In Leonardo’s time, scientists of his caliber rarely considered the skin to be anything more than a decorative covering, necessitating removal to study the more fascinating parts underneath. Today, most of us know that our skin is our largest organ and serves as armor to protect all those precious inner parts. To the naked eye, the skin doesn’t appear to be complex or interesting, and before the invention of the microscope in the 17th century we really didn’t understand how it works.
Now, we can see how intricate the skin actually is, along with the vital role it plays. The epidermis (outer layer of skin) continually produces new cells to renew itself, while shedding outer cells as they die off and shed. You might not know that much of the dust in a room is actually tiny fragments of human skin. As much as thirty to forty thousand skin cells fall unseen from your body every minute. continually replaced by vibrant new cells rising to the surface. We might call this renewal system your “skinecosystem”. Hah. Say that 10 times real fast.
The skin is also the body’s heaviest organ, weighing from 9 to 15 pounds in a healthy adult, usually around one-twelfth of your total body weight. It’s primary function is to protect all those well-functioning inner parts from damage or harm. Looking more closely through our microscope, you will see a subcutaneous fat layer just under the outer skin (dermis) that works like padding in a quilt to keep your body warm and absorb knocks and bumps. The skin is so tough because skin cells contain the protein keratin, more prevalent in fingernails and toenails and less prevalent in softer skin such as that under arms. Microscopically, you can also see those dead, flattened cells that interlock and overlap tightly packing together, making skin an excellent germ barrier. Your skin produces natural oils and waxes from the tiny sebaceous glands that keep the skin flexible and supple. These waxes also contain the body’s own germ-killing chemicals, acting as disinfectants against harmful microscopic organisms. Another important function of the skin is the production of Vitamin D when exposed to sunshine, a very important nutrient for a healthy immune system. It is also your body’s radiator, producing perspiration over the skin surface when necessary to cool you when your body overheats. Overall, the skin is a pretty important organ and well worth taking care of.
The epidermis’ outermost layer is called the stratum corneum, and is important for allergy and sensitivity. The SC is comprised of a network of cells on the surface that provides immediate protection from the outside world and helps restrict loss of water. This outermost layer requires lipids (fats) to form a healthy cutaneous barrier. Combined with the dying cells that compact and form a sort of “cement”, healthy skin does a good job of providing a sturdy barrier. However, when there is disruption in the number and compactness of the intercellular lipids, the skin barrier can become more permeable. This disruption can explain how some toxins might seep through SC cells, enter the tiny blood vessels in the dermis and subcutaneous fatty tissue and possibly spark an antibody-mediated reaction. This explains why some people do not suffer with allergic contact dermatitis when exposed to poisonous plants. Their skin barrier is intact and able to effectively protect the body from the toxin. Atopic dermatitis can also be sparked by numerous allergens, inhaled, ingested and contacted substances. Some foods (especially eggs) or inhalants (dust mites and cat dander) have been established as being the most common allergens.
Causes of Skin Barrier Damage:
Essential fatty Acid Deficiency:
Usually most Americans have adequate supplies of cholesterol or ceramides for the skin, both from dietary sources and internal metabolism, but they may not get enough polyunsaturated fatty acids (essential fatty acids, EFAs) that are only available through diet. The skin barrier requires an abundance of omega-6 essential fatty acids.
There are two primary types of omega-6 EFAs, linoleic acid and arachidonic acid, both of which are only found in foods. Linoleic acid is found in the oils of safflower, sunflower, corn, soy, and sesame. An enzyme is responsible for converting linoleic acid into gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), a fatty acid that is needed to complete the skin surface lipid structure. GLA is found naturally in evening primrose oil, black currant oil, and borage oil.
Changes in Humidity:
Exposure to humidity changes seems to cause an increase turnover rate of skin cells, which exhausts the oils in the skin barrier and exacerbates inflammatory skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis and psoriasis.
Many of us know that we need to drink lots of water. You may not know, however, how important it is for healthy skin. The surface skin is thicker than the interior tissues of the body. Circulation comes to the base of the skin, and the water has to seep upwards through all the strata of the skin to reach the outer layer. The exposed surface of the skin is also constantly losing water due to environmental factors such as sun, wind, and chemicals, to name a few. When the body itself is dehydrated, circulation to the base of the outer skin may be shut down as an emergency measure so that water is not lost through evaporation from the skin’s surface. Chronic dehydration shows in the face with wrinkles, lines and furrows. It’s best to drink filtered water. There are many quality filtration systems on the market.
We know that both types of UV rays, UVA and UVB, can lead to skin cancer and eye problems if left unprotected from the harsh radiation. What most people don’t realize is that UV radiation also increases skin permeability and can be a significant factor in sensitization. Studies have shown that skin lipid synthesis significantly declines 72 hours after UVB exposure but recovered after 96 hours, suggesting that UVB-induced barrier damage may not be permanent. Wait a minute, you may say, you just told me that the skin needed sunshine to produce vitamin D, important for the immune system. How many of you have a tendency to overdo when you do get out in the sun? This is where the most damage occurs. It is a fact that rates of skin cancer are typically higher in areas of the body that are generally kept covered and only exposed during sun bathing. Regular, consistent, small amounts of exposure to the sun (without burning) has a protective effect on the skin, increases vitamin D, can improve mood, help with depression and myriad other benefits. Rule of thumb is that a very fair-skinned person with northern heritage should only get 10-15 minutes of sun exposure over the majority of the body during peak hours. Someone with darker skin and a heritage that originated closer to the equator should be able to get longer exposure without doing more harm than good. So, moderate sun exposure can actually help reduce the potential for cancer risk. It is difficult to get all the necessary vitamin D from dietary sources. So make sure you get moderate sun and avoid over-exposure, especially during peak sunshine hours.
We’ll cover more about skin and its care in future blogs.
IN THE SAMARA SPA
You’ll find about forty-five natural Samara Botane formulated skincare products, including our Healthy Skin Hydrosol, Facial Massage Oil, several Herbal Steams, unscented and wonderfully scented lotions in single notes and blends, our fabulous Rosewater Crème and Rose Luxurious Lip Balm (made with real rose otto and absolute). Just click here. Superior cleansing with our carefully crafted handmade soaps (bars and liquid) can be found here.