Mona Hagmaier, a physician assistant at the University of South Alabama Knollwood Physicians Group, said common skin complaints she hears from patients involve aging and sun-damaged skin.

According to Hagmaier, lifestyle factors affect the rate at which our bodies age and there are several things you can do to protect your skin against future damage.

“If you are beginning to notice signs of aging, you should first focus on the primary culprit – sun exposure,” she said. “Everyone should use a moisturizer, sunscreen, or cosmetic product with at least SPF 15 every day. A good moisturizer containing SPF protects you from dangerous rays while guarding against dry skin.”

UV light damages the body’s genetic material, which in turn changes the kinds and amounts of chemicals that the skin cells make. “It is these changes to the DNA that are responsible for the damaging effects of UV light, including skin cancer, premature skin aging and burning.”

Hagmaier said adequate sleep, water consumption, and exercise are important factors in achieving healthy glowing skin. “Sleep is vital for mental and physical health,” she said. “As you sleep, your immune system rebuilds damaged tissues.”

“Water replenishes moisture that is lost throughout the day,” she added, “and exercise increases circulation of much-needed nutrients to the skin. Exercise also has many other health benefits such as decreasing stress and lowering cholesterol.”

In addition, Hagmaier said certain foods can improve your skin’s health. “Eating fruits and uncooked vegetables with antioxidants (vitamins A, C, E, selenium, zinc, beta-carotene) as well as drinking green tea, is a great way to improve the look of skin,” she said. “Antioxidants counteract damage produced by free radicals (unbalanced oxygen molecules which destroy collagen) that form as a result of sun exposure, pollution, or stress.”

“Another way to improve the look of your skin is to exfoliate often,” Hagmaier said. “Exfoliation removes dead skin cells that can give your complexion a dull look.” In addition, Hagmaier recommends avoiding skin products that contain alcohol, which deprives the skin of its natural oils.

There are some things you should avoid if you want healthy skin, including excess alcohol and cigarettes. “Alcohol can affect one’s quality of sleep. The nicotine in cigarettes causes vasoconstriction, which deprives the skin of oxygen and nutrients leading to damaged collagen and elastin,” Hagmaier said.  “A smoker’s face lacks elasticity, is dry, and wrinkles faster.”

According to Hagmaier, moles are a very common patient concern. “If a patient comes in with a mole they are worried about, we can give them a full body skin exam and do a punch biopsy if we find anything that looks suspicious,” she said.

Hagmaier said that your health care provider should perform a full body skin exam annually as part of a routine cancer-related checkup, and you should check your skin once a month.

“It is important that you learn the pattern of freckles, moles and spots on your body so you will notice any changes over time,” she said. “If you find something suspicious, you should see a health care provider with training in biopsying skin cancers immediately.”

Hagmaier, who is a primary care provider at Knollwood Physicians Group, also sees patients for skin conditions such as pre-cancerous lesions, skin tags, warts, cysts, angiomas and acne. To make an appointment, call (251) 660-5787.

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