Like the soil of the earth our skin needs a nourishing environment to thrive: plenty of water, a variety of nutrients and diversity of species. Our skin is an indicator of our internal environment, as all of this nourishment is absorbed internally. However, our skin is also an indicator of our external environment, the quality of air and the products that we use. We may not be able to change the quality of air but we can certainly change the quality of our skincare products. Synthetic skincare products tend to contain a cocktail of chemicals that breakdown our natural defense barrier of beneficial micro-flora. When this barrier breaks down our skin is more susceptible to further damage from the atmosphere, such as harmful bacteria, or from our skincare, such as harmful chemicals. Our skin creates a layer of defense on the very surface by secreting oils or lipids known as sebum, as well as antibodies that recognise pathogens and lysosomes that engulf pathogens before they have a chance to penetrate. By using pure plant extracts we are receiving a cocktail of nutrients to support the protective outer layer and nourish the deeper layers.
Your skin has many layers, lets look at them from the most superficial to the deep. The layers are known as epidermis, dermis and hypodermis.
The epidermis is five layers deep and is made up of keratinocytes, melanocytes, and Langerhans cells that are responsible for our skins immunity. The very top protective layer has between 15-20 layers of flattened dead keratinocytes that we naturally and spontaneously shed. Exfoliating once a week or fortnight is fine but everyday will leave your skin more vulnerable and susceptible to inflammation and infection. Melanocytes produce melanin, which is the pigment that gives our skin tone and protects us from the radiation of the sun.
The dermis is below the epidermis, ‘epi’ means above or on top. The dermis has two layers and is made of connective tissue such as collagen and elastin. The top layer is thinner, looser and more flexible, and the bottom layer is thicker and denser. The top layer contains blood vessels and nerve endings, allowing the sense of touch. The skin also perceives fundamental environmental changes such as temperature and by thermoregulation the skin produces sweat when it is hot in order to cool down.
The bottom layer of our dermis contains sweat glands, holocrine, apocrine and merocrine glands. Holocrine glands can also be called sebaceous glands because they secrete the oily substance known as sebum onto the skin to protect our skin from the outside environment. Apocrine glands are mostly dormant until puberty when they become active and begin to secrete hormones such as pheromones. They are linked to our nervous system and therefore produce sweat when we feel stressed or anxious. Merocrine glands secrete our general sweat made up of water and salts as a response to temperature. They also release immune cells such as lysosomes and even waste products from cellular metabolism.
OILS / FATS / LIPIDS
Oils in our skincare help to create the protective layer of sebum, the lipid-rich intercellular matrix that surrounds each cell giving our skin lustre. The oil in our skincare enhances the integrity of our cellular membranes that lock in hydration and gives our skin plumpness. The top layer of our skin is likened to a brick wall, our skin cells being the bricks and the lipid layers are the mortar. The make up of our lipid layer, or mortar, are naturally similar to plant oils, so that when we apply oils we are providing nutrients that are readily available and are non-toxic to our skin. Whatever we apply to our skin gets absorbed into the deeper layers of the collagen fibers and even into our blood stream. Therefore, we can use our skincare to support the underlying structural integrity of our skin and allow our bodies intelligence to transport nutrients to the highest priority areas via our blood stream. Oils in our diet do the same, supporting the radiance of our skin from the inside-out. To enhance the health of our skin from the outside-in we need to use pure plant oils from a variety of sources with a variety of fatty acid profiles. Here we will look at the fatty acid profiles, their sources and what their therapeutic action in the skin.
The most abundant Saturated Fatty Acids in our skin are palmitic acid and stearic acid, they make up the highest quantity of fatty acids in the lipid-rich intercellular matrix of our skin. They are found in avocado oil, tamanu oil, cacao butter, marula oil, olive oil, wheatgerm oil, shea butter, macadamia oil and sea buckthorn fruit oil.
