Understanding the Layers of the Skin
Ever wonder what functions the different layers of the skin perform and how products and treatments can affect those layers? Our goal here is to help you understand the basic structure of your skin can so you can get the most out of your skincare routine and make smart decisions when selecting products or a professional treatment to improve your skin.
The Top Layer of Skin – The Epidermis
The outermost layer of the skin is called the Epidermis. This surface layer is composed of about thirty sub-layers of flattened scale-like cells. These skin cells are continually being cast off by friction and replaced by the cells of the deeper epidermal layers. This surface layer is considered the real protective layer of the skin.
There are thousands of products that are essential for the care and maintenance of a healthy outer layer – these are designed to sit on the surface of the skin where they protect, heal, and replenish the skin.
Most products though, cannot penetrate the top protective layer of the skin (regardless of their claims) since the molecular structure of most ingredients is not small enough to pass through the Epidermis. If you are looking for a product to deliver cell-renewal and skin-rejuvenating qualities deeper in the dermal layers, you need to seek out products that contain ingredients with a small enough molecular structure to pass through the Epidermis.
- The first line of defense against cell damage at any level, is protection of the outer layer of skin. It’s our best insurance against future damage. Moisturizers, body butters, sunscreens, even protective clothing, are products we should use and measures we should take to help protect, heal and replenish the outer layer of the skin.
- Chemical Peels – Exfoliation – Microdermabrasion. When we use bio-chemicals (fruit enzymes), alpha-hydroxy and beta-hydroxy acids or other exfoliating techniques to accelerate the removal of dead skin cells from the outer layer of the skin, we allow the products we use to penetrate deeper and achieve better results.
The Middle Layer – The Dermal Layer
The Dermal layer of the skin is found just below the Epidermis. It is the thickest of all the layers and is made up of pure living cells that are nourished by countless blood vessels and capillaries which deliver oxygen to the skin.
The dermis is the layer responsible for the skin’s structural integrity, elasticity and resilience. Wrinkles develop in the dermis. It comprises a tight, sturdy mesh of collagen and elastin fibers – collagen is responsible for the structural support and elastin for the resilience of the skin.
This layer of skin regenerates itself every 28-42 days, depending on age, lifestyle and genes. It is this cell cycle that we target each time we try to turn back the clock and reverse time and erase the signs of damaged skin. When this layer is constantly stimulated (with exfoliation or microdermabrasion, etc., as noted above), it stimulates the production of collagen and elastin, replacing old cells with new ones.
What Works Here
Remember we said the most topically applied products cannot penetrate below the Epidermis (the top layer of skin). Well, there are a few exceptions.
Skin care products with enzyme proteins known to target the dermal layer can increase the speed of dermal cellular activity which eventually leads to faster skin self-rejuvenation.
Moisturizers with this capability can fuel up the natural moisture production found in the dermis and can improve the skin’s appearance.
Products with active ingredients to target the dermis can provide a healthier and younger looking skin as it enriches the layer with enough nutrients needed for better looking skin.
Shop for products with these ingredients – their molecular structure allows them to penetrate beyond the Epidermis:
- Retinol (Vitamin A) and prescription-strength retinoids penetrate below the Epidermis and are perhaps the most effective method for reducing collagen damage. Be sure to choose products in packaging that blocks light (if not, the light will make the retinol inactive).
- Vitamin C (in the form of ascorbic acid) and Copper Peptide will penetrate the outer layer of skin and have been shown to increase collagen production.
- Glycolic Acid and Lactic Acid (alpha-hydroxy acids already mentioned for their exfoliating qualities) have also been shown to stimulate collagen production.
- Antioxidants (like vitamins C and E, lycopene, green tea, and coenzyme Q10) all help eliminate free radicals that attack the collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid in your skin. Look for moisturizers and serums contain these ingredients.
The Subcutaneous Layer
Subcutaneous tissue is the deepest layer of the skin located under the dermis and consists mainly of fat cells. With aging, the subcutaneous layer of fat thins in certain areas, mainly the face, the hands, and the shins. Skin in these areas becomes thinner and more transparent. This loss of fat, together with natural bone loss, can result in skin sagging, causing hollow cheeks, sunken eye sockets, and noticeable sagging of skin on the hands and neck.
What Works Here
Topical creams, regardless of their molecular properties, will not penetrate the subcutaneous layer to correct damaged skin or reverse the signs of aging. Other, more permanent and more invasive treatments are called for.
- Microcurrent treatment; Heat technology (Thermage); and High Frequency treatments can target and stimulate facial muscles for a tighter more toned effect but they require regular visits and are more suited to mild or moderate cases.
- Dermal Fillers offer satisfying but temporary results for deep lines and wrinkles but cannot correct sagging skin.
- Fat Transfer or facial fat transfer has become singularly the most important way to rejuvenate the face naturally, without incisions
- These offer the most permanent solution but may involve removing, tightening or repositioning tissue, muscles and fat in the subcutaneous layer. Several cosmetic surgery treatments for the face involve separating skin from subcutaneous layers to remove excess tissue and trim sagging muscles and skin. These include face lifts (rhytidectomy) and eye bag removal (blepharoplasty).
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