Hi! I'm Salmah and I am a passionate learner about how our skin really works, and what it really needs to be healthy, beautiful and glowing. The more I learn, the more I realize that our skin is amazingly complex and complicated, which is exactly why our skincare doesn't have to be! I share true beauty tips & knowledge on my Instagram, @kiselemental, and invite everyone to join me on my journey of gratitude, honor, mindfulness and love towards healthy glowing skin!
HOW THE SKIN MOISTURIZES ITSELF
Knowing that healthy skin is completely capable of maintaining optimal skin hydration, without the need of much skincare products, is the first step towards allowing our skin to moisturize itself.
The mechanisms of how our skin moisturizes itself are much more high-tech and advanced than any moisturizer or treatment available, simply because our skin maintains optimal hydration from the inside out! The mechanisms aren't even completely understood, and thus cannot be matched by any man-made intervention. What's more, these intricately complex and complicated mechanisms are, in my opinion, the only methods that are capable of truly maintaining optimal levels of hydration for the long-term health and beauty of our skin!
Our skin moisturizes itself by retaining water in its outer layer, the stratum corneum (SC), and it does so in two ways:
1. Through the binding of water from the air, with the help of natural humectants or water-binding properties of Natural Moisturizing Factors (NMFs) found within the corneocytes (matured dead skin cells of the stratum corneum).
The more matured the corneocyte is, the larger its surface area and the more NMFs it can hold –thus, it can hold more water within the skin. This function is supported by certain helpful bacteria found in a balanced skin microbiome, which are able to produce proteins and protein by-products that are similar to NMFs.
2. Through the prevention of water loss from within the layers of the skin due to evaporation (referred to as Trans Epidermal Water Loss or TEWL).
This is achieved with the help of an intact and functional lipid barrier, and is supported by sebum which acts as an occlusive on the surface of the skin.
Because our skin, just like the rest of our body, functions in a holistic manner, optimal skin hydration can only take place when all the mechanisms involved are optimally functioning. The failure of any one of these mechanisms has a detrimental affect on skin hydration, as these mechanisms also work by support of and to support each other.
So, in essence, in order for our skin to maintain optimal hydration levels, it is crucial that:
- its corneocytes are fully matured so as to be able to hold the maximum amounts of NMFs
- its lipid barrier is strong, i.e. fully intact and functional
- its microbiome is healthy and balanced
- its acid mantle maintains an optimal pH balance of pH5.5
When any one or a combination of these aspects are disrupted, damaged or imbalanced, our skin will not be able to retain or hold on to water effectively. This leads to skin that is dehydrated, and symptoms of this can appear as dry, oily, combination skin types, prematurely aging skin, sensitive skin and acne. Prolonged dehydration can lead to flaking or peeling skin, premature lines and wrinkles, increased atopic dermatitis and even eczema.
It is estimated that only 10-15% of women have a genetic disorder that prevents their skin from moisturizing itself efficiently, thus requiring the use of external moisturizers to normal hydration levels. Also, it is important to note that hormonal balance has a major role to play in sebum production and overall skin health, meaning, if we suffer from hormonal imbalances, our skin's mechanisms may not be in balance as well. The majority of hormonal imbalances have their roots in gut imbalance, or dysbiosis, which is why gut health is so important when it comes to healthy skin!
So for most of us, the real reasons for our skin not being able to moisturize/hydrate itself are any one or (more likely) a combination of these factors below:
1. Our Lipid Barrier is damaged, and our skin is not able to repair itself effectively.
This is most probably due to the regular daily use of harsh, surfactant based cleansers and make-up removers, although age and diet also play a factor in our skin's ability to repair lipid barrier damage efficiently.
2. Our Acid Mantle pH balance is constantly being disrupted, or not in the optimal range of pH5.5.
This is most probably due to the regular use of soap or surfactant based cleansers and/or other skincare products that are not pH balanced to the skin.
3. Our Skin Microbiome is not existing in a healthy balance.
This could be due to:
- The constant use of soap and surfactant based face cleansers that kill the good bacteria our skin needs.
- The constant application or over-use of skincare products that contain strong preservatives or anti-bacterial ingredients that kill the good bacteria our skin needs.
- Just using too much stuff and doing to many things to our skin.
- An unhealthy gut microbiome balance.
4. Our Corneocytes do not contain enough NMFs because they are not allowed sufficient time and space to reach full maturity.
