Skin: Your Body’s Largest Organ

Jun 2, 2016 | Food and Nutrition | 0 comments

The Dirt:

When you think of your body’s largest organ, your skin might not be the first thing that comes to mind! It can be easy to forget that your skin is an organ, just like your heart, liver, and lungs. And like the rest of your body, it needs the proper protection and nutrients to stay healthy. These days, we are bombarded with new cosmetic products that tout their ability to keep our skin looking younger and healthier. But, do they work? Let’s learn how to keep our skin healthy.

Let’s take a look at the inner workings of our skin:

The epidermis, which is the exterior layer of skin that acts as the protective “shield”. The outer most barrier of the epidermis is called the stratum corneum. The dermis, which contains the underlying tissue and includes your sweat glands and hair follicles. The hypodermis, which is the deepest layer of connective tissue.

image: @2014 WebMD

As the largest organ of the human body, your skin is responsible for protecting you from bacteria that can enter your body. It also helps to regulate your body temperature. Your skin enables you to know if something is too hot or cold. But, what you may not know is that your skin can absorb tiny particles all day long. While your skin is able to protect against larger microbes, certain nanoparticles are able to penetrate the different layers of the skin— and (depending on their size) enter your circulatory system.

This is where things get a little tricky. In today’s society, there are many differences in opinion concerning your skin. It is easy to get caught up in the headlines that say big cosmetic companies are using toxic ingredients that are carcinogenic. But in reality, the research doesn’t exist. There is much speculation over what types of products you should be using to protect your skin properly and it is important to remember that while your skin is susceptible to nanoparticle absorption that can affect your skin’s health, the long term effects of particle absorption is unknown.

What is a nanoparticle?

Nanoparticles can be emitted from a variety of different sources and can also be created in different ways. Once formed, they are released into the atmosphere and are able to be absorbed by the human body. If this sounds vague, it’s because it is! These particles range from 1-100 nanometers in size and change depending on the source it was emitted from (such as pollution, smoke, technology, etc.) If they are absorbed (through your skin or through inhalation), nanoparticles are believed to cause damage to your body’s cells and studies have also shown that free radical formation can also be triggered by nanoparticles.

  • Nano means one billionth, so when we say one nanometer, we mean one billionth of a meter.

  • One nanometer is 80,000 times smaller than the width of a strand of hair.

  • Nanoparticles are particles between 1 and 100 nanometers in size.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to completely prevent the absorption of nanoparticles— not to mention scientists are not entirely sure what the long-term effects are once these particles enter the circulatory system. Thus, the difficulty protecting your skin comes from a shortage of research.

It is nearly impossible to create a “rule of thumb” when it comes to giving advice on how to protect your skin from absorbing different nanoparticles. But, we hope to give you some tips and tricks to help minimize damage to your skin.

Size Matters.

We want to give you an understanding of how nanoparticles enter your skin and how to best protect yourself. Nanoparticles are able to penetrate these layers depending on their size. According to a study performed by Dr. H Schaefer et al., “skin penetration depends on particle size is often taken as a rule: particles below 3 μm (aka micrometre) diameter can penetrate the stratum corneum through the intercellular pathway; particles between 3 and 10 μm accumulate preferentially in the sebaceous follicles; and particles above 10 μm do not penetrate the skin (they possibly remain adhering to the skin surface in the case of film-forming ability).”

In short: if a nanoparticle is under 3 micrometres it is able to penetrate all 3 layers of skin and enter the circulatory system. The issue is, not every person’s reaction to these particles being absorbed is alike AND there is very limited research on what happens when the particles are inside your circulatory system. So, the only way to best protect yourself is to understand the largest sources of these nanoparticles and how to avoid absorption.

Where do harmful nanoparticles come from?

Three of the most harmful free radicals come from pollution, cigarette smoke, and UVA rays. In the study, “Cosmeceuticals and Active Ingredients” Dr. Lintner et. al., describes how millennials (in particular) are not accustomed to protecting themselves against these toxins because the “free-radical generated damage is not immediately visible.”

