Skin is the largest vital organ of the body and the first barrier against infection. It helps regulate body temperature and even provides nourishment by converting sunlight into Vitamin D, a nutrient that plays a star role in bone health and many other metabolic functions. Here's a practical guide to keep your skin that will keep you glowing all year long

An excellent skin tone is an important indication of how healthy you are. Considering how the skin bears the wear and tear of our daily lives, it deserves more attention than we tend to give it. Ideally caring for one's skin shouldn't be a time consuming ordeal or an expensive affair.

Moisturisers, your daily defence

Dry skin is a common complaint that affects people of all ages. Contrary to popular opinion, you cannot change the texture of your skin by increasing your water intake. "That's because this condition is genetic," explains Dr Asit Mittal, Professor of Dermatology and a Senior Consultant at RNT Medical College and Hospital, Udaipur. "It is also aggravated by age. The surface layer of the skin gradually loses its capacity to retain water as you grow older. It is a myth that if you drink more water, your skin will remain soft. While water is important for other metabolic activities, it cannot help keep skin hydrated. Dry skin induces itching and in extreme cases, eczema or scaly red patches can errupt, so constant care is required to keep the condition under control." While a good moisturiser is the key to finding relief, you don't have to opt for expensive brands with fancy ingredients. "Coconut oil as well as petroleum jelly are very effective and easily available," says Dr Mittal. There is a science to applying moisturiser as well. "Your moisturiser will work best if you apply it right after your bath. Gently dab the skin with a towel and apply a thin layer while it is still damp. This will help seal in moisture more effectively. Also, most over-the-counter moisturisers last only 2-3 hours, so frequent reapplication is advisable."

Other precautions will help too - such as bathing in lukewarm water (very hot water can cause further drying). "Another common mistake is to rub your skin with too much force. Avoid using abrasive towels and loofahs. Stick to soft natural fibres in your choice of fabrics for your clothes," says Dr Mittal.

"Choose a moisturizer that's thicker, oilier and longer lasting for the tough skin on your hands and feet," says Dr Abir Saraswat, a dermatologist and dermato-surgeon who runs the Indushree Skin Clinic in Lucknow. "One that's lighter and less greasy will do for the rest of your body. Also, remember that repeated wet and dry cycles (anything that causes you to sweat excessively and then dry off repeatedly if you enter and exit an air-conditioned room often) will play havoc with your skin, aggravating its penchant for dryness. Also, spending long hours in an air-conditioned environment should be avoided as it will suck the moisture from your skin, causing it to lose its protective barrier effect."

Get a prescription to treat persistent acne

It's a widespread myth that only teenagers are prone to persistent acne. Acne can affect people well past their teens (right into your twenties and thirties) and it is yet another genetic condition caused by hormonal changes. At any stage, acne can be painful and embarrassing. Though you may be tempted to purchase the cream that advertises the fastest results, remember that this isn't a permanent solution.

"People always expect quick results, but a great deal of patience is required to treat acne," says Dr Saraswat, "The wrong creams/products can severely scar the skin. Many creams that are available over the counter today contain antibiotics and shouldn't be used without a dermatologist’s prescription." Today, acne treatment involves the use of special creams that employ retinoic acid and medicated face washes that contain salicylic acid.

Be wary of white

White patches on the skin can occur due to many different reasons. Often, in childhood, nutritional deficiencies (and not worms as many people are prone to believe) are a major cause. "When the body lacks in Vitamin A and is also deficient in other micronutrients, small white patches develop, especially on the face. However, these aren't completely colourless and you will still have sensation in that area. Once the diet is corrected, the condition can be reversed. In serious ailments like leprosy, the white patches are accompanied by a complete lack of sensation. Another condition that causes white patches is vitiligo ( an auto-immune disorder in which your own immune system mistakenly destroys the melanin producing cells in your body)," says Dr Mittal.

"Though vitiligo is not a life threatening condition, treatment should begin as early as possible," says Dr Saraswat. "If you notice white spots in areas like your fingertips, hands, feet and lips, have it investigated immediately. With aggressive and early treatment, spontaneous recovery is possible."

Scar scare

If a wound or a scab has taken more than a week to heal, you would need to seek your doctor's advice and the earlier, the better. While there's no one-size-fits-all approach to the treatment of scars, one general rule is that if the wound is deep enough and it hasn't disappeared after 1-3 months, it is more likely to leave a permanent mark. Older scars can only be treated with invasive procedures, such as injecting drugs, laser therapy and surgical intervention. Also, since children are more likely to scar, timely treatment for your tot is important.

"Adult skin heals faster (provided there is no other underlying health problems such as diabetes) when compared to a child's skin," says Dr Saraswat. "And children tend to pick at the scabs, which induces scarring. The earlier the treatment in these cases, the less unsightly the scar will be."

By making these simple steps an essential part of your skin-care regimen and ensuring that you stay vigilant against any possible hazard, you can create the building blocks to a lifetime of glowing skin and good health.