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Climate Change Can Affect Your Skin. Here’s How to Protect It

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Climate change is becoming a part of everyday life.

From heat waves to early blossoms to unexpected snowfall, it’s making itself known.

While it’s important to do your part to care for the environment in light of this, it’s also important to take care of yourself.

After all, humans aren’t separate from nature.

With changes to the seasons and weather you’re used to, climate change means you may need to make changes to the way you care for yourself.

This is particularly true when it comes to your skin. Read on to learn how.

The skin is the body’s largest organ and the part of the body that interacts most with the environment. That said, taking care of your skin shouldn’t be an afterthought.

While considering the impact of climate change on your skin may bring to mind sun protection and the threat of skin cancer, there are other ways your skin can be impacted.

“Extreme weather conditions can lead to all sorts of problems, from dehydration to sunburn,” says dermatologist and co-founder of Unity Skincare Allison Leer. “Air pollution and other environmental factors can also take their toll.”

The impacts of climate change that may affect the health of your skin include:

  • extreme weather conditions
  • pollution
  • ozone layer depletion
  • flooding
  • increased temperatures and humidity
  • increased pollen

These factors may contribute to a number of skin and health issues, including:

  • skin cancer
  • acne
  • premature signs of aging
  • skin conditions like rashes, hives, eczema, and psoriasis
  • infectious disease and skin-related side effects

Climate change and skin cancer

Think of the ozone as Earth’s SPF. As it thins or dissipates, more and more UV radiation leaks through.

Older 2011 research estimates that a reduction of just 1 percent in the ozone layer’s thickness increases the incidence of squamous cell carcinoma by 3 to 4.6 percent, basal cell carcinoma by 1.7 to 2.7 percent, and melanoma by 1 to 2 percent.

Already the most common cancer in the U.S. according to 2016 research, skin cancer rates continue to rise worldwide.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 2-3 million non-melanoma skin cancers and 132,000 melanoma skin cancers occur each year worldwide.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that several different substances affect ozone depletion, like:

  • chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
  • bromine-containing halons and methyl bromide
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs)
  • carbon tetrachloride (CCI4)
  • methyl chloroform

These substances are often found in aerosols, foam products, refrigerators, air conditioning, and cleaning solvents.

UV radiation isn’t the only cause of skin cancer related to climate change. Air pollution that results from burning fossil fuels can also increase skin cancer rates.

When fossil fuels burn, carbon dioxide and other pollutants like polyaromatic hydrocarbons release into the air.

According to a 2021 review, these nanoparticles, also known as PM2.5, penetrate the epidermis and may pass through the skin via follicles and glands. Exposure to traffic emissions demonstrated a 20 percent increase in pigmented facial lesions. A large fraction of PM2.5 is comprised of black carbon, a known carcinogen. The carcinogenicity of these particles is enhanced when it forms aerosols with toxic metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

The same study found well-documented evidence that air pollution worsens inflammatory skin conditions, especially atopic dermatitis, which may require increased use of immunosuppressant medications.

Both atopic dermatitis and immunopressant medications can increase the risk of skin cancer.

Climate change and acne

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD), rates of acne are increasing, affecting about 85 percent of Americans between the ages of 12 and 24.

Climate change can alter the pH balance of our skin. Increased sweating and oil production can also increase acne breakouts.

Signs of aging

Sun exposure can worsen skin aging over time.

Climate change can lead to increased UV radiation and environmental pollutants that cause free radical damage, compounding the effects of sun exposure.

A 2019 study noted that air pollution increases oxidative stress in the skin and results in or worsens premature skin aging.

Skin condition flare-ups

Higher temperatures and humidity can lead to more sweating, triggering flare-ups for individuals with eczema and psoriasis.

It can also lead to other skin conditions such as rashes, athlete’s foot, and hives.

According to older 2010 research, there is some evidence indicating that people may be at higher risk for eczema in urban areas, suggesting pollution may play a role in triggering flare-ups.

