I have had a lot of people asking me recently about why I am not an advocate of unnecessary granular exfoliation (scrubs!) and facials and products which “remove the top layer of skin” in order to achieve a glowing, hydrated looking skin. So I thought that this month we could look at what the skin actually does, and what its functions are- and why we should think carefully before damaging it.

The skin is actually one of the bodies organs-  and just like the brain the heart and many  others, is made of collection of tissues that work together to provide a specific function. The skin is the largest organ in the human body, yet ironically we seldom take it into consideration when considering our general health!

The skin is made up of 3 layers. The top layer, often called the Epidermis or Stratum Corneum, is made up of 5 layers. The top or surface layer, is composed of keratinised cells, which people often refer to as dead skin cells – which is true in as much as their nuclei  have died, but these cells still perform a vital function.  These dead cells mix with sebum  and sweat which have been produced by the glands in the layer of skin below, to form something called the Acid Mantle. This is a waterproof layer, which acts as a barrier against germs, and also provides us with some protection against Ultra Violet light. We naturally shed these cells on a daily basis. There is usually no real need for granular exfoliation (harsh facial scrubs and mitts), or treatments which remove much of this layer,  thus reducing the natural protection which this layer of skin provides!

The bottom layer of the epidermis is called the the basal layer, and this layer contains cells which produce melanin, which is responsible for producing our skins pigment, and production is simulated in the presence of UV light in order to protect the skin from UV damage, by producing a tan in order to protect the cells below!

The Dermis, or the middle layer of the skin, has two layers, the top half contains small blood vessels called capillaries which carry blood and lymph the cells and provides the nutrients for the Epidermis. It also contains nerve endings which recognise heat, cold, pain, pressure and touch. The bottom layer contains collagen which gives the skin its strength and elastin which gives the skin  its elasticity. The dermis also contains our hair follicles, sebaceous glands and sweat glands.

The bottom layer of the skin is called the Subcutaneous layer. It contains Adipose tissue (fat cells) to protect the body against injury and heat loss and Areolar tissue which contains elastic fibres to support the skin, making it flexible and elastic.

Together these layers of the skin look after us by providing:

Sensation – sensory nerve endings sending messages to the brain in response to touch,        pressure, heat cold and pain

Heat regulation – via vasoconstriction and formation of goose bumps to reduce heat loss and keep us warm, and vasodilation and sweating allowing heat loss to be from the body to cool us down,

Absorption – whilst the skin is primarily designed to protect the skin from anything entering the body, it does allow the certain substances such as essential oils and certain medications  in patch form (Nicotine and HRT for example) to pass into the blood stream. UV rays are also able to penetrate the skin through the basal layer.

Protection – the skin protects the body by keeping out harmful bacteria and a providing protective covering for all the organs inside. It also protects us from the harmful effects of UV radiation when we are going about our every day lives- but sadly as we know, that is not enough now that we are exposing ourselves to far more UV than we are possibly ethnically designed to do. For that reason in sunny weather, additional UV protection from a good quality sunscreen is essential to protect us from skin cancer.

Excretion –  our sweat glands excrete water, salts and some toxins, not only cooling us down but helping to  remove toxins.

Secretion – the skin secretes sebum, a fatty acid produced by the sebaceous gland, which keeps our skin supple and helps waterproof it.

Vitamin D production – when UV does penetrate the skin, it activates a chemical in the skin called ergosterol, which in turn changes into Vitamin D, which we need for healthy bones.

So you can see why our skin needs to be looked after. You can help yours by drinking plenty of water, eating a wide range of fruit and vegetables – especially those which are orange, red or dark green, as they contain Vitamin A which is essential to skin health. Other sources of Vitamin A include eggs, dairy and liver. Omega fatty acids 3 & 6 (think oily fish and nuts/seeds) and Vitamin C all also great for your skin. Take sensible amounts of exercise, as it increases blood flow to our skin, feeding it with oxygen and nutrients. Finally, protect it from external aggressors by using sun screen and wearing a hat and long sleeves when out in the sun.

Of course sometimes our skin has problems despite all the care we take with it, through no fault of our own – especially under times of stress or hormonal fluctuation. When that happens, speak to your skin professional, pharmacist or medical practitioner – their advice should always be free!

Each of the layers of the skin is dependent on the other. Think before you knowingly damage any one of them!

As ever, any questions feel free to call me on 07494 850582

Heather Terrington