Your Skin Knows Exactly How To Heal Itself — Here's How To Help It
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 HEALS ITSELF
The act of healing is proof that our bodies love us unconditionally. The act of healing is an innate, unconscious, and automatic response that occurs at all times. It is our bodies persistence to keep itself whole and maintain balance.
Our skin is an expert in healing and repairing itself. It has to be in able to provide us with the best protective armor against infection and dehydration. Did you know that on a weight basis, the tensile (breaking) strength of normal skin approaches that of steel, yet skin also has substantial elasticity and softness?
If healing should happen so readily and easily, why do some of us struggle with healing our skin? Could it be that there is something that is a barrier to or preventing the complete mechanisms of healing? Could it be that we are that barrier that is preventing our skin from completing its healing function? In reality, this is the truth for most of us!
Let's start by understanding the healing mechanisms of the skin, which in itself is a paradox really! As with a lot of other mechanisms within our bodies, the mechanisms of healing in the human skin is highly dynamic, intricate, and complex; and not yet completely understood. This is partly due to challenges in studying and researching the human skin, which although may be similar to the skin of rats, rabbits, or pigs, possesses many unique healing modalities.
Also, at every phase of the healing process, a multitude of specific and highly specialized enzymes with highly specific functions are involved. And each of these highly specific functions is carefully regulated by other enzymes, whose functions are are then regulated by yet more enzymes or enzyme inhibitors produced by specific cells!
Furthermore, whenever a breakthrough in understanding is made, it usually only presents scientists with more unanswered questions. The more I read scientific research and journals about the skin, the more I am convinced that our skin truly works in magical ways!
So in our feeble attempt in understanding the amazing healing capabilities of our skin, let's start with understanding the basic definition of what it is. Skin healing is the process by which our skin restores normal function to the skin after an injury. It is a complex series of physiological processes that take place at the moment of injury and can continue for months or years.
PHASES OF SKIN HEALING
To put it as simply as possible, there are 4 main phases that take place in skin healing:
Phase 1 : Hemostasis
The first and shortest phase of the wound healing cascade is hemostasis. Hemostasis is the process of forming a blood clot to stop bleeding. All of the factors required for blood clotting reside in the plasma.
Phase 2: Inflammation
Acute inflammation in response to injury is a platelet-dependent reaction triggered simultaneously with the activation of hemostasis. Inflammatory cells, produced mainly by our immune system, are deployed to the wound site to prevent infection by killing bacteria and to break down any foreign materials and devitalized or dead tissue. It is important to note that although inflammatory cells are crucial in the healing process, the presence of too many inflammatory cells can cause damage to collagen and elastin found in the skin, and prevent the healing cascade from progressing. This results in a prolonged inflammatory phase and delays the completion of the healing process. Acne is an example of this prolonged inflammation phenomenon. Also, it is important to note that the less inflammatory cells present, the less is the scarring potential of the healed skin.
Phase 3: Proliferation
The proliferation phase begins two to three days after injury, and is marked by the activation of fibroblasts by inflammatory mediators and growth factors released during the acute inflammatory phase. Fibroblasts are cells that produce collagen as well as other components that form the intra-cellular matrix of the skin, which helps to bind the cells together and act as a matrix for crucial cell activities. What happens here is that new cells, collagen, elastin, and other essential proteins found within the skin are quickly being made and randomly organized in order to close up the wound and preserve the skin's protective functions as quickly as possible. New capillaries and vessels are also quickly formed in this stage; although in a rather haphazard, random manner as well. All this quick and random regeneration results in the formation scar tissue, which serves the basic protective function of the skin, but may not look as refined or work as well as normal skin tissue.
Phase 4: Remodeling
This is where the mechanisms of skin healing become more of an art rather than a science! In this final phase of skin healing (which can take up to two years or more), specific enzymes have the function of breaking down or removing excess tissue and cells. There is also a reduction in the number of capillaries and vessels, as smaller ones are combined into larger ones to increase their efficiency. Changes also occur in the type, amount, and organization of collagen, leading to an enhancement in the strength of skin tissue. This phase is when scar tissue begin to appear more refined, and normal skin functions and capabilities (e.g the sense of touch) is slowly but surely being restored. A main factor that affects the efficiency of this phase is the integrity of the surrounding skin tissue itself. Meaning, if the surrounding skin tissue is intact (e.g. its lipid barrier and keratinocyte cells), the refining process can take place more efficiently, resulting in minimal scarring.
