SKIN: Looking After Your Largest Organ
Scrub it, squeeze it, scrape it, burn it, cover it with toxic chemicals – are there any indignities not performed on the organ you then perversely wish to show off and have stroked fondly?
Apart from looking good, the skin’s functions include the regulation of body temperature; maintaining water and electrolyte (mineral) balance; acting as a defence against sun and harmful substances; and providing instructive communication about pleasurable and painful stimuli.
The skin weighs over 3 kilos and has 3 layers: The epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous or fat layer. The epidermis is the thin, waterproof, tough outer layer that protects internal organs. It is one of your first barriers to pathogens (bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites) that forever seek entry into the warm, dark, moist potential breeding ground of the body. The cells of the epidermis are mostly composed of keratin. This is a tough, fibrous protein also found in hair and nails. As dead cells get sloughed off they are replaced by newer recruits pushed up from below. At the base of the epidermis lies more protection – melanocytes or specialised cells that produce melanin. This pigment determines your skin colour and filters out potentially dangerous ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Throughout the epidermis are immune system cells to detect invaders, which may stimulate an allergic response.
The thicker dermis layer contains nerve endings, hair follicles, blood vessels and glands. As perspiration evaporates sweat glands cool the body. Sweat and oily sebum act as a waste disposal mechanism and regular exercise assists with this task. Undischarged sebum forms whiteheads or (oxidised) blackheads. Sebaceous glands produce oil as a barrier against foreign substances and to keep skin moist and soft. Altered secretion can result in partial baldness or some types of dandruff. The blood vessels ferry in nutrients for fuel, building and repair. Heat makes blood vessels widen which allows blood near the surface to cool. Cold makes them constrict and retain heat. The dermis is fibrous and flexible with proteins such as collagen to give the skin strength, elastin for suppleness. Both prevent stretch marks.
Below all this finely tuned activity is the subcutaneous layer. Its fat helps insulate the body, supplies protective padding and an energy storage site. Ageing leads to the loss of this soft cushioning; thinning of the dermis and epidermis; and decreased numbers of melanocytes so there is less protection from the sun. The skin is the last part of the body to get the oil it needs and the first to lose it. This is especially true in the winter when more fats are burned for heat production.
How To Ruin Your Skin
Most visible skin damage is due to excess exposure to ultra violet radiation from the sun. UV is very high in skin-cancer-prone New Zealand and Australia. Simply compare parts of your body that get the most sun, with the inside of your arm or other areas which get little sun. Tanning may be fashionable to some (like foot binding or whale bone corsets once were) but it indicates that the skin’s defences have been breached and – like a browned piece of meat – pre-burn destruction achieved. In time the epidermis becomes leathery with wrinkles, furrows, brown spots, perhaps pre-cancerous lesions and skin cancer, which is the most common form of malignancy. To absorb vitamin D, spend time in natural light in off-peak hours – direct sun is not necessary.
The next worst behaviour for skin damage is to smoke. Both tanning and smoking increase the production of free radicals. The immune system produces these aggressors to destroy intruders such as viruses. But in excess they indiscriminately hoon around the body and vandalise cells leading to disease and premature ageing. The number one dietary way to make their population soar is to eat damaged fats: hydrogenated, rancid, commercially produced trans fatty acids; fats overheated by cooking or commercially by harsh extraction – on labels ‘vegetable fat’ is commonly one such indicator. In the main this involves anything not labelled cold pressed or virgin (for further information see my website TIPS: The Fats of Life).
Free radicals are destroyed by your internal defence team of antioxidants such as vitamins C, E, minerals zinc, selenium (low in our soils and needed for tissue elasticity), plus thousands of phytochemicals such as carotenoids, often related to natural colours in foods. Hence the importance of eating 5+ servings daily of 5 come hither colours of vegetables and fruit.
