Your skin is alive; it breathes, grows and changes throughout your monthly cycle. It reflects and reacts to what you eat and drink, your exposure to the elements, how you sleep, the stress you're under and your general health. So, to achieve optimum skin health, it's crucial to understand how your skin works.
Your skin is your largest organ and has several essential roles in maintaining your health:
- Protection - it acts as a physical and biochemical barrier to the outside world, protecting you from damaging UV light from the sun and blocking the entry of unwanted microbes and chemicals.
- Water-resistance - it acts as a water-resistant barrier, so essential nutrients don't evaporate or get washed out of your body.
- Body temperature - it regulates your core temperature through the constriction and dilation of blood vessels. The sweat glands produce sweat which cools the skin through evaporation and also removes toxins from your body.
- Absorption - chemicals can penetrate your skin cells and be absorbed by the bloodstream or lymphatic system.
- Sensation - it contains nerve endings that react to heat, cold, touch and pressure.
- Storage and synthesis - your skin stores lipids and water and synthesises the production of Vitamin D.
Your skin comprises of three main layers:
This outermost protective barrier layer is continually regenerating. It contains four cell types:
- Keratinocytes - produce a protein called Keratin which provides physical protection and waterproofing.
- Melanocytes - produce the pigment melanin that protects against UV light and gives your skin its colour.
- Langerhans cells - part of your immune system; they seek out and destroy any microbes that may invade your skin.
- Merkel cells - the sensory cells that give you the sensation of touch.
This inner layer sits below the epidermis and contains blood vessels, nerves, hair follicles, sweat and sebaceous glands, as well as a supportive tissue made up of:
- Collagen - fibres that provide strength and support in your skin.
- Elastin - fibres that give your skin stretch and suppleness.
- Hyaluronic acid - molecules that hydrate your skin and keep it soft and plump.
This cushioning layer lies under the dermis and contains connective tissue and fat cells that insulate and protect your internal organs.
The skin cycle
Skin cells move up the layers and shed daily. This exfoliation process takes about 28 days in young, healthy skin but slows down with age, causing the skin to look dull, dry and show signs of ageing. This cycle's speed is also affected by hormones, diet, sun exposure, exercise, and lifestyle such as smoking.
Why exfoliation is vital
Exfoliation should be a regular part of your skincare routine as it gives an instant improvement to skin appearance. Removing the dull, dry layer of upper skin cells allows newer, fresher skin to be visible on the surface. It makes the skin's texture look better, improves uneven skin tone and spots, and allows for better penetration of your skincare products.
A build-up of dead cells increases the chance of ingrown hairs as it makes it harder for the hair to grow out of the hair follicle properly, causing it to curl back on itself and become ingrown.
Tip: When trying new skincare products, allow at least a month to work and deliver results, to let a complete skin cycle occur.
Our skin reflects our health, well-being, and age, so hopefully, understanding your skin's complex life will enable you to ensure your skincare routine and product choices work with the skin cycle and make a difference.