically called cheilitis simplex or common cheilitis) are characterized by cracking, fissuring, and peeling of the skin of the lips. Normal lips actually have a very thin oily film on their surface providing natural protection against moisture loss. When we lick our lips, and when exposed to dry and cold air, this film is removed, and the lips become chapped. There is good new however. By using barrier lubricants, such as lip salve, Vaseline or lanolin, chapped lips can be saved. By the way, lip balms with sunblock are even better, since lips get sun- damaged too!

5. But sun makes me happy!

Me too. While I believe in the message of part 1, it is well known that some exposure to sunlight is beneficial, even necessary, for health. Most of us feel better, even happier, when we spend some time outdoors. Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a condition that affects many people especially in winter months and may even be related to low levels of vitamin D. One anecdote is exposure to sunlight or to indoor lights that simulate the sun’s wavelength. Getting 15-20 minutes of direct sunlight each day on our skin and eyes does some good things: it stimulates vitamin D production, helps maintain our sleep: awake cycle (circadian rhythm) and, let’s face it, we feel better! Even happier. And when we are happier we sleep better, eat better, and life is just better. All this shows in our faces.  

6.  Eat that chocolate!

Yes, over the Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanza holidays, we tend to sometimes eat and drink too much. Excess sugar (lots of that, wasn’t there?) in those cakes, cookies, pies, fudges and other homemade treats takes its toll in the days afterwards. Sugar is associated with increased inflammation, and inflammation appears at the root of many human ailments. But there is one saving dietary grace when it comes to chocolate, at least dark chocolate. Cocoa contains polyphenols and powerful antioxidant flavanoids and are considered heart healthy when eaten in moderation. German researchers found that the flavonoids in dark chocolate absorb UV light, help protect and increase blood flow to the skin, and improve skin’s hydration and complexion.           http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16702322  

7.  The face of sleepiness.

Can we really tell by looking a someone’s face if they are sleep deprived? One of the things that really bothers people is the well- meaning but insulting “you look tired” comment from a friend or co-worker. It is usually an innocent comment but often results in the recipient feeling insulted, especially if they are not tired! But a Swedish study did actually demonstrate that we do know by looking at faces when the need for more sleep is present in that person’s face. The results show that sleep deprivation affects features relating to the eyes, mouth, and skin, and that these features function as cues of sleep loss to other people. Because these facial regions are important in the communication between humans, facial cues of sleep deprivation and fatigue may result in social consequences for the sleep-deprived individual in everyday life.   http://www.journalsleep.org/ViewAbstract.aspx?pid=29095   So this is one more valid reason to try to get the best sleep we can on a regular basis. It is estimated that 30 percent of Americans regularly struggle with insomnia and other sleep issues. While easier said than done to sleep well, it is wise to remember that our sleep affects many things in our lives, and how we look is one of them. Snooze, don’t lose.

8.  If you can’t frown, you don’t feel down.

What? Frowning causes unhappiness? I thought unhappiness caused frowning. Well, research finds that both are correct. Moods certainly can create expressions, i.e., when we are happy we smile and not so happy, we frown. But the opposite also occurs. When we unconsciously make a frowny face, out brains seem to recognize this as negative, and in some people, a negative mood ensues. And when the negative forehead scowl is eliminated with drugs such as Botox, many of our patients report that they feel happier. This is not new, but is becoming more recognized in today’s world. In one study, 50% of patients who received Botox injections reported feeling happier 6 weeks later, and not just because they looked better. http://www.botoxfordepression.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Finzi-Rosenthal-Article-FINAL-copy1.pdf While Botox and Dysport and Xeomin may not yet be mainstream drugs for treating depression, there is mounting evidence that they are as effective as some other therapies. Clearly when we feel better, we look better.

So as we begin our journey into 2015, and want to put our best face forward, be aware of these 8 tips. The face you save may be your own!

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