As a sure sign of health and wellbeing, many people search for information on how to make skin glow and they are willing to invest considerable amount of time and money in their quest. Yet by not understanding the essential role of skin detox as part of the overall body detoxification process, their search if often frustrated. Sometimes the very products they use to try get that healthy look can actually be a major source of the problem, not a solution as these products address the symptoms and not the cause.
To better understand how and why, and what the best options are, some basic information on the complex structure of skin and the way it’s system functions may assist you take better care of your overall health and wellbeing, and your reward is healthy looking skin.
Our skin is the largest body organ, weighing between 2.7 and 4 kilograms (6 to 9 pounds) and it has an area of around 2 sqm (21 sq ft) and separates the interior of your body from the exterior environment. It comprises two main cellular layers:
• At the surface is the epidermis. It consists of four thin layers of epithelial tissue
• The interior layer – the dermis – is made up of connective tissue
This layer of skin is made up of closely packed cellular material which differs in thickness depending where on the body it is located, but is typically approximately 1 mm (0.04 inches) thick. The whole epidermis is replaced roughly every thirty days using fresh skin tissue which is made in the basal cell layer.
Melanocyte cells, which are a component of the epidermis, make melanin pigment which determines skin color that helps shield the skin to some degree against sunburn, sun damage, and skin cancer. It does this by absorbing ultraviolet and visible light, and by quenching free radicals that are created as a result of sun exposure.
Through the help of the sun’s rays, the epidermis also creates the essential vitamin D, a steroid vitamin which is part of a group of fat-soluble prohormones which encourage the absorption and metabolism of calcium and phosphorous. People who find themselves exposed to normal sunlight won’t need any vitamin D supplements.
Epidermal skin cells additionally make lipids (fats), including cholesterol as well as free fatty acids, along with a protein known as keratin, all of which combined help protect to the skin again moisture loss and cracking.
The dermis is considerably thicker than the epidermis and is tightly attached to it through a basal membrane. It is structurally separated into two layers: the region immediately adjacent to the epidermis, also known as the papillary region, and a deeper as well as thicker region below it, known as the reticular region.
The dermis is made up of the proteins elastin and collagen that make the skin flexible and elastic, give it strength and provide padding to the body to protect it from stress and strain. This tensile toughness and flexibility is made possible through an extracellular matrix made up of elastic fibers, micro fibrils and collagen fibrils, all embedded in a protein known as proteoglycans.
The dermis has a dense network of blood vessels, unlike the epidermis, and it supplies nourishment and waste removal for the epidermis as well as for its own cellular material. In addition the dermis contains:
• mechanoreceptors (nerve endings) that give the sensation of heat and touch
• lymphatic vessels which are a fundamental component of the lymphatic system
• eccrine sweat glands that help to regulate your body temperature
• hair follicles
• apocrine sweat glands which release secretions into hair follicles
• sebaceous glands located near hair follicles where they secrete sebum
Sebum is a lipid (fat) that has some antifungal and antibacterial properties, and it also excretes small amounts of lipid-soluble toxins from the body.
Your skin has numerous functions, perhaps the most apparent of which is safeguarding the inside of your body from the outside environment and keeping unwelcome compounds and microorganisms out and desirable substances in. It
• protects you from bacterial infections and viruses
• helps you sense the outside world, for example whether it is cold or hot, wet or dry
• protects your inner organs from heat damage by regulating your body temperature
• is a waterproof barrier that protects against physical damage and infection
• can also give us visible warning signals associated with our health and wellbeing
Poor complexion and color along with a number of skin problems might point poor skin nutrition, which sometimes can be solved by using skin products but more likely it points to deeper health issues and can be triggered by, or made worse by toxins elsewhere in your body. In particular early ageing of your skin could be a signal that you have premature ageing somewhere else within your body.
For instance, skin problems such as eczema and dermatitis are generally caused by allergens but are exacerbated by toxins in your system. Traditional medicinal practises treat such skin problems as if something is wrong with the skin itself while in actuality they are more likely symptoms associated with internal toxicity.
How toxins enter the skin
While there are many ways for you to have an excess of toxins in your body, the skin itself can and does absorb toxic compounds.
The outer layer of the epidermis differs in thickness on different parts of the body and this thickness determines exactly how easily chemical substances can penetrate the skin. An exception are the palms of your hands, where this outer layer is thicker than on most other parts of the body, yet absorbs chemical substances much more easily.
Furthermore, toxic compounds differ in their capacity to penetrate the skin, and several factors have an effect on their absorption. To be absorbed, toxins have to be to some degree water-soluble and whenever your skin is moist, water-soluble chemical substances permeate much more readily.
In contrast oily solutions generally sink into the skin very easily as skin effortlessly soaks up lipids (fats). Because of their lipid solubility, solvents consequently are able to penetrate the skin relatively easily as do caustic chemicals, such as acids and alkaline solutions.
When the outside temperatures are high, skin is more absorbent and cracked or injured skin allows chemicals to penetrate more easily compared to intact skin. Finally, some toxins are taken in straight through the hair follicles in the skin.
However a toxic compound has breached the skin barrier, once it has penetrated the epidermis, the abundant supply of blood from the dermis rapidly distributes it throughout the body.
Even though the skin is physically our biggest organ of elimination, the best way to detox is through other organs of elimination (ie liver, kidney, lungs, lymphatic system etc). However if these are overloaded or otherwise not operating optimally, the skin will have the job of freeing your body of excess toxic compounds. This often takes the form of skin problems such as acne, blackheads, whiteheads, boils and cysts.
The way skin can metabolize steroid hormones, drugs, and other foreign chemicals is because contains cytochrome P450, an enzyme that can convert these substances into a water-soluble form. In this way small amounts of toxins are eliminated through the sebaceous glands of the skin, and also in the sweat excreted from skin pores. Sweat has a similar composition to urine, and is therefore a significant cleansing fluid.
For this reason workouts are so vital to good health. Just about any exercise that makes you huff and puff pumps our blood around your body, improving your circulation and bringing blood to your extremities where toxins can then be brought to the skin’s surface and sweated out. If you’re not into sweaty exercises, or if you want to speed things up, you can also try any of the following:
• a sauna detox or stream bath
• detox pads or a detox patch
• detox shampoo or detox soap
• a detox wrap
• or an ionic foot detox bath
When on a good and well constructed detoxification regime such as those found on this website, you should find that your skin quickly clears-up. However, take note that when commencing any kind of detoxification program, a short lived break-out is very common, as large amounts of toxins are eliminated. However, during the cleansing program this absolutely should subside and you’ll start to see, and feel the benefits of the program.
Brewer, S, The Total Detox Plan, Carlton Books, London, 2000
Cabot S & Jasinska M, The Ultimate Detox, WHAS, Camden, 2005
Krohn J, & Taylor F, Natural Detoxification, Hartley & Marks Publishers Inc. Vancouver, 2000
Williams X, The Herbal Detox Plan, Random House UK Ltd, London, 2003