Dermatologist and Scientific Advisory Board Member for the National Eczema Association Peter Lio agrees that inflammatory skin conditions will continue to get worse, especially eczema.

“Eczema has been around forever, but it’s skyrocketed in industrialized western societies as our lifestyles have become more sanitized and the bacteria in our skin and gut microbiomes have become less diverse,” says Lio. “A rapidly warming planet means this trend will continue—and likely increase.”

Lio also notes that eczema can be triggered by environmental factors like:

  • heat
  • sun
  • air quality
  • wildfire smoke
  • allergens, like pollen

Skin diseases

Climate change can impact your skin in ways you may not realize. Take flooding, for instance.

Flooding is the most frequent and deadly disaster worldwide, and a 2021 study found that climate change is likely adding to the frequency and intensity of extreme river flood events.

Research from 2018 shows that skin diseases due to contamination exposure are one of the most common health impacts of flooding.

These impacts include an increase in infectious diseases, like:

They may also increase the incidence of skin conditions, such as:

Climate change and infectious disease

There are several types of infectious diseases, including vector-borne, viral, and fungal. All of these can be increased due to the effects of climate change.

Vector-borne infectious diseases

These diseases are viruses, bacteria, or protozoa transmitted by living organisms.

Lyme disease

A prime example is Lyme disease, which dramatically increased from 2001 to 2014, according to dermatologist Caroline Nelson, MD, FAAD.

Lyme disease is often carried and transferred to people by parasites known as ticks. In general, warmer temperatures in winter mean more ticks are likely to survive and spread Lyme disease outside their typical geographic locations.

Increased contact between infected ticks and humans is another factor contributing to an increase in Lyme disease.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, changes in land use, including farmland restoration and development in wooded areas, put humans closer to ticks and tick carriers such as deer and white-footed mice.

Lyme disease has several symptoms, many unrelated to skin health. However, it can trigger skin issues, including large rashes (erythema migrans) and skin infections (acrodermatitis chronica atrophicans).

Other vector-borne diseases

Other emerging diseases include the tick-borne disease anaplasmosis, dengue virus, and mosquito-borne togavirus.

According to Dirk Elston, MD, FAAD, climate change increases the spread of these diseases. The increase in temperatures is causing ticks usually found in the south to be more prevalent in the midwest and northern regions of the United States.

Viral and fungal infectious diseases

There are several examples of an increase in infectious diseases due to climate change.

One example is a 2019 study that shows a weather-related relationship between the incidence and severity of hand, foot, and mouth disease.

Similar findings from 2016 research have been shown for fungal skin disease as well.

In regards to our changing climate and your environment, following these practices will help you take care of your skin in the best way possible.

Always use sunscreen

The single most important thing you can do for your skin against UV radiation is to apply sunscreen, even when you don’t think you need it.

Apply sunscreen with a 30 SPF or higher anytime you’re outdoors. The even applies on cloudy days and if you’re only outside for 10 minutes.

It’s essential to take care of your own skin first. If it’s possible, you can also use reef-friendly sunscreen.

A 2018 study done by the International Coral Reef Initiative and the Swedish government concluded that conventional sunscreen negatively impacts the world’s coral reefs.

Avoid peak hours

Leer suggests people avoid being in the sun during the hottest part of the day, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

If you can’t avoid these hours, consider wearing a higher SPF sunscreen and reapplying every 60-90 minutes.

Check air quality

Before spending time outdoors, check the air quality.

You can check the air quality through various websites and apps, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) app AirNow.

Using an air filtration system in your home is also an excellent measure to take.

Stay hydrated

This one is essential, climate change aside. Staying hydrated helps your skin maintain its elasticity.

If you can, use a reusable water bottle instead of buying bottled water to keep your hydration efforts sustainable.

Eat vitamin-rich foods

A 2019 study shows the importance of vitamin E and vitamin C in skin health, especially in protecting against UV radiation.

Exposure to UV radiation depletes vitamin E and C levels in the skin. Vitamin C also protects the skin from oxidative damage by neutralizing free radicals.

