The skin is our largest organ. It is a reflection of our lifestyle choices, and overall health and wellbeing. The skin’s most important function is protection; it prevents environmental toxins from entering our bodies and protects us from dehydration through evaporation.
The outer layer of the skin — the epidermis and its lipids (oily substances) — creates a barrier that keeps out infections, bacteria, viruses and fungi. A lipid-deficient epidermis allows water to escape from the skin, which evaporates causing dryness. Dry, cracked skin creates a vicious cycle of evaporation, losing its ability to protect against infections and bacteria.
The body parts most susceptible to dryness
Some body parts are more prone to dryness than others, depending on their concentration of oil glands. The greatest concentration of oil glands is on the face — the forehead and nose. The chest and back have adequate oil glands for good barrier function. The legs, arms, and hands have few oil glands and tend to be dry. The lips have none and, unlike the skin on the body, lip tissue has no thick, outer protective layer. Lips are constantly moistened by saliva, which evaporates leaving the lips vulnerable to radiation, blisters and cracking.
Hydrated skin protects against external assaults and absorbs nutrients for a healthy radiant appearance. Our skin has a self-regulating process that regenerates on a monthly cycle.
It sheds dead, flattened cells that lie on its surface, making skin appear dull and lifeless, allowing new, living cells to rise. If dead cells don’t shed as quickly as they should, thick, dry skin accumulates.
This further impairs the skin’s normal barrier function. This monthly cycle slows as we age, taking anywhere from 28 to 50 days, which is why there are so many exfoliation products and dermatological procedures on the market to accelerate the process.
These include exfoliating grains, glycolic acids, retinols, microdermabrasion and dermaplaning, which may be used effectively to accelerate natural exfoliation. Approach these techniques intelligently and moderately, though, as we do not know the long-term effects.
Winter skin care tips
Take good care of your skin so it can take care of you. Below are a few tips to help you keep dry skin at bay, especially as winter nears:
• Always use an emollient moisturizer after washing hands. We wash our hands frequently to reduce exposure to viruses and bacteria, but frequent washing breaks down the lipid barrier.
• Drink more water than you think you need each day.
• Dry brushing the skin on the body with a soft, natural fiber brush, stimulates skin renewal by increasing circulation, stimulating oil gland production and removing dead cells.
• Wash and bathe with a gentle cleanser. Antibacterial soaps strip the skin of its protective layer.
• Wash and bathe with warm, not hot water to prevent drying. Apply a rich, creamy moisturizer while skin is damp.
• Choose a good moisturizer. The skin’s ability to absorb nutrients makes a case for concern about what we apply to its surface. Also be aware of the company’s philosophy.
• Avoid skincare products that contain isopropyl lauroyl (from propane), dimethicone (from petroleum oil), laurate (a toxic petroleum byproduct) and parabens (made from petroleum).
Lisa DeKoster is the spa manager at the Vail Vitality Center. She also is a licensed esthetician.