BELOW THE SURFACE: Benefits of healthy skin are much more than superficial

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What's the body's largest organ, and what are its functions?

The skin is the body's largest organ. Among other things, skin protects our internal organs, shields us from germs and helps to regulate our body's temperature.

Protecting your skin throughout your life is good for your health and helps you to look and feel good.

Skin care needs vary by age, so here are some helpful tips on how you can sport a healthy glow through all of life's stages.

Infants and children

On the younger set, use gentle, fragrance-free cleansers and soaps, and regularly apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen that offers a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Re-apply the sunscreen approximately every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or perspiring. Also, when children are in the sun, have them wear protective clothing, sunglasses and hats.

Parents, sunscreen is safe for infants younger than six months if protective clothing and shade are not available. Apply it to small, exposed areas, like the face and the back of the hands. For babies older than six months, apply sunscreen on all exposed areas of the body, but be careful around the eyes.

A study released in 2012 showed that only one in four children regularly use sunscreen. This is troubling because childhood sunburns raise the risk of developing skin cancer later on.

Teens

Common skin conditions for teens include acne and eczema (inflamed itchy skin). These conditions, as well as others, often require professional medical treatment. Some teens are reluctant to comply with prescribed treatment regimens. Remember that treatment results will vary during this socially sensitive time of a child's development.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) advises teens not to indoor tan. A recent study showed that exposure to UV radiation during indoor tanning increases the risk of melanoma, especially when this exposure occurs at an early age.

Mature skin

Skin cancer is a major concern as people age. Keep in mind that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. and that one in five Americans will develop it during

their lives. See a dermatologist or other healthcare provider if you notice changes in your skin.

Like their younger counterparts, middle age and older adults should apply sunscreen daily with an SPF of at least 30. Men, especially, are not getting the sunscreen message. A recent AAD consumer poll found that only 5 percent of men apply sunscreen every day. Men and women should both avoid the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun's rays are at their strongest.

According to the AAD, at any given time, one of every three people in the U.S. suffers from a skin disease. Some common conditions include eczema, psoriasis (a scaly rash), actinic keratosis (pre-cancerous spots) and rosacea (unusual redness).

Changes to your skin also may indicate another medical condition. For example, a patch of darker, thicker, velvety-feeling skin may be a sign of pre-diabetes.

For better-looking mature skin, adopt the following healthy habits:

• Moisturize - Smooth on your daily moisturizer right after a shower or bath to trap moisture in the skin.

• Stop smoking - In addition to its other health risks, smoking damages skin and causes wrinkles by decreasing blood flow to the skin's top layers.

• Hydrate the healthy way - Alcohol and caffeine act like a diuretic by preventing your skin from holding on to water. If you drink coffee or alcohol, be sure to increase your water intake.

• Eat right - A steady diet of food filled with preservatives can dry and age your skin. A healthy diet will help give you a healthy glow.