Now that we more or less have some understanding of how our skin heals and restores itself, we are better able to appreciate the factors that promote healing, as well as the barriers that prevent this otherwise automatic process. Most disruption of skin healing occurs at either the inflammation stage (e.g acne), or the remodeling stage (e.g persistence of scar tissue).
BARRIERS VS PROMOTERS OF SKIN HEALING
Flow of blood and lymph. Optimal blood flow supplies our skin with the immune cells essential to initiate healing, and feeds the skin cells with the building blocks it needs for regeneration and repair. An optimal lymph flow allows for the quick and efficient removal of waste products, resulting from the intense repair and regeneration work. If these waste products build up, the inflammation phase is prolonged and healing is stagnated. Exercise, deep breathing, and deep belly laughters are a great way to allow optimal blood and lymph flow in our bodies!
Skin that is not intact, healthy, or balanced. Intact, healthy, and balanced skin microbiome, acid mantle, keratinocyte cells, and lipid barrier are important for the smooth transition of the phases of skin healing. A compromise to any of these can lead to dehydrated skin, pH imbalanced skin, and skin that is open to further or persistent infections; reducing the efficiency of the numerous enzymes involved and prolonging the inflammation response. This is why it is very important to be very gentle with your skin. Use gentle, minimal, and all natural skincare products as much as possible. The less stuff we apply on our skin, the less potential of damage and imbalance there will be.
Stress. Depression, anxiety, smoking, and alcohol intake feeds our bodies with high levels of inflammatory cells. This floods the wound site with an excess of inflammatory cells, prolonging the inflammation response and thus stagnating the healing process. Practicing self-love and self-care are great ways to reduce and eliminate what we allow to be stressors in our lives.
Poor food intake and poor gut health. A diet high in processed and inflammatory-causing food leads to imbalanced hormones and immune function, reducing the efficiency of certain enzymes or their inhibitors, and also creates an excess of inflammatory cells in the body. Also, the lack of essential nutrients handicaps our skin from its healing process as it lacks the essential building blocks for repair and regeneration. A tip here is to start eating consciously! Avoid processed food, and minimize the intake of processed sugar. However, eat all the whole fruits you like without worrying about the natural sugars. Ensure that our meals are at least 50% plant based (raw and cooked), and contain sufficient amounts of high quality proteins, essential fats, and high-fiber carbohydrates.
Sleep. The less we sleep, the less time we give our skin to repair and renew itself, as it is during our sleep phase that most of the skin repair and renewing work takes place. Get at least 7 - 8 hours of sleep to maximize your body's self-repairing mechanisms!
The above are the fundamental factors that affect how well our skin heals itself, and so must first be addressed before the external application of any products or ingredients that claim to boost skin healing.
Nature is abundant with skin healing herbs and remedies, and the simplest and most easily available ones are:
Raw Honey. Honey has wound cleansing and healing properties that include decreased inflammatory edema, attraction of macrophages to further cleanse the wound, accelerated sloughing of devitalized tissue, provision of a local cellular energy source, and formation of a protective layer of protein over the wound and a healthy granulation bed. Honey also has antibacterial properties. Pure, unpasteurized honey is composed of approximately 40% glucose, 40% fructose, 20% water and trace amounts of amino acids, vitamins, enzymes, and minerals; all of which enhance the rate of repair, renewal, and regeneration in the skin.
Aloe Vera. Aloe vera gel accelerates skin and vascular regeneration, and increased wound contraction in the later stage of the wound healing process—leading to a more refined appearance. It is alleged that sap from Aloe vera eases pain and reduces inflammation. It has antiseptic and antibiotic properties which make it highly valuable in treating cuts and abrasions. It has also been commonly used to treat first and second degree burns, as well as sunburns and eczema. It is very effective on open wounds and is a promising herbal drug.
Turmeric. Traditionally it has been proved to have anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and antiseptic properties.
However, as much as we want to help our skin to hasten its healing process by the application or the ingestion of products, ingredients or supplements, it is important to note that true healing can only come when we allow our skin to heal itself, with its own mechanisms and wisdom, and in its own time.
In order to allow this to take place optimally, we need to find the balance in knowing how much external stuff our skin really needs (which is usually not much), and more importantly, feed our gut with nutrient-rich, healing, and health-sustaining food.
Trust should also be given to our microbiomes, in the gut and on our skin, as when in a healthy and balanced state, they communicate with our skin and bodies at such a micro and intimate level, and thus are able to produce for our skin exactly what our skin calls for.
On a final note, nothing is more healing, or is able to boost our innate healing capabilities than gratitude. Gratitude for how awesome our skin is at protecting us from harm and keeping us alive. My personal prescription for accelerated skin healing? Gratitude, three times a day, everyday!