Additionally, levels of vitamin E decrease with age.

To combat this, make sure to include plenty of antioxidant-rich foods in your diet, including:

  • carrots
  • leafy greens
  • blueberries
  • watermelon

Take vitamins and supplements

Although taking oral supplements of vitamin E or vitamin C alone showed no benefits, studies reported a decrease in UV-induced inflammation when taken together.

According to 2019 research, a diet lacking in selenium can lead to damage from oxidative stress, resulting in premature aging.

The same study noted that taking an oral probiotic accelerated the recovery of skin immune function after UV radiation exposure.

The gut and skin are closely correlated, so taking a probiotic may help with both gut health and skin health.

Use topical vitamins

Pollution and other environmental stressors can contribute to free radical damage. A topical application can help neutralize free radicals and prevent and treat skin changes.

While both vitamin E and vitamin C have shown some positive effects, many studies note that vitamin C used with vitamin E is more effective at protecting against outdoor stressors.

The two vitamins act together to inhibit:

  • UV damage
  • UV-induced photoaging
  • skin cancer
  • pollutant-induced skin inflammation
  • collagen degradation

Wear protective clothing and hats

It’s not just the heat and UV radiation that’s the problem. It’s also what we wear in that heat that can increase our sunburn and skin cancer risk.

People tend to spend more time outdoors with less protective clothing in the warmer months. Wearing your sunscreen and limiting your exposure is great, but it’s also helpful to wear protective clothing and headwear when you’re outside.

Consider UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) clothing for considerable sun exposure. Fabric must have a UPF of 30 to qualify for The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation, but they prefer UPF 50+.

Wide-brim and tightly woven hats are the best types for sun protection.

No single person will reverse climate change, but we can all do our part. These changes can have a domino effect on the world around you.

If you’d like to do what you can to help the planet, here are some ideas and resources to consider.

Take action

These action-based suggestions can be practiced individually but still have a significant impact.

Eat less meat

Going 100 percent plant-based is not something everyone wants to do, but the reality is that implementing these habits, if and when possible, does have a positive impact.

Remember your R’s

You may have heard “reduce, reuse, recycle,” but there are actually 5 R’s!

  • Refuse what you don’t need (cheap freebies, unnecessary print materials, etc.)
  • Reduce what you don’t need (donate or sell)
  • Reuse what you can
  • Recycle if you can’t do the first three
  • And rot (compost) the rest

Vote with your wallet

As long as large corporations and mass consumerism have the most significant effect on the planet, not much will change due to supply and demand.

However, if you make changes and start “voting” with your dollars, corporations have no choice but to change if they want to survive.

Organic foods and products become more widely availability and in some cases, cheaper, as demand grows.

Ideas to vote with your wallet:

This practice isn’t perfect by any means, and the responsibility for climate change shouldn’t fall to the individual. However, small, beneficial changes are a step in the right direction.

Get involved

Support organizations

If money and/or time allows, consider supporting organizations creating positive change. Some environmental organizations doing positive work include:

  • Cool Earth funds indigenous rainforest communities to tackle the root causes of deforestation. They hold the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar.
  • Clean Air Task Force researches scientific-driven solutions to climate change. They hold the Silver Seal of Transparency from GuideStar.
  • Impact Melanoma installs sunscreen dispensers in public and private settings to make sun protection readily available.

You can also look for local and community organizations to support.

Learn more

Vulnerable populations

Unfortunately, marginalized groups are disproportionately affected by climate change.

Access to sunscreen and sun protective clothing, air conditioning, and air filtration systems are luxuries not afforded to many, especially marginalized groups.

These groups not only have less access to proactive measures, but health care inequality compounds the effects.

Skin cancer can affect anyone regardless of skin color. People of color are often diagnosed in later stages when it’s more challenging to treat. According to 2016 research, non-Caucasian patients are less likely to survive melanoma.

There’s a clear correlation between climate change and skin health, and this topic deserves more attention, including advocacy and access to prevetion.