Nicotine and many of the other 3,000 plus chemicals in cigarettes (and other toxic fumes) constrict blood vessels. This means reduced oxygen supply to skin cells with poisoning instead by carbon monoxide. Smoking and other instigators of excess free radicals lead to the breakdown of collagen; reduced vitamin A stores needed to protect you from sun damage; liver damage and poor clearance of these and other toxins; less vitamin E secretion required for skin suppleness and to prevent scarring; the loss of vitamin C which is needed to form and preserve wrinkle-minimising collagen; and 4 times the rate of acne.
Advertising Assures You It Is Benign To Be Covered In Toxic Chemicals
Understanding the fundamental structure of something and how it works provides useful indicators of how problems and solutions can develop. Most people might think that products applied to the skin only act locally. However many substances – particularly those soluble in fats and oils such as commonly used in commercial formulas – easily penetrate your outer layer and head down to the dermis. From there access to blood vessels give them an unobstructed joy ride via general circulation anywhere in the body.
For more on these chemical assaults and their truly natural alternatives see TIPS for CHEMICALS: Would You Eat Your Skin Care Or Cleaning Products? Otherwise moisturisers, deodorants, soaps, shampoos, cleansers, toothpastes and perfumes coat and penetrate you with petrochemical by-products, damaged fats, artificial additives and other free radical producers and carcinogens. This is as debilitating over time as if you drank from the container each day. Read every label. ‘Nature’s Organic Rosemary Conditioner’ may contain a miniscule amount of natural herbs along with 20 noxious contributors.
You Can’t Look Good For Long Without Being Healthy
The gifts of youth are handed to most. The gifts of maturity however, must be earned. How you live, eat and react gathers increasing evidence on your face and body. First up in dietary importance are your 3 macronutrients: protein, fats and carbohydrates. Skin is produced from protein. Without sufficient protein, all building and repair projects slow or halt. Anemia can develop which limits oxygen and nutrient rich blood reaching the dermis and supplying fuel for vigourous growth and repair. If supplements are needed then iron phosphate is often ideal for getting iron out of blood and storage (even when blood tests may indicate sufficiency despite many symptoms of anemia) and into needy cells – under supervision this can also assist people with skin problems due to high iron storage. See also The Shape Diet to determine your metabolic body type and which animal protein (eggs, fish, meat, dairy), or plant protein sources of iron (legumes, nuts, seeds, grains and some vegetables) best suit your needs (see also TIPS: Protein).
Top quality dietary fats are needed for smooth, soft, supple skin. The sensitive membrane surrounding every cell of your skin – and the rest of your body – needs a mixture of high quality saturated fat (such as from egg yolks, coconut oil/cream, grass fed meat), monounsaturated fat (olive, avocado, peanut and most nut oils) and polyunsaturated fat. The latter category is broken down into two types: Omega 6 (most seeds such as sunflower, sesame, evening primrose) and Omega 3 (dark oily types of fish, seafood, linseed, chia). Some foods contain both types including pumpkin kernels, walnuts, pecans, soy products, hemp oil.
There are also two essential fatty acids (EFA): the Omega 6 EFA Linoleic Acid and the Omega 3 EFA Alpha-Linolenic Acid. ‘Essential’ in nutrition means that intake must come from diet as the body cannot produce them; it does not mean other types are less important. Eating top quality sources of EFA can swiftly improve skin moisture, suppleness and the critical, protective barrier to each of your 50 trillion cell membranes. If everything else in your diet was ideal but you lacked EFA, your skin would be dry (plus eyes, lungs, digestive tract and other mucous membranes), or excessively oily and acne prone (EFA encourage slippery sebum and unclogged pores), and you would age prematurely.
Cell Food/Cell Health = Your Health
Your choice of carbohydrates may not seem so readily associated. However skin cells can show signs of insulin resistance, or poor ability to access glucose: every cell’s chief fuel. Acne has been termed ‘skin diabetes’ on this basis. It is encouraged by too many overly refined or otherwise high GI carb meals or snacks (see HEALTH STORE for my report: You Are Just A Few Steps Away From Peak Vitality). Consequent high levels of blood glucose lead to proteins becoming coated with sugar (glycosylation) and unable to access oxygen and nourishment. It also encourages Inflammation (see TIPS) evident in reddened, eruptive, sensitive, itchy or scaly skin.
