Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who Has the Finest Skin of All?

Skin requires unique nourishment and protection based on skin type.

A basic foundation of a house includes a cement slab on the ground to hold a frame structure, walls and a roof. Without the basics, your house will fall apart and fail at protecting you from the outside world and the weather. Similarly, our skin shields us daily with its three layers: the outer epidermis, below that is the dermis and then the subcutis, fat layer. Not only is our skin the Body’s largest and heaviest organ, but it is also our most invader-susceptible organ. Harmful agents such as bacteria, chemicals, over-exposure of sunlight and pollutants from the environment attack our skin and many of them get through.

Just as fish use their gills to breathe, skin breathes through its pores. Pores absorb topical skin products (including any chemicals that are in them) and, depending on the ingredients, can have either a detrimental or beneficial outcome. Think of them as vacuums, soaking up chemicals and ingredients that harm the skin. Except, consumers can chose to forgo the toxins in regular products by picking only natural and organic ingredients such as vitamins, to allow the skin to breathe freely and remain radiant with care.

Skin varies from one person to the next, and in order to keep our skin healthy, we must be mindful of the major kinds of skin types: oily, dry and sensitive, as well as how to hydrate our sometimes desert-like skin. Also, skin changes with age and starts to lose its elasticity, softness, luster, flexibility and youthfulness. So, let’s get more than skin deep and find out what the fuss is all about.

Caution: Beware of These Ingredients

Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration oversees the multi-billion-dollar-a-year cosmetics industry (and others), but it lacks the power to approve HBC products or ingredients before they hit store shelves, even though their contents have been shown to enter the body (3). What many consumers don’t know is that some chemically derived ingredients may be toxic to the skin and body.

According to an investigation by the Environmental Working Group, nearly 400 products sold in the U.S. contain chemicals that are prohibited for use in cosmetics in other countries (4). Just because a cream may be packaged in an aesthetically pleasing container doesn’t get it off the hook. Tell clients to avoid skincare products with these ingredients: formaldehyde, fragrances, isopropyl alcohol, parabens, petrolatum, propylene glycol and quaternium 15–just to name a few. For a more comprehenisve list of toxic ingredients, go to the Web site www.verdepr.com/MyChelle/CommonToxicIng.pdf.

Double, Double Oil and Trouble

Our skin is like a roller coaster ride, filled with many ups and downs when it comes to its constantly changing texture. Contributing factors are the body’s hormonal activities, the weather, stress in life and diet among others (3). Genetics also can influence skin type. Naturally, our sebaceous glands in the dermis create oil, but when too much oil is produced, skin can be shiny, greasy and left with enlarged pores that become clogged and prone to blackheads and acne (3). Products on the market that target oily skin may say they are all natural/organic; meanwhile they contain mostly toxins and only one healthy element. Be critical of the ingredients label and look for:

• Cranberry extract: Can be used as an antibacterial and antioxidant to nourish skin.

• Flaxseed lignans: Known for antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and oil-balancing properties on the skin.

• Germanium oil: An essential oil with astringent and tonic properties, normalizer for oily skin.

• Lemongrass: Has antioxidant properties and is a great normalizer for oily skin. Also can help balance oil production.

• Vitamin B-complex: Water-soluble vitamins, when applied topically, help control excess oil secretion.

• Witch hazel: By-product of the distillation of leaves and stems of the plant. A natural astringent with anti-irritant and anti-inflammatory qualities. It gently removes traces of dirt without stripping the skin and helps reduce shine.

Desert Dry
Just as your palate may become parched begging you for water, so does your skin. Some characteristics of dry skin are flaking, tightness, roughness, almost invisible pores and some skin sensitivity (3). Skin, just like the body, needs nourishment and hydration. Geographical location, diet, stress level and lifestyle dry out the skin. Also, nutritional deficiencies weaken the skin’s ability to repair and rebuild itself (3).

Dry, rough skin is usually the result of an essential fatty acid deficiency (4). What we put on our skin has a direct effect on how it looks and feels. Take borage oil, for example, according to James Meschino, D.C., M.S., which improves skin texture in people who have soft skin to begin with, and has a dramatic effect in people whose skin is dry, rough or scaly (4).

With dry skin, splashing water may seem like the solution, but it will not solve the problem. Turn to these alternatives to help consumers hydrate the skin:

• Aloe vera: Helps soothe sunburn and skin irritation. It’s a good hydrator for dry hair and skin.

• Borage oil: Nutrient-dense oil that is high in rare gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), also found in human breast milk. An anti-inflammatory and soothing agent, very beneficial for some dry skin conditions.

• Marshmallow root: Excellent hydrator and skin soother. Helps soften, protect and regenerate the skin.

• Sweet almond oil: Excellent emollient that is high in oleic, linoleic and other fatty acids, ideal in the treatment of very dry skin. Soothing and moisturizing.

• Vitamin F: Protects and revitalizes skin. Consists of linoleic and linolenic acids, two essential fatty acids. Used in moisturizers, soothes rough, dry or chapped skin on contact.

Sensitive to the Touch

Our skin is no buffet to pile on product after product, and when we do, our skin signals to us it’s not a happy camper. Skin may become irritated, red, blotchy, itchy and may even burn. Many individuals with sensitive skin are prone to allergic reactions (5). Living with sensitive skin can be painful and may turn you off from putting anything on your skin again. Be sure that the skin care products you stock for clients with sensitive skin are fragrance and color free, since fragrance additives, natural or synthetic, cause more allergic contact dermatitis than any other ingredient, preservatives are the second most common cause (5).

