Everything You Need To Know About SKIN – The Case for Natural Skincare

by Dajana Ivkovic April 04, 2022

Everything You Need To Know About SKIN – The Case for Natural Skincare

Did you know that the skin is the largest organ of the body?

 

It covers a total area of about 20 square feet and serves as a shield that protects us from harmful microbes and UV rays.

It also regulates our body temperature and allows us to experience the sensations of touch, heat, and cold.

 

Pretty impressive, you have to admit.

When you start thinking about what our skin does for us and how everything we put on it can end up in our bloodstream, you start taking skincare seriously—at least that’s what has happened to me.

As one of those people who can leave no stone unturned and needs to dig out all information before making strong claims, I was determined to investigate everything about skin. And you know what? Once you learn what I have learned, you’ll understand where my obsession with natural skincare is coming from.

Since I wish that someone has broken down the most important facts about skin in the plainest way possible for me, I’ve decided to do exactly that for you! I’ll try to shed a light on everything that you need to know about the skin in the simplest way. I’ll also top it off with practical tips and tricks to keep your skin healthy and happy.

The Basics of Physiology and Anatomy of Skin

Let’s start with the basics. What is our skin made of? What does it do for our complex and magnificent body systems? It’s time to break this down.

Think about all the things we touch throughout the day. Think about the polluted air. That harsh hand soap you used in the cafe. Or, the product that you used to clean the barbecue after the Sunday family gathering. Our body is exposed to an endless number of toxins, germs, chemicals, and harmful environmental exposures. What keeps these aggressors away from our body tissues and organs is the skin. It is both a physical and chemical barrier between the outside threats and our biological system.

The skin has many many functions, but the most important roles of our skin are to act as:

Protector

The skin provides protection against microorganisms, chemicals, pressure, radiation, temperature variation, mechanical impacts, and so on.

For example, normally, we have micro-organisms living on top of our skin. To keep them away from causing distress in our system, the skin produces antimicrobials such as defensins.

Also, there’s the non-avoidable trauma, such as cuts or hits (tell me you’ve never walked into a coffee table). In these instances, the skin is a barrier between the trauma and our vital organs. On top of that, the skin has this amazing ability to heal itself, so within the protector role, the skin has a supporting role as a wound healer.

Regulator

The skin regulates the body temperature and provides a reservoir for Vitamin D synthesis.

Our skin acts as a thermostat that has a set temperature and regulates its activity to preserve it. Do you want to know how this works? I found it to be fascinating.

Well, it all comes down to the blood vessels which are located in the lower layer of the skin. When it gets too hot (imagine the middle of the summer with no beach in sight), the body’s temperature will rise. To regulate this, the blood vessels dilate, thus stimulating the blood circulation near the surface of the skin. This allows the heat to be released through radiation and sweat (which cools it off). And when it gets too cold (Canadian winters pop instantly in my mind), the blood vessels will constrict which allows the body to retain its heat.

How does Vitamin D storing work? In your upper layer of the skin or epidermis (more on that in a minute) you have a chemical called 7-dehydrocholesterol. When UV light reacts with 7-dehydrocholesterol, it undergoes a chemical reaction and transforms into cholecalciferol or Vitamin D3. Now, this chemical will then go on to the liver and then to the kidneys. When it gets to this destination, it becomes an active form of Vitamin D which has an important role in calcium regulation in the body.

Sensory receptor

The skin is the organ of sensation which allows us to detect changes in the environment through the extensive network of nerve cells. It has many different types of sensory nerve fibres, such as sensation for pressure, deep pressure, and light. There’s also the sensation of pain and temperature—the skin is responsible for all of it.

I’ve already mentioned the upper and lower layer of the skin, so let’s explain that a bit more. The skin is made up of two main layers:

  1. Epidermis—the upper layer
  2. Dermis—the layer underneath the epidermis

Below the dermis, there is another layer or subcutaneous tissue known as the hypodermis. The subcutaneous layer is the innermost layer and it contains nerves, connective tissue, and larger blood vessels. What this layer does is that it acts as a connector between musculature and the upper skin layers.

