We all know that our bodies are comprised of many large and intricate organs, but did you know that the skin is the largest organ in the body? As our “cover to the world”, this complicated organ is actually a number of layers with each layer working together to build a defense against the outside world. When that effective barrier is compromised it can leave us susceptible to aggressors like UV rays and pollution. Read on to learn more about how our skin protects us, and how to take care of your skin on a deeper level.
What is the Skin Barrier?
The skin is comprised of many parts, but these are divided into three distinct levels (7 layers in total). Those layers work like a factory: creating new healthy cells, stacking them like bricks with a “mortar” layered between each cell that is composed of lipids (healthy fats). As our skin cells age, they are pushed upward towards the outermost layer called the Stratum Corneum, also known as the skin barrier. The cells at this outer layer are not only the oldest, but they also are dry and dead.
It takes about 30 to 40 days for the formation of a cell to become a dead cell surface on our skin, depending on one’s overall health. Contrary to common belief, these dead skin cells do not want to be scrubbed away immediately. They actually help protect the skin to a certain extent. Left alone, they are rubbed or fall off on their own. The problem is that they make the outer skin appear dull and lifeless. For some people, the dead cells can also clog pores and can cause blemishes.
What Else Does the Stratum Corneum Do?
Although skin care companies usually talk about this outer layer of the skin as the dead skin that we need to exfoliate, it is so much more than that! Understanding how the skin barrier works helps you take care of your skin. The main function of our outer layer of skin is actually as a protective barrier that keeps our bodies safe from the external world. It helps retain water and nutrients inside in order to stay healthy and protects us from dangerous elements like toxins, bacteria, virus, and fungus which can make us sick. Our outer layer of skin works constantly to monitor our temperature and also interacts with the blood vessels that help oxygen reach the upper layer of skin. In a perfect scenario, our moisture stays in, any toxins stay out, and our skin barrier remains secure.
What Happens when the Skin Barrier is Compromised?
When skin is healthy, its layers work together to protect us, but when its condition is compromised, the ability to work as an effective barrier is impaired. Our outer layer of skin can be compromised from harsh weather, the sun, disease, and even over-washing.
Although our skin is stretchy and can take a certain amount of damage, over scrubbing with harsh ingredients, rough textures and tiny cuts from things like salt, sugar or microbeads can cause tears in the skin surface. There is certainly no shortage of information on the effects of sun damage. Far and away, the most damaging thing to our skin happens from spending too much time in the sun. That said, in order to be healthy, our skin needs vitamin D, and one source of that vitamin is the sun! So, we must find balance.
Our skin is happiest with seeing sunlight two to three days a week, and only 10-15 minutes each time in the sun. Walking to and from our car, sipping a cup of coffee on our patio or another short activity will take care of this easily. If you spend extended periods of time in dog walking, gardening, sports or just lying in the sun, you are almost guaranteed sun damage. If you wear a good sunscreen and a hat you can extend that time, but unfortunately if you spent your teen years lying in the beach, sun damage is there, and just doesn’t go away, but rather accumulates over time.
When the skin barrier is injured by sun damage, we leave ourselves open to further complications like illness, including skin cancer. The medical community agrees that avoiding excessive time in the sun and wearing daily sunscreen is the best thing to do to avoid skin cancer.
How to Feed and Take Care of Your Skin
When we care for our skin, we take time to limit sun exposure, wear sunscreen and a hat, but we can also do more than this. When you eat a healthy diet rich in colorful vegetables, healthy fats and proteins, your skin thanks you for it! The fad diets with “no fat” do not help the skin. Youthful skin is plump with moisture and rich in healthy fat content. Eating healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil, and fish oils make our skin glow and help fend off disease. Healthily hydrated and well-oiled skin from the inside translates into a glowing skin on the outside. The visible layer of skin, if it is healthy, becomes radiant.
What Can We Do?
There are certain ingredients in the skin care world that are hype, but there are some that really are gems at helping take care of your skin. Hyaluronic acid is one of these. If you use products with hyaluronic acid regularly, you can be assured that your skin will stay hydrated, and wrinkles will be slower forming. Hyaluronic acid (HA) occurs naturally in our bodies as a lubricant to the tissues. When we are born we are full of hyaluronic acid which is what makes it so soft and supple. When we age, our skin starts to diminish its production of HA, which leads to saggy skin and fine line and wrinkle formation. Products with the right kind of HA can help hydrate, plump, and smooth out fine lines. HA also helps with strengthening the skin barrier.
Good facial products can also replenish our skin with essential fatty acids, moisturize with healthy oils like jojoba and olive squalane, which have great skin softening abilities as well as the ability to help keep the moisture barrier strong. High-quality skin care will also contain antioxidants to help fight free radicals and protect the skin from damage. Lastly, a good skin care cream or serum will also form an occlusive layer to help strengthen the protective level of the skin. A thick layer created with oils and cream will lock in moisture all day, or all night, and hydrate the outermost layer of the skin.
What is the Problem for the Skin Barrier with Inferior Skin Care Products?
When skin care is manufactured inexpensively, companies have to fill their products with cheaper oils like sunflower or safflower or just the term “vegetable oils”. These cheaper oils can be rancid, bleached and over processed with little or no nutritional value left in them.
Another problem with inferior skin care products is the use of petroleum ingredients, which are again very inexpensive to use. Petroleum-based ingredients have been tied in with skin cancer and should be avoided. Another problem with using inexpensive ingredients in skin cleansing is the addition of harsh detergents which can strip the skin of beneficial oils. Alcohol-based toners or acne products can also be very harsh and damage the skin. A simple thing like scrubbing too hard with very hot water can temporarily damage the skin. Using harsh soaps that strip the skin and remove the oils and humectants is also damaging.
How to Take Care of Your Skin with Better Alternatives
In order to keep the skin healthy, ditch the cheap over the counter soaps, cleansers, and toners. Instead, choose washes or bars that include the natural glycerin which is a humectant. Look for toners that include witch hazel, floral waters or aloe or hydrosols and do not use denatured or other alcohols which can dry the skin. For moisturizers make sure you use something that will form an occlusive layer on the skin, but also contain hyaluronic acid, ingredients that help promote collagen and elastin formation in the skin, and hold moisture in for longer periods of time.
Ayr Skin Care does not remove the glycerin from soap bars like most mass produced soap makers do. We leave it in and also add butter and wonderful natural, organic oils to keep the skin clean but also not stripped of oils and moisture.
Our Night (Restore) and Day (Pure Moisture) creams both contain 24 and 48-hour moisture wells to keep the skin hydrated night and day, as well as ingredients to help keep skin glowing and looking healthy and refreshed. All of Ayr Skin Care’s products are filled with antioxidants to help you defend and protect your skin’s outer layer.
Taking care of your skin is a full-time job. The damage that we do to it builds over time, and we can at any point make the decision to try to take better care of our skin. Much like smoking (which also can damage skin), stopping and changing at any time can eventually help us be healthier. The next time you go for a walk, bring a hat. The next time you eat, replace your soda with water, and the next time you buy a skin care product, make sure you do your homework.
Remember that the right ingredients can protect this wonderful organ we call skin.