Skin is the largest and one of the most important organs you have.
Unfortunately, skin is often left out of health discussions or reduced to something that we only need to tend if we want to escape the aging process.
While I believe the aging of our skin is an important issue, I also know and believe that the skin plays a much bigger part in our overall health and well-being, so this month we’re gonna address skin health in a 4-part blog series.
We’ll start in this post by talking about the physiology of your skin its many functions. The second post will provide dietary recommendations that will help you to prevent premature aging of the skin and skin cancer. Next, we’ll discuss one of the most common skin conditions I see in my practice and in the final post, I’ll share some of my favorite skin care products.
Now that you know what to expect, let’s get started!
Your skin exists to protect you, and when it’s healthy it does just that.
It creates a barrier between your internal organs and the outside environment, protecting them from bacteria and viruses that could cause harm and illness if they were to enter into your body. It is your first line of defense against injury and disease.
In addition to being a protective barrier, your skin is also responsible for the following:
Absorbing nutrients and moisture
Your skin doesn’t just keep things out, it also brings things in when necessary. We absorb things like the sunlight that aids in the body’s production of Vitamin D, an essential nutrient. We absorb moisture from the air which helps to keep us hydrated, and often as a doctor I prescribe transdermal or topical treatments for conditions, like rashes and dermatitis. The skin is able to absorb these treatments and use them to heal from the outside in.
Maintaining body temperature
Our skin helps to maintain the fluid balance in our bodies, which is an essential part of maintaining the proper body temperature. It controls moisture loss – when we’re overheating internally, we sweat to keep ourselves cool and maintain the proper internal temperature. It’s a protective mechanism that allows the fluid to be transferred back and forth.
That said, it’s very important to be aware of how moist your skin is – dry, flaky skin can be a sign of dehydration. As a preventative measure, try the pinch test. Lightly pinch the skin on your forearm. If it takes longer than 2-3 seconds to return to normal, you could be dehydrated.
Protecting the body from injury
Your skin is made up of three layers: the epidermis, the dermis, and the subcutaneous fat layer (1). The epidermis is the outermost layer with the thickness of a piece of paper. The dermis is the middle layer and its thickness varies based on where it is located on the body. For example, you have very thick dermis on your back, but thin and fragile dermis under your eyes. The subcutaneous fat layer is the deepest layer of skin and is made up of collagen and fat cells. These protect the body from injury by acting as a shock absorber.
Your skin is also a sensory organ. It contains nerve fibers and that allow you to perceive both pleasurable and potentially painful changes in your environment. Through these sensory nerve fibers touch, cold, warmth, and pain are easily perceived (2).
Your skin is an incredible multitasker and because it is responsible for so much, there are several different factors that can impact the health of your skin:
- Environmental toxins and pollution
- Hormone Imbalances
- Medical conditions, like diabetes and autoimmune diseases
- Poor Diet and Lifestyle
- Chronic Stress
- Lack of sleep
The health of your skin is a major indicator of your internal health. All of the factors listed above can create imbalances in your body. These imbalances, if not corrected, will be reflected in the state of your skin. In fact, as a doctor, I often look at my patients’ skin to help me understand what might be happening inside their bodies. I can tell a lot about a patients health by noting the elasticity of the skin, it’s radiance, and how it feels.
Skin cells are born all the time and then rise to the epidermal layers of the skin. Young skin regenerates its surface area every two to three weeks on the epidermal layer (3).
Later in this series, I’ll discuss acne. It is the most common skin condition I see in my office, but there are several other skin conditions that affect millions of Americans, like eczema and psoriasis (4). These are skin conditions that cause the skin to become red, itchy, and inflamed.
Other common skin conditions are dandruff, hives, and stretch marks. These are all indications of inflammation and imbalance in the body that can be treated, and in many cases prevented.
In the next blog post of this series, I’ll provide you with some dietary recommendations that will help you do just that – decrease inflammation, prevent premature aging of your skin and reduce the likelihood of skin conditions like the ones mentioned.