Meanwhile other people suffer from yeast overgrowth, fungal, itchy rashes and other pathogenic problems that excess sugar abundantly feeds. Poor meal choices cause spiking levels of insulin and another potential problem: increased male hormones. These androgens increase oil levels and pimple formation. Foods high in added hormones such as dairy products can act similarly (as can stress and poor sleep). Zinc helps to deactivate androgenic forms of these hormones (plus it speeds skin healing, attacks free radicals, protects the liver from chemical damage), while soluble fibre can bind with and eliminate them.
Otherwise hormones and their waste products get stored in your already busy liver. Insulin resistance also taxes the liver, and like excess alcohol and damaged fats can lead to a dangerously fatty one. The liver is your largest internal organ, masterminds the production of all building materials and energy from food, and is the major detoxifier. Weaken it at your peril.
Whether you suffer from eczema, acne, psoriasis (scaling bleeding patches), rosacea (reddened, thickened facial skin), scleroderma (hardened scar tissue) or just troubled skin, improving liver health and the gut membrane that sends it nutrients is foundational. Sulphur is part of garlic’s therapeutic muscle. This mineral is critical to liver detoxification pathways, keratin and collagen production. B vitamins too are particularly required for both liver and gut function.
Give Your Dermis A Drink
You might last for weeks without food but only a few days without water. Dehydrated cells – like people – cannot function well. Skin and all other excretory systems require water to flush out the inevitable wastes from each factory-like cell. People with dry, itchy eczema particularly have skin with reduced water-holding capacity. Use an exfoliant on skin weekly, and brush hair daily with a hard bristle brush to stimulate the scalp. However at the level of cause, food allergies here have the strongest association. In consequence white blood cells release high amounts of inflammatory histamine (reduced by vitamin C) which leads to itching (as can poor Liver and Kidney function; see TIPS for each topic).
Another associated feature is weakened immunity for destroying pathogens such as related to skin infections (staphylococcus aureus bacteria cause pustules, boils and abscesses), common wart viruses, Herpes simplex (causing cold sores or genital herpes) and an overgrowth of candida albicans. Contact this office for an allergy test. Also implicated are excessive levels of Omega 6 and insufficient Omega 3. Zinc is again significant for its role in EFA metabolism.
Too much external water contact is also drying. Avoid long, especially hot showers, and do not put your face under the full stream of water. A US study found that 30% of shower heads harboured dangerous levels of pathogens that are inhaled into the deepest part of the lungs. Plastic heads were much worse – switch to metal ones that include a cleanable filter. Stepping outside the room for one minute after turning on the shower will help reduce exposure to pathogens circulated with the first thrust of water. Those immune-compromised, pregnant or elderly are most at risk.
Deserving of mention are other key skin minerals. Silica is needed to synthesise elastin and collagen as a cross linking agent aiding stability. Look for lack of growth, moistness and elasticity of skin (cracked lips and heels, anal fissures, stretch marks), hair (if falling out, split ends) and nails (brittle, split, chipped, longitudinal ridges). Calcium fluoride is often used in combination with silica. This is the form naturally incorporated into bones (not the toxic but commercially expedient sodium fluoride added to drinking water). It is also needed for cracks and fissures (cracked skin around the nail bed or on the surface of the tongue, inflamed gums) including along the lining of the all-important gut. Such lowered integrity impairs your absorption of nutrients and encourages allergic reactions. Another form, calcium phosphate, is indicated with peeling, horizontally ridged nails with white blotches (not tiny, zinc spots).
Healthy skin, hair and nails do not just make a fashion statement but also provide you with an informative internal status report.