Global action is also needed to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change on the environment and human health.

However, there are many ways we can make changes individually for our health, skin and otherwise, and the planet’s health.


Healthy People, Healthy Planet is a celebration of the connection between humanity and the environment in which we live, with a focus on the food that keeps us going. You’ll find practical ways to make an impact on an individual and global scale, starting with what you put on your plate and beyond.

Read the full article here

Bobby focuses on creating higher margins while investing in society. He believes that our World has room for improvement, and one of his goals is to be part of the evolutionary process. What makes him successful is the collaboration with founders and partners. Bobby has a successful track record in envisioning and creating deals and opportunities from scratch in various industries.

Health

Your Skin on Stress: Acne, Hair Loss, and More

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Stress can present itself through skin conditions like acne, inflammation, and more. How can you tell it’s from stress?

Your skin is your body’s largest organ. External issues can be a telltale sign that not all is well underneath.

While bottled serums and sheet masks possess a certain level of aesthetic and soothing allure, a solid skin care routine may not be enough to provide calm for your body’s complex systems.

The increased jump in cortisol can jumble up the messages your nerves decide to send, causing anything from an outbreak of hives to fine lines.

While this correlation between stress and skin has been known since ancient times, formal studies revealing the deeper connection only date back to the last two decades.

And yes, your diet or skin care products can cause skin concerns, but it’s also important to consider stress as a potential culprit — especially if a rash appears out of nowhere or persists long after you’ve tested for everything.

We’ve outlined eight proven ways that mental, physical, and hormonal stress changes your skin. But more importantly, we also tell you what you can do about it.

Even before looking internally, there’s one beaming factor that can physically stress out your skin and weaken its defenses: ultraviolet (UV) radiation. A carcinogenic (cancer-causing) component of sun exposure, it can have a negative effect on the skin.

Whether in the form of natural sunlight or more artificial means such as tanning beds, ultraviolet rays signal blood cells to rush to the exposed area in an attempt to repair it. This manifests as sunburns.

Overexposure to ultraviolet radiation may lead to darkened blemishes, moles, and even skin cancer. The best way to combat UV rays and sun stress is by applying sunscreen every morning.

On top of sunscreens, you can also oppose sun damage from the inside out. Research has linked certain nutrients to the ability to boost your skin’s natural sun protection.

Limonene, a chemical derived from citrus peels, has been studied for use in cancer prevention medicines. Eating citrus peel might also provide sun protection.

Fruits high in antioxidants and vitamin C (like strawberries and pomegranates) have the ability to protect your cells from the free radical damage caused by sun exposure.

It’s important to remember that eating these foods does not replace wearing sunscreen. You should still wear sunscreen in addition to considering eating foods high in limonene, vitamin C, and other antioxidants.

Hives, psoriasis, eczema, dermatitis, and rosacea are often a result of inflammation, but studies also show that when your brain is on overdrive, it can actually compromise your skin’s protective abilities.

In other words, stress makes it harder for your skin to regulate and stay balanced. It’s no wonder you might have an extra breakout during a sleepless week or after an intense argument.

Inflammation can also cause acne. But remember, some skin conditions like rosacea can look like acne, too. It’s important to note the difference before treating the conditions, including whether your irritation is a result of stress, allergies, or a harmful product.

Fighting stress inflammation begins with eliminating the cause. Finding out the exact reason behind your stress might be difficult or impossible, but there are still ways to tame the fires with food, exercise, or therapy.

Whether it’s the impending dread of finals week or spontaneous heartbreak, we’ve all likely suffered at the hands of a stubborn pimple (or two).

Stress is highly associated with acne, especially for women. It can mix up our skin’s nerve signals, causing imbalanced hormones and chemicals that increase oil production.

While it’s nearly impossible to remove stress from the equation entirely, there are ways to overcome it. Keep 5- and 10-minute stress-relief tricks handy, and try longer stress-management techniques, like exercise, to increase your body’s abilities to adapt.