Tokeep it simple, we’ll focus on the two upper layers of the skin. Both the epidermis and dermis are unique and have a crucial function as our “body’s protectors.”

Epidermis—The Outer Protector

The epidermis is the first layer of the skin that is responsible for facing the environment. Its thickness can vary from 0.05 mm (on the eyelids) to 1.5 mm (on the palms and the soles of the feet)—depending on the type of skin.

The epidermis contains skin cells (ranging from 0.1 mm to 0.6 mm thick) that are mainly composed of keratinocytes. They contribute to the immune function of this outer skin layer. Keratinocytes produce keratin, a well-known protein that makes up the vast majority of the structure of the skin, and is also contained in our hair, and nails.

Besides keratinocytes, there are other cells in the epidermis that you should know about. For example, melanocytes (cells that produce melanin) also contribute to the function of the epidermis. Melanin absorbs UV light and in that way, it protects the underlying tissues from damage from light exposure.

There are also Langerhans cells which are another part of the skin’s immune system and Merkel cells— which regulate nail growth, nerve function, sweat glands, and hair follicles in the skin.

For the epidermis to do its job and rebuild the surface of the skin when needed, it needs to activate its five sublayers (listed from the bottom to the top):

  1. The basal cell layer—The deepest layer of the epidermis.
  2. The squamous cell layer—The thickest layer of the epidermis containing Langerhans cells.
  3. The stratum granulosum—The layer in which the cell nucleus and organelles begin to die in, leaving behind hard keratin.
  4. The stratum lucidum—The layer containing dead cells that provide extra protection to the skin (only found on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet).
  5. The stratum corneum (also called “the horny layer,” referring to the toughened cells like in an animal's horn)— The uppermost layer is made up of keratinized cells called corneocytes which create a protective and waterproof barrier on the skin’s surface.

When I first read about these layers, I was curious about why there’s that extra layer on our palms and soles of the feet. Or, now that we know the terminology, why does stratum lucidum exist?

Think about which part of the body is exposed to the environment the most. It is our palms and feet. We do pretty much everything with our hands and we spend (at least some) the majority of our time on our feet. To protect these vulnerable areas from potential damage and bacteria that they are consistently exposed to, our skin has created that additional layer of dead cells. This layer is highly keratinized, and keratin is the precise protein that toughens our fingernails. Thicker skin equals additional protection to the most vulnerable parts of our skin. Fascinating, if you ask me.

These five sublayers continually work together to keep our skin healthy. If you’ve ever wondered how our skin is replenished, this is where the veil of mystery is lifted. The stratum corneum is comprised of 10 to 30 thin layers of dead keratinocytes. As these layers shed, the new cells from the basal layer set on the journey throughout the remaining layers of the epidermis and replace the skin cells in the stratum corneum. That’s the epidermis’ routine. The dead cells are gone and the skin is replenished. This shedding process occurs more often when we are younger. This explains the phenomenon of youthful skin. To give you an example, in teenagers, cell turnover happens approximately every 20 days, while in elderly adults it takes 40 to 56 days.

Dermis—The Inner Protector

Right beneath the epidermis is the thickest layer of the skin (averages 1 to 4 mm) called the dermis. Don’t let the thickness and toughness fool you, as this is the layer that provides skin with elasticity.

What does the dermis do? It has many functions, but the main ones are to feed the epidermis with nutrient-saturated blood, regulate the body’s temperature, and provide skin with elasticity and durability. The latter can be explained by the fact that almost 75% of the weight of the dermis is a matrix of collagen.

The cells, proteins, and structures that are found in this layer include:

    • Sweat glands
    • Hair follicles
    • Nerve endings
    • Blood vessels—They supply nutrients and oxygen to the skin and bring back the vitamin D produced in the skin to our body.
    • Lymph vessels—They contribute to the immune system with lymph cells that help fight infections and invading organisms.
    • Sebaceous glands—They produce oil that keeps the skin supple, waterproof, and smooth.
    • Fibroblasts—They make the majority of cells in the dermis. These cells synthesize proteins, such as collagen and elastin, that provide the skin with resilience, flexibility, and durability (remember that percentage of collagen in the dermis).

