To understand yourself, begin with your skin
Your skin is made up of dozens of unique skin characteristics. Your age, DNA, environment, your diet and even your quirky lifestyle – they all impact the specific needs of your skin. In this 4 part skin series, to set the scene, we will begin by explaining the 8 main skin concerns. In Part 2 we will explain how an inherited factor, such as ethnicity could impact your needs and in Part 3 we discover the role environment & lifestyle have to play. In Part 4 we will explain what you can do to understand and treat those concerns.
Around the world, people are concerned with their skin, and it’s ‘type’. The idea of skin type has recently become outdated as we learn more about the skin and the factors that affect it. Skin is a living organ and changes on a daily basis in response to internal and external factors. Skincare that suited you in summer might be ineffective in winter, or that moisturiser you always used in your 20’s and 30’s, no longer meets your needs now you find yourself on the other side of 40. What we all need to identify with is our skin concerns, at any one time, not the fixed idea of a skin type, but do enough of us really understand our skin enough to understand these concerns?
As part of our research into skin, we consulted with experts who helped explain the most common 8 main concerns, the characteristics to help you identify them, and why they happen. These concerns exclude any medical needs and are purely cosmetic.
1. My skin gets shiny/oily in the T Zone
In shiny skin, more light is scattered directly back from the skin surface than usual; where some light is absorbed completely, some is reflected in a different direction, and some reflected as different colours. The reflective shiny appearance is a result of the type and quantity of oils on the skin surface.
Whilst even the most oil-free skin has some surface shine, the oils contributing the most to shiny skin originate from sebum, with a lesser proportion coming from residual skincare products.
Higher sebum output occurs in the forehead, around the nose, cheeks and chin - those facial zones richest in sebaceous glands. The distribution of these glands and the level of sebum production will vary between individuals.
Sebum output changes in response to fluctuations of circulating hormones. In Women, this is particularly during the menstrual cycle and menopause are notable times of skin changes. Sebum output, hence skin shine, is also noticeably worse during teens and early twenties.
Other factors also play a part, such as skin thickness, skin texture, with rougher skin seeming less shiny and background skin colour; darker skin appearing more shiny.
2. My skin often looks dull or greyish
Light reflection from skin in good condition will be a balance of direct reflection (shine), diffuse reflection (dullness) from the surface and absorbance and back reflection from the deeper skin layers. Skin will look duller or greyish when the surface and the deeper skin layers are in poor condition.
This can arise as a result of environmental exposures - drying effects or UV exposure.
At the surface, the quality of skin moisturisation and quality of the outer layer of skin (stratum corneum) also impact on dullness. Loss or reduction in quality in skin lipid content, reduction in quality of the skin’s Natural Moisturising Factor or loss of controlled release of cells from the skin surface can all contribute to dullness.
At deeper layers, the quality and density of dermal materials, such as collagen and hyaluronic acid, together with colour resulting from relative amounts of blood and melanin pigment will all contribute to skin dullness. In both cases, greater hydration of the outer and deeper layers allow better quality light reflection from the skin.
Changes in constituents of sebum as a result of health or dietary changes may also affect the perception of skin shine.
3. I often suffer from break-outs of spots or blemishes
Spots and blemishes are usually associated with blockages at the follicular openings where the tiny hairs and sebum emerge on the face; blockages to other pores, (sweat glands for example) may also occur.
Sebaceous glands, containing sebum, released into the hair follicles and usually provide protection to the skin. Blockages to the sebaceous duct can arise however, if there is a build-up of cells from the skin surface - initially this may cause a ‘blackhead’. The build-up of cells can result in uncontrolled release of surface cells or overgrowth of skin bacteria, or both. As sebum builds up under the blockage, the spot can become swollen with a cream or white appearance, also known as pus.
Skin bacteria, naturally occurring in the follicle also play a part in break-outs. The bacteria break down sebum. When this happens in blocked follicles, minor irritants are released into the skin. The defence response increases the blood flow to the area, leading to reddening or a larger characteristic blemish.
