Skin is the largest organ in the body, not to mention one of the most important. Consisting of three layers—epidermis, dermis and subcutis—skin acts as the first line of defence against injury and infection. It also has a range of functions that are vital in maintaining skin health and overall wellbeing, including:
- Regulating body temperature
- Producing Vitamin D
- Preventing dehydration by locking body fluids inside the body
- Preventing infection
- Housing nerve endings that help the body feel important signals such as heat, cold and pain.
Skin lesions in the form of cuts, bites, burns and blisters can cause trauma to the skin surface and lower layers. While most skin lesions are not serious and can be treated easily, some may pose a threat to your overall health.
Keeping skin healthy
Avoiding conditions that put the skin at risk is the best way to keep it healthy. This may include staying out of the sun when it is at its hottest and ensuring shoes fit well to avoid blisters. However, taking care of your skin is not always so simple. Many daily activities carry a risk of skin damage, but not all of these should –or can –be avoided. In such cases, protection is a better way to maintain skin health.
Protective clothing and equipment should be worn whenever skin is likely to encounter a harmful substance. This could mean wearing oven gloves when handling hot dishes in the kitchen, donning gloves in the garden or covering up in protective suits when handling harmful chemicals. Wearing long-sleeved clothing, ideally with built-in SPF protection, can also protect the body from harmful sun rays.
Protective creams and lotions can be applied if you know you are going to be exposed to an irritant. Applying sun cream with at least SPF 15 and keeping it topped up regularly will provide some protection to sunlight. Spraying on insect repellent when you are in places known to attract mosquitoes or other biting insects will reduce the likelihood of your skin being targeted.
Lifestyle changes to support skin health
Some lifestyle changes can have a positive impact on skin health, such as:
- Stopping smoking: Smoking narrows the blood vessels on the epidermis, decreasing blood flow to the skin and depleting the skin of oxygen and nutrients. Smoking also impairs the skin’s elasticity, creating wrinkles and age spots.
- Showering, not bathing: Daily bathing can damage skin, so it is advised to limit time in water. You could choose to shower more than bathe, avoid very hot water and make use of gentle cleansing products.
- Improving your diet: The link between skin health and diet is not clear, but it is believed that following a healthy diet and drinking plenty of water will help protect your skin.
- Lowering stress levels: Stress can make skin more sensitive to problems, so avoiding contact with stress triggers wherever possible is advised.
Actions for skin damage
If you do develop a skin problem, you need to know how to respond quickly and effectively.
Cuts, scrapes and blisters
Most cuts and scrapes can be treated at home by washing the wound and applying antiseptic cream and a plaster. Deeper cuts may need medical attention. Even small cuts, scrapes or blisters are susceptible to infection, so keep an eye out for signs of discharge or changes to the skin around the lesion.
Some rashes (such as those that develop after an insect bite) can be treated at home. However, others can be indicative of a serious condition that needs treatment. Rashes that are accompanied with pain or other symptoms (such as a a high temperature or bruising) may indicate an infection and need urgent attention. Become familiar with the different types of rash so you know when to seek medical help.
The development of new moles or changes in the appearance of existing ones could be an indication of melanoma (skin cancer). If you find a suspicious mole you should visit your GP to have it checked.
Burns and scalds
Burns and scalds require cooling and covering with a protective dressing that will not stick to the damaged skin. Clingfilm is a good household item to use for this. More severe burns will require hospital attention.
Seeking further help
If you or someone you know has skin damage which that requires urgent, non-emergency attention please contact 111. If you live in the East Berkshire area, you can also go to St. Mark’s Urgent Care Centre, which treats minor injuries, such as cuts and burns, that are less than 48 hours old.