Over the last century, the cosmetics industry has made us acutely aware of the concept of clear, flawless, and “healthy-looking” skin. But beneath the aesthetics, our skin does much more than keep our innards contained and act as the canvas for our beauty. Skin is closely intertwined with our overall wellbeing. It’s a visible reflection of your state of internal balance (or imbalance), while actively maintaining that balance, protecting us from harm, keeping us cool or warm, warning us of potential dangers, and even allowing us to produce the all-important vitamin D.
When it comes to keeping your skin in top condition, there is still debate about whether it’s primarily affected by internal responses to irritants from our diet or medicines (the “inside-outside” hypothesis) or by the external barrier becoming cracked and damaged, allowing moisture to be lost and increasing vulnerability to invading pathogens (the “outside-inside” hypothesis). There are most likely multiple factors at play with our natural armour, and maintaining its health depends on a combination of approaches.
In this blog we’re going to explore the impact that modern life is having on our skin and touch on some things you can do to improve your skin health.
The Impact of Modern Life on Skin Health
“Armour” is a great way of thinking about the skin, given the daily battles it faces. Modern life can be harsh, so let’s look more specifically at some of the things that might be contributing to your skin’s condition.
Environmental Pollutants and Skin Damage
There are several external factors that impact our skin health.
For starters, UV light has long been linked with aggressive skin cancers. We do need some UV exposure in order to make vitamin D, but over-exposure, which differs from person to person, can lead to skin damage, photoallergic reactions, and even suppression of the immune system. This can cause viruses to be reactivated as well as paving the way for more serious damage to occur. Overexposure to UV can also lead to premature ageing of the skin, something we tend to fear out of vanity, but which can also impede our ability to heal wounds and respond effectively to invading pathogens.
Our skin is our flexible shield and is permeable. It lets things out as well as allowing things in via the pores. What this means is that we are not really separate from our surroundings. Toxins are unfortunately ever-present in our environment in both passive forms (i.e. in the air and atmosphere in our streets, homes and gardens) and active – in what we choose to put on our skins, be it creams, cosmetics and even our clothes. If you consider all the pollution, chemicals, unwanted bacteria, and radiation that lands on our skin every day, it’s a wonder it survives from one week to the next.
Indoor pollutants from cleaning products, synthetic air fresheners, moulds, dust and debris can damage our skin at home while all the nasty chemicals coming out of motor vehicles and factories from burning fossil fuels can add to the oxidative stress on our skin leading to barrier dysfunction, not to mention subsequent effects by clogging up the protective surface.
Pores can easily become blocked by microparticles and sweat that cannot escape but our fixation with scrubbing and peeling and stripping the skin with more extreme products serves only to make it more vulnerable and prone to infection. Fortunately, there are gentle alternatives available which respect our skin’s barrier. We can also balance out the passive exposure to air pollution and UV light by taking a few protective steps with our diet and skincare choices.
Diet, Hydration, and Skin Health
Skin health as mentioned earlier does not only come from the outside. The role of diet in our skin's health is undeniable and the old adage “you are what you eat” is never so obvious than when you look in the mirror after overindulgence and see blocked pores, sagging cheeks and seemingly more fine lines than last week. Hydration is equally important, as is getting the right amount of good quality fats to nourish that all-important barrier.
An everyday challenge for the skin to contend with is oxidative stress. Consuming a range of antioxidants to combat this is essential. Sadly, the modern diet is devoid of quality nutrients to feed our skin and support our liver as it tackles the onslaught of toxins. We tend to eat foods that contain high levels of sugar and salt, which can dry and overload our skin while being full of unnecessary preservatives that put more pressure on the liver. Too much sugar can send the endocrine system out of balance (that’s the one in charge of everything) which inevitably impacts our largest exocrine organ: The skin.
Reaching for caffeine to keep us fueled and fizzing is a habit so many of us get stuck with due to the pressures of modern life, but the effects of caffeine are multiple on the skin. It can lead to excess cortisol floating around in the bloodstream, which can increase the oil in the sebaceous glands and cause breakouts. It also acts as a diuretic, making us lose water and nutrients by having to pee more often, meaning toxins can build up in the tissues and get pushed out via the skin. On the other hand, caffeine is frequently included in skin care products as it has antioxidant properties. Like most things, it’s the excess that damages us.
The Role of Sleep in Skin Health
Dehydration can also come from sleep deprivation as can many other factors that affect our skin health. The term “beauty sleep” is not just related to fairy tales, but is based on the important repair that occurs overnight. The skin is intimately connected to our circadian rhythms as both a transmitter of information about day and night-time and also by being sensitive to melatonin levels in our system. This well-researched sleep hormone is responsible for repairing skin damaged by UV light and protecting against cancer, so respecting the natural rhythms and getting enough sleep at the right time is vital for maintaining skin health.
Mental Health and Skin Health Connection
We often look to remove the furrows in the brow but are not so concerned about the laughter lines, so perhaps we know exactly what we need to change in our lives to look and feel better. The connection between our mental health and our skin is becoming more widely recognised.
“Psychodermatology” is a relatively new discipline that explores the intrinsic link between our mental health and our skin. This can explain why stress triggers many dermatological disorders such as psoriasis and eczema. The secondary effects that come with depression and anxiety - such as reducing our drive to self-care - affect our diet, sleep patterns and many other contributing factors for overall balance and skin health.
The mental health connection works both ways, too. We react negatively to outbreaks because our appearance can impact our state of mind. Equally, offering ourselves a little self-love through the simple act of a five-minute skincare routine can make a massive difference to our mood and sense of worth.
