Imagine a part of the body having the ability to stretch to thousands of times its original size and shrink to even smaller than its original size. Be able to change colour. Under normal conditions renew itself approximately every 30 days. Is fragile to changes in the outside world that could lead to injury or disease. Is able to protect itself from the entry of bacteria and other harmful substances. Consider that every centimetre of it contains millions of cells and an intricate network of blood vessels and nerves. It can protect its surface from cracking and tearing. It’s the largest organ of the body and is composed of two main parts, the Epidermis and the Dermis. It has a surface area in excess of 1.7 square metres. It performs many vital functions required for health and attractiveness. We touch it, look at it, cover it and display it to others. Click on the sub-headings below to expand the text.
Our Skin, Our Remarkable, Resilient Skin
Healthy skin is acidic, slightly moist and pliable. It may be soft, smooth, fine-textured. It is capable of adjusting back to normal levels very quickly if environmental or other causes disrupt it, for example, cuts and abrasions. It is an active, constantly changing organ with important roles in the body’s day-to-day functions. The Epidermis is the most superficial part of the skin, it doesn't contain blood vessels or nerve endings, but its deeper layers are bathed in fluid. Its average thickness would be no more than a sheet of paper. The Dermis, which lies underneath the epidermis, is twenty to thirty times thicker than the epidermis. Its network of blood and lymph vessels, nerves and specialised connective tissue give it the name, true skin. Below and forming part of the Dermis is the subcutaneous layer which contains adipose tissue (fat). The fat layer functions as a protective, cushioning layer and heat insulator varying in thickness in different parts of the body. It is absent in the eyelids, which have the thinnest skin while the palms of the hands and soles of the feet have the thickest skin. Underneath is the skeleton, which is covered by muscles and connective tissue. They all help give our face and body their distinctive shapes. We are all made up of the same components but are so different from each other. Our family's genes determine, among other things, the colour of our skin, hair and eyes; our facial features, and even our personality.
The top layer of the Epidermis, called the Stratum Corneum, is the part of the skin we see and touch. It consists of flat, dead cells made of a protein substance called keratin, which helps to waterproof and protect the body. Hair and nails are also made of keratin. Skin cells, formed in the last layer of the epidermis, called the Basal Layer, gradually lose moisture and flatten out as they move upward, eventually being shed as dead cells. The Epidermis renews itself every three to four weeks. Melanin, found in the Epidermis, is a pigment responsible for skin colour and helps protect the skin from ultraviolet radiation. The amount of melanin in the skin varies the skin colour from pale yellow to black. Carotene found in the Epidermis and Dermis, plus melanin, account for the yellowish hue of Asian skin. The pink colour of Caucasian skin is due to blood capillaries in the dermis being visible because of very little melanin being present.
The Dermis, which is tough and elastic, comprises the supporting framework for our skin. It is composed of connective tissue and contains blood vessels and capillaries; nerves and nerve endings; lymph vessels and lymph capillaries; hair follicles; sebaceous glands; sweat glands and fat tissue. In the deeper parts of the Dermis, the connective tissue is dense with collagen and elastin fibres providing the skin with strength, extensibility (ability to stretch) and elasticity (ability to return to original shape). The skin's ability to stretch can be seen during pregnancy, obesity (overweight) and oedema (fluid retention). Extreme stretching can result in small tears occurring called stretch marks. Scars too can be permanent, for unlike the Epidermis, the Dermis is very slow to regenerate.