The dermis has sublayers just like the epidermis. It is made of:

  1. The papillary layer—The layer closer to the epidermis ​​containing nerve fibres, small blood vessels, phagocytes, and tactile receptors. This layer supplies nutrients to the epidermis and regulates the body’s temperature.
  2. The reticular layer—The thicker layer of the dermis, mainly made of collagen and elastin that provide the skin with structure and elasticity, and supports hair follicles, sweat glands and other skin components.

 

Everyday Challenges to Skin Health

To fight the enemy, you need to know who the enemy is. If we want to keep our skin protected and healthy, we should know what challenges it can face. I also popped in here a few pieces of advice that can help you deal with these challenges.

 

Sunburn

If you remember the early 2000s, tanned skin was the unavoidable trend. What many didn’t know then, but have realized now is how damaging is the exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. Yes, the UV lights do aid in vitamin D synthesis, but when the exposure to the sun is moderate (about 10–60 minutes a day depending on the skin type). Excessive exposure damages the proteins in the skin cells which is why you’ve probably heard that too much tanning can fast-track the skin’s aging process.

The skin gives you a very noticeable signal of photodamage—red skin. The change in colour is showing an inflammatory reaction. For those who keep putting their skin through this suffering, the damage can be permanent. Photodamage leaves its mark in the form of skin discoloration, wrinkling, laxity, thickening, and even impaired wound healing.

The best way to prevent this from happening is avoiding sun tanning and overall, exposing your skin to the sun for too long. Even when you do go out in sunlight, you should never leave your house without sunscreen. And that means put it on every inch of your body that will be exposed to sunlight, including your lips (lip balm with sun-blocking minerals can help) and the delicate skin around your eyes. Remember, using sunscreen isn’t just for the summer, it should be an all-year-round routine.

PH Imbalance

PH this, pH that—wellness gurus, dermatologists, and aestheticians are repeatedly mentioning the notorious pH imbalance. But, what does it really mean? Let’s explain.

A small introduction: One of the cloaks that our skin uses is the acid mantle. This acid is made up of amino and lactic acids, and sebum (fatty free acids). Its purpose is to protect the skin from irritation and aging and therefore, it’s important for us.

Now, let’s move on to the pH. The initials pH actually stand for "potential of hydrogen" and it refers to the scale that is used to measure the acidity of the skin (the one that we just talked about). The scale ranges from 1 to 14, and our skin’s protective hydrolipidic layer should normally be around 5—this indicates healthy skin.

A value below 7 means that pH is acidic or if it’s above 7 it is alkaline—that is, the amount of acid it contains is harmful.

What can lead to pH imbalance, you ask? There are many factors, including:

    • Air pollution
    • Cosmetics
    • Antibacterial products
    • Sweat
    • Detergents
    • Antibacterial soaps and gels
    • Washing your hands too frequently
    • Too much sun exposure

How to know if your skin is in the pH imbalance mode? Well, if the skin is red, flaky, acne-prone, or if you’ve noticed signs of eczema, it can all be a consequence of pH imbalance. You can check your pH number with at-home pH kits, but the best check-up choice is to consult with a dermatologist.

One of the ways you can prevent pH imbalance is by using facial toner. Toners are a powerful tool against pH imbalance and they are so easy to implement in your daily skincare routine!

Dry Skin

No one likes flaky, rough, scaly, and itchy skin—which are all the symptoms of dry skin. But, if you’re cohabitating with dry skin for as long as you remember, and you think that you should make peace with and accept that, allow me to dissuade you. In general, dry skin can be harmless, but if you do absolutely nothing about it, it can lead to eczema, for example. Since dry skin tends to crack, it will allow bacteria to enter more easily, which can lead to infections.

