If I had a dollar for every online client I’ve had come to me in the past few weeks with dry, irritated, sensitive, bumpy or flaky skin – let’s just say I’d be one very happy lady… if I wasn’t also battling with similar skin issues myself, that is! Allow me to explain why isolation can wreak havoc on your skin, and give you a couple of simple solutions.
What does unhappy skin have to do with isolation? Plenty. And it all comes down to hydration.
It’s estimated that up to 97% of Australians suffer from dehydration, which is basically the trigger for most of the skin conditions we see in clinic and in our online consults. Dehydrated skin (or, skin with poor corneocyte compaction) is not only about a lack of water consumption, it can occur when the structural integrity of our skin is compromised.
Imagine a grape. When it’s full of water it’s plump and juicy. When it’s dehydrated, it’s all shrivelled and wrinkly. But what if you were to damage the outer skin of that plump, juicy grape? You’d lose fluid and would be susceptible to bacteria and pathogens. It’s exactly the same with your skin. If your barrier layer is compromised, that’s when we start to see dry and flaky skin, inflammation and breakouts.
To explain, let’s start at the beginning. Things are going to get a little scientific, but stay with me.
Our skin has three major layers: epidermis, dermis and hypodermis.
The layer that we are focused on today is the epidermis, which is also known as the epithelial layer of the skin, or the communication layer. It acts as a physical barrier, preventing loss of water from the body, and just as importantly, it prevents the entry of substances and organisms into the body.
Within the epidermis, we have three main types of cell:
When we talk about the appearance of the skin in terms of smoothness and hydration, we’re mainly talking about keratinocytes. The primary function of keratinocytes is to form a barrier against environmental damage from heat, UV radiation, water loss, pathogenic bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses.
In a nutshell?
Strong cell wall = healthy, hydrated skin.
Weak cell wall = dull, dry, flaky, irritated skin.
Keratinocytes require a strong outer cell wall in order to do their job effectively, and the membranes of these skin cells are perhaps some of the most important in the human body, since they represent the ultimate barrier between our inner selves and the outside world. These membranes are made up of essential fatty acids, or EFAs.
Our body isn’t able to produce essential fatty acids, so it’s vital that we consume them in our diet. As with all essential nutrients, the process of breaking down EFAs begins with our digestion. Once food has passed from the stomach (where it is broken down) into the small intestines, it combines with good bacteria to create and release new compounds which are absorbed into the bloodstream. From here, these compounds circulate in the blood, distributing nutrients to wherever they are needed. As with hydration, these compounds are delivered to our vital internal organs first, and eventually make it to our skin.
If we don’t consume enough essential fatty acids, our keratinocytes aren’t able to communicate properly with other cells as they move through the layers of the epidermis to the surface of the skin. The result? Skin cells keep stacking up as the natural process of shedding halts, leading to dry and dull skin.
So, what do we do? We exfoliate, right? WRONG. Over-exfoliation is likely to cause inflammation, which leads to an impaired barrier – welcome back, angry and inflamed skin!
It’s easy to see, then, how a lack of adequate nutrition or hydration (or in many cases, both!) can lead to dry, dull, flaky skin: if your body doesn’t have enough to fuel your vital organs, it won’t have a surplus to send to your skin! For many of us isolation has triggered comfort eating (and drinking), and as we’ve been knocked off our normal routine, so too has our skin.
The standard Western diet is sorely lacking in essential fatty acids, so it’s really important to ensure you consume adequate amounts of good fats in your diet (think nuts, seeds, avocados and oily fish). I recommend you also supplement with a high quality Omega-3 supplement like this one. It’s also really important to drink a lot of water throughout the day – set a timer on your phone to remind you if you keep forgetting! You may be surprised to learn that, because our bodies require water for most of our body processes – it has to go to all the other vital organs, and only about 13% of the water we drink makes it to our skin layers. And that’s only if you’re drinking enough to begin with! Three litres a day is the minimum you should be aiming for, if you have no underlying skin conditions.
And for the outside? I recommend Dermaviduals, a dermatological skincare range free of all the usual nasties: emulsifiers, fragrance, perfume, mineral oils, silicone, colours, and preservatives. These can all interrupt the barrier of the skin, so it’s important to know what goes into the products you put on your face.
I’d love to help you on your journey to beautiful skin. You can book an online consultation here, or you can check out my SkinFit90 online program, which covers all the skincare basics from the inside, out.