Hi there, friends! Strap yourselves in because this one is going to be a bit more of a technical post. I really want to go a bit deeper and lay down some foundational knowledge. If you already know all of this, than that’s awesome and I’m sorry, but you may have to skip down some. If you don’t know, than I hope you find this informative and use it as a tool to better understand your body. Let’s jump on in, shall we?
Skin Care is a multi-billion dollar industry. This makes sense since our skin is our largest organ in our bodies, with a total area of around 20 square feet and accounting for about 16% of your total body weight. Even though it is the largest organ, I feel it is the one we most take for granted and is overlooked the most frequently. Yes, we maybe slap on some skin cream and call it a day, but is that really the best way to care for our skin?
Our skin is composed of three layers: the epidermis, the dermis, and the hypodermis. Most people have the firmest grasp on the outermost layer, the epidermis. This layer’s job is to provide a waterproof barrier for our body and also provides our skin tone through the melanocytes present in this layer. Melanocytes produce melanin for your body, which is what determines how dark or light your skin tone is. The pigment in your skin is what protects you from damaging UV rays.
I have to interject here to say that even though our body has built in a way to protect us from the harmful rays, it is still important to limit direct sun exposure and always wear sunblock. Every precaution should be taken to guard against skin cancer. The epidermis also has the role of creating new skin cells for your body, which cycles through about every five weeks. Keratinocytes (cells made from the protein keratin) form several layers that constantly grow outwards as the exterior cells die and flake off. Last but not least, the epidermis harbors defensive Langerhans cells, which alert the body’s immune system to viruses and other infectious agents.
The dermis is the next layer below the epidermis and contains tough connective tissue, hair follicles, and sweat glands. This is a very protective layer that makes up the bulk of your skin and gives the organ its strength and elasticity thanks to fibers of collagen and elastin. According to the BBC, “as you age, the number of collagen and elastic fibres in your dermis decreases. Additionally, you lose fat from the tissue under your skin. As a result, your skin becomes less elastic and begins to sag and wrinkle.”
The blood vessels and sweat glands that are present in the dermis make this the layer that regulates your body temperature. Chock full of nerve fibers and receptors, it picks up feelings such as touch, temperature, and pain and relays them to the brain. The sebaceous glands located here secrete oil-like sebum for lubricating the hair and skin. We’ll come back to these glands and sebum in a few moments.
The hypodermis is the deepest skin layer and is made of fat and connective tissue and is responsible for attaching the dermis to your muscles and bones. This fatty layer insulates our bodies, cushions us from knocks and falls, and is also a fuel reserve in case of a food shortage. There are many hormones produced in the fat cells of the subcutaneous tissue, such as vitamin D, which is an essential vitamin and is made when the skin is exposed to sunlight.
So, let’s talk about sebum and those sebaceous glands. These glands are attached to hair follicles and the sebum pours into the follicular canal, which helps flush out dead skin cells. Sebum also keeps your skin waterproof, provides photoprotection, antimicrobial activity, delivery of fat-soluble antioxidants to the skin surface and pro- and anti-inflammatory activity exerted by specific lipids in the sebum. However, keep in mind that we still don’t have a full understanding of sebum.
From what we do know, it is necessary for your skin, but that sebum can be a problem child. If your sebaceous glands produce too much sebum and your dead skin cells aren’t expelled properly, your follicles can become clogged, leading to bacteria growth and cause acne. So when considering the causes of acne, it is not always due to environmental pollutants or external factors as some skin care marketing campaigns would lead you to believe.
The overproduction of sebum can be caused by hereditary factors as well as your diet. By consuming a lot of dietary fat and carbohydrates, your body will increase the sebum production whereas a caloric restriction will decrease the sebum secretion rate. According to this study, “Epidemiological studies have shown that increasing the intake of omega-3 fatty acids through a diet rich in fish and seafood results in a lower rates of acne. Intake of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) may affect the inflammatory pathways activation through their inhibitory activity on the pro-inflammatory cytokines secretion and the leukotriene B4 (LTB4) synthesis, mechanisms demonstrated beneficial in acne.” So the important thing to take from this paragraph is that what you eat can dramatically impact your skin health, but you can’t help what has been genetically passed down to you.
Everyone’s skin is different and knowing your body is important to maintain your health. When it comes to skin care, it is important to also know your skin type to make sure you purchase the products that are best for your skin type. A great aid is this chart from the Klog, which gives a great break down of how to identify your skin type.
For example, I have both combination and sensitive skin. I used to just use any product off the shelf that promised me the clearest, smoothest, most glowing skin. Let’s just say not all products are created equal and not all were right for my skin type. I used to have many breakouts, increased sebum production, and red bumpy patches where my skin became irritated and reacted negatively to a product. I did not feel like the best me and was always very self conscious, so I’d try to cover up all the “flaws” with makeup, which only exacerbated the poor condition of my skin. After a lot of research, I found that I had to use more natural ingredient products, without common ingredients like salicylic acid, and that I needed to use products with a lower PH level. Side note, if you have issues with your skin, check out changing to a product with a different PH level. I would have never thought of this until I stumbled across the suggestion online. In addition to making those changes, I also implemented a multi-step skin care process, but we’ll have a different post about that.
So now that we have learned so much about our skin, we can go forward and find the best ways to help our skin! I can’t wait to share my skin care journey with you!