And most acne reacts to topical treatments, too. The secret ingredient in our most beloved anti-acne products is often a beta-hydroxy acid known as salicylic acid.

This oil-soluble chemical penetrates pores extremely well for unclogging and cleaning, but this doesn’t mean that it’s exempt from its own set of cons. Too much or too strong salicylic acid can dry out and even irritate your skin.

So with careful application in mind, nightly spot treatments are helpful for targeting troubled areas without harming the skin in the surrounding areas.

There’s no one way to experience stress. Have you ever unconsciously pulled your hair, bitten your fingernails, or picked at both? That could be the stress hormone, cortisol, triggering your body’s fight-or-flight response.

Before you assume it’s stress, though, you might want to check in with a dermatologist and doctor to rule out other potential issues. For example, scaly or waxy skin could be eczema. Or hair loss or peeling nails could be due to insufficient nutrition from skipping meals.

In the time being, avoid extremely hot showers to prevent further damaging your skin and scalp. Bring more consistency to your day by aiming to exercise regularly and eating a nutrient-dense diet of fruits and vegetables.

The skin might get thinner in cases of abnormally high cortisol levels. Cortisol results in the breakdown of dermal proteins, which can cause the skin to appear almost paper-thin, as well as bruising and tearing easily.

However, this symptom is most noticeably associated with Cushing syndrome. Also known as hypercortisolism, this hormonal disease includes additional symptoms such as glucose intolerance, muscle weakness, and a weakened immune system (you may experience increased infections).

If you think that you may have Cushing syndrome, make an appointment with a healthcare professional. In most cases, medication can be prescribed for the management of cortisol levels.

In the face of severe stress, your epidermis can quickly become weakened, increasing your risk for infections and environmental pathogens. This also slows down your skin’s natural ability to heal wounds, scars, and acne.

To repair your skin barrier, you can use products with glycerin and hyaluronic acid.

The same remedies you use to combat sun exposure apply here, too. Consume antioxidant-rich food for a similar effect and strengthened internal healing.

In addition to keeping skin hydrated internally (through water consumption), focus on using products based on zinc, sal (Shorea robusta), and flaxseed oil. These ingredients are shown to your keep your skin moisturized and provide a packed healing punch for wound healing.

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a comment regarding the undeniable dark circles around your eyes, then you know just how much sleep deprivation reveals itself physically. And yep, that’s stress, too.

Our bodies keep adrenaline running on a constant cycle while in fight-or-flight mode, including late at night.

If you’re already trying meditation and yoga for sleep, ramp up your bedtime routine by using essential oil diffusers, turning on white noise machines, and avoiding screens in the 2-hour time span before sleep.

For sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea, CBD oil and melatonin pills may act as more reliable remedies.

From the furrow of a brow to a frown, psychological stress inevitably finds a way to make permanent evidence of our emotions.

So what’s one to do about it? You can try face yoga. Arguably safer than Botox, face yoga can lead to similar results, although the commitment to doing this every day might a hard to do.

By targeting the facial muscles we subconsciously use every day, through pointed massage techniques in high-tension areas such as our foreheads, brows, and jawline, these exercises can counteract developing wrinkles and leave skin flexible and resilient.

For additional assistance, applying facial pressure with a chilled jade roller activates the lymphatic system, which can also reduce puffiness and the appearance of stress damage on the skin.

Stress does not manifest the same in every person, but every person ultimately experiences stress to some extent. Instead of comparing stress levels with others to gauge whether your stress is “all that bad,” choose to care for yourself when you need it.

While we can’t control the myriad ways stress rears its head, we can control how we choose to react to it. Remembering to care for ourselves and for our skin is one of the small ways we can slowly but surely reduce stress.

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Skin Barrier Function and How to Repair and Care for It

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Your skin barrier protects your body from free radicals. Harsh environments are often the cause of damage. Keep it protected using oils, ceramides, and more.

Beauty boutique and drugstore shelves are packed with products that aim to protect and rejuvenate your skin. Some of them exfoliate, some plump, and others moisturize.

