What does it mean to have truly “healthy skin”?
The term can conjure up vastly different things depending on who you ask. Some of us picture smoother skin with less visible fine lines, some envision brighter skin with no signs of acne or irritation and some imagine plumper, lifted skin with no sagging in sight. But despite all our individual skin goals, the reality is that there are three fundamental keys to skin health for everyone: an intact skin barrier, a balanced microbiome and a natural pH level.
What is barrier function?
Our skin barrier is the first line of defense our body has against the outside world. It’s made up of a delicate, breathable mesh of skin cells that are held together by glue-like lipids and ceramides. This barrier allows water to evaporate from our skin at a healthy rate and keeps harmful pollution, toxins and bacteria out of our bodies. As we age, our skin naturally produces less of the lipids and ceramides that keep our barrier intact. Using harsh exfoliants, serums and cleansers can also strip lipids away creating further weakness, leaving our skin susceptible to environmental stressors that can cause redness, hyperpigmentation and premature skin aging.
The first step to healthy skin is restoring this natural structure with ceramides and lipid-rich moisturizers and barrier-friendly cleansers that are sulfate-free and formulated to remove excess dirt and makeup without stripping natural skin oils. Certain products can actually “jump start” your skin to produce more of these lipids and ceramides on its own.
The balanced microbiome
The idea that sterile or completely “clean” skin is healthy is a common misconception. Normal human skin is home to millions of bacteria that prevent the growth of harmful organisms and maintain the immunity of our skin and bodies. Unique to every one of use, this living ecosystem is home to prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics. Good bacteria populations help protect and calm the skin and prevent yeast, mold and harmful bacteria like the ones that cause acne.
Prebiotics are the “fertilizer” or “food,” so to speak, that encourages healthy microorganisms to grow; probiotics are the microorganisms themselves; and postbiotics are the biological byproducts of bacteria, such as antimicrobial peptides and lactic acid.
When balanced, this collection of bacteria on skin keeps each other in check, working to create a healthy ecosystem with anti-aging and anti-inflammatory effects. When this diversity is disrupted, skin can no longer protect its barrier functions, leading to bacterial infections, altered skin pH and decreased protection against environmental stressors such as free radicals, UV radiation and pollution.
Despite all the good intentions behind our everyday hygiene practices, over washing, long hot showers, and overuse of harsh cleansers and exfoliators can do more harm than good. Using the correct biotic-rich skincare products will fortify the microbiome to maintain healthy skin function.
What role does pH play?
Our skin is a bit like goldilocks - it likes a perfect balance. Not too acidic and not too alkaline, healthy skin does best when it is acidic at a level between 4.5-5.2. This acidity actually helps to improve the function of our microbiome and prevent the growth of harmful bacteria strains, such as acne, to grow out of control. Common household products such as bar soap tend to be much more alkaline than our skin would prefer and can cause our pH level to drift upwards- resulting in drier, more sensitive skin that is susceptible to a range of inflammation-based issues.
On the other hand, people who routinely use highly acidic products such as at-home or professional peels, may be wearing at their acid mantle- creating sensitive skin that is susceptible to burns, redness and irritation. Ultimately, it is important to use products that will work to maintain or restore the skin’s natural healthy pH despite what other environmental exposure may cause it to fluctuate.
The key to really understanding skin health is knowing that each of these elements exist in a delicate interdependent balance with one another. And because our skin is always changing and adapting to its environment, these three aspects may fluctuate in relationship to one another. That is why it is so important to reinforce the health of all three at every step in our skincare regimens. By supporting on a regular basis, you can be sure that you are doing long-term good for your skin’s health..