Why healthy skin is important
Skin forms a natural barrier against allergens, viruses and bacteria, so it’s important to keep it healthy by keeping it hydrated
How skin works
It’s easy to take your skin for granted, but knowing more about how it works can help you understand how to keep it healthy by keeping it hydrated.
Skin acts as a natural barrier to the world around you and protects your body from allergens, viruses and bacteria, it also:
- Helps to control your body temperature
- Plays a big part in sensations like touch, pain and pressure
- Produces vitamin D, for a healthy immune system and strong teeth and bones
Skin is made of three layers that form a protective barrier between the body and the environment:
- The epidermis – your skin’s thin but tough outer layer
- The dermis – which contains tough connective tissue, hair follicles and sweat glands
- The subcutaneous layer – the deepest layer made from fat and connective tissue
Your epidermis is the outermost layer of your skin and plays a big part in keeping it healthy. The very top layer of the epidermis is called the stratum corneum. It's relatively waterproof and, when undamaged, acts as the barrier that prevents most bacteria, viruses and other foreign substances from entering the body. To maintain the stratum corneum, the body makes new skin cells in the lower levels of the epidermis, which move up through the stratum corneum over a period of 21–28 days. As these skin cells reach the top of the stratum corneum, they harden, die, then flake off and are replaced by newer cells pushed up from below.
Healthy skin is like a cobbled path – the stones (skin cells) are held together snugly, with natural oils (lipids) filling the gaps between the cells. This forms the skin’s natural protection barrier keeping moisture in and irritants out.
Dry skin is more like crazy-paving. The cells have less moisture in them or the lipids holding cells tightly together are lost or damaged. This weakens the skin’s barrier, so more moisture can get out, making it even drier.
When your skin’s protective barrier is weakened, it means more irritants can get in. These irritants can cause inflammation of your skin and make it itchy. But the more you scratch and irritate your skin, the more your skin will release chemicals that cause it to itch – this is called the itch-scratch cycle. If you keep scratching, it can cause further damage to the skin’s barrier, making it even drier and itchier over time.
To help maintain the natural barrier of dry skin, you need to keep it hydrated and healthy. Actively moisturising your skin can help it retain more moisture by:
- Replenishing your skin’s natural oils (lipids) that can trap water in between your skin cells and prevent it from getting out
- Supporting the role of natural moisturising factor (NMF) by enhancing your skin’s ability to attract and hold on to water
- Maintaining your skin’s naturally acidic pH that can affect the function of its skin’s protective barrier
You might have noticed that your skin feels different from day to day, week to week and year to year. Or that things like the weather, stress or humidity can affect your skin. If you experience dry or itchy skin, it can be hard to predict how your skin will be feeling on any given day.
Many people find they can help to manage their skin by building a skincare routine that fits into their daily life. Because your skin goes through different phases at different times, understanding how and why your skin becomes dry can help you adapt your routine to deal with any changes.
Flare up phase:
This is when the skin feels more itchy, red or scaly than usual. It can be caused by lots of different things – you might have an idea of what’s made your skin worse or you might not. In this phase, your skin might need more attention and you might have to tailor your routine accordingly.