Nurture Your Summer Skin: Cleansing • Hydration • Homeopathy

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I can still remember the thrill of teasing the boys in Grade 6 – “I can see your epidermis!” Red faces instantly turned downwards, little hands clutching zippers. In the prehistoric/pre-Google era, it took the boys a while to discover that the epidermis is part of a much more vital organ. The skin is our largest organ, weighing four kilograms and measuring close to two square metres for adults.

Beautiful, healthy-looking skin requires care and attention, mostly from the inside. The skin acts as a protective barrier from harmful environmental factors like toxins, the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, and temperature extremes. But it’s important to realize that because the skin is porous, what goes on the skin can also get in. Think about that the next time you lather up or moisturize.

Still wondering what an epidermis is? Skin is three layers deep. The outermost layer is the epidermis. This thin outer layer is comprised primarily of a tough protein called keratin. The keratinocyte cells of the epidermal layer are constantly renewing as the exterior cells die and flake off. The epidermis also produces melanin, the pigment that determines skin colour and offers UV protection.

The other two layers of skin are:
a) the dermis, which gives skin its strength and elasticity because of its collagen and elastin, and
b) the sub cutis, the fatty inner layer that protects our inside parts from bumps and bruises, and serves as a fuel reserve in case of food shortage. This layer also acts as a storage space for toxins, which is why rapid weight loss is never a good idea. It’s amazing to consider that during a 24-hour period, you will shed almost a million skin cells. And you will grow an entirely new set of skin cells every seven years.

The Skin As An Organ of Detoxification

Along with the kidney, liver, and lungs, the skin has a critical role to play in the detoxification process. Just as goose bumps and shivering stimulate warming, sweating is nature’s way of keeping us from over­heating and helps eliminate toxins. There are two types of glands involved in this process – eccrine glands trigger the release of perspiration to regulate core body temperature and apocrine glands release sweat as a response to nerves or stimulation, such as exercise.

In humans, apocrine (sweat) glands are concentrated in certain parts of the body: the armpits, breasts, ears, eyelids, nostrils, and genitals. Although sweat cleans us out from the inside, it can cause irritation to the surface of the skin by clogging pores and encouraging fungal growth.

While a good sweat can be rejuvenating, it’s important to cleanse skin thoroughly to remove the mixture of minerals, dead skin cells, and toxins that perspiration leaves behind, especially if you have sensitive skin.

Sweat is also a major factor in miliaria, more commonly known as ‘prickly heat rash.’ Miliaria occurs when the eccrine glands become clogged, which results in the characteristic prickly, itchy red bumps.

It’s interesting to note that perspiration is primarily odourless. The ‘stink’ in sweat occurs as a result of perspiration coming into contact with bacteria on the skin’s surface. Unpleasant odours result from the breakdown of protein into acids. (Editor’s note: This is why meat consumption can make you smell bad, resulting in a need for strong deodorants and perfumes. By switching to a vegetarian diet in summertime, body odour improves dramatically as the chlorophyll in green vegetables acts as a natural deodorizer.)

Our bodies are amazingly complex machines and the sweating process was found to play a central role in an important new discovery. Earlier this year, researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh, Goettingen, Tuebingen, and Strasbourg discovered how ‘dermcidin,’ a natural antibiotic created by the skin when we sweat, is a germ-fighting tool with huge potential. When skin is injured, our sweat glands secret natural ‘antibiotic agents’ to fight and kill the germs. These natural substances, named ‘antimicrobial peptides,’ are actually more effective than human-made antibiotics. These findings show promise in developing a new class of antibiotics that could be highly effective in fighting emerging drug-resistant strains of dangerous bacteria.

Aside from the body’s natural defence mechanisms, “nature’s pharmacy” offers many useful tools for enhancing the health of skin.

The first and most important is water. Did you know that being thirsty is generally considered a sign of dehydration? Water is essential to most body processes. On average, water accounts for 60% of our body weight. Feeling dry? Although individual needs vary, medical research recommends nine cups for an adult female and 12 cups daily for an adult male. Take note that carbonated beverages, even carbonated water can contribute to dehydration and are high in sodium.

Sunlight Is Good for Skin

Moderate sun exposure is important for healthy skin. While too much sun can lead to skin damage and even certain forms of cancer, we need sun exposure to produce vitamin D. To synthesize vitamin D, your skin needs UVB rays from the Sun. A minimum of ten to fifteen minutes a day is all that’s needed.

While many Canadians supplement with vitamin D3 in the winter months, new research suggests that our indoor lifestyles are resulting in year-round deficiency. A significant body of research links suboptimal levels of vitamin D with everything from reduced muscle function (resulting in fatigue and pain) to weight gain and even breast and colorectal cancer. Although sunscreen allows us to reduce the risk of sunburn, skin coated in sunscreen can’t work its vitamin D magic act. Whole body application of chemically laden sunscreens increases the systemic absorption of ingredients through the skin. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes a comparative analysis of sun care products online that is worth checking out. The best approach to summer sunning is a common sense approach.  Make use of protective clothing and a reasonable amount of chemical-free sunscreen and soak up a few healthy rays.

Homeopathic Healing

As the body’s largest organ, our skin shows its displeasure to the stresses of modern-day life in unsettling ways: acne, abscesses, bruises, burns, cracking, eczema, fungal infections, hives, impetigo, psoriasis, ulcers, urticaria, warts. The list is impressive and endless. In many cases, modern pharmaceutical treatments of skin disorders rarely offer more than temporary relief of symptoms and often carry the risk of serious side effects (i.e., topical corticosteroid creams and anti-fungal medications). Homeopathic medicine offers healing hope for many, if not all, common skin conditions.

For the family first aid kit, homeopathic topical preparations are essential. Arnica Gel and Traumeel Ointment are reliable formulas for treating swelling and bruising. Calendula Gel is soothing and ideal for treating cuts and scrapes, as well as burns including sunburn. For larger areas or areas very sensitive to touch, a water potency can be prepared with Calendula 200CH pellets and misted gently to heal the skin. When dealing with insect bites, ApisGel and ointments made from Ledum will bring welcome relief.

Since most skin diseases result from systemic dysfunction, homeopathic prescribing is ideally suited to yield curative results. Homeopaths consider all of an individual’s symptoms and match the patient’s unique expression of the disease or condition to the best-indicated homeopathic medicine. The medicine is prescribed in order to stimulate the body’s natural healing response and the process is carefully monitored by the professional homeopath. This is a very different process from pharmaceutical prescribing which actually seeks to suppress symptoms in an effort to bring temporary relief. It is not difficult to see why homeopathy is highly effective in treating skin conditions.

Try This at Home!

Bug bites and bee stings often get in the way of summer fun. Ledum is a good first choice for any type of puncture to the skin. It has earned the title ‘homeopathic tetanus booster’ because it is so effective.

If the characteristic reaction to the bite is hot, red, and swollen, follow with Apis.

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