If shoppers suffer from sensitive skin, they may have dermatitis (inflammation of the skin). They should try out a product on their inner upper arm and leave it there for eight to 12 hours to see if it is safe for their skin (5). Suggest these ingredients to soothe their sensitive skin:

• Calendula: Healing, soothing, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory herb. Both the oil and extract from the blossoms mainly used for delicate skin.

• Horse chestnut: Anti-inflammatory, anti-irritant and mild astringent helps stimulate circulation to the skin. Often found in products for sensitive skin.

• Lavender water: Natural hydrating and soothing agent. Excellent ingredient in cleansers, toners and lotions for sensitive skin.

• Meadowsweet: Used in cosmetics for sensitive skin due to its mildness.

• Rosewater: A natural hydrator and anti-irritant used in cosmetics to soothe dry and sensitive skin.

Moisten Me Up

When you deplete your skin of moisture, it loses its ability to act as a barrier to protect you against the sun’s powerful rays. Without moisture, skin may feel dry, leathery, tough and have the texture of a raisin. Our skin loses moisture mainly from the sun, and can be restored by natural ingredients as well as vitamins. Vitamin A and E can help.

Topical vitamin A promotes skin tissue growth and maintenance. Also, it prevents dry, rough skin, premature aging and speeds up the healing process of acne (5). This vitamin is vital for skin to be healthy, softer, smoother, younger looking and protect it from free radicals (reactive molecules that damage cells through oxidation). In addition, it promotes the formation of new skin cells, regulates oil secretion in the sebaceous glands, is found in sun protection creams for dry and sun-exposed skin and soothes and hydrates the skin (6). Vitamin E acts as an absorber of UVB (ultraviolet B) rays before it gets the chance to damage the skin, offers protection from skin cancer, and reduces damage to DNA from free radicals, which target lipids, proteins and sugars (7). Also, turn to these ingredients to moisturize shoppers’ sun-soaked skin:

• Fructose: Sugar found in fruits and honey that soothes, hydrates and encourages moisture retention in skin.

• Green tea: Powerful antioxidant inhibits the formation of cancer-causing free radicals and helps prevent skin cell damage caused by sun exposure. Soothing and moisturizing to hair and skin.

• Kukui nut oil: This oil from Hawaii is rich in essential fatty acids, and is a natural moisturizer and skin protector.

• Macadamia nut oil: Moisturizer and protector for hair and skin. High in essential fatty acids.

• Shea butter: Moisture-rich butter from the nuts of the Magnifolia tree in Central Africa. Rich in fatty acids and other nutrients that moisturize skin.

Youth, Don’t Let Go!

As we grow older our skin begins to age, a word many baby boomers and adults over the hill don’t want to hear. Wrinkles and age spots form and the skin is no longer as radiant as it used to be. At 50, we may not have the power to look like we did at 20, but we can make sure our skin looks its best.
Shoppers can hold onto their youth longer with French maritime pine bark extract (Pycnogenol) supplements and hyaluronic acid (supplements/topical cream). The former is known for its distinct qualities of rebuilding skin tissue, making it more flexible and smoother, thus giving the skin a younger and healthier appearance (8). When we soak in too much sun, we reduce the production of skin protein and allow free radicals to damage our skin. This extract steps in by neutralizing free radicals to reduce sun damage to the skin (8).

Hyaluronic acid is produced throughout the body by cells called fibroblasts and is the molecule that holds water in our body (9). The higher the percentage of water in our body, the younger it looks and feels.

The body’s water volume decreases with age, sun exposure and hormone levels in women. Over time, our skin wrinkles, joints stiffen and bodies shrink because of collagen loss (9).
Our skin is the most visible part of our body and we must make it a priority to take special care of it. When consumers look in the mirror, they should feel proud of what they see, for skin is the most valuable possession we wear. WF

1. K. Harmon, “Saving Face: How Safe Are Cosmetics and Body Care Products,” Scientific American, May 5, 2009, www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-safe-are-cosmetics, accessed June 2009.
2. R. Wiles, Cosmetics With Banned and Unsafe Ingredients. Environmental Working Group, September 26, 2007, www.ewg.org/node/22610, accessed June 2009.
3. M.M. Eby, Return To Beautiful Skin (Basic Health Publications, Inc., Laguna Beach, CA, 2008).
4. J. Meschino, The Wrinkle-Free Zone: Your Guide to Perfect Skin in 30 Days (Basic Health Publications, Inc., North Bergen, NJ 2004).
5. S. Tourles, Naturally Healthy Skin: Tips and Techniques For a Lifetime of Radiant Skin (Storey Publishing, North Adams, MA, 1999).
6. A. Hampton, Natural Ingredients Dictionary (Organica Press, Tampa, FL, 1994-2006).
7. A. Papas, The Vitamin E Factor (HarperCollins, New York, NY, 1999).
8. R.A. Passwater, All About Pycnogenol (Avery Publishing Group, Garden City Park, NY, 1998).
9. B. Sardi, How to Live 100 Years Without Growing Old, Hyaluronic Acid: Nature’s Healing Agent (Here and Now Books, San Dimas, CA, 2002).

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, August 2009