Fabulous Skin!

Our skin, with visible and hidden components, is a barometer of both internal health and emotional equilibrium. It is a protective shield as well as a self-decorating canvas and is a critical gauge in our quest for daily health and well-being. It is also the most neglected organ we have.

Many myths surround the care of our largest organ, the skin. In its protective role, our skin shields us from environmental toxins and hazards. It forms a protective barrier that seeks to minimize intrusions of foreign invaders into that sensitive inner realm: our cells and bloodstream. With such a full-time Herculean labor force, our skin requires both nutrients and water to keep itself performing at maximum efficiency. Let’s examine some of the factors in healthy skin care.

External

In its task of shielding our bloodstream and inner workings from toxins, our skin collects pollutants, cosmetics, dirt, bacteria and other particles throughout the day. Therefore, a good cleansing regime is critical to maintaining clear and smooth functioning skin pores and dead skin cell sloughing. The first step in a cleansing regime is soap. I don’t mean those mass market bars and liquids often unthinkingly, and mistakenly, accepted as “soap.” These products are primarily cleansers and salts, and rarely real soap. Read the packaging and you will find the label lacks the word “soap.” This is because “soap” is a specific product defined by the FDA and most, if not all, these products are detergents and cleansers. It is this little noticed fact that has led to the misconception: soap causes dry or sensitive skin. Even so called “glycerine” soap tends to contain cleansers and solidifying agents since its natural state is liquid and it possesses no cleansing qualities of its own.

Natural soap is the best cleaning agent for the skin you will ever find. And I mean REAL soap. Real soap can only be made one way: with sodium hydroxide, or lye. Even the big commercial manufacturers make soap the same way we handcrafted soap makers do, with lye. When lye joins together with the fatty acids contained in vegetable oils, the chemical reaction process known as “saponification” produces soap. Soap is naturally one-third glycerine molecules and two-thirds soap molecules. The oil blend that makes up the soap formula determines a soap’s characteristics, like large or small bubbles. As a handcrafted soap maker, I have the luxury of using nutrient-rich vegetable oils that contribute additional benefits to my soaps and hence, to the skin. When properly formulated, real soap will not dry the skin. On the contrary, handmade soap will leave your skin feeling soft and moisturized from the natural glycerine content. When used consistently, you may find that reliance on lotions noticeably diminishes, saving money and time, a savings that will allow you to indulge in your new-found bathing treat — handcrafted soap!

Handcrafted soap tends to cost more than mass-market cleansers not only because it is made by hand but also because of the nutrient content of the oils. This is an important consideration when determining benefits versus cost. It is also important to consider whether essential oils or fragrance oils scent one’s soap of choice. In addition to an emotionally soothing component, most essential oils like lavender and tea tree add additional skin care benefits to soap whereas fragrance oils merely contribute scent. The point of bathing and washing is to cleanse the skin. Where department store cleansing products are heavily perfumed and leave fragrance behind, real soap will leave your skin feeling clean, soft and smelling fresh!

Internal
Vegetable oil-based soaps bring another important dimension to skin cleansing: essential fatty acids. High quality soaps often use oils rich in essential fatty acids, especially an Omega-6 fatty acid called Gamma Linolenic Acid, also known as GLA. GLA is vital to the health of many body systems including the skin.  Frequently, acne and other skin eruptions can be traced to a lack of essential fatty acids (EFAs) rather than bacteria. Adding EFAs in the form of supplements to one’s diet can do much to bring renegade skin conditions into balance.

Hormone fluctuations also influence how the skin appears and EFAs, along with stronger nails and healthy hair, contribute to hormone health and balance as well. In aromatherapy, tea tree oil is said to release emotional trauma and hence, its association with external skin health under its anti-bacterial umbrella. From a holistic standpoint, when it is said something “got under one’s skin,” tea tree oil soap would be the blend of choice. Nonetheless, when someone comes to me with acne or other skin issue, my first suggestion is usually soap enriched with a GLA-heavy oil like evening primrose, borage or black currant. I usually reserve tea tree oil soap suggestions for those prone to emotional distress, especially those who are reserved about discussing such intimate feelings.

Water is another important ingredient in healthy skin. When the body’s detoxification systems like the kidneys and liver are overloaded for one reason or another, the skin becomes the primary detox mechanism.  Drink plenty of spring water everyday so that organs like the kidneys can effectively perform their detoxification functions and allow the skin to focus on its protective role.

General
Herbs are nutrient-rich botanicals with a wide range of health supporting capabilities and many supplements support healthy skin as well. For example, the herb gotu kola is said to encourage collagen production while supplements like CoQ10 act as antioxidants with the potential to encourage new cell formation. Green tea can be a tea as well as a supplement and plays an important role in both internal and external skin health. Studies show certain of green tea’s anti-oxidant constituents may aid in skin cancer prevention and treatment and thus may be beneficial when made into soap. In addition, these anti-oxidants provide a plethora of benefits for the body’s inner processes, too.  Anti-oxidant rich chocolate also makes a wonderful soap ingredient and contributes not only to skin health but provides a novel bath time treat.

Other ingredients can also add fun and nutrients to soap and hence, to skin cleansing. The most familiar of these is beer with herbal hops and other whole grain components. Wine and champagne made with anti-oxidant rich grapes also add nutrients and lather-enriching sugars while lending a distinct, elegant air to any cleansing ritual. Then there’s mead, or honey wine, nectar of the gods.  Much has been written about the benefits of honey on skin wounds as well as its anti-bacterial and moisturizing capabilities. Soap made with mead combines these benefits with a cleansing regime bringing a distinctly different element to an otherwise ordinary routine.

Overall, the skin plays an important role in our daily lives while showcasing our personality. Skin health can effect how we see ourselves and hence, influence the impression we make with others. As the biggest organ of the body and the shield between your inner processes and the environment, your skin’s nutritional needs deserve equal importance to those of the heart. Everything that goes on your skin can eventually make its way into your bloodstream. Choose skin cleansing products with an eye to health and witness the visibly radiant bloom of ravishing skin reflected in the eyes of everyone you meet.