New year, new you – the pressure to be the best version of yourself builds in January, including the need to be comfortable in your own skin. That’s why experts at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) are sharing their top tips on improving how your skin looks and feels both now and in the future. “All the stresses and excesses of the holidays can leave your skin in bad shape, which makes you feel low, too,” said Megan Rogge, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. “The challenge is that at the start of a new year, we all want to look great. The good news is that with a little extra time and effort, or sometimes just breaking bad habits, you can change your skin condition for the better.” Chill out Many skin problems are brought on or exacerbated by stress. So identifying healthy ways to keep your cool and relax is vital. “Acne, psoriasis, eczema, and certain types of hair loss all get worse when you’re feeling stressed. Unfortunately, these are the four most common complaints of my patients,” Rogge said. “That’s why I recommend finding time to decompress. Practicing yoga or meditation is a good option, but even just doing breathing exercises can make a difference.” Diet makeover Chances are changing your diet will be on your list of New Year’s resolutions. The good news is that besides helping shift those extra pounds, your skin will also thank you for it, according to Rajani Katta, MD, clinical professor of dermatology at McGovern Medical School. “Your skin definitely feels the effects of your diet choices. I advise my patients to eat more foods rich in antioxidants, especially fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices, since they’ve been shown to help combat the effects of free radicals, which take a toll on your skin,” Katta said. “I also advise my patients to be careful with sugar. Too many sugar-laden coffee drinks, candies, and desserts can elevate your blood sugar levels, which in turn can lead to collagen damage. This makes your skin less supple and more prone to ‘sugar sag.’ ” Prioritize protection Applying sunscreen can all too easily slip off your “to do” list, especially when it’s cold and miserable outside. That could cost your skin dearly. “Sunscreen should be an everyday essential. It’s often associated with being sticky and smelly, but most major skincare brands offer a daily version that is lighter and easier to apply,” Rogge said. “Even in winter, the sun’s rays can still emit damaging ultraviolet radiation. I advise using a product with an SPF of 30, and placing it by your toothbrush so you don’t forget each morning.” The wonder of water “Drink more water!” may be easier said than done, but it’s not just your body that stands to benefit – your skin will too. “It’s easy to become dehydrated in the winter. Unfortunately, beyond fatigue and other health effects, dehydration also accentuates fine lines and wrinkles,” Katta said. The amount you need to drink varies, depending on how much you sweat and the amount you consume through other sources, such as beverages and food. According to information cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women should consume around 72 ounces of fluids daily, and this increases to roughly 100 fluid ounces for men. “That’s one of the reasons I never leave home without my stainless steel water bottle,” Katta said. Makeup be gone After a long hard day at work, or a party that went late into the night, removing your foundation, mascara, and eye shadow can seem like a herculean task. It will, however, reap rewards. And while on the subject, your cleansing routine may also be due for a makeover. Using a gentle cleanser morning and evening is recommended and – if your skin isn’t too sensitive – exfoliating at least twice a week with a washcloth or brush. “Any buildup of dirt or oil in your skin can leave it looking flat. It can also block your pores, resulting in acne breakouts and irritations,” Rogge said. “That means always removing makeup before you go to bed and doing regular cleansing, as well as exfoliation, to remove the top layer of dead skin. This will help keep your skin clear and shining bright.” Supercharge with sleep With so many exciting new projects to start tackling in the new year, it’s tempting to cut back on sleep. However, scientific research supports the importance of “beauty sleep.” “While your skin has a remarkable ability to repair itself, poor sleep weakens that capacity,” Katta said. “Researchers have studied the effects of poor sleep on the skin barrier. In one study, volunteers who reported poor sleep actually repaired their skin damage more slowly than those who reported good sleep.” Bags under your eyes are another annoyance. “Being sleep-deprived can increase those dreaded dark circles. Concealer can help hide the issue, but there’s no substitute for shuteye,” Katta said. Smooth operator If, like many, you suffer from dry skin, it’s not just the type of moisturizer that needs your attention but also the method of application. “Lotions are the least moisturizing due to the high water content, so opt for thick creams to maximize results. Applying twice daily is normally sufficient, and you can help lock in moisture further by applying while your skin is still damp,” Rogge said. “This technique, called soak and smear, involves only patting dry your skin after stepping out of the shower before applying a moisturizer.” Cold weather can make dry skin more problematic, particularly the hands and face, which are more exposed. “Try keeping a travel-size moisturizer in your purse or office drawer so you have it there after washing your hands,” Rogge said. “Remember, if your skin is oily, a moisturizer may not be necessary and for combination skins, there are special formulations available. Whatever your skin type, there are ways to help it stay soft and smooth.” Breath of fresh air After so many holiday parties and smoky rooms, the effects of poor air quality may become all too visible. “While many of my patients recognize how harmful cigarette smoke is to the skin and therefore don’t smoke, some don’t realize that secondhand smoke and pollution can also accelerate aging of the skin,” Katta said. “That’s why it’s so important to avoid these situations whenever possible, and to make sure you’re eating plenty of antioxidant-rich foods to help protect your skin from pollution and smoke-induced free radicals.” Stick with it! Despite what products may promise, miracles don’t happen overnight. Great skin takes effort, particularly as you get older, and it all starts with good habits. “Setting a routine morning and night is crucial because most skincare regimens give the best results when they are consistently followed,” Rogge said. “But if certain products aren’t working for you, don’t be afraid to try something new. To give your skin an extra boost, you might want to use vitamin C and vitamin E serums to strengthen its defenses and improve elasticity.” It also pays to be patient. “Although it’s natural to want a product to have an immediate impact, it usually takes six weeks to be able to assess its effectiveness and start noticing any significant difference,” Rogge said. “So before giving up too soon, try to give any changes to your routine a proper chance and you might be pleasantly surprised.” Now that you’re feeling more in control of your skin, you’ll be able to face all those other paths to self-improvement with renewed vigor.