All these products share the fact that they act on your body’s outermost layer, which is called the skin barrier.

But what exactly is your skin barrier, what’s its purpose, and what can cause damage?

In this article, we’ll help answer those questions and also explore the steps you can take to protect and restore this vital defensive layer.

Your skin is made up of layers, each of which performs important functions in protecting your body.

The outermost layer, called the stratum corneum, is often described as a brick wall. It consists of tough skin cells called corneocytes that are bound together by mortar-like lipids. This is your skin barrier.

Inside the skin cells, or “bricks,” you’ll find keratin and natural moisturizers. The lipid layer contains:

  • cholesterol
  • fatty acids
  • ceramides

This fantastically thin brick wall is literally keeping you alive. Without it, various harmful environmental toxins and pathogens could penetrate your skin and cause adverse effects inside your body.

Additionally, without your skin barrier, the water inside your body would escape and evaporate, leaving you completely dehydrated.

Your skin barrier is essential for your overall health and needs to be protected to help your body function properly.

Daily, your skin defends against a barrage of threats, many of which come from outside your body, and a few come from within.

Some of the external and internal factors that can affect your skin barrier include:

The role of the acid mantle

Your skin barrier is slightly acidic. This acidity (the acid mantle) helps create a kind of buffer against the growth of harmful bacteria, viruses, and fungi that could damage your skin and lead to infections and other skin conditions.

It’s especially important to protect the acid mantle around wounds since the skin’s acidity is necessary for many of the biological interactions that occur during the healing process.

Sometimes, a health condition like diabetes or incontinence can change your skin’s acidity, weakening this buffer. For people with these conditions, experts recommend slightly more acidic skin care products.

When your skin barrier is not functioning properly, you may be more prone to developing the following skin symptoms and conditions:

Given the importance of maintaining your skin barrier and acid mantle, what can you do to keep them both healthy and functional? Let’s look at five strategies that can help.

Simplify your skin care routine

If you’re performing a complicated daily skin regimen involving a basketful of products, you may be inadvertently weakening your skin barrier. Consider talking with a dermatologist or another skin care professional about which products are essential and most effective.

If you’re exfoliating, notice how your skin reacts to the method you use. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, those with sensitive skin and darker skin tones may want to use a soft cloth and a mild chemical exfoliant.

Some types of scrubs and brushes may temporarily damage your skin barrier.

Pay attention to pH

Your skin’s delicate acid mantle hovers around a pH of 4.7. But the pH of some skin products can range from 3.7 to 8.2.

Researchers recommend cleansing with a product that has a pH between 4.0 and 5.0.

Keeping your skin’s pH at a healthy level may help protect you from skin conditions like dermatitis, ichthyosis, acne, and Candida albicans infections. Although not all products list their pH, some do.

Try a plant oil to replenish your skin barrier

Research from 2018 suggests that certain plant oils may help repair the skin barrier and also prevent your skin barrier from losing moisture. Many of these oils have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant effects, too.

Some of the most effective plant oils to consider using on your skin include:

There are many ways you can use plant oils on your skin.

You can apply creams and lotions that contain one or more of these oils as an ingredient. Or you can pour a small amount of the oil into the palm of your hand and then massage it gently into your skin until it’s absorbed.

Look for formulations that include ceramides

Ceramides are waxy lipids found in especially high concentrations in the stratum corneum. They are crucial for making sure your skin barrier functions properly.

Research from 2019 shows that products containing pseudo-ceramides may help improve the dryness, itchiness, and scaling caused by a poorly functioning barrier. Ceramide-rich moisturizers may also strengthen the structural integrity of your skin barrier.

Ceramide moisturizers may be especially helpful if you have acne. In acne-prone skin, the barrier is often impaired, and acne treatments can leave skin dry and reddened. Products containing ceramides may also help protect darker skin. According to a 2014 review of studies, darker skin tones were shown to contain lower ceramide levels.

