Reflections on life, skin and aging… part 1

I’ve recently been reading and hearing stories, opinions and thoughts about aging, weight loss and skin care in particular.  I’ve had several great chats with friends and clients on these topics too.  We (men and women) seem to be under increasing pressure these days to maintain our youthful appearance and energy levels well into our advanced years.  The media and marketing companies in particular that swamp us with their slick advertising and airbrushed photographs seem to have us believe that it’s wrong to have wrinkles, curves and have a more relaxed lifestyle.

hand flower

In my work as a therapist I am often reminded of the suffering and turmoil caused by the increasing pressure on us to be thin, radiant, youthful, and fit (not forgetting being successful and having it all too… phew!).  The advertising suggests that if we maintain youthful looks and energy levels we’ll be successful and happy…. sigh. While I recognise the importance of eating a healthy, balanced diet, maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle and caring for our skin, if I’m honest I think we’re in danger of missing the point.  The pressure on us to maintain these perfect youthful looks, and the physical, psychological and financial energy it takes to maintain them distracts us from the important stuff and robs us of the ability to enjoy life.

Indulge me here for a moment.

On wrinkles and skin care….

Whilst having a chat with one of my friends recently and talking about the fabulous weather we were having here in the West of Scotland and how it’s wonderful to feel the warmth of the sun on our skin, we started talking about the dangers of the sun – particularly skin cancer, the importance of a high sun protection factor, covering up in the sun, educating young folk about the dangers and the aging effect sun damage has on the skin. My imagination danced between pictures of me enjoying the sun to images of a miserable but pale, youthful looking, wrinkle-free me sitting indoors waiting for the sun to go away (a bit of a stretch for the imagination I know…).  Please don’t get me wrong, as a previous hospice nurse working in cancer and palliative care, I’m well aware of the dangers of excessive exposure to the sun, the increase in the incidence of skin cancer, and have witnessed the resulting suffering. I do agree that we have to be careful in the sun but surely we have to strike a balance somewhere?

woman relaxing in field

Recent research has suggested that because we’re focusing on the harmful effects of the sun and protecting our skin so much our bodies are not making enough Vitamin D.  Vitamin D is produced in the skin when it’s exposed to the sun and supports many aspects of our health including building strong, healthy bones, supporting our immune and nervous systems, and it also helps to balance our hormones and reduce inflammation. In short, vitamin D is essential for our health and well-being. If you live in the northern hemisphere it’s unlikely that you’re getting enough exposure to sunlight to produce the levels of vitamin D that your body requires for optimal function. Hmmm… vitamin D and your health is perhaps a topic for another blog post.

As our bodies change over time it’s obvious that if you look after your body as you get older then the chances are you’ll feel better and hopefully you’ll live to a ripe old age.  As we age there will inevitably be obvious changes in our skin too. Our skin is one of the most important organs of our body and carries out many different functions that support our health. As our protective covering we should respect and take good care of it too – in the same way that we take care of our heart, eyes, teeth, muscles etc. There are lots of different ways of caring for our body – exercise and diet being the obvious popular choices, there are also many  apparently miracle lotions, potions and practices out there promising youthful, radiant, wrinkle free skin. It can be so difficult to know which one is best for you and your skin, however it’s important to keep things in perspective and give some thought to what it is we’re aiming for – it’s unlikely that we’ll achieve the flawless complexions of the models we see in the photographs, not least because most of the photos are photo shopped! We can though use our own version of photo shop by using the filters on our smartphone apps and cameras to achieve flawless looking skin, white teeth, bigger brighter eyes (yes, I’ve had lots of fun playing with the apps too 😉) whilst these apps are great fun and useful for the odd special photograph I’m definitely not advocating using these filters for every photograph.

We live real lives, live in imperfect environments, and have real stresses and worries – all will inevitably tell their tale on our skin. We spend time in the sun and expose our skin to it because it makes us feel better and when we feel better our body produces lots of powerful chemicals (I call them happy hormones 😊) that help support and protect our health and well-being. Whilst there are many benefits to being in the sunshine it’s important to be sensible about it – definitely don’t allow your skin to burn. As far as caring for your skin is concerned keep it simple, no extremes – clean, moisturise and protect in as natural a way as possible – there are so many lovely ways to do this too (see my blog on natural skin care).

Bare feet in the sand
Sun, Sea, Sand and Happy Feet

In the end if you take care of your skin, including sensible exposure to the sun, you’ll not only be supporting and caring for your whole being, you’ll feel good too.  Let’s face it there’s nothing better than the sparkle and glow from someone who feeeeels good.

Watch out for Part 2 of this blog ‘On Curves, Diets and Food…’ coming soon.

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