Hairs and Sebaceous Glands
There are hairs all over our skin except for the palms of our hands, soles of our feet, eyelids, lips, nipples, and navel. Some hairs are very fine, soft and almost invisible, while others are strong, coarse, and pigmented, ranging from blonde to black, depending on our genealogy. The hairs, which are made from keratin, arise from hair follicles, which are tubes that penetrate into the Dermis. Attached to hair follicles are sebaceous glands, which have a small secreting duct which opens into the follicles. These glands produce sebum, an oily substance which travels up the follicles to lubricate the skin. Sebum is composed of fatty acids and waxes. Sebum prevents the hair from drying out, forms a protective film that prevents excessive evaporation of water from the skin, keeps skin soft and pliable and inhibits the growth of bacteria. Sebaceous glands are larger on the face, neck and shoulders than elsewhere on the body. They are most numerous in the scalp, forehead, nose, chin, and cheeks and in decreasing numbers on the back, the rest of the body and the limbs. They are absent in the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. Sebaceous glands not associated with hair follicles open directly onto the surface of the skin, for example lips and eyelids. Sebaceous glands are influenced by hormones secreted by the endocrine system. Therefore, at puberty, the glands become very active, often causing facial blemishes, blackheads and acne. Whereas, in much older skin, there is an under-production, resulting in dry skin which would also not be as pliable. Sometimes the sebum forms plugs in the hair follicles which technically, are called comedones, but commonly are known as blackheads. The black 'head' is formed by pigment. Oxidation may occur turning the sebum in the blackhead rancid. Blackheads may be the result of an excessive production of sebum particularly on the forehead, nose and chin. Some people who have very oily skin, may have many blackheads on their faces, necks and backs. When the blackheads enlarge, they may stretch the hair follicle sometimes leaving a visible opening in the skin. The common term used by skincare companies is 'open pore' but the correct term is 'open follicle' because technically, only the openings of the sweat glands are called pores.
Sweat glands, arise from the Dermis and are called Eccrine Glands. They are found on the face and most parts of the body being most numerous on the forehead, palms of the hands and soles of the feet. Sweat pores, which are not visible to the naked eye, open directly onto the skin’s surface. The sweat glands that produce body odour are called Apocrine Glands and are found in underarm, breast and groin areas of the body. These glands are larger than Eccrine Glands and are attached to hair follicles. They become active at puberty from the influence of hormones. Both varieties of sweat glands help eliminate waste products such as water, toxins and salts, as sweat, from the body helping to regulate body temperature. A healthy body maintains a constant temperature of about 37 degrees Celsius. When perspiration escapes onto the surface of the body and evaporates, the body cools. The more one sweats, the more water one should drink to replace the lost fluids. Many people drink tea and coffee which have diuretic effects, so pure water is best, as well as the water obtained from eating salads, fruit and vegetables. When the skin lacks water, its surface will be affected becoming dehydrated. Be aware that thirst is a sign of dehydration.
A mixture of sweat and sebum plus the skin’s natural keratinising processes, produces a thin, slightly acidic film on the skin called the acid mantle. An acid skin is part of the skin’s defence against bacterial invasion and infection as well as helping to moisturise and nourish the skin. The acid mantle has an acid pH of approximately 4.5 in oily skin, between 5 and 5.6 in healthy skin, and will give a reading higher than 5.6 in drier skin types. A 6.5pH favours the development of micro-organisms (bacteria).
Nerves of the skin have four primary sensations experienced through the skin: touch, cold, warmth and pain.
Male and Female Skin
Male skin is about 25% thicker than female skin and thins gradually with age. Female skin remains constant until after menopause at which time it thins significantly. Men have higher collagen density than women and often do not age as prematurely as women but when ageing of men begins it is more prominent than in women. Because men have larger pores and produce more sebum, they are often more subject to blemished skin for longer periods than women whose sebum production decreases with age. Male skin will typically be oilier and shinier than female skin. LeRêve’s Bio-Scientific Skincare is formulated to be unisex – suitable for men and women as the same care principles apply to both even though their skin types differ. Sun protection, hydration, cleansing, exfoliating and regenerating are all necessary steps in the skincare rituals of men and women.