Although you may not realize it, our skin is subject to aggressors that deteriorate its overall health every single day. And although the long term health effects of your skin may be unknown, we do know that these aggressors slowly weaken your skin tissue and inevitably cause the skin to age prematurely.

While pollution, cigarette smoke, and UVA sun exposure may be three of the most significant causes of free radicals entering the skin, they may not be the only ones affecting your skins health. For example, a recent study found that there are nanoparticles released from a photocopy machine when you are making a copy. Based on your proximity to the machine, you are most likely inhaling these toxic nanoparticles, which then sit in your lungs! Additionally, there are also new concerns over the nanoparticles emitted from new 3-D printers. In a world where technology continues to have a strong presence in our day-to-day lives, it is important to be cautious of over-use.

The simple fact is: our skin has not modernized along with society.

As technology changes, our climate becomes more severe, and pollution becomes a larger problem, our skin has a more difficult time protecting itself against free radicals. Our skin is equipped to protect itself to a certain degree, however as you age the ability for your skin to continue creating metabolic enzymes that fight aging begins to slow. That, paired with the pace of our progressive lifestyle has caused the overall health of human skin to deteriorate.

It is also important to understand that “the aging of the skin manifests itself in many ways: drying out, loss of elasticity and texture, thinning, damaged barrier function, appearance of spots, modification of surface line isotropy, and finally wrinkles.” (Lintner et al.). Thus, not every person’s skin damage manifests the same way. Having a dermatologist assess your skin health and recommend products that are tailored to your skin needs is important.

So, how do we keep our skin healthy?

Using the right creams to combat premature aging and always use SUNSCREEN!

One of the most interesting studies we read tested the accelerated aging of human skin in a tropical climate. The study was performed over a six month period and used 50 Caucasian volunteers, who were split into two groups, receiving either a placebo or a moisturizer containing Thermus thermophilus ferment (TTF), with the hope of proving that skin that was not sufficiently protected would experience measurable deterioration. “The results indicate that under these special conditions of accelerated aging, the skin aged by approximately 4 years in the placebo group, whereas no deterioration occurred in the TTF-treated group”

Yes, you read that correctly! By properly protecting and moisturizing their skin, volunteers in the treated group were able to maintain their skin’s health, whereas those who were subjected to accelerated conditions, aged 4 YEARS in a 6-month period!

While sunscreen protects your skin by its ability to combat UVA and UVB rays from damaging your collagen, moisturizers and cosmetic creams can help to replenish your skins collagen. Collagen is a type of protein that helps keep your skin firm and looking young. Products containing peptides are believed to help your skin as peptides are the amino acids found in collagen. By actively replenishing your body’s natural supply, you can help your body fight the affects of premature aging. You can also replenish your body’s collagen through the foods and vitamins you eat! Vitamins C and E, for example, have antioxidant properties that help replenish collagen and repair cell damage.

If you are thinking that the nanoparticles in cream or sunscreen will also enter your skin, it is true that that is a possibility. But, the current understanding of the advantageous affects of sunscreen outweigh any potential negative affects of nanomaterials in topical creams. According to the study performed by Lintner, et al. “we affirm that the current weight of evidence suggests that nanomaterial currently used in cosmetic preparations or sunscreens pose no risk to human skin or human health; on the contrary, they provide a large benefit to human health by protecting human skin against the adverse effects of UV radiation, including that of skin cancer.”

For sunscreen, you want to be sure to purchase a broad spectrum sunscreen that prevents the UVA and UVB particles from entering your skin. Recent studies have shown that zinc oxide is the most favorable sunscreen ingredient as is not absorbed into the skin after application. Buying sunscreen containing zinc oxide is believed to be beneficial to your skin health. Broad-spectrum sunscreen is proven to be the most effective anti-aging cream you can use to protect your skin! Using sunscreen regularly is known to reduce the risk of premature aging and skin cancer.

The Bottom Line:

Every day your skin is exposed to free radicals that threaten your skin’s health and inevitably cause premature aging. Depending on a nanoparticles size, it is able to enter your skin and travel through your circulatory system. The best way to protect yourself is to keep your skin hydrated, use the appropriate, dermatologist-recommended creams and always, always, always wear broad-spectrum sunscreen!!


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