Our skin is an important organ: it protects our insides from heat, bacteria, and physical damage. Keeping our skin healthy can be simple. Learn how to protect skin from infections, sun damage, and dryness.
Medically Reviewed By:
Dr. Louis Kuchnir
November 27th, 2022
Over a trillion bacteria live on the surface of our skin. These bacteria can enter and infect our skin when our skin gets cut. The infection can cause swollen, red, or tender skin.
We can protect our skin from infection by
Regularly washing our hands and bodies
Washing out cuts with soap and water
Sunlight includes harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, which cause skin cancer. Skin cancer happens when our skin cells multiply out-of-control. This is dangerous because the cancer can spread to other organs and cause problems. People with lighter skin tones are more likely to get skin cancer, but it can happen to anyone. Using sun protection is a great way to prevent skin cancer:
Choose a sunscreen that’s broad spectrum: broad spectrum sunscreens protect against both UV-A and UV-B rays. This is important because both types of UV rays can cause skin cancer and aging.
Sun Protection Factor (SPF): SPF measures how well a sunscreen protects you from UV-B rays. A higher SPF means more protection.
You may have heard that people with dark skin tones need less or no sunscreen because they have more melanin, the pigment that darkens skin color. In reality, melanin only provides some sun protection, but doctors recommend that everyone uses sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.
Wear clothes that cover your arms and legs. Wear a wide-brimmed hat that shades your head and neck.
Stay in the Shade
Staying out of the sun helps protect your from harmful UV rays. Be careful though, you can still receive UV radiation on a cloudy day.
Tanning happens when UV rays from the sun, lamp, or indoor tanning bed damages our skin cells. Our body tries to respond by producing melanin. Melanin provides some—but not total--protection against UV rays. The dark color of melanin is what darkens our skin in a tan.
Tanned skin does not mean healthy. Tanning harms skin cells, speeds up aging, and increases your risk of skin cancer.
You can make your skin glow naturally with healthy alternatives like water, a nutritious diet, and regular exercise. If you want a tanned look, think about sunless tanning products.
When our skin loses too much water, it can itch, flake, cut, and bleed. We call this dry skin. Preventing dry skin take a few easy steps:
Keep the showers short and mild: Hot water dries out our skin. Take short (like 5-minute), showers/baths and use lukewarm water.
Try gentle, unscented soap. After the shower, gently pat your skin with a towel, and leave your skin slightly damp.
In the cold, cover your exposed hands, ears, and face with gloves, a hooded jacket, or a winter hat.
Loose-fitting cotton or silk clothes can be more comfortable for dry skin.
In the house, try a humidifier. Humidifiers add moisture to the air, soothing dry skin.
Use a moisturizer multiple times a day, especially right after a shower/bath.
If the dryness is severe or won’t go away, see your doctor. Doctors can give medication and stronger creams to help cure skin conditions like eczema.
When insects bite our skin, our body responds with swelling and inflammation.
You can prevent bug bites by wearing insect repellent, covering up, or using a bed net if you’re sleeping outside.
If you notice a stinger, gently take it out by scraping with a fingernail and wash the site with soap and water. Apply ice. Ice should be wrapped in a paper towel and ice pack, so it doesn’t freeze your skin. Don’t itch a bug bite. Itching only irritates the wound.
Irritation can cause a bubble of fluid under our skin, called a blister. Blisters can be filled with blood, pus, or clear serum. We can prevent blisters by:
Wearing well-fitting shoes
Wearing gloves when holding rough surfaces like shovel handles
Put bandages or petroleum jelly (like “Vaseline”) on rough patches of skin
Caring for a Blister
If the blister is cut, wash the area with soap and water and apply petroleum jelly. Don’t remove the flap of skin over the blister. This protects the skin underneath.
2. Don't Pop
Don’t pop or cut the blister because bacteria could enter the wound and cause an infection. If the blister is painful, you can sterilize a needle with rubbing alcohol and pierce the edge of the blister to drain it.
Cut a hole in the middle of padding (to make a donut shape) and place around on the blister.
Then, place a soft bandage over the blister.
First-degree burns are mild burns, but they’re still painful. Touching a hot stove, hot water, or a sunburn can cause a first-degree burn. A cold compress (like an ice pack wrapped in a paper towel), petroleum jelly, or aloe vera can help soothe a first-degree burn. Don’t apply oil or butter to the burn: this prevents healing. Cover the burn site with a sterile bandage.
Minor Scrapes and Cuts
Before touching a minor scrape or cut, wash your hands with soap and water. Then, apply gentle pressure with a clean cloth and raise up the affected area to stop bleeding. The bleeding can stop on its own too. Wash out the cut with water. Wash the area around the cut with soap and water. Remove any dirt. Apply an antibiotic cream and petroleum jelly to keep the wound sterile and moist. If the wound is severe, cover it with gauze or a bandage. Replace the covering at least once a day and when it gets dirty. Watch the wound for signs of infection like pus, crust, or a rash.
Tattoos can be an important and deeply personal form of expression. Tattoo equipment can spread skin infections and blood diseases like hepatitis. So it’s important to be careful. Make sure your tattoo artist:
Is licensed and trained
Uses tattoo-specific ink
Washes their hands and wears fresh gloves
Uses new or disinfected needles and tubes
Cleans the surrounding area, like chairs, tables, and handles, with disinfectant
In the first 2-4 weeks after a tattoo, you can take steps to avoid pain and infection:
Apply petroleum jelly on the site regularly
Keep the tattoo covered with a bandage for the first day
Use sunscreen and avoid the sun
Stay out of swimming pools