Read an Excerpt
Complexion Perfection!Your Ultimate Guide to Beautiful Skin by Hollywood's Leading Skin Health Expert
By Kate Somerville
HAY HOUSE, INC.Copyright © 2010 Kate Somerville
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSkin-ology 101
I've crisscrossed the globe from New York to London to Los Angeles talking to men and women about their skin. Like these individuals, I'll bet that you have a strong grasp of your own skin-or at least what it looks like. You can tell me where you have lines, veins, spots, or clogged pores; whether you're sensitive or dry; or if you're hormonal and breaking out. But the truth is that there's so much more to your skin than meets the eye.
You may be familiar with some biology or buzzwords such as collagen, elastin, free radicals, fine lines, light treatments, and laser peels. But chances are, you don't really understand your skin, how it functions, and what lies beneath it. And if you're anything like me, you'll be tempted to skim this chapter or even skip ahead because you see a biology lesson coming. But knowledge is power! So get out your yellow highlighter, ladies and gentlemen. Snuggle up with a good book (this one!), sip some green tea (it's good for your skin), and let's get gabbing. A betterunderstanding of skin biology will help you understand just how all of the lotions, potions, and magic machines we'll talk about later can work for you.
Getting to Know Your Skin
Human skin is truly amazing. Despite my years in the business, I'm wowed by this majestic organ every day: what it does, how it heals, and just how beautiful it can be. If you think you're good at multitasking, trust me, you don't hold a candle to your skin. It serves hundreds of functions, including providing a supple, strong barrier between you and the outside world; receiving touch; and detoxifying your body.
Culturally, skin identifies our ethnic heritage, links us to our family, and is a blank canvas we sometimes color to express our individuality. Like it or not, our skin is a large part of what makes a first impression, and it's also what sets us apart as humans. Unlike our pooches, parakeets, or pet lizards, we're among the rare members of the animal kingdom whose skin is not protected by fur, feathers, or scales. We're born with skin that beams with light, what artist Vincent van Gogh characterized as "fresh from God." At birth, our physical shell seems too delicate to do everything we ask of it, but it's more than up to the job.
Here are some of the responsibilities our skin takes care of, day in and day out:
* Prevents our bodies from absorbing many toxins, including harmful chemicals and microorganisms in the environment
* Regulates our temperature by opening and closing blood vessels as needed, and by making perspiration that evaporates to cool us down
* Provides a waterproof shield so that our vital nutrients don't leak out of our body
* Gets rid of some of the body's waste products, including salt and ammonia, through sweat
* Helps protect us from sun damage by manufacturing melanin that tans it
* Secretes oil to keep itself comfortable
* When exposed to sunlight, synthesizes the vitamin D we need for strong bones and healthy organs
* Houses our sense of touch, which both allows us to enjoy a tickle or a hug and also alerts us of potential damage to our body via pain or discomfort
* Self-heals the cuts, nicks, scrapes, stings, punctures, bruises, burns, and blisters that we inflict on it day to day
Our skin can also reflect our state of health, since it's our body's biggest and fastest-growing organ. Get this: If you could unzip your skin, step out of it, and put it on a scale, it would weigh between six and nine pounds and cover an area of about 20 square feet (depending on your height and size). In other words, it would weigh about as much as your lapdog and could replace the carpet of a small yoga studio! It's also the largest organ that's visible to the outside world, so if you're not getting certain minerals in your diet or you're eating lots of junk, it will absolutely show up on your skin for you (and others) to see.
Think about it. How often do we say that people look pale or flushed, or that they have dark circles under their eyes? We know from those telltale signs that they might not be feeling their best or treating their body as well as they should. And how many times have we looked at our own faces in the mirror and thought, I've got to get more sleep? (I'm on the go so much, I've done this a lot.) But the opposite also shows-when we treat our body well, we see the rewards. We all know how we can glow after working out, when we're on vacation, or after a good night's rest.
Similarly, our emotions show up here, too. The blemish before that big date we're nervous about? The pink flush when we're embarrassed? That's skin responding to our stress levels. Then there are other, more serious dermatological conditions, such as eczema, that studies have shown are linked to chronic stress or traumatic events. Research has actually found that stress can make skin more prone to allergies. One reason is that stress can suppress our immune function, leaving us more vulnerable. We'll talk more about this later.
