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Health & Fitness

How to deal with the Florida humidity? Keep it simple

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Published:   |   Updated: August 12, 2013 at 12:01 PM

Step outside, and the sweat appears instantaneously. A squeegee would come in handy for a trip to the mailbox. A towel is a must after a walk around the block.

But believe it or not, some good can come from this hot and sticky mess we call summer in Florida.

Our famously oppressive humidity actually nourishes the skin and indirectly reduces those little cracks and crinkles that come with aging, says Effie Pappas Politis, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Florida Hospital North Pinellas.

“Even though we complain about the humidity here, it is good,” says Politis, whose practice includes a lot of skin cancer patients.

Tampa during the summer months is among the nation’s most humid spots. The average relative humidity on mornings in July, August and September averages between 87 and 91 percent, says the Southeast Regional Climate Center at the University of North Carolina. In Phoenix, it hovers closer to 47 percent.

As a result, people in humid climates in general will have richer, “plumper” surface and interior skin layers. Politis says she can tell when patients have been in a drier climate; they simply look older and more wrinkled.

But don’t assume the wet weather relieves your need to hydrate and moisturize, says Heather Hausenblas, an associate professor of exercise science at Jacksonville University’s College of Health Sciences.

Other environmental factors, most notably the omnipresent sun, pull water from the outer and inner layers of the skin and trigger dryness and dehydration, she says. Dry skin is flaky, itchy and irritated. Dehydration, the lack of water in the skin, makes it feel wind-burned. More significantly, dehydration speeds up the dreaded aging process, she says.

Hausenblas says another culprit that dries out our skin more in the summer is air conditioning. The cool indoor air quickly pulls moisture from our skin and increases the chances it will dry out.

It’s hard on the skin to go back and forth, in and out of the air conditioning, she says.

All of these extra factors mean residents in humid climates should worry as much about drinking up as covering up on a sunny summer day, Hausenblas says. “We live in Florida,” she says. “We put on sunscreen and we think it’s all good.”

Katy Slater, owner of Palma Ceia Facials in Tampa, said humidity is nice, but it doesn’t eliminate the harsher treatment of the sun and other elements at play during the summer. She won’t offer clients the more severe acid and dermabrasion treatments this time of year. It could cause burns or worse, she says.

“Just go for the simple, basic facial and drink a lot of water,” Slater says.

And Politis says there’s no scientific evidence that air conditioning is drying out our skin more than other environmental factors. While staving off wrinkles is important, medical professionals worry more about sun exposure and its health risks. “Keeping your skin healthy means keeping it cancer-free,” she says.

Like Slater, Politis and Hausenblas agree that a simple daily skin routine is the healthiest option, especially since summer sweat tends to clog pores. That routine can start with a once- or twice-daily pore-cleansing wash.

Moisturizers are critical for all skin types, even for people with oily or acne-prone complexions. Products with an SPF rating of 15 or 30 are good, Politis says.

Select creams with the right ingredients for your skin’s needs, such as salicylic acid for an oily complexion and hyaluronic acid to moisturize wrinkles, Hausenblas says.

“It will help the skin hold onto the water,” she says. “It helps not only on the surface of your skin but also under the epidermal layer.”

Hausenblas says a lot of people forget the role a healthy diet can play in fighting dry skin. Fruits and vegetables tend to be rich with water, and can be a great help, she says.

The effort is worth it. Starting as early as age 20, your skin loses its elasticity and collagen production slows, Hausenblas says. That’s enough reason to start loving your skin earlier rather than later, she says.

“We still look great, but the process has started to slow down,” she says.

“We’re all going to age, but slow it down.”

mshedden@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7365

Twitter: @MaryShedden

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