Did you know that the skin is our largest organ? It’s part of our presentation to the world and yet we probably don’t always give it the attention it deserves.
What makes up the skin?
The external and visible layer of our skin is called the epidermis and acts as a physical barrier to external threats. It also works to control the body’s temperature, working as a thermostat to keep us warm or cool. The epidermis is continually renewing itself, by shedding old skin cells and remarkably regenerates every 28 days.
The second and middle layer of the skin is the dermis. This layer is comprised of connective tissue, collagen, nerve endings, sweat glands, muscles and blood vessels. Its main function is to support and protect the skin and plays a role in sensation.
The third and deepest layer of the skin is the hypodermis and is the layer which contains adipose (fat) lobules. These store energy, insulate the body, and connect the dermis layer of our skin to muscles and bones. This layer also contains the fascia which is a thin casing of connective tissue that surrounds and holds every organ, nerve and muscle in place within our body.
The skin microbiome
The skin also has its own intricate ecosystem which supports a diverse collection of microorganisms. It is colonised by bacteria, fungi and viruses and a wide range of factors contribute to the diversity of the skin’s ecosystem. Extrinsic factors such as sunlight, climate, hygiene, and exposure to chemicals, as well as intrinsic factors such as sleep, metabolism, genetics, and hormones all influence the skin microbiome.
A comparison we don’t often make is that the gut and skin share many features. The inner surface of the gut and outer surface of the skin are both covered by epithelial cells, which have direct contact with the outside environment. These cells maintain an important link between the body’s internal and external environment.
Both the skin and gut respond to stress and anxiety. Several skin pathologies also present as gut conditions, such as acne which can be driven by the skin microbiome composition, sebum production, diet, and hormonal factors. Diets high in saturated fat (which often include a high glycaemic load) strongly correlate with acne. While the gastrointestinal microbiome is only one of many factors contributing to acne, it has an undeniable impact. Until now, the exact mechanism is unclear, but it is likely an influence of the gut microbiome on the immune system.
Our skin ages internally (known as chronological aging) and externally (known as photo-aging). Internal aging is affected by age, ethnicity, and genes. It is characterised by dry skin, loss of elasticity, fine wrinkles, and dullness. External skin aging is caused by long term exposure to ultraviolet radiation (the sun!), and presents as wrinkles, skin dullness, capillary expansion, and pigmentation. Poor dietary habits have been shown to contribute to accelerated skin aging.
Nutrition for the skin
Nutrition has an important role to play in our skin health by reducing inflammation and cellular damage. Alongside diet, increasing hydration can significantly contribute to the rehydration of skin cells, plumping the skin, reducing fine lines and supporting the removal of excess toxins from the skin.
Protein obtained through the diet has been shown to be important for maintaining tissue renewal and repair. Protein can support collagen synthesis, because as we age our skin loses collagen, which is the peptide that supports the skin’s elasticity. Vitamin C has also been found to support collagen synthesis and reduce skin aging. Eating healthy fats such as oily fish, seeds, nuts support in help modulate skin inflammation.
Vitamin D also helps to reduce inflammation as well as DNA damage and damage caused by the sun. B vitamins have been shown to reduce inflammation and pigmentation.
Polyphenols which can be found in fruit, vegetables, tea and wine are able to efficiently reduce oxidative damage to the skin through their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
Our skin is constantly fighting off threats and toxins which can disrupt the microbiome and damage the skin surface. Just a single application of skincare or hygiene product has the potential to alter the skin chemistry for extended periods of time. To support our skin health, it is important to opt for natural products that have a lesser toxicity overload on our system.
And our lifestyle impacts our skin too. Smoking has also been shown to greatly affect the skin, causing pigmentation and aging. Alongside this alcohol can reduce the skins permeability which can lead to damaging its barrier function. Poor sleep can affect the skin’s elasticity and increase aging of skin cells.
Here’s our top tips for skin health:
Prioritise sleep, focusing on 8-10 hours of good quality sleep
Moderate your sun exposure
Diet – aim for optimal protein, fats, antioxidants
Ditch the sugar
Eat a colourful and varie diet to support gut microbiome
Go easy on the alcohol
Stay hydrated – keep drinking water through the day
Choose your skin products carefully – aim for them to be clean and organic