The truth is that our skin impacts how we feel about ourselves and how others view us. I've seen it over and over again: a glowing, healthy complexion leaves us feeling attractive and ready for anything, while an imperfect or ailing one can make us not want to face the world. And in case you think that you're alone in this, I can tell you from experience that some of the most recognized faces in the world-those celebrities you see at movie premieres and on the pages of magazines-have exactly the same concerns. Many of them are my clients, and I know how they feel and what they go through.
Our skin is also a dramatic indicator of time's passage. Subtle changes over the decades take us from the gorgeous dewy skin of infancy; through the frustrations of adolescent acne, the hormonal pigment problems of pregnancy, and the fine wrinkles of midlife; and then into the deeply etched face of our golden years.
It may come as a shock to you to learn that our bodies technically start "aging" when we're in our early 20s as cell production begins to slow down. Of course we're all going to age, but how and when our skin shows the signs of aging are subject to a number of factors, most of which we can actually influence and increasingly have control over. For example:
- Genetics are responsible for more than just your blue eyes and freckles or your olive complexion. The DNA that's passed on to you also contributes to whether or not you have oily skin or are prone to breakouts, and it sets your biological timeline. Look at your parents and grandparents for some clues as to how your skin is going to age. The good news is that you are not destined to live with these imperfections-there are now treatments and products available to influence their development and to minimize them if you so desire. So while "kin skin" is inherited, you can still work to change what you've got.
- Hormones have a major impact on the skin at just about every stage of life. When they star t surging in adolescence, they can cause acne. Later, some birth control pills can cause breakouts in women, while others can help clear up acne. Pregnancies can result in hormone-related hyperpigmentation; you've heard it called the "pregnancy mask." Then as menopause sets in, estrogen levels dip and skin becomes significantly drier, more fragile, and loses elasticity. And, in a cruel twist of fate, it can get acne again!
When we speak of hormones, we do tend to think of the sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone, but there are others such as cortisol-a stress hormone-that also impact our skin. But have no fear: I'm going to tell you how we can deal with all of this hormone-related complexion chaos.
- Free radicals. Like the radical revolutionaries you've watched on the History Channel, these radicals also wreak havoc, only they do it to your body. They're a natural part of your bodily function, but they do speed up aging. They are a certain type of oxygen molecule that cause a chain reaction of damage-oxidation-to your cells. It's not just human cells that are affected by oxidation; in fact, you can see this process in action in your kitchen. Notice how when you first buy a piece of fresh meat, it's bright red in color. But if you let it sit in your fridge for a few days, oxidation turns it brown or gray. And the brown patch on the apple your little one won't eat? Also the work of free radicals.
The antidote to oxidation is the appropriately named "antioxidant"-a wide variety of vitamins and minerals found in fresh foods and nutritional supplements. Over the years I've learned so much about the connection of a healthy diet to glowing skin. Well, the reverse is true in that an unhealthy diet deficient in antioxidants is going to contribute to the aging caused by free radicals. We can also fight free radicals and promote cell recovery with topical applications of antioxidants.
- Lifestyle. For most of us, free-radical damage is caused by pollutants, cigarette smoke, too much sun, and other environmental challenges, such as overexposure to wind and intense heat and cold. Unhealthy habits (like drinking too much alcohol, getting too little sleep, and living with chronic stress) also take their toll on your skin.
Science has recently proven how a healthy lifestyle dramatically impacts how well we age. While we may be getting older in years, we can actually look and feel better. We've absorbed this message so well that we now frequently hear how "40 is the new 30," or even "60 is the new 40." In any event, as Gertrude Stein said, "We are always the same age inside."
You might have heard of or even taken the RealAge Test that author and television personality Dr. Mehmet Oz is fond of talking about. This quiz says that there really can be a difference between how many birthdays you've had and your real age. Still, no matter how fit you are, your skin can betray your years if you don't take all the right steps to keep it equally healthy.
The Anatomy of Your Skin
Now let's break down the anatomy of your skin, one layer at a time.
