8 Things I've Learned About Skin & Skincare

Partly why this blog was born at all was my love for skincare. I would describe myself as a skin freak, and I go out of my way to learn about skin and skincare, even having mockingly dubbed myself 'a black market dermatologist'.

Although, obviously, for the sake of clarity: I am not actually a dermatologist, don't have any certification or training, and am merely just an enthusiast. That being said, I am fascinated by our largest organ; I wanted to know what it's for, how it works, and what troubles it. So here's a few little interesting (in my opinion, at least) tidbits I've learnt recently. 

1. The Environmental Working Group provides a very useful database - the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database - where you can access information on cosmetic ingredients, like their purpose, hazard risk and studies. Whilst on my mission to free my skincare of fragrance, I've been using it a lot to look up ingredients to see if its 'official' function (based on scientific research) is just as a fragrance, despite the marketing claims. For example, sweet almond oil is often touted as being moisturising, but according to the database, it is just a fragrance ingredient. EWG is based in the US but I think this may even mean the data is more reliable because skincare is regulated like a drug in America (but I am just speculating!)

2. Speaking of fragrance, another thing I've learned is that our immune system hates it being put on our skin. It is a very common allergen, with the allergy having the potential to develop at any time, even if you've not previously had an issue with it. Fragrance is also a sensitiser: that is to say not only can you develop an issue with the fragrance itself, it can make other ingredients that you have previously got on well with, irritate your skin as well. Basically, it's a no-no. Dr Dray has a lot to say about it, and I highly recommend watching her very informative videos.

3. Spots form when sebum - a substance secreted by the oil glands in our skin - gets trapped in hair follicles (those things colloquially known as 'pores'!), sometimes because it is 'plugged' in there by keratin. Keratin - otherwise known as dead skin - can accumulate on the surface of the skin (known as hyperkeratinisation) .

4. Inflammation is the last stage in acne pathogenesis. The inflammation is caused by keratin, sebum and bacteria 'spilling' from the spot when it is ruptured. And when does it rupture? When we squeeze it. Yes, I know you do. I do too, despite my best efforts to resist. So it's true, squeezing a spot is massively counter productive, and learning a bit more about why has really helped me to stop pimple popping (although I admit the temptation is still there). A doctor named Armando Hasudungan posted this short but useful video on the pathophysiology of acne.

5. Using a cleansing oil is more beneficial (particularly in the evening) than a soap or a cream cleanser  on the basis that 'like dissolves like': oil dissolves oil. So a cleansing oil - based on that logic - is more effective at removing excess oil, i.e sebum.

6. UVB is essential to kick start the process our bodies undergo to make vitamin D. We need to absorb some UVB, but in moderation and with adequate protection.

7. I mentioned how important it is to wear SPF all year round in this recent post, touching briefly on how UVA rays damage our DNA, so I thought I'd go into more detail: unlike UVB, UVA is barely absorbed by our O Zone layer and our atmosphere. No matter where you are in the world, you are susceptible to UVA damage, but you are more at risk the closer you get to the equator. UVA penetrates deeply into the dermis and damages the connective tissue in the skin like collagen and elastin. UVA also breaks down one of our essential vitamins: folate. Our body doesn't make folate by itself, we have to get it from our food - so not only do we have to actively consume it, what folate we do have in our bodies is then susceptible to being broken down by UVA. Folate is necessary for making DNA because it is an essential ingredient for metabolising amino acids needed for cell division. Without enough folate for cell division to occur, sperm production is hindered and - if you're a pregnant woman - the embryo may not be able to develop the brain and spinal chord.
Diagram credit: ResearchGate
8. It was interesting to learn about how our skin pigment (or lack of) evolved because of how ultraviolet radiation impacts our bodies. Skin pigment is known as melanin; caucasian people have no melanin, it is responsible for the dark appearance of black skin (and even of a dogs nose!) and also functions as a natural sunscreen. Early humans originated in Africa and had darkly pigmented skin to protect from the high UVA/B. Around 1.8 million years ago our ancestors started to spread across the globe - particularly into Europe - where they were exposed to considerably less ultraviolet radiation. Whilst melanin was so helpful in Africa, further away from the equator, this natural SPF meant humans couldn't synthesise vitamin D - the vitamin which regulates the calcium in our body - which led to disorders like rickets. Speaking in Darwinian terms, this limited reproductive success (not only because of the obvious difficulty of surviving with rickets) because women who had rickets as young women had 'flatter' pelvises which made bearing children difficult to impossible. So as early humans migrated into Europe, lower UVB exposure + melanin = less reproductive success. The evolutionary answer was to lose the melanin! Lighter pigmented skin meant early humans were able to absorb more UVB to make vitamin D. Researchers have suggested that Homo Neanderthalensis (commonly known as neanderthals) have a 'genetic signature' of losing skin pigment. Not only that, but the loss of skin pigment occurred independently across the globe: Europeans developed their pale skin colour, Indians developed their tan skin colour, asians developed their skin tone - all entirely separately (known as convergent evolution) as adaptions to their own environments to get the necessary volume of UV. Here is an interesting lecture by Dr Nina Jablonski: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d4KcRMTKImQ&t=1924s 

Thank you for reading!

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