Skin: The Behavior and Health Connection

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Skin: The Behavior and Health Connection


To explore how personal behavior can affect health, especially the health of your skin.


This lesson is part of the Skin Deep Project, which examines the science behind skin. Skin Deep is developed by AAAS and funded by Neutrogena. For more lessons, activities, and interactives that take a closer look at the science behind skin, be sure to check out the Skin Deep Project page.

In this lesson, students become better aware of how their personal behavior and the environment can have a considerable impact on their health in general, particularly the health of their skin.

It is important for students at this level to recognize that good health and longevity depend on keeping the body in good operating condition. For starters, this involves maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Students also need to realize that healthy living (which includes healthy skin) depends on the avoidance of excessive exposure to substances that interfere with the body's operation. Chief among these are tobacco, addictive drugs, and excessive amounts of alcohol. In addition, the environment may contain dangerous levels of substances that can be harmful to humans. Therefore, maintaining lifelong health will depend on our collective effort to monitor the air, soil, and water and to take steps to keep everyone safe. (Science for All Americans, pp. 80-82.)

Students need to see that different types of organisms can interfere with the human body's normal operation. For example, some kinds of bacteria or fungi may infect the body to form colonies in organs or tissues. Viruses invade healthy cells and cause them to synthesize more viruses. Infectious disease also may be caused by animal parasites, which may take up residence in the intestines, bloodstream, or tissues. The body's own first line of defense against infectious agents is the skin, which keeps them from entering or settling in the body. Related means of protecting against invasive organisms include keeping the skin clean, eating properly, avoiding contaminated foods and liquids, and generally avoiding needless exposure to disease. (Science for All Americans, pp. 80-82.)

Research shows that students at this level are very preoccupied by personal and social relationships. Their greatest concerns are usually peer approval and popularity, sexual development and feelings, personal appearance, and the struggle to separate from family and become an individual. Unfortunately, these real-life pressures can override the importance of staying healthy. Thankfully, middle-school students are able to consider the personal and social consequences of individual choices in health, education, and popularity and assess trade-offs that occur in their lives (or the lives of their friends). (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 166.) This lesson shows that part of the process of staying healthy involves making healthy choices. It will be helpful for students to see that gaining something they want or need—like lifelong health or healthy skin—will likely require giving up something they already have or want. They may be assured to know that both individuals and societies alike find it difficult to resist an immediate pleasure even if the long-term consequences are likely to be negative. (Science for All Americans, pp. 95–97.)

Students may have the following misconceptions about staying healthy and the kinds of environmental factors that can threaten their health. Students of all ages focus on the physical dimensions of health and pay less attention to the mental and social dimensions. Students associate health primarily with food and fitness. Middle-school and high-school students' wrong ideas about the causes of health and illness may derive from cultural knowledge. Further, they tend to believe that many factors they consider important to their health and life span are also beyond their personal control. After instruction, middle-school students appear to have accurate knowledge about nutrition and physical fitness, but they are often unable to explain their knowledge in scientific terms. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, pp. 345–46.)

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Begin the lesson by informing the class that they will help you to describe what a healthy person looks and acts like. First, begin by having them guide you in drawing the outline of a person on the board. Have them brainstorm answers to the following questions, each of which you will write down and visually depict in the drawing.

  • What does a healthy person look like? 
    (A healthy person should have clean hair and skin, be well groomed, be fit or relatively fit, be alert, and energized.)
  • What habits does a healthy person have?
    (He/she has a balanced diet, regular exercise, adequate sleep, and skin protection.)

If students don’t mention a few ideas about healthy skin and how to keep it that way (like the need for regular cleanliness and sun protection), ask a direct question or two to elicit their thoughts. Also, be sure to remind them that people have different body types and that health involves being reasonably balanced in height and weight whether you’re large-boned, small-boned, or in between.

Then have students discuss what behaviors or environmental factors would be bad for a person’s health. (Examples could include smoking, excessive alcohol use, eating unhealthy foods, little or no exercise, poor hygiene, too little sleep, too much sun, and pollution.) Write their responses on the board and, if appropriate, draw the unhealthy person next to the healthy one. Make sure students understand that both their behaviors and the environment can affect the health of their body, and specifically, their skin.

