The skin is the body’s largest organ. That being said, the skin does a lot more than just cover our muscles and hold us together. The skin is also the body’s largest and strongest defense system against everything in the outside world that could harm and/or infect our bodies. Without our skin’s protection, the rest of our organs would not last long.
If you have yet to read part one of this mini series, it might be best to click here. Part one will give all the preliminary information you will need to get the most out of part 2.
Why does the skin need protection?
In part one we ended with the role skin plays in our well-being. For those of you who are starting here at part two, the skin is the body’s first line of defense between the rest of our body and the world we live in. The skin is able to maintain the balance of fluids, regulate body temperature, sense pressure and pain and guard the whole body. The skin is constantly protecting us from temperature changes, disease, pressure, blows, abrasion and chemical substances.
If our skin is able to protect our bodies from all of these things, it is quite interesting that the skin itself also needs protection. The skin works extremely hard, with no days off, but the external forces it is subjected to can impact its condition and impair its natural capabilities. The skin itself can become dry, sensitive and irritable when its barrier function is compromised.
When the skin’s protective barrier is not working to its full capacity the look and feel of the skin will be affected. This can have an intense impact on our self-esteem. Considering our skin is the first thing people see when they look at us and the first thing we see when we view ourselves in a reflection, the condition of our skin will affect our mindset.
The skin’s protective barrier can be helped when it is compromised. A careful skincare routine, using products that restore and maintain optimum pH will support skin’s natural defenses. This will make it more resilient and less sensitive to environmental triggers. In essence, these triggers are everything the the skin is working so hard to keep away from the rest of our body’s organs. The right skin care choices can also prevent premature skin aging and keep skin looking younger much longer.
What factors influence the skin?
Now that we know the skin has a protective barrier and that it is important that it is healthy, it is helpful to know what will influence this barrier. Unfortunately, many of the external factors that skin protects us from have, in turn, an impact on skin itself.
UV exposure, changes in climate and temperature and the use of chemicals in the workplace or harsh cleansing products at home can destroy the skin’s natural neutralising capability. This will impair the skin’s ability to bind in moisture and weaken its effectiveness as a protective barrier. As a result skin can become dry, sensitive and prone to diseases such as atopic dermatitis.
Washing the face too frequently with water that is too hot can also cause skin to become dry, damage its permeability barrier and trigger other skin conditions. An unbalanced diet, little or no exercise, increased stress, a lack of sleep, smoking, dehydration and certain medicines can all influence skin negatively and diminish its ability to operate as a protective barrier to the rest of the body. Skin is also affected by a number of internal factors such as genetics, biological aging, hormones and specific conditions such as diabetes. All of these influence how well your skin’s protective barrier works.
What is in the skin?
The skin consists of layers that vary in thickness, structure and cell types. The three main layers are referred to as the epidermis, the dermis and the subcutis, each of which contributes to skin’s protective abilities. The outermost layer of the skin, the epidermis, forms a protective barrier against environmental influences. The topmost layer of the epidermis, called the stratum corneum, is made up of dead cells that are embedded in epidermal lipids and are covered by the hydrolipid film. This includes the acid mantle. The cells are biologically inactive, but biochemically responsive.
Now let’s break all of this down. The epidermal lipids are responsible for binding moisture and creating skin’s permeability barrier, helping to prevent bacteria and viruses from penetrating the skin’s surface.The hydrolipid film is an emulsion of water and lipids, which covers the surface of the skin as a further barrier against toxins and disease. Lastly, the acid mantle is the water part of the hydrolipid film. It creates a mildly acidic pH, which is the perfect environment for skin-friendly microorganisms, known as microflora or the microbiome to thrive.
Follow along to part three to learn more about flora and why they are so important as well as more about how the skin functions to protect us.