Hydration of Our Skin
Consider how beautiful a child’s skin is. Natural moisturising factors found naturally in the top layer of the skin (stratum corneum), help give children smooth, healthy skin. These moisturisers provide sufficient care throughout childhood. When adolescence is reached, hormones stimulate sebaceous glands to produce sebum, an oily substance made of fatty acids and waxes, to help lubricate our skin. Because the skin is subject to many influences during life, including a reduction in oil flow and natural moisturising factors in the skin, hydration of the skin is needed by all skin types to help maintain suppleness, elasticity and hydration. Otherwise cracking and a weakening of the skin could occur. The stratum corneum draws its moisture partly from within and partly from without. For example, perspiration and natural moisturising factors come from within, while atmospheric humidity and skincare hydrators come from without. LeRêve’s Bio-Scientific Skincare has a major focus on hydration with every product in the collection containing hydrating ingredients. A good example of how the stratum corneum can become saturated with water is to observe a person’s hands after constant contact with water. The skin will have become softened, swollen, whitened and creased. Unfortunately, constant contact with water leads to a drying out of the skin which becomes rough and chapped. Cracks appear which allow microbes and toxins to invade. This is also because the natural lubricants in the skin will have been removed. Therefore, after swimming it is important to moisturise the skin. The skin requires both water (moisture) and oils (sebum). Moisture loss from our skin has many causes including low humidity in hot or cold, dry climates; the drying effect of air conditioning; prolonged exposure to sunshine; excessive perspiration; saunas; repeated washing with soap; detergents; pollution; health problems; tea, coffee, alcohol; smoking; inadequate water intake; decrease in Sodium PCA and fats in the Stratum Corneum; skin with a low oil (sebum) content; disorders of the skin such as psoriasis and dermatitis; and a lack of protective skincare. The skin can become fragile, dried-up and a thinning of the stratum corneum can occur with cracking, roughness, wrinkles and possible broken capillaries. Redness and sensitivity in the skin may become a feature giving many problems. All skin types can be affected, even oily skin. The skin’s natural healing ability can also slow with scarring occurring more easily. Dehydrated, oily skin can lead to more blackheads forming because surface dry patches may prevent the sebum flowing freely onto the skin’s surface. So, learning about hydration and how our skin’s health is helped or harmed by retaining or losing moisture, may lead to our making a decision to improve the hydration levels in our skin.
Effects of the Environment on Our Skin
Damage to the skin begins with our first exposure to sunlight. Melanin (pigment) partly protects the skin from too much sun. Many people have skin that doesn’t produce enough melanin to protect it from strong sunlight. Our skin may also be damaged by other influences such as for example, low humidity that may cause our skin to dry out, and pollution. LeRêve’s Multi-Defense Day/Night Hydrators not only saturate the skin with moisture but also form a shield to protect from environmental pollution. Dehydration may be reduced or prevented by following a disciplined, daily skincare ritual.
When is Sun Exposure Healthy?
Some sun exposure is needed for the development of melanin and Vitamin D, which helps calcification of the bones. However, less than ten minutes exposure to sunlight per day is sufficient to achieve this and can be achieved without deliberate exposure to the sun. For example, enough ultraviolet light is reflected into shady areas to allow this process to occur. Plant and animal life need ultraviolet rays for healthy growth. UV rays increase the circulation, improving the flow of blood and lymph.
When Should We Protect Our Skin from the Sun?