Then, review what students have learned. To develop their awareness of issues that keep them from maintaining their health, ask questions like:

  • What is good health?
    (It is keeping the body in good operating condition by maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and avoiding unhealthy substances.)
  • What are the benefits of having a healthy lifestyle?
    (They include increased longevity, maximized energy, feeling good, looking good, and minimizing health problems.)
  • Why might people with poor habits continue to do those things even if they know they are unhealthy?
    (They don’t care about their health, don’t think it is important, or don’t understand the consequences)
  • What kind of steps can these people take to begin improve their health?
    (They can talk to their parents or friends about their desire to be healthier, exercise regularly, and eat a good diet.)

Note: If students do not bring up the issue of looking for help and support in changing detrimental behaviors, bring this to their attention.

It is important for students to realize that the body is a system and that overall health depends on the health of the individual parts. To foster this understanding, ask questions like these:

  • What are some components that make up the body?
    (Note: Make sure students realize that the brain is part of the body.)
  • How do you think disease in one part of the body affects the other parts?
    (The parts of the body work together as a system, so disease in one can impair functioning in another.)
  • What effects might problems with the rest of your body have on your skin?
    (Effects can include rashes, dullness, dryness/oiliness, lack of color/flushing, growths.)

Finally, trace the outline of the healthy person’s body and inform the class that today they will focus on the health of their skin, the largest organ of the body.


As students begin to focus on the health of their own skin, make sure they understand that skin problems are normal at their age. To get them talking about their skin, ask questions like these:

  • What do you like about your skin?
  • What don’t you like about it?
  • What do you do to keep it healthy?
  • What would happen if you didn’t take care of it?

In the course of this discussion, help students understand that every skin type has positives and negatives and that, in this lesson, they will learn specific ways to keep their own skin healthy.

Have students use their Skin: The Behavior and Health Connection student esheet to go to the article, Skin care: Top 5 habits for healthy skin, from MayoClinic.com.

After reading the introduction section aloud and answering any comprehension questions, divide the class into five small groups and assign each group one of the healthy skin habits to read about and discuss with each other. Have each group answer only the questions on the 5 Habits for Healthy Skin student sheet that pertain to their assigned habit. (See the 5 Habits for Healthy Skin teacher sheet for answers to this activity.)

Have each group present what they have learned to the class when they are finished discussing their habit and answering the questions. Have the rest of the class fill out their student sheets and participate in a class discussion of the particular habit.

Now that students have a general understanding of the key habits needed to keep their skin healthy, they will learn about their specific skin types and care.

Divide the class in pairs and explain that they will work with their partners to determine their skin types. Before students begin, you may want to discuss the three skin characteristics they’ll consider (feel, tendency to acne, and look). Since they may not have developed acne yet, ask them if they have any siblings or relatives with their type of skin who have had acne and to rate their tendency on that basis. Then, provide students with the Determine Your Skin Type student sheet, which gives students some information and instructions on how to determine their skin type.

Once each student has determined his or her skin type, you may want to tally on the board the number of students with “Dry,” “Balanced,” “Combination,” “Oily” or "Sensitive" skin. Then group students based on their skin types and have a representative from each group report to the class on (a) the characteristics of their skin types and (b) the ways they need to care for their particular skin type.

If one or more categories are not represented in the class, suggest that the healthy person you created on the board just happens to have that skin type. Then explain the characteristics and care of that type of skin.

Finally, in their groups, have students discuss what changes they need to make in their behavior and environment to improve the health of their skin. Then use questions like these to stimulate a class discussion:

  • What positive changes are you willing to make? Unwilling to make?
  • If you are unwilling to adopt a positive behavior or stop a negative one, why?

Help students come to see that social pressure may prevent people from making changes that could improve their health. For example, some students might be unwilling to wear sunblock on the basketball court after school because it would be considered “uncool” by their peers. Encourage them to become aware of the pressures that are acting on them and to try to strike a balance between maintaining a healthy lifestyle and their social image.


Provide students with a My Plan for Healthy Skin student sheet, which will serve as both a general review of what they have learned and encourage future positive action to improve the health of their skin. Plans may be submitted in writing or discussed openly depending on preference or student sensitivities.


You can extend the ideas in this lesson by leading students through the following Science NetLinks lessons:

Students can learn more about their skin by visiting Skin Care, from the Discovery Health website.

Funder Info
This content was created with support from Neutrogena.

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Lesson Details

Grades Themes Project 2061 Benchmarks National Science Standards State Standards