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Get the 411 on great skin

Dermis, epidermis, lasers, peels, botox, alphahydroxies these days navigating the world of skincare can seem like mapping an alien planet. So how to best tend to your body's largest organ for maximum beauty and health? The skinny on skincare is ultimately pretty simple, say experts.

We all start with "beautiful" skin -; free of wrinkles, sun damage and liver spots; smooth and elastic. The elasticity comes from the second layer of skin called the dermis, which is taut and strong early in life, leading to a tighter skin appearance and better tone. Normal aging and exposure to sun breaks down the dermis, compromising the skin's tone and causing wrinkles.

"We cannot prevent age from having an adverse affect on our skin," says David M. Trask, M.D., of the Skin Cancer and Dermatology Center of Southern Oregon. "It will happen."

Age- and sun-related damage can manifest in a leathery, wrinkly appearance and abnormal lesions called solar lentigos--tannish, flat, non-pre-cancerous lesions that are bigger than freckles and indicate significant exposure to sun early in life. Pre-cancerous lesions tend to be persistently reddish, scaly, sometimes sensitive patches called solar keratoses.

"All these are unhealthy features of the skin," says Trask.

Staving off a trip to the dermatologist starts with being proactive about skincare at a very early age.

"My main suggestion is to practice sun protection," says Denise Burke, M.D., a Medford dermatologist. "I would suggest using sunscreen that's SPF 15 or higher and if you're going to be out in the water or sweating, get waterproof."

Be sure your sunscreen or makeup with sunscreen protects from both A and B rays --most products cover B rays, which typically cause sunburns, but it's the A rays, says Burke, that can lead to a deeper burn with longer-lasting problems. (See sidebar for more information.)

Other tips for epidermis excellence:

1. Butt out! "Smoking contributes to unhealthy skin by constricting capillaries which bring nutrients to the skin," explains Dr. Trask. "It also contributes to wrinkling of the skin, especially on the face."

2. Take your vitamins. There is some supportive research that indicates both oral and topical substances that contain vitamins A, C and E can reduce the damaging effects of ultraviolet rays of the sun, says Trask.

3. Work it out. "Exercise is important in general for health," Trask says. "The better you take care of your whole body, the healthier all your organs, including your skin, will be."

4. Treat acne kindly. "Use water-based and not oil-based makeup and watch sunscreens because some will make acne worse," counsels Dr. Burke. Look for "non comedogenic" sunscreen for use on skin with acne.

5. More years equals fewer suds. As people get older their oil glands don't produce as much oil, leading to less need for soap on the body and face. Burke suggests switching to gentler soaps as the skin ages.

6. "Be aggressive with challenge areas. "Using skin products containing glycolic acid, over-the-counter retinol, antioxidants, prescription Renova, chemical peels and lasers" can treat skin that has been highly exposed to sun or other damage, says Trask.

7. "Consider high-tech solutions. "Laser is best for sun-damaged skin to remove solar lentigos, dilated capillaries and fine wrinkles and is often a patient's treatment of choice," says Trask. Chemical peels, although helpful, are waning in popularity, he says, while Botox continues to be used for deeper wrinkles on certain areas of the face. But tread carefully in these waters, because little knowledge about the long-term effects of these expensive treatments is available, says Trask.

8. "Finally, see a dermatologist if symptoms persist or if mysterious bumps or potentially pre-cancerous lesions appear. "'Bad skin' can be due to an underlying disease, i.e., cystic acne, rosacea, lupus, etc.," Trask says.

Properly protected and informed, a person can face the elements with greater confidence of a long life beautiful skin.

Get the 411 on great skin