If you have dark, leathery skin, chances are it reflects the number of hours you’ve spent in the sun or the number of years you’ve been a smoker. The aging process will deplete your skin’s moisture and collagen over time, but lifestyle choices can accelerate these effects.
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The two lifestyle factors most often responsible for dark, leathery skin are sun exposure and smoking. According to the American Academy of Dermatology’s AgingSkinNet website, the sun’s effects on your skin — called photoaging — might also include wrinkles, freckles and spidery veins. Over time, the sun’s UV rays destroy your skin’s ability to repair itself, resulting in a loss of collagen and elastin. The chemicals in cigarettes act on your skin in a similar fashion, accelerating the aging process and resulting in wrinkles, leathery skin and an overall yellow undertone to your skin.
The easiest way to prevent sun damage is to cover your skin anytime you’re outside. The AAD suggests you wear clothing that covers your arms and legs, with a wide-brimmed hat or umbrella to shade your face and neck. Apply sunscreen 20 minutes before you go outside; look for a brand that offers UVA and UVB protection with an SPF of at least 30. In terms of smoking, your best option is to quit. Author Brigitte Mars notes in “Beauty by Nature” that smokers age up to 20 years faster than nonsmokers. With every cigarette, Mars writes, you’re losing 25 mg of vitamin C, an essential anti-aging vitamin.
According to Mars, scrubbing your face with harsh cleansers will only make your skin drier, encouraging the production of more wrinkles. She suggests using soaps that contain oats or olive oil. After you’ve washed, apply a moisturizer to keep your skin from drying out. You can give your skin the alpha hydroxy acids they need to encourage cell turnover with a quick homemade facial mask made with mashed bananas or avocados, yogurt and buttermilk. In terms of diet, Mars advises you drink at least eight glasses of water per day to keep the keratin-rich top layers of your skin moisturized.
The American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery describes a number of procedures to help to repair dark, leathery skin. A facelift can combat the lack of elasticity in leathery skin, while laser resurfacing can zap away wrinkles with a pulsed carbon dioxide laser. You can often reveal fresher, lighter skin following a chemical peel, which removes the damaged outermost layers of skin. Discolorations and small lines often disappear after dermabrasion, in which a cosmetic surgeon uses rotary machines to “sand” away imperfections and damaged skin.
If you’ve never been checked for skin cancer, consider making an appointment with a dermatologist. In addition to making your skin appear dark and leathery, the sun’s UV rays can cause mutations in your cells that cause cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, doctors diagnose more than 2 million cases of skin cancer each year, more than breast cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer combined.