Skin Deep

The skin is the largest organ of the body.  A patch of skin about the size of a fingernail contains 5 million microscopic cells of at least a dozen main kinds, one hundred sweat glands and their pores, one thousand touch sensors, one hundred plus hairs, one meter of tiny blood vessels and about half a meter of nerve fibers.

The skin takes part of our integumentary system which also includes hair and nails. The skin is not simply a protective covering for the human body, but is a complex organ consisting of a number of specialized cells. The two main structures of the skin is the outer epidermis, which is chiefly protective and the underlying dermis which contains thousands of microsensors that enable the sens of touch, as well as sweat glands and adjustable blood vessels that contribute to body temperature regulation.  Under the dermis is a layer called subcutaneous fat which acts as a buffer and provides extra thermal insulation against heat and cold.

The skin is the body’s first line of defense against potential harm and is therefore well equipped to prevent physical damage to its supple cushioned qualities.  The epidermal cells that form the skin’s outermost layer are tightly knit together, but allow a certain amount of pliability.  The cells are almost entirely full of the tough protein, keratin, which resists attach by many kinds of chemicals.  The natural secretion of sebum from the millions of sebaceous glands, each associated with a hair follicle, is slightly oily at body temperature and spreads easily.  It furnishes the skin with partially water-repellent and antibiotic qualities, inhibiting the growth of certain microorganisms, and prevents hairs from becoming too brittle.

When it comes to the skin and aromatherapy or holistic healing, most of us tend to look for ways of reducing wrinkles, sun or age spots, acne, rashes, eczema. Ultimately we are looking for ways to look more youthful although some skin disorders such as eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, boils or warts can be  more painful and debilitating than we are made to believe.

If we take a look at a very basic and common skin problem such as eczema. A typical eczema rash is red, inflames and itchy with small fluid-filled blisters of dry, scaly, thickened and cracked skin.  Common sites are the hands and creased areas of skin such as the wrists, elbows and knees.  Interestingly enough, the cause of eczema is unclear, one possibility is the dysfunctional interplay between the immune system and the skin.  A number of other diseases such as osteoporosis, depression and heart disease have been linked to this skin condition.  This is just one of the many reasons why it is so important to look at our health in an all-encompassing, holistic way as opposed to “fixing” the loose parts when something goes wrong.

In the case of eczema, anti-inflammatory drugs are generally prescribed as are corticosteroids in some cases.  The problem with many of these treatments is they might alleviate the symptoms so that the patient can get on with their lives, but they do  not address the problem at its source, which is usually left un-investigated.  Wouldn’t it be more effective to try to find out why a person is having certain reactions.  Could it be environmental, psychological, a nutrient that is missing, something they need to add or subtract from their diet?

In terms of taking care of skin, it is important to keep the skin hydrated whether you suffer from eczema or not. Use lotions or creams that contain more natural ingredients such as  vitamin E or aloe vera.  After showering or bathing, be sure to apply a lotion that is soothing to the skin so that it does not become too dry; this is especially true if you live in a cold climate year round or have cold winters.

Essential oils that are helpful in alleviating the pain and inflammation of eczema include: Roman and German Chamomile, Helichrysium (Immortelle) and Rose Otto.