Try moisturizers containing hyaluronic acid, petrolatum, or glycerin

Dry skin is a common problem, and moisturizers are the often-recommended solution.

An occlusive moisturizer aids the skin barrier by reducing the amount of water loss from your skin. These products leave a thin film on your skin that helps prevent moisture loss.

One of the most frequently recommended occlusive moisturizers is petrolatum, which experts say can block as much as 99% of water loss from your skin.

Like occlusive moisturizers, humectants can also improve barrier function. Humectants work by drawing water — either from the environment or from inside your body — and binding it into the skin barrier. Researchers recommend products that contain hyaluronic acid, glycerin, honey, and urea.

How to use

Gently apply moisturizer to your skin immediately after you get out of the shower, when your skin is moist.

Not all skin care ingredients work for everyone. That’s why you may want to try a few different products to determine which one works best for keeping your skin healthy, protected, and well moisturized.

The outermost layer of your skin, known as your skin barrier, defends your body against environmental threats while simultaneously protecting your body’s critical water balance.

Symptoms such as dryness, itching, and inflammation can alert you to a disturbance in this important barrier.

You can help repair your skin’s barrier by:

  • simplifying your skin care regimen
  • using products with a suitable pH
  • using a moisturizer that contains ceramides or a humectant like hyaluronic acid

Moisturizers with petrolatum can also help your skin barrier seal in moisture.

Your skin barrier is your body’s frontline defense against everything the environment can throw at you. Keeping it healthy is much more than a cosmetic concern.

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‘Apple’ Body Shape: Does It Matter for Health?

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Bodies come in different shapes and sizes, making us all unique.

Though there is immense pressure from society to look a certain way, it’s important to prioritize your health over beauty ideals — and to keep in mind that “health” looks different for everyone.

For some time, people have described body shapes by comparing them to fruit, particularly pears and apples. People who have “pear-shaped” bodies are often thought to be healthier than those with “apple-shaped” bodies.

But is this true?

This article dives into the apple and pear body shapes, the research behind them, and whether they truly mean anything for your health.

People have used fruit terms to describe body shapes for many years because this is an easy way to describe body types without using more scientific, formal terms.

The “apple” body shape is known in the scientific community as “android,” meaning that most of the fat is stored in the midsection and less fat is stored in the hips, buttocks, and thighs.

People with android body types tend to have a larger waist-to-hip ratio, meaning their waist is larger or close to equivalent in circumference to their hips.

In contrast, the “pear” body shape is known as “gynoid,” which means more fat is stored in the hips, buttocks, and thighs than in the midsection.

People with gynoid body types often have a smaller waist-to-hip ratio, which means their hips are usually wider than their waist.

Though there are more formal terms to describe body shapes, the average person can better imagine an apple or a pear than an android or gynoid body type.

First things first: The way a person’s body looks does not automatically tell you whether they are healthy.

That said, certain body shapes may be at an increased risk of negative health outcomes, according to numerous research studies.

One 2020 review of 72 studies found that people with greater fat distribution in the stomach area (an apple shape) had a significantly higher risk of death from all causes than those with pear-shaped bodies.

In one 2019 study involving 2,683 postmenopausal women, those who had an apple body type — more fat in the midsection and less fat in the legs — were three times more likely to have heart disease than those with a pear body type.

Interestingly, having a pear body type had a protective effect against heart disease, reducing risk by up to 40%.

Another study found that apple-shaped bodies were significantly associated with an increased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, regardless of body mass index (BMI). (Remember: The BMI has limitations as a predictor of health, especially for People of Color.)

Also, a small study including 49 males found that despite having the same BMI, body weight, and body fat percentage, men with more android fat had lower endothelial function, which leads to poorer blood flow in the body.

They also had higher insulin resistance, blood lipid levels, and heart rates, suggesting worsened heart and metabolic health.

Finally, a 2021 review of 31 studies found that excess weight around the midsection is significantly associated with greater risk of heart disease.

