Our skin is the largest organ of our body and is incredibly complex.
Julie Gabriel in her fantastic book “The Green Beauty Guide” states that the average square inch of skin holds 650 sweat glands, 20 blood vessels, 60,000 melanocytes (pigment skin cells), and more than a thousand nerve endings. Being only 2 millimeters thick, skin does a great job protecting us from the outside world, keeping a constant body temperature, absorbing the sun’s energy and converting it into vitamins while shielding us from UV radiation, storing fats and water, getting rid of waste, and sending sensations.
Skin is made up of three main layers: an epidermis, with the important top layer, stratum corneum (“horny layer”), and a dermis. Every layer of the skin works in harmony with the others. The skin is constantly renewing itself, and anything that throws its functions off balance affects all skin layers at the same time.
Sebum – Keeping Skin Moist
For most people, proper skin care starts with adequate hydration. But as shocking as it sounds, healthy skin doesn’t really need any additional moisture. Our skin is perfectly able to keep itself hydrated. Its surface is kept soft and moist by sebum and a natural moisturizing factor (NMF).Sebum, a clear waxy substance made of lipids, acts as a natural emollient and barrier. It helps protect and waterproof hair and skin and keep them from becoming dry and cracked. It can also inhibit the growth of microorganisms on the skin. Sebum, which in Latin means “fat” or “tallow,” is made of wax esters, triglycerides, fatty acids, and squalene. The amount of sebum we produce varies from season to season and can be predetermined genetically, but in fact, the amount of sebum needed to keep skin moist and healthy is very small. People who are “blessed” with oily skin think their skin is dripping oil, but they produce only 2 grams of sebum a year!
For some reason, sebum became public enemy number one in the fight for clearer skin. It is just as absurd as saying that tears should be blamed for smudged mascara! Skin experts claim that sebum combines with dead skin cells and bacteria to form small plugs in the skin’s pores. The only way to keep skin clean, they insist, is to completely stop the production of sebum. Instead of promoting good skin care habits that would eliminate dead skin cells and bacteria buildup, these “experts” recommend stripping skin of its vital fluid with the drug isotretinoin or “deep” cleansers that wreak havoc on the skin’s nature-given abilities to cleanse and revitalize itself through cellular turnover and natural moisturizing.
Sometimes your skin may feel tight and scaly. This is when your skin’s oil barrier loses its effectiveness, most often due to a cold and dry environment during the winter. Instead of letting skin readjust itself by producing more sebum, we cover it with a synthetic, oily film that physically blocks water loss. On top of this film, we may put an additional layer of waxes, petrochemicals, talc, and dyes in the form of makeup. To remove this airtight layer cake, we treat our skin with ionic surfactants and detergents that destroy the natural moisturizing factor, leaving the skin more vulnerable than before. Squeaky-clean is good for kitchen sinks, but not for human skin!
While sebum locks moisture in skin, the natural moisturizing factor (NMF) keeps skin hydrated. NMF is a mixture of water, free amino acids, lactic acid, and urea, as well as sodium, potassium, chloride, phosphate, calcium, and magnesium salts that keep the skin moist and supple by attracting and holding water. The water content of the skin’s outer layer is normally about 30 percent; it rises after the skin has been treated with certain humectants, such as hyaluronic acid, that boost the skin’s ability to retain moisture. To help preserve water, skin cells contain fats and fatty acids, which trap water molecules and provide a waterproof barrier that prevents transepidermal water loss (TEWL).
It is important to feed aging skin with substances that resemble the skin’s own oils. TEWL is the constant movement of water through the epidermis. Water evaporates through the epidermis to the surrounding atmosphere. Environmental factors such as humidity, temperature, season, and the moisture content of the skin can all affect TEWL.
Our skin gets drier as we get older because it loses some of its intercellular lipids after age forty. It is important to feed aging skin with substances that resemble the skin’s own oils. These moisturizers should become oilier, but not necessarily heavier, as our skin ages. Essential fatty acids can greatly help skin retain moisture, and since they are natural, our skin accepts them more happily, which means less irritation.
Human skin is a powerful absorption organ that seems to be constantly hungry for anything that touches its surface. Just like a curious toddler, our skin grabs every available molecule, every single drop of water, every lick of makeup, and every whiff of fragrance and takes it to its cellular “mouth” to taste, chew on, and, most likely, ingest.
Oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide, as well as toxic pollutants, enter our skin via three doors: sweat ducts, hair follicles and sebaceous glands, or directly across the stratum corneum. This ability of skin to absorb chemical substances so they can be spread throughout the body is widely used in medicine. Transdermal delivery drugs for motion sickness, cardiovascular disease, chronic pain, smoking cessation, and birth control are already widely used.
According to new estimates, our skin can absorb up to 60 percent of substances applied to its surface. Unfortunately, along with water, vitamins, minerals, and oxygen, skin soaks up potentially carcinogenic ingredients that increase our risk of having cancer at some point in our lives—as if breathing polluted air and eating chemicals was not enough.
Toxic Chemicals to Avoid
There are many videos available on You Tube that detail the dangerous chemicals found in cosmetics and personal care products. One of the more better produced is a short video by The BeautyCounter and RachelsNetwork featuring Mia Davis the Vice President of The Beauty Counter. She details the situation in the USA which maybe not quite the same as the situation in Australia but it’s very similar.
For those that have a bit more time Tracey Matthewson from Essante Organics leads a discussion with a few people from Essante on the different toxic chemeicals used in personal care products.