1. The Epidermis
The epidermis is the top layer; it's what you see. It's thinnest around your eyes and thickest on the soles of your feet. It doesn't have any blood vessels and is fed oxygen and nutrients from the deeper layers. However, it does contain cells that form your skin's immune system. That's a good thing, since a 2007 study funded by the National Institutes of Health discovered hundreds of species of bacteria on human skin, and 8 percent of them were unknown to scientists! Think of your epidermal cells as skin soldiers, since they're your first line of defense against enemies.
The epidermis has five layers of cells and millions of skin cells per square inch. Every day, new cells are born. The cells are shaped like little columns and are made in the lowest layer, and then they divide and push up into the higher layers. As the cells move upward, they flatten out and eventually die. The top cell dictates what the one being born beneath it is going to be like and what it does. So for healthy skin, you need to not only get rid of the damaged cells on top but also manage what's going on below.
This whole process of new cells working their way from the bottom to the top takes about 30 days, although it slows down considerably as you age. The dead cells spend another two weeks on the surface of your skin before naturally sloughing off as a new layer of cells is pushed to the top. The surface of your skin-the skin the world sees-is actually made up of dead, flat cells. Yuck! As you might imagine, those dead cells are largely responsible for your skin looking dull and lifeless. They also build up around your pores and wrinkles, making them look larger. Getting rid of the dead layer when it's ready and turning over those skin cells are crucial for a brighter complexion. Journalists constantly ask me about the most important step in skin care. There is no one thing, as everything works together. But I do believe that exfoliation is key because you see immediate results from it.
The bottom layer of your epidermis makes melanin, the pigment that gives your skin its color. It's also what goes into overdrive when you're working on your tan. During exposure to ultraviolet rays, melanin activates, producing a tan in an attempt to protect your skin from damage by those rays. As the decades roll by, the cells that make melanin die off, and your skin becomes more susceptible to burning. This puts you at an increased risk for signs of aging and skin cancer.
2. The Dermis
Now, beneath the epidermis is the dermis. It's much thicker than the epidermis and is rich with blood vessels and nerves. The dermis also sends nutrients and moisture up to the epidermis to keep it healthy. Just like the epidermis, the dermis is thinnest around your eyes and thickest on your feet.
In recent decades, we experts have learned so much about the importance of this layer, especially with regard to aging. So what exactly is going on here? This dermal layer has a lot of responsibilities. It's made up of tissues comprised of protein fibers you've probably heard of: collagen and elastin. The collagen gives the skin its fullness and form, while the elastin gives skin its snap-a rubber-band-like resilience. Cells called fibroblasts make collagen and elastin on a continual basis. They're all bathed in hyaluronic acid, a cellular lipid and lubricant that holds water, giving your skin texture, bounce, and a youthful look.
The dermis also houses your hair follicles and oil glands, although there are none of these on the palms of your hands, the soles of your feet, or your lips-and that's one of the reasons why these areas can be so dry. A superhighway of nerves responsible for your sense of touch, pain, itch, and temperature is also situated here. Hair, sweat, and oil all reach the surface of the skin via pores, which begin in this layer. While pores have a job to do, most of my clients have a love/hate relationship with them.
So, when you're "Sweatin' to the Oldies," chatting with a crush and start to blush, feeling goose bumps after a case of déjà vu, or suffering a pre-wedding acne attack, it all starts in the dermis. And guess what? The signs of aging start here, too. Here's why: When you're young, your dermis can stretch and then bounce back into shape. But as you age, the collagen and elastin break down faster than your fibroblasts can produce them. The number of fibroblasts you have also shrinks. The whole network becomes more brittle and no longer snaps back like it used to. And that, combined with gravity, causes wrinkles to form.
Hyaluronic acid also decreases over time, as do the number of oil and sweat glands, which also contribute to dry skin and aging. But wait-don't let this get you down. We live in such an exciting time and can actually do something about all of this. There are products and treatments available that can penetrate this layer to build collagen and repair elasticity and replace hyaluronic acid. Woo-hoo! These are the things that keep me in business (and my actor clients in business, too).
3. Subcutaneous Tissue
Although technically not skin, the layer of fat and connective tissue that lies between your skin and muscles does have an effect on your complexion and how it looks. This tissue supplies energy and is a protective cushion and insulator for your body. It has larger blood vessels and nerves and is important, as it regulates the temperature of your skin and of your entire body.
Excerpted from Complexion Perfection! by Kate Somerville Copyright © 2010 by Kate Somerville. Excerpted by permission.
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