Many people do not realize that our skin is our most vital organ, and the largest living organ of our body. Its thickest points are the soles of the feet, the palms of the hands and the back. At its thinnest point, the eyelids, the skin measures only 1/25 inch. The main functions of the skin are to regulate our body temperature and, more importantly, to protect our internal organs against the offenses of the outside environment. The elasticity of the skin is a protectant against shock and damage to the body. skin is divided into three layers: the epidermis, dermis and subcutus; each with its own unique functions.

The Epidermis
This is the highly cellular uppermost layer, usually comprised of 15-20 layers that overlap at the skin's surface. The epidermis continually undergoes the birth, life and death of cells which are created at the base of the epidermis and, after a two-week migration, are shed at the surface. This cell activity is performed by three layers each with its own responsibilities:

  • The Basal Layer: the bottom most layer, containing melanocytes, the pigment producing cells; and where cell growth begins.
  • The Prickle Cell layer: the middle and thickest layer, containing the hair-like projections on the skin.
  • The Horney Layer: the uppermost layer of the epidermis, constantly shedding cells at the skin's surface.

The Dermis:
Made up of fibrous cells and housing the elastic support of the skin. Nerve endings located in the dermis detect changes in temperature and feel pressure, pain and vibration.

The Subcutus:
Has two important functions:

  • To serve as a cushion for vital internal organs.
  • To be a storage site for reserve energy for the body.

Our skin is one of our most visible and delicate assets, and is subject to more than its share of abuse. If we do not pay attention, it can cry for help in the form of a rash, infection or just plain aggravated neglect, as in the form of severe dry skin in the wintertime. There are an infinite number of products touting daily regimens designed to maintain healthy skin. However, we need only remember five basic ways to care for our skin: cleansing and exfoliating, toning, moisturizing, sun protecting and nourishing.

Cleansing and Exfoliating
Each day our skin comes in contact with dirt, oils, cosmetics, environmental pollution and perspiration. Our only defense is cleansing the skin.

Extra mild, light cleansers today are benefiting from the addition of plant extracts that offer cleansing of their own, as well as foaming compatibility. Botanicals and infused fragrance oils are compatible for all of these products and have added benefit to the consumer. Exfoliators, used to slough off the dead uppermost layer of the skin and leave the skin with a smooth, glowing complexion, are commonly formulated with ammonium glycolate and other salts of Alpha Hydroxy Acids.

Toning
Toners are products intended to shrink the pores after cleansing and refreshing the skin. also called fresheners an bracers, these products are skin sensitizers and when applied topically, give a cool, tight and tingly feel to the skin. Astringents, pore-refiners and refining lotions are all relatively similar products which are basically stronger concentrates of those listed above.

Today's toners/astringents are being reformulated with botanicals and blends marketed for those unable or unwilling to tolerate alcoholic solution. Natural astringents, such as ginseng, elder and angelica flowers, horse chestnuts and sage leaves, to name a few, ten to be more gentle and soothing in nature, while providing astringency. Peppermint and spearmint oils can also be added for their cooling and moisturizing effects, and as fragrant components. Menthol and comphor are frequently and commonly used as well.

Moisturizing
As we age, our skin undergoes dramatic changes, and therefore, we seldom use the same product at age 15 that we do at age 40. Young skin differs from mature skin in many ways. In our teen years, oil gland secretion may trigger flare-ups of problematic skin. During our mid-life, diminished oil gland secretion contributes to dry skin and flakiness. Thinning of the epidermis and degeneration of supporting elastin fibers contribute to moisture loss. it is for this reason many moisturizing products are advertised to prevent the first signs of aging and sun damage.

Today's consumer is not so easily enticed. More people are reading labels and scrutinizing ingredients, looking for plant-derived ingredients. Moisturizing products with natural ingredients and therapeutic claims are bringing renewed interest in skin care.

Humectants are ingredients that attract water as it passes through the epidermis and are contained in most moisturizers together with occlusive ingredients, which lock in the moisture already contained in the skin. Fats, polyunsaturated oils, such as apricot kernel, olive and avocado oils are common occlusive ingredients used in moisturizers.

Aloe vera, chamomile, elder flower, rosemary, sage and yarrow all offer moisturizing benefits to the skin and are compatible with formulas containing humectants and occlusive ingredients. In addition, these extracts offer soothing, softening, calmative and anti-inflammatory advantages.

Skin Aging and the Effects of the Sun
The proper use of skin care products and keeping up the daily regimen are important ways to maintain healthy skin. However, we are each predestined to chronological aging - our inherited tendency to age. Unfortunately, sooner or later, we all get old. Chronological skin aging is accelerated by lifestyle and habits, all of which have tremendous effect on the skin. Some examples are the amount of sleep you require, how much and what you eat, exercise regimens, reaction to stress and whether or not you smoke. These factors and many more dictate the condition of your skin.

Photo aging, or solar-induced aging, is the other contributing factor in the aging of the skin, and results from sun damage. With the advances of research focused toward sun products, it is widely believed the changes associated with sun damage may be more profound than those attributed to the natural aging process. There is no longer any doubt that the sun's harmful rays cause irreversible damage and accelerate the effects of chronological aging.

The sun delivers several types of radiation, including ultraviolet light A, ultraviolet light B, and infrared radiation, all of which emit through the atmosphere and contribute to sun tanning and burning. In today's market, sun products are becoming more specialized with sun protection factors and the demand for natural products.

Sun screens absorb some ultraviolet radiation, rather than reflect it off the skin like a sun block. If used appropriately, sun screens can reduce harmful burning and partially eliminate or control sun tanning. A major trend in the industry is the inclusion of sun screening ingredients and SPF numbers in other categories of the personal care market, including moisturizer, hair products and color cosmetics. Botanicals are also incorporated into the same products because of their contributing sun screening effects.

Self-tanning products are continuing to emerge from upscale cosmetic manufacturers, and are trickling down to the mass market. Many are formulated with extracts such as chamomile, aloe vera, linden and passion flowers. natural lip balms formulated with aloe vera, calendula and vitamins soothe the lips with added sun screen protection.

After-sun products continue to grow in number and, because of the demand for natural ingredients, botanicals are widely used for the soothing and moisturizing effects. Aloe vera, known as the burn plant, has soothing and healing properties and is believed to stimulate skin in new cell growth. Comfrey is established as a skin healant because of its natural allantoin content, and is therefore recommended for after-sun products. Also used to relieve sunburn or heat rash, and used in sunscreens and after-sun products for its moisturizing abilities is sage, both for its antibacterial properties and fragrant nature.