Skin Works

For most people, the face is the focus of attention and the most immediate expression of a woman’s beauty. It is certainly the area of the body women most worry about. They spend a great deal of money looking after it with creams and lotions, cleansers and toners and masks, and of course the traditional facials, special treatments, and face-lifts. Everything seems to depend on the face. And all of this is done in an attempt to make sure skin stays smooth and young-looking, well colored, and free from blemishes.

Skin is one of the most important criteria for sexual attraction between men and women. Perhaps this is the main reason the face seems so important.

the craft of skin care

A living, breathing thing, skin is far more than just a superficial covering for your body. It is your largest organ. It covers a surface area of about 17 square feet and weighs between six and eight pounds. So complex is this stuff called skin that a piece of it with the surface area of your thumbnail boasts a yard of blood vessels, twenty-five nerve endings, one hundred sweat glands, and over three million cells.

Lasting skin beauty is a question of lasting care, just not spending lavishly on fancy creams and treatments. It is the everyday way you treat skin that matters year after year. But to know how to look after your skin you must first know something about it – what it is and isn’t, what it’s meant to do, and the many things that affect it for better or worse. For then you can see that its needs are met from day to day. In return it will give you what you desire: beauty that at the very least is skin deep.

how your skin works

Your skin is a world all its own: living tissue composed of billions of cells bathed in a lake of liquid with the same salt content as seawater. Each skin cell is separated from its neighbor by a membrane through which nutrients and respiratory gases pass, and all skin tissue is nourished by the myriad of tiny capillaries which bring fresh oxygen and nutrients to the cell. Cell growth and reproduction go on unceasingly in each of these microcosms. Life is sustained, wastes eliminated to be carried away via the lymph and blood, so that all of these cells can work together to perform the many vital functions that your skin carries out: It protects your body from invasion by bacteria, virus, or fungus. It helps eliminate the waste products of the metabolism directly through its surface. It conveys information about the outside world by way of a vast network of complex sensory nerve endings. It helps guard the inside of your body from the destructive ultraviolet rays of the sun. And it registers pleasure and pain from your environment.

Your skin both depends on the rest of your body for its healthy existence and also offers help to it. And like all live things, in order to function well and look beautiful, it has to be free to carry out all its duties unimpaired by lack of proper nutrients or oxygen, poor circulation, illness, internal pollution, or prolonged stress, all of which threaten its integrity. Real skin care is not just skin deep.

skin comes in layers

Skin is made up of three layers: the stratified cellular epidermis (the part you see when you look into the mirror); an underlying dermis, made up of connective tissue, nerves, blood, and lymph systems, which also contain the sebaceous, or oil, glands, and sweat glands with ducts leading to its surface; and finally a fatty layer of subcutaneous tissue. The outermost layer, the epidermis, consists of two parts: an inner part of living cells called the stratum Malpighii, and an outer part of anucleated (meaning they have lost their nucleus) horny cells, the stratum corneum. The inner part is in direct contact with the dermis, beneath it.

the outer skin

Here, at the base of the epidermis, is the stratum Malpighii.  A single layer of cells known as the basal layer forms new cells for the rest of the epidermis by continuous cell reproduction. As they are formed, these new cells constantly push outward and upward towards its surface. In the process, they synthesize an insoluble protein called keratin, lose their cell nuclei, die, and dry out, becoming mere shells on the skin’s surface. Once there, they are forever being sloughed off and replaced by new arrivals from below. Most skin care products concern themselves only with the treatment of this stratum corneum, making sure it does not dry out excessively (moisturizer); that the dead cells are periodically sloughed off (exfoliater, which stimulates the basal layer to produce more fresh cells and leaves the skin looking more translucent); and finally, that it is covered with a chemical or physical sunscreen to guard the deeper layers of the skin from damage as a result of exposure to sunlight.

When the layers of dead cells in the stratum corneum lie flat and smooth against each other, the skin refracts light well, making your skin look beautifully smooth and silky. If, instead, they are turned up at the edges, then the skin looks dry and lacks smoothness. For they are the outermost manifestation of skin beauty and health.

On the stratum corneum, that is on the surface of your skin, there is also a hydrolipidic film composed of water from the sweat glands and oil from the sebaceous glands in a kind of oil-in-water emulsion. This film acts as a natural moisturizer, maintaining acidity (referred to as the pH of skin) to help guard the body against invasion of any kind, and to protect it from chemical onslaught. The natural pH of your skin is between 4.5 and 5.5, which means that it is slightly acid. It is important to maintain this acid mantle. It can be disturbed by the use of soaps, most of which are strongly alkaline, and cosmetics which are not acid-balanced. This is particularly true if your skin is sensitive by nature, tends to be either excessively dry or excessively oily, or if it often breaks out in acne.

the living skin

Beneath the epidermis, in the dermis, or true skin (which unlike the epidermis is entirely a living thing), are found the nerves. They register pleasure, pain, touch, heat and cold. Here, too, is a rich supply of blood vessels and lymphatics plus all the various skin appendages: the hair follicles, with their sebaceous glands, and the sweat glands. Also important in the dermis is an elaborate network of fibers, made by special cells called fibroblasts. These fibers look like the warp and weft of fine cloth. They are collectively known as connective tissues, and are made up mostly of protein called collagen together with about 2 percent elastin. This network gives your skin its form and resilience. So long as it remains smooth and ordered, your skin stays young-looking and firm. When its fibers start to bunch up and harden or to cross-link and become disorganized, your skin rapidly begins to sag, to wrinkle, and to age. This aging process has many causes. It can occur as a result of exposure to the sun, internal wear and tear from illness, or an insufficiency of certain vitamins and minerals (particularly vitamin C and the trace element zinc), or exposure to cigarette smoke and pollution. It also appears to be part of your genetic programming.

Much of the beauty and health of your skin depends on the dermal layer. The things it needs to stay strong and healthy come as much – if not more – from the inside than from what you apply to skin. This internal aspect of skin care is what is most ignored. Few women even consider it, and yet without ensuring that the dermis gets all it needs through optimum nutrition and regular exercise (not only for the face but also for the body as a whole), there is no way you can prevent or correct the disorganization of connective tissue, its consequent loss of tone, and the resulting deep line formation on the face.

the subskin

Underneath the dermis, in the subcutaneous tissue, are layers of muscle and fatty tissue which act as insulation to the body and which also give young female skin its characteristic (and very attractive) padding. When this padding starts to go, either because of hormonal changes that come with age or because of simple neglect, your skin loses tone and firmness.

Looking after this layer of skin is a whole body challenge. Particularly important to it is the health of your endocrine system, in which constant regular exercise plays a vital part.

Truly effective skin care has to ensure the continuous health and proper functioning of all three layers, to preserve beauty. This means treatment and protection from the outside of the epidermis. It also means treatment of the dermis through first-rate nutrition, vitamins and minerals, rest and exercise, and perhaps, too, the application of specific essential oils, fatty acids such as gamma linolenic acid (GLA), certain vitamins such as vitamin E, and/or other active substances which can be absorbed through the skin’s outer layers into the dermis to stimulate cell metabolism, encourage waste elimination from cells, and help protect and preserve the collagen and elastin fibers. Finally, the subcutaneous layer has to be kept intact by maintaining a firm and well-used, healthy body. In other words, really good skin care for lasting beauty has to tackle the challenge simultaneously from within and without. And there are no shortcuts.


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