The review found that for every 10-cm (3.9-inch) increase in waist circumference, there was a 3% and 4% increased risk of heart disease for women and men, respectively.

Other negative health outcomes — such as kidney disease, lung and colorectal cancers, and even cognitive decline — are linked with central obesity (the presence of excess fat in the midsection).

Ultimately, most research suggests that fat distribution — not necessarily body weight or BMI — can affect health outcomes.

Though using fruit metaphors to describe body types may be convenient, it’s not ideal.

Using objects to describe a person’s body type creates the opportunity for others to make general assumptions about someone’s health and body.

For instance, people with higher body weight and body fat tend to experience weight bias in healthcare settings, meaning that healthcare professionals may focus only on their weight, regardless of their reason for seeking medical care.

This can cause people to lose trust in healthcare professionals and can delay diagnosis, treatment, and care.

Making assumptions about people’s health based on their body type can also be a disservice to those with pear-shaped bodies, as the healthcare professionals they interact with may not screen for health conditions based on their body type.

Further, using such terms can worsen a person’s body image by suggesting that they do not have the “ideal” body type. The binary nature of these terms also fails to recognize that there are other body types besides pear- and apple-shaped ones.

What’s more, positioning one body type as superior to another can lead to judgment and stigma against people with other body types. No one needs to modify their body to resemble another’s, and research suggests that body shape isn’t a choice, anyway.

Genetics can play a role in your body shape. Some people have longer torsos and shorter legs, while others may have shorter torsos and longer legs or be somewhere in between. Your height and limb length can play a huge role in the way your body looks.

Hormones can also play a role. For example, hormonal differences between men and women can lead to differences in fat storage. Men often store more fat in their stomach area, while women tend to store more fat in their hips, legs, and buttocks.

As women’s estrogen levels decline with age, their bodies tend to store more fat in the stomach region and less in the lower body.

While research has linked apple or android body types to greater risk of chronic disease, this is not always the case. Someone with more fat in the stomach area can be in terrific health, while someone who has a different body type may not be.

Finally, the available research is mostly based on observational data, which means it can’t confirm cause-and-effect relationships. Thus, while apple body types are associated with increased health risks, it’s not certain that the apple body shape is the cause of those risks.

There are many ways that you can better understand your body composition and health risk, such as:

  • Waist circumference: A larger waist circumference (greater than 35 inches or 85 cm in women; greater than 40 inches or 101.6 cm in men) indicates greater body fat in the abdominal area and greater risk of chronic disease.
  • Waist-to-hip ratio: This ratio compares the difference in waist and hip circumference, which can help indicate fat distribution. A ratio of greater than 0.80 in women and greater than 0.95 in men suggests greater fat stores in the stomach area. Those with a higher waist-to-hip ratio are at greater risk of chronic disease.
  • Body fat percentage: This can tell you how much fat is stored in your body. While this may be generally helpful, not all tests tell you where the fat is stored.
  • Lab tests: Blood work can tell you and healthcare professionals how your health is, regardless of your body type.

While these measurements and tests can be helpful, healthcare professionals shouldn’t rely on a single test to make a judgment about someone’s health. Instead, they should do follow-up tests if they have any concerns.

Also, it’s important to look at health from all angles, including diet, physical activity, sleep habits, stress, genetics, and mental well-being.

People often use the terms “pear” and “apple” to describe how bodies look and how fat is distributed. Historically, these terms have been used as indicators of a person’s health.

Numerous research studies have found that greater fat distribution around the midsection — an “apple” or “android” body type — may be linked with a higher risk of chronic disease and poor health outcomes.

However, because many of these studies are observational, the results do not clearly indicate how big of a role body type truly plays in health.

Additionally, it’s problematic to use a person’s appearance to make generalizations about their health, since bodies come in all shapes and sizes. Such generalizations also promote weight bias, which can lead to delayed care and treatment.

Instead, it’s important for you and any healthcare professionals you work with to look at your health holistically by considering all aspects of health, including lifestyle, genetics, and age-related factors.

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