This happens mainly from over-exfoliation, or using too much of skincare products that actively promote the “peeling of the skin to expose newer layers of skin.” When this happens too often, we prevent out corneocytes from fully maturing, a process that requires time. Matured corneocytes are larger and flatter in shape, with an increased surface area capable of holding larger amounts of NMF's (manufactured by enzymes within the SC itself) that allow the corneocytes to retain larger amounts of water. In fact, research has suggested that NMFs play a bigger role than the lipid barrier in maintaining skin hydration!
So...How Can We Help Our Skin Stay Moisturized Naturally?
Now that we have a better understand of how our skin moisturizes itself and what prevents it from effectively doing so, below are some healthy skin tips we can practice or at least be mindful about in our daily skincare habits and routines. You may be surprised to find that these tips involve simplifying your routine, and using less skincare stuff, with the possibility of saving you more time and money!
1. Avoid or minimize the use of soaps or surfactant based face cleansers.
This is important to maintain a pH balanced acid mantle and a healthy skin microbiome, which supports the repair and maintenance of a strong lipid barrier. A strong lipid barrier and a balanced sebum production is especially important for those who live or spend a lot of time in dry environments with low humidity. Low humidity environments contain little moisture or water in the air, thus limiting the functionality of NMFs and increasing the rate of water evaporation. Healthy skin is able to counteract this lack of moisture in the air by increasing its sebum production just enough to help support the lipid barrier's function of minimizing TEWL. Instead, try using natural cleansing alternatives like cleansing grains such as oats or rice, raw honey, a gentle face cloth, and oil cleansing.
2. Do not over-exfoliate your skin to allow your corneocytes to mature fully.
Apart from the mechanical means of exfoliation like scrubs and clay based face masks, we also need to mindfully minimize chemical means of exfoliation that are found in certain skincare products. Such products include those that contain acids such as glycolic acid, lactic acid, salicylic acid, retinol, AHA's, BHA's, and anti-acne ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide. The more concentrated it is and the more often we apply it, the more we are removing the matured corneocytes our skin needs for effective hydration.
Healthy skin does not need regular exfoliation because it is able to exfoliate itself! What is even more impressive is that this natural exfoliation process–which I will talk more about in my next post in this series.
3. Allow your sebaceous glands to produce the right amounts of sebum your skin needs, and it will do so in response to its specific environment.
We can encourage this natural, homeostatic balance by:
- not over-moisturizing or under-moisturizing/stripping away excess oils
- minimizing or avoiding the use of soaps and surfactant based cleansers
- using less oil-based products over-night to allow optimal desquamation (natural exfoliation process of the skin)
- use natural humectants such as fresh aloe vera gel or raw honey, and
- just using less stuff on our skin!
By doing so, we give our skin the space and time it needs to regulate its own sebum production, contributing to optimal long-term skin hydration.
4. Support a healthy skin microbiome on our face!
Maintaining a wide variety of good bacteria (and a little of the bad ones as well) is like having your own 24/7 army of microscopic beauticians who help support your skin's innate moisturization functions by producing their NMFs! Here are some ways you can maintain a healthy and balanced skin microbiome:
- Eat foods that promote a healthy gut microbiome.
- Be mindful of skincare products that contain soaps, surfactants, synthetic preservatives, mineral oil, anti-bacterial ingredients and anti-acne ingredients as these can kill off the good bacteria as well the bad.
- If and when we need to cleanse with soap, I recommend going for the mildest of natural soaps like pure castile (made from 100% olive oil) liquid soap or bar soaps.
- Use less stuff on your skin to allow your skin microbiome to breathe!
- Use natural skincare, like pure plant face oils, as they feed the good bacteria.
5. Eat your water!
Research has shown that drinking, and eating, adequate water hydrates the skin as well as applying and external moisturizer! Drinking lots of water is good for overall health, but if we want long-lasting, hydrated skin from the inside out, then it is more efficient to eat our water.
This means eating more water-rich fresh fruits and vegetables, throughout the day. This is even more important for those of us who live in or spend a lot of time in low humidity environments, as our skin is less dependent on its NMFs to maintain hydration. And do load up on fresh fruits and vegetables for dinner to boost our internal hydration, as our skin's lipid barrier loosens up at a night to allow the newer cells to move up through the epidermis more effectively. This loosening up means a less tight lipid barrier, which increases the chances of water loss through evaporation. But if your skin cells are adequately hydrated, this loss is minimal and unlikely to have a detrimental effect on your skin.
And that's it! Isn't our skin just amazing? Now that you know all you need to know to allow your skin to moisturize itself, would you choose to do so? I did, and I haven't regretted it!