Why your skin might be hyper-reactive
The skin has a big job of protecting the inside of our body from the external environment, but what happens when the barrier is broken?
Our skin is very resilient, however we tend to be very rough on it using harsh cleansers that are detergents that break down lipids and proteins. Over time, our skin becomes sensitive, prone to break outs, dry/oily and more.
The skin is made up of a layer of microbes called the microbiome, a layer called the acid mantle and then a layer called the lipid barrier.
Lets take a closer look at each of these.
As you can see, our skin is very complex. Each layer needs tended to with special care and attention.
The skin is the biggest organ our body has, and it is covered by the smallest protectors. We have more than 1.5 trillion bacteria living on our skin. You read that right, 1.5 trillion bacteria. These critters work very hard to keep us safe from external hazards to keep us well and healthy.
These microbes need special attention instead of being forgotten or neglected.
Let's take a look at a healthy and compromised barrier.
A healthy barrier has nicely lined up cells which creates a good protective barrier. It is stable and able to be selective at letting what's needed in and out.
A healthy barrier can become compromised when we use harsh products that excessively and continually strip the skin, over exfoliating, as well as using acids/peels.
The break down of the lipid barrier can lead to unpleasant skin reactions, like inflammation, redness, itchiness, dermatitis, break outs and eczema.
Unfortunately, we cannot just slap on any old heavy moisturizer and expect the lipid barrier to heal itself and behave appropriately. No, it doesn't work like that. We must use products that contain ‘skin identical ingredients’ that are at the proper pH for the skin to repair itself, starting with the acid mantle care so that it is able to protect the lipid barrier.
The acid mantle lies just above the lipid barrier. The products we use must not only be ultra gentle and the proper pH, but also contain prebiotics to feed the microorganisms that live on the surface of the skin. This is our first line of defense, our natural defense to environmental threats, protection against harmful pathogens, and pollutants. It also regulates the water/oil balance in the skin, and is made up of our sweat and oil. It has a pH of 5.5-6.5.
What's the pH scale and why is it important?
This image is a throw back to my old chemistry days! However, we see that plain water has a pH of 7. So if our acid mantle has a pH of 5.5-6.5, it is slightly more acidic than water. Many of us use soap based cleansers to wash our face with that has a pH of 12, TWELVE! This is why I am an advocate for oil based cleansing, especially for those who have sensitive, delicate skin and mature skin that is prone to irritation, break outs and irritation. Oil based cleansing is so much more protective of the skin than soap based products. Oil based cleansing breaks down makeup, dirt, and truly cleans the skin. If you desire, you can double cleanse, but it's not necessary. If you choose to double cleanse, please ensure that you use a cleanser that is of an appropriate pH.
Back to the acid mantle, this portion of the skin can get disrupted so it is important to maintain its integrity and keep it healthy so that the lipid barrier can function appropriately so that our skin is stable, irritation free. Symptoms of a damaged acid mantle include an uncomfortable tightness after cleansing your face, even when you just splash your face with water, premature aging, or persistent and consistent dryness or flakiness. If you experience any one of these symptoms, I recommend that you should take measures to protect your skin from sun damage, harsh winds or even drying air conditioners/heaters, and review your skincare products. When I say review your skin care, I mean research every single ingredient on the ingredient list! KNOW what you are using.
Overly treating your skin with harsh treatments or even powerful good antioxidants can be too much on your acid mantle, toxic chemicals can also cause damage even when the label says it's good for your skin. Do the research. Take a breather from these products if you sense they may be creating some unwanted symptoms. Most of the time, when the skin is set up for success it will repair itself when we use products that are very simple, free from toxicants and contain ingredients that nurture and nourish each layer.
1. Ultra Gentle Skin Cleansers
2. Alcohol-free Face Mists
4. Moisturizers, will depend on skin type and need
As always, I very seriously and highly recommend sleeping on mulberry silk pillow cases. These matter way more than you may think. Even for healthy skin, they are much better options than cotton.
I hope this helps you understand your skin a little better and why it may be sensitive, breaking out, red and/or dry.