Beauty is more than skin deep.
We live in an age of selfies and social media, where both men and women find themselves under a lot of pressure to present a flawless skin to the world.
But it turns out that having a healthy skin is important for more than just creating a good impression.
Our skin is the largest organ in our body. In fact, it protects all of our internal organs from external threats like environmental pollutants, UV rays and microorganisms.
According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, keeping your skin healthy means you are protecting your body against germs as well as damage to your bones, muscles and internal organs.
Besides keeping harmful microbes out and your body infection free, your skin also keeps fluids inside your body to prevent dehydration.
How your skin works
“Our skin looks like a brick-and-mortar structure,” explains Dr Juanita Kilian, a transdermal scientist at Nimue. “A healthy skin will look like a solid brick wall, with the biolipids forming the mortar between the bricks.”
At any given moment you’re exposed to more than 9 000 different pollutant molecules. And when biolipids – the mortar – “fall out”, cracks open up in your skin.
“Water evaporates through these cracks and microorganisms are then able to penetrate deeper into your skin. The more compromised the barrier is, the less it will sense that something is wrong and start to protect it.”
That’s why it’s important to create a solid brick-and-mortar structure to maintain a healthy skin.
Health benefits of a healthy skin
Having a flawless complexion is more than just about looking good. A flawless skin is also a healthy skin.
“You need a 24-hour intact barrier to protect you from external elements,” explains Dr Kilian. “You need a product that is constantly replacing that barrier.”
When you see someone with a “polished” look, it means their skin barrier is intact.
The stronger the structure of your skin, the fewer microorganisms will penetrate the skin, which will result in fewer breakouts and irritations, and less sensitivity. “If there are cracks, the microorganisms can penetrate through them. If the barrier is compromised, the skin will be more sensitive to anything – pollutant molecules or UV rays.”
The skin should regulate its own moisture. “When the skin can regulate its own moisture content, you have the best level of skin health,” says Dr Kilian.
We can use the “rain coat effect” to explain how moisture works. If for example if you wear a rain coat while out running, you’ll sweat underneath the coat, and when you take it off the moisture will evaporate.
“That’s what happens when you use something like petroleum jelly – the product keeps the moisture in, but the moment you remove it, the moisture disappears. And you have to reapply.”
Dr Kilian says you need to teach your skin to regulate its own moisture content so it can adapt to seasonal or climate changes.
About the pH balance
The ideal pH level for skin ranges from 5.5 to 6.5.
“The skin likes to see things that are familiar to it,” explains Dr Kilian. “If you apply product that is between 5.5 to 6.5 it will let the product through. If the pH drops too low, the barrier is compromised and the skin will become irritated.”
You get a similar effect if the pH is too high. “This tends to happen with cleansing products that cause an alkaline effect. Some people will say their skin feels tight after washing it. The moment your skin feels tight the mortar is gone between the bricks and you pH will be too high, most likely 7 or 8.”
A skin product should normalise the skin’s pH balance.
A skincare product can never influence hormonal fluctuations. “But the hormonal changes do cause a reaction in the skin. If it causes inflammation, we need to treat that,” explains Dr Kilian. “We can treat the symptoms.”
Usually when you have high oestrogen levels, your skin tends to produce more sebum.
“Microorganisms live in the sebum oil. More sebum equals more microorganisms. The moment the skin starts to produce more sebum, the product normalises it. When you have normal levels of sebum you’ll have fewer microorganisms living on the skin, and fewer breakouts.”
Unfortunately somewhere along the way our attitude towards our skin as an organ went all wrong.
Dr Kilian says, “Skin health became a superficial beauty thing. Why are we treating this organ any different to how we treat other organs? We look at what we eat because that’s what we’re putting inside our bodies, but how often do we look at ingredients when we buy products for our skin?”
The need to to look after our skin is often perceived as not being that urgent. “If you have a heart attack today, for example, you might be dead by tomorrow. But if you get severe sunburn today, chances are skin cancer will only begin to surface 10 years from now. People think it’s not a problem – I’ll worry about it when it happens.”