Skin is your body’s largest organ and it plays an important role in your life and your health. Some of the important functions of skin include:
- Protecting – Your skin protects you against external threats such as UV rays, extreme temperatures, dirt, toxins and microorganisms. Skin also controls moisture loss, without intact skin we would quickly become dehydrated.
- Controlling Temperature – Elements of your skin such as sweat glands, blood vessels and hairs play a role in regulating your body temperature, both retaining heat and allowing heat to escape.
- Sensing – Your skin includes a huge network of nerve endings that allow you to feel pain, pressure and to distinguish between hot and cold.
- Producing Vitamin D – Your skin converts UV rays from the sun into vitamin D which is important for keeping bones healthy.
With skin playing such a vital role in your day to day life, it’s important to keep it safe, especially from outdoor elements. While we all understand the importance of protecting our skin from the sun, there are a number of other things in the outdoor world that pose a threat to your skin. In this article we’ll look at the impact of wind, extreme temperatures, low humidity, irritants and infection on your skin’s health.
Wind can quickly dry your skin out if you’re not protecting it properly. As the wind hits your skin it removes water, stealing moisture and leaving the skin dry. Wind can irritate skin due to friction caused by the wind striking the skin surface. Wind can also cause chapped or burning skin, depending on the severity and the combination of other factors such as low temperatures and low humidity.
To protect your skin from the wind, make sure you are moisturizing daily, with extra applications on or after windy days. If the wind is particularly harsh, you may want to stay inside. Otherwise make sure to cover as much skin as possible with clothing.
Extreme temperatures, both hot and cold, can also impact your skin. In hot weather your sweat glands are working overtime, which can cause oily skin, breakouts, and even heat rash, which happens when sweat ducts get closed off. In extremely cold temperatures, the opposite is true. Cold temperatures contribute to dry skin and may lead to red, rough, tightened, or cracked skin. In a case of over exposure, you can even experience frostbite where tissues beneath the skin freeze.
When it comes to extreme temperatures, avoidance is the key to protecting your skin. In extremely hot or cold temperature you should stay inside whenever possible. If dealing with hot temperatures that cause breakouts, make sure to use a gentle cleanser daily so your pores do not get clogged. If dealing with cold temperatures, make sure to cover your skin when you go outside and moisturize daily to keep your skin hydrated.
Low humidity is another outdoor threat that can rob your skin of moisture. Low humidity means that the air has low water content, so the water in your skin will evaporate more easily, leaving it dry and rough. Low humidity is common in the winter time, where it may be combined with cold temperatures and winds.
To protect your skin from this threat, make sure to moisturize thoroughly and regularly when experiencing low humidity. You can also help by maintaining proper humidity inside your home by using a humidifier.
Certain outdoor plants can also irritate the skin and cause reactions. Some of the most common are poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. These plants contain an oily resin that causes an allergic reaction, leading to a rash that itches and burns.
To protect your skin from irritants, learn how to identify them so you can avoid them. If you do come into contact with one, wash your skin with warm soapy water, then wash clothes and anything else you’ve come into contact with to avoid spreading it. You can treat the pain and itch with calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream.
A final outdoor threat to skin is the threat of infection, which may occur when you get minor cuts or scrapes. Infection is caused by bacteria, so the best way to deal with infection is to prevent it by cleaning the wound well and applying antibiotic ointment. As your wound is healing, watch for signs of infection, such as redness, increasing pain, pus, swelling or warmth. See a doctor if you notice any problems.
As this list suggests, some of these outdoor skin threats appear in combination – such as extreme temperatures, wind and low humidity often associated with the winter. Others, such as irritants and infections, can be prevented if you know what to look for and treated if you know what to do. Understanding these outdoor skin threats can help you protect your skin year round, which will improve the health of your skin, as well as your overall health.