If you suffer from a skin condition like psoriasis, eczema, rosacea or acne, chances are you spend a lot of time thinking about your skin. Unfortunately, you may be focusing more on pain and discomfort than on what a truly amazing organ the skin is! Over a thousand nerve endings, 650 sweat glands, and 60,000 melanocytes can be found in one square inch of skin. As the body's largest organ, the skin accounts for about 15% of total body weight and in area measures an average of 1.8 square meters.
It is important to understand how the skin works so you can make the best choices for providing your skin with proper nutritional support, to keep it functioning optimally, and to facilitate healing of pre-existing skin conditions. From temperature regulation and defense to synthesizing vitamins and retaining moisture, the skin performs a wide array of functions, each essential to our health.
- Defense—Our skin acts as a physical barrier to the external environment. It also contains melanin, which blocks UV rays.
- Moisture retention—The skin controls evaporation to protect against fluid loss.
- Storage—Lipids, water, and nutrients are stored in the skin.
- Sensory—Nerve endings contained in the skin allow us to perceive external stimuli such as temperature, injury, touch, and pressure.
- Temperature regulation—Blood vessels within the skin constrict or dilate to keep the body within the correct temperature range.
- Synthesis—The skin synthesizes vitamins B and D.
- Excretion—Fluids and toxins are excreted through the sweat glands.
- Absorption—Small amounts of oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide can enter the system through the skin. Medications, ointments, and lotions can also be applied and absorbed transdermally.
With the skin being responsible for so many important functions, it's easy to see why anyone—not just those with chronic skin problems—could use extra support!
Our Skin—A Many-layered OrganNormal Skin
The skin is divided into three main layers: the epidermis, dermis, and hypodermis. The epidermis and dermis are divided into additional layers, each responsible for a unique set of functions.
The epidermis, the outermost and most visible layer of the skin, is divided into five additional sublayers called strata. The strata corneum, lucidum, granulosum, spinosum, and basale sublayers vary in thickness over different areas of the body. The epidermis is primarily comprised of dead skin cells that replenish themselves every 28-30 days. People with psoriasis produce the dead skin cells at a much higher rate than the body is able to slough off, which results in the painful, itchy plaques often associated with the disease. The cells that make up the corneum, the outside layer, are held together with a combination of lipids and fatty acids that help prevent moisture loss. The epidermis acts as a defense against the external environment and contains melanin, the pigment that protects against UV rays and causes variations in skin color.
The middle layer of the skin, or dermis, contains blood vessels, hair follicles, sweat glands and nerves. Many of the functions of the skin take place in this layer. It is here that vitamin D is synthesized and where the muscles that cause us to get "goose bumps" are located. The skin's structure and elasticity are provided by collagen and elastin, which comprise a large portion of the dermis. Body temperature is regulated by dilation and constriction of blood vessels, and our ability to perceive touch is due largely to the millions of nerves found within this layer. The dermis also plays an important part in immune function, and mast cells, which cause an immune system response, are also located here.
The dermis is divided into two additional layers, papillary and reticular. You can actually see the papillary layer just by looking at your hand: the raised ridges and lines that form fingerprints are actually the delivery system for nutrients from the dermis to the epidermis. The reticular layer is connected to the hypodermis (see below) and contains structures such as sweat glands and corpuscles.
Sweat glands, hair and pores are also present in both the dermis and epidermis. Acne can occur when hair follicles become blocked by debris or dead skin, resulting in a red, pus-filled bump. The blood vessels in this layer may also be responsible for the ruddy complexion associated with rosacea.
The deepest layer, the hypodermis, connects the skin to our bones and muscles. The hypodermis contains as much as 50% of our total body fat, and serves as a great insulator as well as a storage area for many nutrients.
Skin Health and Appearance
The health and appearance of the skin are influenced by a number of factors, some of which, like aging, are unavoidable. In addition, climate, diet, stress and illness play roles in how our skin looks and feels. As we age, the collagen fibers and elastin in our skin lose some of their stretch and elasticity, causing the skin to look looser. Fat stores can also be reduced as we age, depleting nutrient stores and insulation. Those who live in dry or cold climates may find it difficult to keep their skin properly hydrated due to low moisture levels in the air. Stress can also have a profound effect on the skin and our system as a whole. Emotional stress may cause an immune response to be triggered in the skin, which can then contribute to inflammation in the rest of the body. Many illnesses, including those of the digestive system, can deplete the skin of vital moisture and nutrients.
Finally, diet can contribute a great deal to the health of your skin. Proper water intake is necessary for adequate moisture levels, and nutrients and enzymes need to be replaced to ensure proper function. Occasionally people may suffer from a condition known as leaky gut, which can develop as a direct result of poor diet. One of the side effects of this condition is over-toxicity in the system, causing the skin to actually take over some of the toxin-filtering duties of the liver. Many healthcare researchers believe this may be the root cause of numerous skin conditions.
Please visit our Articles & Insight area to read more about how proper diet, intestinal health, and liver function contribute to the health and function of the skin!
Finding Natural Relief to Inflammatory Conditions
Whether you have just been diagnosed with an acute skin condition or have been managing your chronic skin inflammatory condition for several years, there are many encouraging alternatives for treating psoriasis, eczema, and dermatitis. An integrative approach can help the juvenile or adult skin inflammation sufferer manage—often reduce—the severity of the condition. A healthy meal plan and avoiding dietary triggers, together with the use of natural herbs and other nutritional supplements, topical gels or ointments, and stress-reducing techniques are all ways to naturally reduce the discomforting symptoms. At DermaHarmony, we understand that each one of us responds a little differently to both the conditions associated with eczema and to different treatments, and we can help you find a solution that works well for you.