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Skin Care

Skin Structure

Skin covers the entire surface of our bodies and protects our internal organs from the harsh elements of the environment. Skin varies in texture, structure and thickness and is made up of three components. The epidermis - comprised of living epidermal cells (keratinocytes) and the corneal layer (the protective outermost layer of dead keratinocytes). The dermis - made up of skin appendages such as hair follicles and sweat glands, surrounded by fibrous supporting tissue and collagen, and finally the subcutis - a layer of subcutaneous fat and fibrous tissue.

Epidermis

The epidermis (the strongest layer) forms the upper protective barrier of the skin. The outermost part or the corneal is comprised of millions of dead skin cells, which are shed and continually replaced by living cells (epidermal keratinocytes) that originate from the basal or germinative layer. Did you know that 90% of household dust is dead skin cells? Keratinocytes contain structural protein (keratin) and become progressively flattened as they advance upward from the basal layer to the corneal layer. This advancement takes proximately 14 days.

Melanocytes, among the basal cells of the epidermis, produce melanin, the protective pigment responsible for skin colour. Melanocytes are stimulated by sunlight, therefore produce sufficient melanin to protect the skin against harmful ultra violet radiation. Vitamin D production in the skin is dependent on UVR (ultra violet radiation) penetrating epidermal cells to reach a particular chemical compound (ergosterol), which is important in the prevention of rickets and softening of the bones in elderly people.

Another type of cell within the epidermis is the Langerhans. Found in the middle section of the epidermis, these cells perform an immunological attack on foreign substances that penetrate the skin.

Dermis

The dermis (the skins majority) is comprised of collagen and connective tissue. Collagen is a fibrous protein produced by fibroblast cells scattered throughout the dermis and is responsible for most of the skin's mechanical strength.

Blood vessels, lymph vessels, nerves and sensory receptors are embedded in the dermis, as are hair follicles (including their muscles), sweat glands and oil glands, formed from specialised epidermal cells that penetrate the dermis.

The sebaceous glands are responsible for the excretion of the skin's natural oil (sebum). There are two types of sweat glands. The apocrine sweat glands fail to open directly onto the skin surface, but drain into large hair follicles. They are located near the armpits and around the genitalia, while the second type, the eccrine sweat glands, are distributed over the skins entire surface. The secretion of the apocrine differs to that of the eccrine; it is thick and creamy in contrast to the watery

solution of the eccrine glands. These glands aid in the removal of dirt and oil from the pores, help to regulate body temperature and also maintain the skin's PH balance.

The Aging Process

Aging is an inevitable fact of life. No matter how hard we attempt to avoid or eliminate it, the aging process continues to knaw away at each and every one of us on a daily basis. However, this gradual but certain fact of reality need not be cursed upon. To appreciate the aging process you must firstly gain an understanding of how we as humans age, before secondly, recognising the benefits of proper skincare and skin protection. Afterall, the skin is the largest organ of the body therefore we must all endeavour to nourish and protect it.

Why Do We Age?

Over the years wrinkles develop and we begin to notice our skin aging. These wrinkles are a result of damaged supporting tissue, the dermis. The dermis contains water, fat and cells, which aid in the production of two very important fibres, collagen and elastin. It is these fortifying fibres that give the skin firmness and elasticity.

As we age, the dermis retains less water and fat - the skin ceases to look plump, fewer supporting fibres are produced - the skin is less resilient, oil flow slows considerably - the skin is drier, and tiny capillaries beneath the skin close off - the skin receives less oxygen and minimal nutrients. Cell renewal rate also slows, therefore the development of new cells takes longer, while old cells remain longer on the surface of the skin. The result of this rather simple process is, older looking skin showing visible creases, spots and sags.

Protecting your Skin

We all need to protect and look after our skin on a daily basis. There are many factors that influence aging and the awareness of these factors is essential if we are to avoid or at least monitor them. Stress, pollution, drugs, alcohol, cigarette smoking, improper nutrition, lack of sleep and ultra violet radiation play havoc on our lifestyle, which in turn stresses the skin tremendously and causes free radicals to attack the body.

Free radical damage contributes greatly to the aging process by destroying healthy cells and damaging tissue. Free radicals are molecules of oxygen with unpaired electrons that desperately roam the body in search of normal healthy cells to latch onto. Once this attachment process takes place, oxidation begins - rather like metal rusting during weather exposure. Oxidation occurs most readily in fats, therefore cell membranes rich in fat, are prime targets.

Nutrition

Proper nutrition is essential for healthy, youthful skin. It is recommended that you eat a wide variety of foods to ensure nutrition needs are met. The daily food pyramid is an important role in helping to achieve a well-balanced diet. This nutritional guideline gives a practical overview of all the food groups and outlines the suggested daily consumption of each. Fats, oils and sweets should be used sparingly, while fruits and vegetables should be consumed as often as possible - at least five servings per day.