A common Mono-Unsaturated Fatty Acid is Oleic Acid, it is found in olive oil, almond oil, apricot oil, tamanu oil, carrot seed oil, cacao butter, macadamia oil, canola oil, neem oil, shea nut butter, sesame oil, argan oil and avocado oil. In our food Oleic Acid is a precursor to Linoleic Acid (Omega 6), this means that with a sufficiently nutritious diet your body will use co-factors, such as vitamins, to convert Oleic Acid into Linoleic Acid as needed. Within skincare MUFA’s are rich and nutritive, yet are not well absorbed, and some can even exacerbate inflammatory skin conditions when used on their own, and therefore need to be balanced with a higher ratio of PUFA’s.
Poly-Unsaturated Fatty Acids include our essential fatty acids omega 6 and omega 3.
Linoleic Acid is found in flaxseed, black currant seed, borage, hempseed, grape seed, rosehip, sea buckthorn, evening primrose, walnut, wheatgerm, sunflower, safflower oils. It is the most abundant PUFA of the epidermis. Applied topically it reduces scaliness and UV-induced hyperpigmentation, and over time, as the barrier of the skin is regenerated it reduces sensitivity.
Arachadonic Acid is a pro-inflammatory fatty acid that is part of the immune system, unlike other PUFAs, it is produced endogenously and it is the second most abundant PUFA in the epidermis. It is released from cell membranes as an inflammatory response to intruding microbes or damaging particles. That is why using oils topically is so therapeutic for inflamed skin, they build the protective shield of the skin, the weaker this protective shield the stronger the inflammatory response.
Gamma Linolenic Acid is found in borage and evening primrose oils, and is produced in the body from Linoleic Acid. It is softening, and improves elasticity and firmness. GLA is often taken internally as a supplement to improve skin health, particularly because it helps to restore hormonal imbalances.
a-Linolenic-Acid is found in flaxseed, kiwiseed and walnut oils. It protects against UVB sunlight damage, reduces inflammation, and enhances recovery post damage. Part of the specialized anti-inflammatory effects of ALA is that it reduces epidermal hyper-proliferation, such as with inflamed and scaly eczema and psoriasis conditions. ALA is the most sensitive fatty acid meaning that it is highly susceptible to oxidative damage, and therefore requires blending with oils that are high in fat-soluble antioxidants such as vitamin A (beta carotene) and Vitamin E (tocopherols).
Natural skincare ingredients are basically food that we apply topically, like the food we eat it has a short shelf life. In the same token, like baking, we wouldn’t eat baking soda or a block of butter on its own, it is the alchemy of blending the ingredients that makes baking taste magic. Blending ingredients for skincare is the same alchemical process. Pure oil blends are our preferred skincare products simply because they have a longer shelf life and therefore do not need any synthetic preservatives added to them. Our products are as pure as we can make them, however it is vital that our water-based products, creams and serums, contain a synthetic preservative to prevent the growth of harmful pathogens. Water-based skincare products are highly susceptible to cultivating bacteria, mould and fungal growths. Phenoxyethanol and Ethylhexylglycerin (PE) is the preservative blend that we use in our water-based products. Phenoxyethanol is a synthetic alcohol that is an effective antimicrobial agent that requires less than 1% concentration within a skincare product to be effective. Think of it like the teaspoon of baking soda you might add to a cake. Out of all of the skincare preservatives on the market it is the least harmful, such as that it is not a carcinogenic formaldehyde or estrogenic paraben. However, at high concentrations, which you do not find in skincare but in laboratories, it is known to cause irritation or an allergic to those with extra sensitive skin. It is found naturally in green tea, grapefruit, rose and strawberries. Ethylhexylglycerin (derived from vegetable glycerin) enhances the effect of phenoxyethanol, which means that less is needed. PE is stable, effective and has a broad, balanced spectrum of effect against bacteria, yeasts, mould and fungi. We see it as a necessary evil to ensure that our creams and serums are providing the best nutrients to your skin without the risk of contamination.
If you wish to avoid preservatives altogether, we recommend keeping your skincare simple and pure by using organic oil blends like our Ylang Ylang Nourishing Face Oil, Neroli Light Face Oil, or Sun Wind Sea Restorative Face Oil. To see the pure oil ingredients that we use head to our website http://www.wellingtonapothecary.co.nz/