Different people will have different numbers and distribution of sebaceous glands around the face and different levels of sebum output. Sebum output changes in response to fluctuations of circulating hormones, as mentioned earlier in relation to shiny/oily T zone. Spots or blemishes resulting from blockages in other pores have a similar pattern, surface cells are not properly released, trapping bacteria, sweat and sebum into the pore.
4. I have very noticeable/open pores
Most pores are associated with hair follicles and sweat glands, however, it is those associated with finer hair/sebaceous ducts that become most noticeable, especially around the nose. They are most noticeable in oiler skin types as a result of the reflective nature of that skin type.
There is some genetic and ethnic variation in the size and distribution of pores and they tend to become more noticeable with age, as the supporting dermis becomes more loose.
5. Being in the sun bring out my uneven complexion (age spots, freckles, blemishes)
Skin complexion is a characteristic arising from the amount and distribution of red tones (from blood) and brown tones (from melanin) and to a lesser extent, the quality of the skin surface and deeper skin. Sun exposure in high doses can cause serious burns, but in lower doses, in general, less pigmented skin reddens more easily, while more pigmented skin tans more easily.
There are short term and long-term effects arising from both types of response. Short term reddening at low exposures fades relatively quickly, but over the longer term, repeated sun exposure can lead to weakening of blood vessels, resulting in permanently red, blotchy skin. Naturally pigmented skin can tan and fade, but with longer, repeated exposures, this can lead to permanent increases in pigmentation. In combination with deeper effects of UV exposure on collagen and elastin, the pigmentation changes can become very uneven.
Pigmentation can also result from irritation, especially in darker skin types around spot outbreaks and areas of already patchy pigmentation can become more intense with additional sun exposure.
6. I can see evidence of fine lines and wrinkles
Fine lines and wrinkles are a consequence of skin losing its natural elasticity. This arises as a result of many factors including loss of skin surface flexibility, changes in the epidermal-dermal junction, loss of elastin, collagen and natural moisture binding contents in the epidermis and dermis (Natural Moisturising Factor and hyaluronic acid).
These changes are age related, both the natural intrinsic ageing process and accelerated ageing due to external factors such as sun exposure, smoking, poor diet and pollution. First lines and wrinkles begin around the corners of the eyes and then under the eyes above the cheekbones.
7. I suffer from puffiness and dark circles around the eyes
Puffiness around the eyes arises as a result of the structure of the eye socket. Fluid builds up at the base of the eye socket in the space between the outer and inner parts of the lower eye lid. The lack of skeletal or muscular structure makes it difficult for fluid build-up to be naturally moved away.
Dark circles occur with or without puffiness and appear because light is absorbed in the gaps between the outer and inner lid. As fluid builds up in the space, pigmented waste products from blood can also build up, making the circles darker. In some cases, the area around the eye is more pigmented than the rest of the face, making the appearance even worse.
8. My skin is sensitive to the environment and can feel tight or uncomfortable
Skin reactivity is a sign of poor skin quality, in particular a poor skin barrier. This can result in a lack of flexibility at the skin surface or increased sensitivity of nerves deeper in the skin; or often both.
A poor barrier can also lead to an over-reaction to everyday environmental changes; commonly seen as a unique reaction when exposed to hot or cold environments. A poor barrier may be more likely to let in irritating materials from the environment such as cleansers, scrubs, detergents and allergens. The situation is then made worse by exposing the nerves within the skin to these irritants. As the situation worsens the skin becomes even more uncomfortable as the deeper layers of skin become tighter and more uncomfortable as fluid is released by the blood vessels as part of the irritant response.
If you would like to learn more about your skin, in under 5 minutes you can simply take our online skin diagnostic (coming soon!) that will give you scores for each of the major skin concerns and make recommendations based on these scores.