Why you need to create an environment on your skin that supports your protective bacteria – reduce ageing and wrinkles naturally
In recent years, it has been discovered that the skin that sloughs off the surface is not as dead as we were lead to believe growing up! Or more technically put, biologically inert.
This has led me into the area of researching further into ‘what is good for our skin?’ I hope what you read here will allow you to approach your skincare in a more natural, balanced manner than maybe you have been undertaking in the past, resulting in skin that you are happy to live with.
Background on what scientists used to, and now, believe about our skin
We used to believe, and are still being told frequently (think of the skin salons that still promote microdermabrasion, ‘buffing away the surface layer of the skin’), that the outer layer of our skin, the epidermis, is dead and needs to be removed to ‘rejuvenate’ the skin. Often the person receiving this type of treatment is told that it’s ‘normal’ to feel skin irritation for several hours post-process, and not to apply anything that may irritate the skin further. WOW! To me, if my skin is irritated, there has been damage and the skin is repairing – well, scientists will now concur!
In recent years, more and more research is looking closer at this outer skin structure and they’re finding out that it’s not biologically inert after all!! The outer layers of the, skin, the epidermis, is what we used to believe need to be ‘scrubbed off’. This outer layer is comprised of building blocks, that are called corneocytes. These corneocytes can, and do, trap water between them. This water maintains hydration. The corneocytes do this with the assistance of fatty matrix linking them together (intercellular lipid matrix).
This is a picture of an infant’s, and an adult’s, skin structure – the so-called ‘dead layer’ (Telofski, 2012)
You’ll see that there are many layers of cells, with much water in-between.
We also now know that skin is slightly acidic in nature, and this is protective against nasty bacteria, or pathogens (Telofski, 2012). It’s protective because most pathogens love an alkaline environment. Bicarbonate of soda is alkaline, also most soaps are alkaline. The bacteria on our skin is replaced in hours, if you’re still in your twenties, however, the older you get, the longer it takes to replenish this protective barrier.
What do these alkaline loving pathogens do once they get through this outer protective layer? Well, inside our bodies, we generally operate at a slight alkaline pH, this is wonderful for the pathogens, hence they grow quickly and populate an area – think of acne. The more we damage the outer layer of skin, the more the bacteria can get into the skin layers and cause infections.
Research has been looking at what to use in order to clean the skin of adults and infants alike (Telofski, 2012, Walters 2012), to ensure that the environment on the skin is not actually disturbed while we’re removing the dirt particles. Of course, some of this research is about finding something that can be synthetically derived, others delve into what natural, or near nature, products will achieve the same outcome.
What do we do with this knowledge?
So the questions become: Do we need to remove this layer of skin? How do we ensure we are using alkaline or neutral products on our skin?
As a reflection, I remember growing up having a bath on Sunday evenings, so I’d be clean for school Monday, and every morning having a wash in the obvious ‘dirty’ areas. I also remember that there appeared to be fewer people with skin problems, such as eczema, than there appears to be today. Is it because we have changed to being a ‘cleaner’ society? Or is it what we’re cleaning with?
So, do we need to wash so often? Well, if you’re showing twice a day, using an alkaline detergent, you are probably doing harm and stressing your skin – stress to your skin makes you age quicker – not an outcome we have been led to believe in the past!
Have a look at this picture (Walters, 2012) that shows what remains in the layers of corneocytes, after we have “washed and rinsed the soaps off”, small parts of the soap. These cause an irritation to the skin cells, resulting in that ‘tingling’, or ‘tightness’, or ‘refreshed’ feeling we get after stepping out of the shower. This ‘tingling’ is the lower cells working hard to repair the damage of the upper cells being removed, and the stress to replace them quickly, as well as removing the foreign substances between the cells. Stressed skin again!
You also need to consider what you put onto your skin, how you cleanse it. Ask about whether or not the soap or cleanser you are using is neutral or slightly acidic, these will be best on your skin. You can easily test this using a pH strip, these can be sold by pharmacists, so ask them for help. You are looking for products that will be neutral (pH 7) or slightly acidic in nature (pH 5.5 – 6). You can either make these yourself, though this does take some patience and trial and error initially, or you can purchase these.
When looking for products, I would be looking for those made with this knowledge. How do we know this? Generally price can be an indicator, the cheaper the product, the more sodium lauryl sulphate (the higher this component is in the ingredients list, the more there is of it).
Look also for herbs (ingredients list might read ‘aqua, a number of other ingredients, then at the end of the list, e.g., Camellia sinensis (tea)’). This may be an herbal infusion, it’s difficult to determine from the ingredients list as each separate component needs to be broken down. Finding a supplier you can talk to about the ingredients is beneficial – the smaller operators, even find yourself an aromatherapist near you who will work with you to make products that suit your skin specifically.
It’s good to know that essential oils generally work at a slightly acidic level, they also contain fatty acids, which, if you remember, form part of the matrix holding the ceranocytes together. They work in conjunction with the environment on the skin, to improve it to a slightly acidic level, allowing for the growth of the good, acidic loving, protective bacteria.
Experiment to get to know your skin better
Take the time to gently rub any creams or cleansers onto to your skin, rather than vigorously rubbing ‘into’ your skin – try this out for yourself at home.
- Take your normal moisturizing cream, rub it vigorously into the back of one hand.
- Apply a similar amount of cream to the back of the other hand, this time though, rub gently in long strokes.
- Which hand feels more greasy? It’s the one with the cream ‘rubbed’ in – this is because the layers have reacted defensively to the pressure, and ‘closed up’, keeping the cream on the outside of the skin. Remember this if you are using a product that is nourishing, or hydrating, to your skin, as you want the skin to remain open and accept the product, not close up and leave it on the surface!
Send me through any questions you may have.
Telofski, LS, Morello, AP, Correa, M, Stamatas, GM (2012), The infant skin barrier: can we preserve, protect and enhance the barrier?, Dermatology Research and Practice, doi: 10.1155/2012/198789, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22988452, viewed 3 July 2013
Walters, RM, Mao, G, Gunn, ET, Hornby, S (2012), Cleansing formulations that respect skin barrier integrity, Dermatology Research and Practice, doi: 10.1155/2012/495917, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22927835, viewed 3 July 2013