The Importance of Regular Exercise for Skin Health
Ever noticed that delightful rosy glow after your Zumba class or gym workout? That’s down to increased blood flow to the skin from the circulation boost exercise gives us. Exercise helps us to have better skin health. Not only does it help combat stress, improve sleep quality and release endorphins, but it has also has been found to slow the ageing of mitochondria, the energy factories in our cells that allow regeneration and repair to happen.
Exercise also leads to sweat, which removes toxins from the skin. Just remember to shower afterwards to stop these baddies sticking around and causing causing problems!
The Detrimental Effects of Smoking and Alcohol on Skin Health
We are all aware of the health concerns that go hand in hand with our most practised vices, and while smoking and drinking have multiple consequences on our insides, they can also contribute to skin damage.
Alcohol is dehydrating, which causes fine lines and wrinkles to stand out and our skin to become papery and lifeless. Excesses can cause rosacea as well as general inflammation in the body that we see on our skin through rashes, dryness and red patches.
Smoking not only disrupts circulation to the skin, depriving the cells of their blood supply but also reduces collagen fibres, circulating Vitamin D and adds more defined wrinkles to the face.
The Hygiene Hypothesis and Skin Health
The Hygiene Hypothesis is a theory initially developed to explain the rise in allergic diseases observed in developed countries. The original hypothesis, proposed in 1989 by epidemiologist David P. Strachan, suggested that children in larger families had fewer instances of hay fever because they were exposed to more infections, particularly those passed on from older siblings.
The idea has since evolved and expanded beyond allergies. It essentially suggests that a lack of early childhood exposure to infectious agents, symbiotic microorganisms (such as gut flora or probiotics), and parasites increases susceptibility to allergic diseases by suppressing the natural development of the immune system.
In the context of skin health, the Hygiene Hypothesis suggests that exposure to a diverse range of microbes can help "educate" the immune system and support a healthy skin microbiome.
Just as we are discovering the importance of the gut microbiome in our overall health and the development of the immune system, our skin also has a vast microbiome that primes skin cells to recognise friend from foe and react accordingly. Wiping out this protective army by over-cleansing can only be detrimental.
From the moment we come into the world, the skin begins to be colonised. So the more sterile our environment, the less educated our skin biome is. It’s therefore less able to protect us adequately. Similar to the gut, this is a big area that is still being understood and certainly isn’t a universally accepted explanation for the rise in allergies or other health issues, but forms an interesting part of the greater picture.
Rediscovering the Healing Power of Nature
We’ve seen how damaging exposure to chemicals and pollutants can be for our skin. At Zen Maitri we think it’s time to turn back to nature to promote our skin health both internally and externally.
The Science Behind Natural Skincare Products
It’s all about the extracellular matrix. This is what essentially holds us together and contains fibrillin and collagen, two proteins that keep skin in good condition. The science therefore is based on supporting and encouraging the abundance and health of these two substances and the fibroblasts that produce them. The removal of waste and dead cells from the surface of the skin allows healthier, brighter skin to emerge, thus completing the cycle and protecting us more efficiently. The turnover of skin cells is relatively fast and changes over the course of our life. Natural skin care aims to support this process, without being overly harsh, and harnesses the power of antioxidants, essential oils and gentle exfoliants to do so.
The Natural Power of Antioxidants and Essential Oils
We are often bombarded with news about vitamins and phytochemicals that benefit us, but a few key nutrients stand out in terms of caring for our skin. Let’s look at a few:
- Vitamin E, which is antioxidant and therefore protective, it is found in sebum as it is fat-soluble and plays a role in protecting cells from damage, particularly UVB damage.
- Vitamin A or Retinol is one of the most researched substances for skin health. It supports the immune system and more locally it has a role in the removal of damaged skin fibres that can lead to sagging and wrinkles. It also by promotes new blood vessels supplying the skin to keep it nourished. Retinol is easily absorbed via the skin so topical application is recommended as well as having adequate quantities in the diet.
- Essential fatty acids that hydrate and calm the skin such as Omega-3, 6 & 7
- Polyphenols such as quercetin and anthocyanins (found in blueberries and red wine) are natural anti-inflammatories and antioxidants, so are a great antidote to the free radicals that cause us so many problems.
All of the above can be found in our high-quality cold-pressed Rosehip seed oil.
Antioxidants can ease a great deal of damage caused by modern living, as can certain phytochemicals, which are highly concentrated in essential oils. Some favourites for skincare include…
- shown to be effective on acne
- soothes irritation.
- softens the appearance of fine lines
- A natural immunostimulant
- shown to improve mood and feelings of warmth in the skin, thereby supporting mental health and subsequent effects on skin.
- has been supporting the skin since ancient times
- contains potent essential oils
- can be applied as rose water.
- influences our wellbeing by mediating our stress responses
- is anti-inflammatory.
- anti-bacterial, particularly against common skin bacteria
- supports skin healing and prevents scars forming
- brings a sense of well-being from its gentle aroma
- full of antioxidants
- suitable for dry and combination skin alike
- another ancient healer
- antimicrobial, working against viral, bacterial and fungal invasions
- rich in antioxidants to combat free radical damage
- anti-inflammatory and beneficial in many skin conditions
The wonderful scents and properties of jasmine and sandalwood can be found in our Botanical Day Cream.
Harmonising Modern Life and Nature for Optimal Skin Health
Modern life has its ups and downs, but one thing is for sure: it poses plenty of challenges to our skin. Fortunately, we have clear antidotes from mother nature. As long as you balance the strains of modern life with some outdoor exercise, get your beauty sleep, make the right food choices, reduce your chemical exposure and adopt a more natural skincare routine, your skin will keep thriving and protecting!
Explore our natural skincare collection here. There's something for all skin types, so treat yourself to some much-needed natural love!