The unexpected ways your skin impacts your health and longevity

Woman applying body cream to her skin

Woman applying body cream

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IN WINTER, the backs of your hands may become dry, red and cracked. Maybe you find yourself slathering on moisturiser. If you don’t, the itching and pain can become a major distraction.

You might think that is as far as it goes: cracked skin is annoying and uncomfortable, but not serious in the same way as, say, high blood pressure. But that assumption, like ageing skin, might not hold water.

Growing evidence suggests that damage to the skin can have knock-on effects for the rest of the body, driving inflammation, muscle and bone loss, and possibly even cognitive decline. The more your skin deteriorates, the more the rest of you ages prematurely. In this emerging view, your skin doesn’t just reflect signs of ageing – it’s a contributing factor. There is even tentative evidence that taking better care of our skin could slow the harmful effects of ageing and improve our overall health.

Our skin is one of the first parts of the body to show signs of ageing. It becomes wrinkly, especially in active places like the corners of our eyes, and age spots can appear. Such changes may seem – quite literally – skin-deep, but we shouldn’t underestimate the skin’s importance to the rest of the body. “The skin is the largest organ in the body,” says Wendy Bollag at Augusta University in Georgia, US.

And it isn’t just about size. The skin is crucial for survival. The outer layer, the epidermis, is impermeable to water, ensuring that we don’t lose our life-giving fluids to the air. If someone damages large swathes…