Skin Tight

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Pimples. Zits. Rashes. Bumps. These eruptions are a few of the many blemishes that can prevent African–Americans from putting our best face forward, especially in winter. All are conditions of the skin, the largest organ of our bodies that includes the epidermis as well as our scalp and fingernails. Staying under wraps during the cold season can hide latent skin conditions or even contribute to their formation because typically, what&srquo;s out of sight is out of mind. But flaking skin, rough, calloused feet, excessive dryness and brittle, breaking hair will surely greet us when warm weather returns if we neglect our skin in winter.

Like any other organ, healthy Black skin results from good nutrition, sufficient water intake and, believe it or not, exercise. Foods high in vitamins C and E prevent wrinkles and flaking. Water is critical for moisture and hydration while exercise increases blood flow that gives us a robust pallor and prevents sagging. Please don&srquo;t be influenced by the array of creams, lotions, oils and serums that promise to end your complexion woes. Without the three basics listed above – good nutrition, water and exercise – any skin protection or improvement plan will fail.

Cultural lore, "old wives tales" and misinformation have compromised the health of African–American skin and hair. For years, we thought grease was the answer to "ashy" skin and dry, dull hair. As children, our mothers rubbed our bodies with petroleum jelly and oiled our scalps to combat dryness and dandruff, especially in winter. We now know that heavy oils clog the pores and attract pollutants like dust and dirt that prevent the skin from breathing. Light moisturizers are far better. Any harsh chemicals, including those contained in non–moisturizing soaps and shampoos, are bad for the skin. Repeated splashing with lots of plain, lukewarm water is usually sufficient for a good cleansing. Follow up with a light, non–oil based moisturizer that contains a sun block of grade 15 or higher (yes, sun block is important even in winter.) For hair, a light shampoo without conditioner followed again by a non–oil based moisturizer will keep the scalp clean and healthy.

Don&srquo;t neglect your feet by allowing rough skin and calluses to develop. Keep toenails cut straight across and moisturize cuticles and the soles of feet every time you bathe.

Woolen clothing and some acrylics can also give skin the wintertime blues. Put a natural fiber barrier like a cotton tee shirt and long–johns between you and itchy materials. Protect the hair from abrasive flannel sheets and pillowcases by wearing a silk scarf to bed and under woolen hats when outside.

Keep indoor air moist by using a humidifier or allow a pot of boiling water to create steam on the stove. Before bed, turn the heat down and sleep with a window cracked. Stay warm by adding more blankets, not more heat. It can parch the skin and make the complexion flaky and dull.

When outdoors, remember to use a moisturizing lip balm and hand lotion to prevent chapping.

Protect yourself now so that when the cloudy, gray skies of winter are replaced by sweet warm sunshine, your skin will be as fresh and lively as the first flowers of spring!

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