 

The first step is knowing what makes your skin dry. This condition can be caused by many outside factors, such as:

    • Living in low-humidity climates
    • Using harsh soaps, shampoos, and detergents that strip the oil off your skin and reduce moisture (many of the popular ones have chemicals that dry out the skin)
    • Heaters that reduce humidity in the air
    • Taking long, hot baths too often or scrubbing your body which removes the natural oils from your skin
    • Taking certain medications or undergoing medical treatments

If you notice dry skin, take precautionary measures before the state escalates to chaos. Besides taking the obvious actions such as changing up the harsh soaps, or spending less time under the stream of boiling water, you should help the skin to bring back its moisture—here enters the ever-present topic of moisturizing.

Moisturizer will seal in water and keep that protective barrier healthy. Use natural moisturizers at least twice a day (trust me, moisturizing is golden!). If you don’t know much about proper moisturizing (no shame about that), you can read more about it in this post. I explained in detail the do’s and don’ts and how to do it right.

Scarring

Getting a small burn while baking a cake, falling from your bicycle and cutting your knee, dealing with cystic acne—all this and much more can leave scars on your skin. While there’s nothing bad about proudly wearing scars (I sometimes call them memories), we should recognize them as skin trauma. Scars occur when our upper layer (or dermis) is damaged. To mend this damage, the body will form collagen fibres which will build up where the tissue is broken. This new tissue is different in colour and form and that’s what we call a scar.

So, how come some scars are flat and some are pitted? Well, if the body goes all out with collagen production and produces too much of it, this is when you end up with keloid scars or raised scars. If you have a pitted scar (common aftermath of battles with acne), that means that your skin has lost its supporting structure such as muscle or fat.

While some scars make permanent abode on our skin and we can do nothing about it, others can be treated. The latter usually refers to new scars.

If you want to treat scars without undergoing laser treatments, chemical peels, injections, or similar procedures, you should know that there are natural remedies. No scar will disappear overnight (arm yourself with patience and persistence), but it can be done. I can recommend my holy ingredient—Helichrysum essential oil. You can find out why I’m so obsessed with it here. I really went above and beyond to explain its benefits and why I find it to be useful for many purposes, including fighting scars. Hot tip for those dealing with some unsightly scars and want to attempt a laser therapy alternative: try our specially formulated scar roll on serum that has some rave reviews.

The Role of Skincare

Now that you got to know your skin a bit better, I can present my case for proper skincare. Yes, our skin is amazing and it’s doing an impressive job, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t need support.

There are too many harmful outside factors for our skin to face alone. While we may think “well, our ancestors didn’t have moisturizer and SPF and they managed just fine,” we should be aware that they weren’t using products filled with benzoyl peroxide, sanitizers, parabens and other contributors of dry skin. Nor were they facing the pollution that we are. There’s also the fact that the amount of UV radiation that we are exposed to has notably increased over the last three decades.

Skincare is not just about making yourself more youthful. Its primary cause is to assist the skin in its protective functionality and to keep it healthy. For me, it is simply a part of a healthy lifestyle.

With a good skincare routine, you can prevent many skin damages—from dry skin to premature aging. But, to develop a skincare routine that does wonders for your skin, you should know more about what kind of products penetrate to what depth of the skin.

If you remember, one of the skin’s main functions is to protect it from outside factors. Well, how does it then allow the ingredients to enter the skin? It all depends on the properties of the ingredients.

The 500-Dalton Rule

When it comes to skincare products, size matters. Products that contain ingredients with smaller molecules will penetrate the skin and reach the dermis more easily. Molecules that weigh less than 500 Daltons (a unit of mass) are able to cross the skin’s border. This is the foundation of the 500-Dalton rule.

Here are a few examples of skincare ingredients’ molecular weight so you can get a better idea of this:

    • Water: 18 Daltons
    • Glycolic Acid: 76 Daltons
    • Glycerin: 92.09 Daltons
    • Salicylic Acid: 138 Daltons
    • Retinol: 286 Daltons
    • Matrixyl: 578 Daltons
    • High molecular weight Hyaluronic Acid: 1.0 to 1.5 Million Daltons

Let me explain it further with a measure of length opposed to mass. Take hyaluronic acid (HA) as an example. The space between our cells has a diameter of 15 to 50nm. HA molecules are 3,000nm in diameter. This makes it clear that HA won’t be able to penetrate the dermis.

