The Skincare Puzzle ~ Would you be enticed by an advertisement for a coat that is waterproof, stretchable and washable, that automatically repairs small cuts, rips, and burns, and that is guaranteed to last a lifetime with reasonable care? Sounds too good to be true but you already have one ~ your skin!  I absolutely love this paragraph {Taken from Human Anatomy and Physiology – Marieb, 2004} the first paragraph of the section on skin in our college text. What a great way to make one feel good about their skin and its important role. It is primarily a barrier protecting our insides from foreign invasion and water loss and also an outlet, releasing water, salt and some waste, cooling us when needed, self-healing and adapting to differing levels of sunlight. How cool is that! It contains nerve cells that gather information and feeds it to our brain, it houses white blood cells that trap invaders getting in and it is embedded with lymph, sweat & oil glands and hair follicles that we sometimes pull out or cut on a frequent basis!  Skin is actually dead by the time we see it {I see dead people!} ~ skin cells are replaced underneath the surface and as they get closer to the top they flatten and die off. The skin also absorbs substances too, mostly fat soluble ~  vitamins A, E, D & K, resins, waxes, solvents and some minerals. We lose 1/2 a litre of sweat in one day normally but if we are “sweating” we lose even more.

Lets figure out the skincare puzzle. The top layer is called the Epidermis, underneath is the Dermis and then the Hypodermis which is connected to fat tissue and blood supply. The Epidermis houses cells called keratinocytes that make keratin. Keratin’s major role is to form a barrier and also to secrete an acidic substance to kill bacteria which we call the acid mantle. Melanocytes also live here producing melanin which helps us adapt to differing levels of sunlight by blocking UV rays. The area surrounding the cells are filled with lipids {fats} and hyaline fluid {hyaluronic acid} which waterproofs our skin {like a wax}.

The rest of the good stuff happens in the Dermis layer fed by the nutrients from the blood.  In the Dermis the Collagen fibres keep the skin moist, FLAXstrong and resilient while Elastin gives stretch. The cells in the Dermis create the acid substance which penetrates to the Epidermis to kill bacteria. Skin cells also secrete a natural antibiotic.

Skin is primarily made up from 2 different nutrient types. Proteins, Fats & Water. Fats keep the skin moist and help retain water, while Collagen, Elastin and Keratin are the proteins that make it strong {think Harakeke fibre}, supple and stretchy {think Rubber}. These along with water are the basic ingredients we need for good skin nutrition.

Eating a healthy diet high in collagen, protein and good fats is essential for skin health as well as avoiding fried foods which contain heated fatty acids. We also need some important minerals and vitamins to create these fibres and to make the cells function {read:behave} and to create what we need in the skin cells and surrounding structures. So let’s take a look at these.

Important vitamins and minerals for the skin include the minerals sulfur {what we can smell when we burn our hair!}, selenium, copper & zinc {Antioxidants}, the vitamins biotin {makes keratin}, B3, B2 {enzyme components}, C {makes collagen}, E & A {antioxidants and cell repair}, and the fatty acids omega 3 & 6 {help make the skin surface shine, anti-inflammatory}. All of these important vitamins, minerals and fats are used by the body in the formation of skin or have a role in the skin cells functioning. For example, the body makes collagen from collagen peptides and uses Vitamin C and Zinc to form strong bonds. One of the symptoms of scurvy is the falling apart of the teeth and gums, related to improper collagen formation. Stress, age and lack of sleep also reduce the rate of collagen repair. Anyone experiencing acne, folliculitis or cellulitis is either not producing their acid mantle or not secreting enough of the antibiotic substance. They may also be overproducing sebum from the oil glands which is feeding the bacteria. A good skincare regime includes speeding up the internal detoxification pathways which works wonders for acne.

Linoleic acid (omega 6 – GLA) found in Evening primrose oil {and recently Hemp oil} is responsible or making the cells secrete the right type of oil. A deficiency causes a dry skin texture. Vitamin E protects the fat soluble substances from rancidity or oxidation so is hugely important.

Vitamin A needs special mention because of it important role in the formation of skin. Also known as retinol and made from the plant based carotene’s, vitamin A is a fat soluble compound found in nature. The formation of the skin cell is regulated by vitamin A which also protects the cells from oxidatioCalendulan. We need it on a daily basis and it accumulates in the skin tissue protecting it from damage. {Ever heard the wives tale of the person who ate too many carrots and their skin turned orange ~ its true!} There is a whole family of carotenoids out there in nature, anything orange is likely to contain some. So eat your reds and oranges as well as your greens ~ they help protect your skin from sun damage. There is lots of evidence to support the use of Retinols on the skin as well as internally, but you will need to ask a beauty therapist about using retinol as the stronger more potent retinol creams are only available at a price.

2 things that affect the skin cells function are Inflammation and Oxidation. Inflammation can alter the formation of Keratin and any of the inflammatory skin diseases {Eczema, Psoriasis, Dermatitis} are medicated by the inflammatory response and your gut microbiome {friendly bacteria that live in your gut}. The inflammatory response can be triggered by various events but whether you get eczema or psoriasis depends on your specific genetic weakness. Controlling inflammation is the key to treating these conditions as well as ensuring good skin nutrition is being followed to reduce any weakness in the tissue itself. Omega 3 oils are particularly helpful here as they help control inflammation.

Oxidation occurs mainly from UV sun exposure. That’s why they say that the best anti-aging cream is sunblock. A good sunblock will block UVA {think aging} and UVB {think burn}. Be sure to check that yours is really a sun block and not just a burn preventive. UVA needs blocking to prevent premature aging. Zinc oxide {think cricket players with coloured splotches on their faces} is a complete block and blocks both UVA & UVB rays so look out for Zinc oxide in your sunscreen ingredients.

A good skin creme should contain water content {aloe vera, rose water, cucumber extract or witchazel}, fats {shea butter, cocoa butter, coconut oil, rosehip oil, jojoba oil, avocado oil…in fact any plant oil will do}, an acidic element {citric, lactic} and the fat soluble nutrients vitamins A and E. All of these elements will correct the skin by helping the dead skin get replaced by  new skin, keeping bacteria at bay, improving antioxidant status in the skin and providing hydration that penetrates into the Dermis layer. Of course, drinking water is vital to your skin staying hydrated too. If needed the body will pull water from the skin to hydrate the blood. A sign of dehydration is skin that doesn’t retract quickly when pulled.

In summary to follow a good skin care nutritional programme you need to ensure you are eating plenty of foods that provide the collagen proteins, essential fats, vitamins and minerals for your skin as well as plenty of water daily. Talk to us about your signs and symptoms and find out what you might be lacking and let us help you put together your skin puzzle. Check our Seminar on Skin Conditions and Allergies during October or book into clinic with one of our Medical Herbalists. §

Simone Reddington is the founder of the Apothecary, a Medical Herbalist and thinker. She holds a degree in Psychology and is a professional member of the New Zealand Association of Medical Herbalists.