Your skin is the wonderful barrier that protects your body from unwanted invaders. (Really, you wouldn’t last a day without your body’s largest organ keeping unwelcome visitors at bay!) Your skin not only acts as a barrier to keep out harmful things like germs and toxins, it also helps protect you from the cold and the damaging effects of the sun. And that’s not it! Your skin also regulates your body temperature, acts as a communication warning system and monitors your hydration levels. What’s not to love about all that your skin does for the rest of you? But skin sensitivity can really ruin the love/love relationship you’ve got going when it causes itchy, red or inflamed places to show up on various parts of your body. Skin sensitivity is a common problem for many people in today’s society and something that countless numbers of people deal with each and every day. By understanding the inner workings of your skin, you’ll be able to get a complete picture of why and how skin sensitivity affects you and what you can do to help.
DRY SKIN 101
Your skin is made up of three layers—the epidermis, dermis, and hypodermis (or subcutis). The epidermis is the outermost layer and is made up of the keratinocytes (dead skin cells). These skin cells are bound together and your body sheds them every four to six weeks. In the epidermis lies the melanocytes which help create melanin and protect your body from UV rays. Also residing there are the lymphocytes that help trap germs and take them to the lymph nodes and the Merkel cells that allow you to feel if things are too hot or too cold when you touch them. The dermis layer stores the collagen that makes skin elastic and smooth. The dermis also contains nerve fibers and sweat glands. The final layer deep beneath the surface is the subcutis. This layer of skin contains the connective tissue that helps store fat and water and produces several different hormones. This complex system of fatty layers help lock-in moisture and keep your skin feeling soft. If environmental factors like hot showers or drying moisturizers; or medical reasons like hypothyroidism, psoriasis, and diabetes come into play, then your skin can become itchy and dry. These factors can reduce the moisture in your skin. Hot showers can wash off protective oils that lay on your skin. Harsh soaps can contain fragrances or chemicals that can dry out or irritate your skin. Hypothyroidism can reduce the number of oils produced on the skin and diabetes can cause your skin to become dehydrated. Many medications cause dry skin as a side effect. Dry and cold climates also affect how your skin reacts in different temperatures. What can you do to help your dry skin? If you’ve tried it all and every moisturizer on the market, it’s time to reach out to your dermatologist who can provide you with the proper dry skin treatment for whatever is causing your ailment.
As part of your body’s immune response, inflammation is the red, puffiness that shows up after your skin has been injured, invaded or irritated. It’s actually a great sign because it shows that your body is working well to fight off whatever irritant is bothering it. But sometimes inflammation can become chronic or fail to go away once finished healing your skin. Both of these options can harm your skin instead of helping it. Eczema, psoriasis, and contact dermatitis are all forms of skin inflammation. Inflammation of the joints, called arthritis, is a very common and well-known type of internal inflammation. When you come in contact with something that triggers inflammation it’s because your body has a complex system of communicating cell to cell. First, your skin may become irritated and begin to swell. Then, your skin may pus and finally form new tissue in a cycle that heals the tissue after much damage to the skin. Inflammation of the skin can either be acute or chronic. Acute usually stems from things like sunburn, a bug bite or harsh soaps. Some of the signs you’re experiencing inflammation may be a rash or itchy, red patches on the skin. These acute symptoms disappear after about 2 weeks. Chronic inflammation is initiated in the skin cell and causes long-term pain and damage to the tissue. Mostly, doctors prescribe corticosteroids to help fight the inflammation and return the skin to a normal form. But lately, experimental injectables, hormone replacements, plant-based treatments and natural antioxidants have been studied as another way to fight off painful inflammation. As we learn more about this field, the more we understand the body’s ability to heal itself and the vast opportunities that bring to the dermatology table.
WHAT IS THE SKIN BARRIER DEFECT?
Atopic dermatitis which is a common form of eczema can show up as rough, scaly patches on the skin. Some experience eczema in just a few spots while others have it over their entire bodies. It’s important to start moisturizing and caring for atopic dermatitis from an early age but there is still a lot to be known about why it happens. For years, food allergies were to blame because it seemed like children who were allergic to things like milk, eggs, and peanut butter, among other things, were also experiencing eczema. In recent studies, the role that the skin barrier plays in this process is ever-fascinating and quickly coming to light. Your skin is made up of the above layers that we mentioned before. In those layers, you’ll find the skin’s protective outer layer called the epidermis. New evidence shows that there may be defects in the skin barrier that allow germs and harmful irritants to enter the skin and wreak havoc on the body. As a result, causing atopic dermatitis and other conditions to show on the skin. Another major discovery during this research was that filaggrin (an important protein that binds fibers in the skin cell) mutations may also play a role in the skin barrier defect. The research also notes that several host and environmental factors may also play a role in the barrier defect, like problems with structural proteins, reduced immunity or the entry of items that break down the defense mechanisms in the skin cell. The findings associated with the skin barrier defect are huge in understanding how allergies work within the skin cell and why you may suffer from dry, inflamed skin or painful chronic conditions. The frontier of study for understanding the skin barrier defect and the treatments available to help quench the symptoms are up and coming and will prove beneficial to anyone experiencing these types of issues.
Painful redness, dryness, inflammation, and itching is a serious symptom of skin conditions that require the proper treatment for your specific case. The symptoms alone can be hard to deal with especially if you don’t have anyone to confide in. Too many times, people choose to treat their own condition with oils or creams that are not designed to help their specific symptoms. Skin sensitivity can be due to a wide range of issues; from taking too many hot showers to dealing with a break in your skin’s protective epidermal layer. If you’re having trouble with your sensitive skin and find nothing is working, it’s important to talk to your doctor about your symptoms and what may be the cause of your issues. Certain skin sensitivities can be the result of an undiagnosed medical condition so it’s vitally important that you speak up and ask questions about your skin. That way, you can begin receiving the treatments that will make your skin hydrated, smooth and silky once and for all!