Our skin needs to be protected from environmental conditions every day. Most radiation from the sun is received in the middle of the day, which requires us to take extra care of our skin. Sometimes a false sense of security can be generated by the coolness of cloud cover. Infrared radiation, which gives heat, is absorbed by clouds whereas ultraviolet light is an invisible, cold light. The levels of radiation peak in January and reach their lowest levels in July. Cloud cover reduces ultraviolet radiation by a varying amount depending on the cloud. This can vary from only minimal reduction in radiation with light cloud to moderate reduction with heavy cloud cover. Reflection and a scattering of sunlight by clouds, shiny surfaces, sand, cement, snow, and water all vary with the conditions and time of day and can lead to an over-exposure to sunlight even if one is sitting under a canopy. There is no such thing as windburn. Windburn is sunburn occurring on a cool day. We need to constantly protect our skin from harsh weather conditions. Safety bodies in Australia and New Zealand in February 2019 issued new guidelines relating to sunscreens as follows: “Up until now, most public health organisations have recommended applying sunscreen ahead of planned outdoor activities but haven’t specifically recommended applying it every day as part of a morning routine. In Australia, we get a lot of incidental sun exposure from everyday activities such as walking to the bus stop or train station or hanging out washing. In recent years, it has become clear that the DNA damage that causes skin cancer and melanoma accumulates with repeated small doses of sunlight. At last year’s Sunscreen Summit, we examined all of the evidence around sunscreen use and we have come to a consensus that Australians should apply sunscreen every day when the maximum UV level is forecast to be three or higher. For much of Australia, that means people should apply sunscreen all year round, but in areas like Tasmania and Victoria there are a few months over winter when sunscreen is not required.”
How Our Skin Ages
Ageing brings about changes in our skin which may appear slowly over years giving credence to the term ’growing old gracefully’. Lack of knowledge about skincare and the importance of skin cleansing, protecting, hydrating and regenerating has often led to neglect and even abuse of the skin. The age of the skin may be different to the age of the person depending on many factors. It is possible for people in their thirties to have skin twenty years older than their years, and for mature people to have young looking, relatively unlined skin. Genetics plays a major role in how early our skin ages, with some people appearing youthful longer than others. Some people take family history for granted and feel their skin will remain young looking no matter how they care for it. Because every generation introduces new genes and possibly lifestyle changes, genetics may not be as kind to our skin as we may wish for. Health factors influence ageing changes in the skin from poor nutrition, smoking, infection, injury, disease, some drugs, alcohol, stress, frequent weight gain and loss, and environmental influences such as pollution. Sun damage acquired throughout life brings many ageing changes to the skin. As ultraviolet light penetrates into the deeper layers of the skin, the connective tissue loses its strength, shape and elasticity. Pigmentation spots and skin cancers may also occur. Loose-fitting, lined skin results in the formation of wrinkles. Exposure to the elements puts continual stress on the skin. Consider how unlined and smooth the skin is on parts of the body protected by clothes. Ageing causes the skin to deteriorate even on areas of the body never or rarely exposed to the sun. Facial expressions such as frowning, smiling, lifting the forehead and pursing the lips all put stress on our skin. Any repetitive facial movement can form wrinkles over time. Lack of skincare protection, misuse or no use of skincare products are also factors that may add to skin damage occurring.
Some Facts About the Skin
Mature skins may appear drier and thicker because of ageing processes which tend to thicken the top layer of the Epidermis (stratum corneum). While the top layer thickens, the Epidermis actually becomes thinner as we age. Capillaries in the skin may become more noticeable and a fine, transparent look may appear around the eyes. Melanocytes (pigment cells) may start to fail to produce skin colour causing a mottled look as white spots blend with varying shades of brown. Age spots, which are hyperpigmentation, also appear. Abnormal development of skin cells may result in skin cancers, skin tags, moles and other lesions forming. As one ages, bones, fat and muscles gradually shrink whereas the skin stretches. The areas affected first tend to be the neck, mouth and eyelids. As muscle tone weakens, gravity takes its toll. Crepey skin, meaning thin skin that is similar in appearance to crepe paper, presents as many fine criss-cross wrinkles in the skin. In a young skin, the collagen and elastin network that makes up the connective tissue in the Dermis is intact, so the skin is soft and smooth. Collagen forms a microscopic network of fibres, woven together like threads in a fabric. It is collagen that gives the skin its texture, suppleness, and elasticity. The greater protection the skin has from ageing changes, the more resistance it will have to premature ageing. Daily concentration on cleansing, hydrating, protecting and regenerating rituals, as well as following a healthy lifestyle, including a well-balanced diet and other good health habits, reduced stress, no smoking, daily exercise and sufficient sleep will help bring confidence in our skin’s ability to age gracefully.