Is your skin getting the care it deserves? Maybe it's time to pay attention. November is marked as National Healthy Skin Month to raise awareness about the importance of adopting a healthy skincare regimen for better skin, hair and nails.

The primary role of the skin, our body's largest organ, is protection. It guards other organs from bacteria, chemicals and fluctuating temperatures outside. However, as people age, skin endures a lot of wear and tear from exposure to sun, pollution and chemicals, resulting in skin damage.

As we observe National Healthy Skin Month, an expert shares some tips with us to identify the sources of skin damage and implement a healthy skincare routine to prevent it.

What are the sources of skin damage?

"Skin damage can result from multiple sources. The most common insults arise from environmental exposures such as ultraviolet radiation from the sun or tanning beds, air pollution and extreme heat or cold. Another common source is mechanical friction and irritation resulting from one's skincare routine," Dr. Eva R. Parker, assistant professor of dermatology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, told Medical Daily.

Unhealthy lifestyle choices such as poor diet, excessive alcohol consumption, lack of sleep and exercise can also affect the skin's natural health.

Signs of skin damage

The signs of damage depend on the underlying cause. For example, with continuous exposure to UV lights from the sun or tanning beds, the skin suffers premature aging or photoaging. Appearance of wrinkles, loss of elasticity, uneven skin texture and skin color are some of the signs.

If an improper skin routine involving harsh chemicals is the culprit, skin shows signs of damage in the form of acne, dry and itchy skin, rough patches, skin infections and inflammations.

"Sun exposure, air pollution, and heat may result in premature aging, including hyperpigmentation (brown spots), wrinkling and textural changes, and the development of telangiectasias (small dilated blood vessels at the skin's surface). Hot water, soap, scrubbing and mechanical exfoliation may strip away the outer protective layers of the skin called the stratum corneum, which serves as a microscopic armor. This can dehydrate and irritate the skin leading to dryness, itching and even dermatitis," Dr. Parker said.

Skin changes with age

As people age, one of the first signs that the body tells you is through the skin, which typically becomes thinner, more delicate and dry. Dr. Parker recommends people be gentle on the skin as they age while not forgetting the use of moisturizers and sunscreens.

"Older individuals must be much more gentle with their skin and incorporate daily application of emollients. Additionally, the cumulative effects of sun damage become more apparent so it is important to continue to be diligent with sun protection."

Tips for better skin health

When it comes to preventing skin damage from the sun, the most essential step involves the dedicated use of sunscreen and minimizing exposure.

"The keys to healthy skin include daily, year-round sun protection with the use of sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, wearing broad-brimmed hats and sun protective clothing with extended outdoor exposure and common-sense sun avoidance. Additionally, avoiding outdoor exposure on days with poor air quality or high heat is also recommended," Dr. Parker said.

In addition to reducing sun damage, it is also essential to develop a gentle skincare regimen that prioritizes moisturization.

"Everyone should treat their skin gently by minimizing long, hot showers or baths. This also means only soaping the folds with gentle, unscented soap and never scrubbing the skin. After bathing, it's critical to rehydrate the skin by applying a hypoallergenic, unscented moisturizer head-to-toe daily," Dr. Parker explained.

The skincare regimen will be incomplete without a healthy lifestyle that ensures proper diet and hydration.

"The skin is a reflection of our overall health and many systemic diseases may first manifest with cutaneous findings. A diet full of fruits, veggies, whole grains, healthy fats and lean protein is essential not only to maintain cardiovascular and brain health but also for healthy skin. Dehydration decreases the turgor or elasticity of our skin and increases dryness," she added.