We've found that the more we know about skin, the more skincare makes sense. Most skincare products are designed to supplement the natural processes at work in our skin. Understanding those processes will help you assess your own skincare regimen.
Start to build a picture in your head of what's going on in your skin, so that when it itches, when it’s oily or when it just feels perfectly balanced you can understand why it feels the way it does, what got you there and how to avoid it - or repeat it!
Your skin’s primary job is to protect the rest of your body. Your skin has to protect you from dehydration, remember we are around 65% water; infection from pathogens like bacteria, viruses and fungi; irritation, from potentially irritating substances like acids; from trauma, like scrapes and cuts; and not least from solar radiation! Your skin also has sensors for temperature, pain and pressure to help you move about the world and avoid getting badly burnt, cut or bruised.
In fact your skin has even more functions than this - like helping to regulate temperature and synthesize Vitamin D- but the functions we have covered above are enough for our purposes. When we think of everything that our skin does for us, we think it's quite impressive!
Your skin has two major layers. The inner layer of your skin, the dermis, is where the roots of your hair follicles, sebaceous glands (which produce sebum), sweat glands and the sensory nerve endings occur, it has a blood supply and a drainage (lymph) system, and it is protected by the immune system. Your dermis is very much alive.
The base of the dermis is a spongy layer of Collagen and Elastin. The substances filling the spaces between these fibrous structures are known as the extrafibrillar matrix. You may have heard of Hyaluronic Acid, it is the most important component of the extrafibrillar matrix and helps to retain water within the dermis. The primary purpose of this springy layer is to protect your body from minor impact or trauma but its integrity is what makes healthy skin look and feel so smooth. Protecting this layer will help to minimize lines and wrinkles.
In contrast, the outer layer of your skin, the epidermis, has no blood supply, drainage or immune system support. It is entirely nourished by the dermis. The epidermis is in a constant process of dying off and being shed as dead skin cells. These are natural processes called keratinization (cells dying off as they move to the surface) and desquamation (dead surface cells being shed at a consistent rate of about 1 layer per day). This means that while the inner cells of the epidermis are alive, the outer cells are in fact completely dead.
As the cells multiply at the base of the epidermis and move outward, they die, become dry and hard, and may be injected with pigment (melanin) to protect the living cells beneath from UV radiation. Think of the dead cells (corneocytes) as tiny translucent shields. Melanin is “opaque”, stopping sunlight from damaging the living tissue beneath. Because the outer corneocytes are dead, their DNA cannot be damaged by UV radiation. Exfoliation is the artificial removal of some of the dead skin cells, and should always be followed with the use of sunscreen - because of the reduced solar shielding.
The hard outer layer of corneocytes also forms a physical barrier to pathogens and abrasion. But liquids from the outside, and moisture escaping from the living tissue beneath, would still be able to get through the cracks between the corneocytes if it wasn't for the lipids (fatty substances) between them, which form the final “seal”. Maintaining this seal is necessary to stop your skin from becoming dehydrated and from becoming sensitive. This is what we call the natural barrier function.
Our favorite illustration of the sealing function of the natural barrier is the way that healthy skin is impervious to acidic liquids like lemon juice or vinegar, whereas they easily sting dry or cracked skin. Now you know why that is!
The lipids in your epidermis are one of the most easily damaged elements of your natural barrier. This is the root of most dehydration, sensitivity, dryness and irritation. Protecting your natural barrier is one of the most important requirements for healthy skin.
One of the qualities of healthy skin is its ability to deal with difficult situations (like changes in temperature, humidity, diet and skincare) without becoming sensitive or irritated. We like to call this quality “tolerance”.
There is one last layer of protection that your skin has: the sebum that is secreted by your pores (hair follicles) onto the surface of your face. Sebum and sweat form a slightly acidic layer on your skin, effectively halting pathogens like bacteria, viruses and fungi. This is your acid mantle. Like your natural barrier, the acid mantle is protective, but fragile. Learning to respect and nurture your skin’s natural defences will help you maintain beautiful, healthy skin.
Now you can picture why it is important not to over-strip your acid mantle and natural lipids.
Instead of following your skincare regimen like a robot, try to listen to what your skin is telling you. Drier weather may mean your skin requires more moisturizer to supplement your natural lipids; humid weather may have you reaching for a more lightweight lotion, or even skipping moisturizer altogether.
We believe there is no right or wrong answer in skincare, only what works for your skin. And the only way to go down that path is to learn to listen to your skin and try to give it what it needs!
We've introduced a lot of concepts here that we will come back to in future posts. If you're left wanting more on any topic, please let us know in the comments and we'll try to come back to it with more detail!
Thanks for reading!
ALEXIARES & ANI