It is important however not to restrict fats altogether as the body requires these essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins for proper functioning. Fats provide energy and contribute significantly to the taste of food and to deprive ourselves would result in nutrient imbalance and unhealthy 'bingeing'.

Skin problems are often a sign of vitamin deficiency. Certain B-complex deficiencies - riboflavin- B2, thiamine- B1 and biotin, cause scaling and redness of the skin, particularly around the mouth and nose. Good sources of riboflavin, thiamine and B6 are found in lean beef, chicken, eggs, rye flour and milk.

Zinc deficiencies may cause similar problems. Foods containing the best sources of zinc include meats, eggs and seafood (oysters contain abundant sources of easily absorbed zinc), however good sources include roasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds, brazil nuts, Swiss and cheddar cheeses, peanuts and dark turkey meat. Vitamin C and zinc are important in the production of collagen. It has been suggested that a diet lacking in zinc may contribute to the appearance of age spots on the skin in later years.

Antioxidants, which include selenium and vitamins A,C and E, are of vital importance in the combat against aging and free radicals. These important substances neutralise free radicals by pairing up their electrons. There is also sufficient evidence to suggest that vitamins E and C can decrease the level of free radicals in the blood.

Antioxidants also increase the skins cell renewal rate, normalise cell growth and stimulate blood flow and collagen formation. Synthetic forms of vitamin A have been proven to aid in the treatment of cancer, precancerous skin growths, wrinkles and acne, and vitamins A,C and E are known to reduce harmful damage to the skin from sun exposure. Good sources of vitamin A include fresh fruit and vegetables, while nuts, seeds and oils provide excellent sources of vitamin E. Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, potatoes, broccoli and brussel sprouts.

Drink plenty of water - Water is required by the body to hydrate and replenish cells. The body's water component is approximately 60-70%. It uses water to transport nutrients around the body and for dissolving and eliminating toxins. Aim to consume 1-2 litres of either bottled or filtered water per day, to assist in achieving a smooth glowing appearance.

Sun Exposure and Heat

Sun exposed areas of the skin seem to show more wrinkles, spots, blemishes and pigment changes than covered areas. This aging and discolouration of the skin is believed to be caused by sun damage to the dermal connective tissue, resulting in the skins lose of elasticity and collagen.

Dermal connective tissue that has been affected by ultra violet radiation (UVR) is not as firm or as resilient as normal connective tissue, therefore the surrounding blood vessels lack support. The blood vessels then widen and become visible on the surface of the skin as broken veins. Crimson patches or senile perpura, as they are technically called, are often present on the skin of elderly folk. These localised patches result from a slight knock or bump to the area affected by broken veins. The veins bleed into the skin, creating a visible skin alteration. Heat from other sources, such as hairdryers or heaters can also cause broken veins on the surface of the skin.

To protect your skin from the sun's harmful rays, slather sunscreen on all exposed areas whenever you step outside. Choose a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher, and one which blocks both UVA and UVB rays - a broad spectrum sunscreen. Ultra violet radiation can also penetrate and damage skin through clouds and glass, therefore remember to apply sunblock during winter and while driving. Sit in the shade whenever possible and avoid heat on the surface of the skin.

Stress and Sleepless Nights

The effects of stress and a few too many sleepless nights can show visibly on your face. From deeply etched frown lines to dark circles and puffiness under the eyes, it is relatively easy to neglect your skin to the point where it looks and feels worn-out.

The body requires at least 6-8 hours sleep per night depending on individual needs. During sleep the body and skin repair and rejuvenate, therefore you should nourish your skin with a good moisturiser before bed to feed your face while it works hard during the night to keep you youthful. Avoid stressful situations and learn to take 'time-out for yourself'. Constant crying and rubbing the eyes can damage the delicate eye tissue, causing lines and wrinkles. Stress related acne and blemishes may also show up on the skin in times of depression.

Learn to relax your facial muscles so as to avoid expression lines. Gentle facial massage stimulates nerve endings and nourishes the skin by increasing the flow of oxygen through the blood, ensuring a healthy facial glow.

Smoking, Drugs and Alcohol

Smoking, drugs and alcohol encourage the invasion of free radicals, therefore these substances must be avoided whenever possible. Red wine consumed in moderation however, can be very beneficial to the skin due to a good supply of grape antioxidants.

Smoking, on the other hand, deprives the skin of normal blood flow and also interferes in the healing process following cosmetic surgery on the skin. A smoker's face tends to show more lines and wrinkles than the face of a non-smoker; the skin may appear slightly gray, have a leathery or rugged appearance or a subtle gauntness.


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