However, there are some cases of ingredients with large molecules that can perform their role on the surface. Collagen, for example, can’t penetrate the dermis because it is a large molecule. But, it does stay on the surface of the skin and keeps the skin hydrated by preventing moisture less.

If you remember my rave about helichrysum essential oil, this is a good time to explain the scientific aspect of it. All essential oils have a Dalton weight below 500. This means that the oil-soluble ingredients can slip through the cracks and work their magic in the dermis while water-soluble ingredients (such as collagen) stay on the surface of the skin.

So, basically, when you know what your skin needs, you can detect the ingredient that can perform that mission. For example, retinol weighs 286 Daltons which means that it can reach the dermis and activate fibroblasts that produce collagen and elastin. That’s why it is commonly used for slowing down the skin aging process.

To protect the epidermis, from let’s say, the UV light, we use sunscreen whose formulation is water-soluble. It stays on the surface layer and provides the UV protection that we need.

While this may come as a given, I do want to mention that leave-in products (serums and moisturizers) allow the ingredients more time to penetrate the skin. Products that you rinse off immediately are more designed to strip the skin of excess sebum and allow the leave-in products to do their thing.

I will stop myself here as I can go on and on when it comes to examples (I’m very passionate about skincare, can you tell?). But, before we wrap up this segment, I do want to address another factor that affects how deep the products can penetrate the skin—the delivery system.

Ingredients’ Delivery Systems

As you can imagine, scientists didn’t stop at “you can’t get through if you're over 500 Dalton weight.” To go around this rule, they invented structures such as nanostructured lipid carriers and solid lipid nanoparticles. Simply put, they are delivery systems that encapsulate the ingredients and carry them to the target layer.

For example, emulsifiers such as PEGs, ethanol, and propylene glycol are used to encapsulate ingredients. That’s why you can see “PEG” among the ingredients on so many products. They are used to deliver water-soluble ingredients into a deeper layer of the skin. The problem is that PEGs can be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. And here we come to the big issue: ethylene oxide is classified as a human carcinogen and 1,4-dioxane is known as a possible human carcinogen.

Another delivery system that allows skincare ingredients to penetrate the skin to the desired layer is in-office treatments. Procedures such as laser treatments or microneedling create abrasions on the skin which allow the ingredients to move deeper into the skin layer.

Why Natural Skincare Matters

You might have captured the hints of why products with artificial ingredients (such as PEGs) are bad for you, but I want to make a clear case.

Ingredients that travel in the artificial delivery systems may reach their destination, but they can negatively affect the rest of your body. You should keep your skin healthy, but not for the cost of using cancerogenic ingredients.

So, if you want to target the less excessive layer known as the dermis, natural active ingredients (the ones that produce a lot of rejuvenating activity) can do that for you without any harm. The majority of natural ingredients used in skincare weigh less than 500 Daltons and they can penetrate the skin and accelerate the production of collagen and elastin. That’s why natural skin care products (like anti-aging, anti-cellulite, and scar creams and oils) can have such a powerful effect.

Natural and clean beauty products are rich in nourishing ingredients such as active botanicals (roots, seeds, and so on). They give your skin what it needs without any harmful additives.

What’s more, some herbs, fruits, flowers, and other gifts of nature used for natural skincare contain antioxidants which detoxify and revitalize the skin.

Lucky for us, there are natural ingredients for every purpose whether you want to protect your skin or rejuvenate it!

 

Healthy Skin Makes a Healthy Body!

When you learn how amazing our skin is and what it does for us, could you ever go back to mistreating it? It deserves all the love and nourishment you can give it—and that comes in the form of natural skincare.

I could never go back to using harmful products. There are so many powerful natural ingredients that do wonders for every layer of our skin. You can find natural products for every inch of your precious body. From the bottom of your feet to the top of your head, there are ingredients from nature carefully mixed in pretty packages that can give you the nourishment that you need.

I hope that you enjoyed this skin-informative journey as much as I did! I would love to hear your thoughts on it—and a big shout out to all natural skincare lovers out there! :)



Dajana Ivkovic
Dajana Ivkovic

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