You know that feeling your skin gets after a day in the sun, perhaps swimming in a pool or hiking a mountain? That my-hands-are-so-dry-I-think-licking-them-might-help, type dryness? Hi, I’m Jennifer, one of the co-founders here at RaVina Labs. When I decided to move my family from the Bay Area to the Northern Rockies, I carefully researched all the things we might need to know about living in a mountain town. I had visions of my little ones as snow covered ski bunnies carving downhill in the winter and dreams of family hikes amongst the wildflowers across the valley in the summer. What I neglected to factor in was the toll of living at 5318 feet above sea level would take on my skin.
Tackling severely parched skin is my new normal, my newest skincare uphill battle. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I can’t stand that feeling of super tight skin and low grade itchiness just permeating throughout the entirety of the day. Sometimes my brain starts to wonder about pollen counts and mountain allergies, but deep down I know the real culprit is insanely dry skin! Blaming it on the flora is just a game time fit of desperation. Even now as I write this post I keep fighting the urge to take my fingers off the keyboard and start scratching away.
Just last night we returned from a trip to Southern California. It was a vacation for both the family and my skin. Though you might think of Los Angeles as more of a dry, desert climate, there is actually more water in the air since it’s at a lower elevation. More water in the air equals higher humidity. And let me tell you, if you suffer from dry skin then a humid climate is your new best friend. Thanks to its skin quenching abilities (read: the added moisture in the air helps the skin retain more water), the humidity leaves your skin feeling like the Merriam Webster definition of the word ‘supple’. It is a nourishing bootcamp for those coming from dry and irritating climates. Venturing home to the mountains after a week of increased humidity felt like dehydration station for my complexion. Within hours of being back and after one shower in our well water, it was as if each drop of moisture had been sucked out of my skin. I found myself quickly longing for a return flight back to California. Why am I boring you with my changes in elevation, travel skin details, and water systems? To convince you of one simple fact: I really understand dry skin.
DEEP DIVE ON DRY SKIN: Ok, we get that dry skin sucks. But here’s the thing: once you understand exactly how the skin works, I feel confident that you will be able to correct and repair your skin issue, once and for all.
If you have identified with dry skin, you might often have the feeling of dehydration, tightness, itchiness, and irritation. Your skin might also feel painful, appear grey or ashy, at times appearing red with inflammation! As if the inflammation and pain weren’t enough, sometimes your skin may even peel, flake, and become scaly with dry patches. I think that fish are beautiful, but I do not necessarily want to look like one. Plus, this is not a natural or comfortable state for your skin to be in.
So, why exactly is my skin so dry?
Dryness happens when the lipids in the upper layer of your skin, the stratum corneum, become depleted and there is not enough water to keep it hydrated. Your stratum corneum often becomes compromised due to environmental issues, UV radiation, and harsh cleansing agents.
How can the stratum corneum prevent water loss?
It’s really interesting how the skin works. You’d be amazed to discover just how much our body is set up for its own personal success. One of the main functions of our skin is to prevent water loss. Even as the water from our body is constantly evaporating, your skin acts as a natural barrier that works hard to prevent trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL). We learned about this lovable natural barrier earlier, the stratum corneum. The stratum corneum is actually just the uppermost layer of your skin and it is dedicated to helping prevent TEWL.
What exactly is in the stratum corneum that works to prevent water loss?
Take a journey with me back to your high school Molecular Biology class. Within the stratum corneum you will find corneocytes, which are basically just dead cells made up of keratin (protein) and intercellular lipids (oil). Think of these two heavyweight structural components as building brick and mortar: The brick, or keratin (protein) and mortar, intercellular lipids (oil) are stacked together so tightly that the water has a hell of a hard time evaporating. This protective, tightly bound structure of keratin and lipids also prevents chemicals and microbial agents from entering into our body.
There are some other fascinating extracellular and intracellular properties that are found in the stratum corneum that aid in the skin’s hydration. These properties are called Natural Moisturizing Factors (NMFs). NMFs, not to be confused with the crypto craze of NFTs, are considered hydrophilic, or water loving properties. Intracellular NMFs are mainly made up of amino acids (a peptide is a chain of amino acids) and extracellular NMFs are mainly comprised of sugars, lactate and Hyaluronic Acid. Along with our NMFs, intracellular lipids also play a major role in our skin’s hydration. Some key components of intracellular lipids are ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids. When our super powerful protective lipid layer is compromised, for example by harsh cleansing agents or too much sun exposure, the likelihood of trans-epidermal water loss is increased.
Long story short, in order to maintain a proper level of water in our skin, we need our brick and mortar natural barrier to function and keep water in alongside our naturally occurring NMFs that act as humectants. Humectants attract and bind water. These two important mechanisms of our skin keep it moist and pliable and in a comfortable state.
Okay okay, I get how the skin works. Now what are some of the causes that make the skin dry?
UV Radiation: UVB radiation can be very harmful to our stratum corneum. It causes redness of the skin thus compromising the natural barrier by damaging its permeability and altering the structure of the lipids. This results in increased Transepidermal Water Loss which causes the dreaded dryness, chapping and cracking.
Harsh cleansing surfactants: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) is an ingredient commonly found in popular skin and beauty products that is more dangerous than you realize! SLS can remove the intercellular lipids and cause the protein (keratin) in the stratum corneum to become chemically altered and swell. As surfactants change the skin’s protein, the water loss in the stratum corneum increases, leading to skin dryness, roughness, cracking, and inflammation. That’s why it is super important to read what is actually in your skincare products. Public service announcement: Soaps also remove the skin’s NMFs thus decreasing the skin’s ability to hold onto water. Please stop washing your face with soap!
Too much external water can be a bad thing: Long periods of exposure to water can negatively affect our natural barrier, the stratum corneum. Think about how dry your skin felt as a kid after spending a day boogie boarding in the ocean, or how a 20 minute warm shower during the winter actually ends up making your skin worse. Your skin becomes red, inflamed and itchy. The dry trifecta. Too much water exposure can make the SC swell and make the corneocytes not bind as well together thus increasing the permeability of all substances. Plus, too much water can interfere with the SC lipids, which can lead to dry and a compromised barrier.
Environment: I touched on this at the beginning of the blog, but a reminder that weather conditions such as high elevations and low humidity can cause a decrease in the SC’s water content. This leads to increased dryness and skin roughness.
Rules of Warcraft for dry skin: Be sure to avoid long, hot showers or baths, as well as chlorinated pools and hot tubs. Remember to wear gloves when cleaning with harsh chemicals or doing the dishes with the stripping dish soap that contains Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. And make sure you are using the right kind of cleanser and exfoliant that works for your skin, not against it.
Are you drinking enough water?
To maintain soft and hydrated skin, the SC should contain between 20-30% of water. When the water content drops to 10-20%, the skin can become dry. Because of our body constantly losing water due to external factors and natural evaporation, it is important to balance out that water loss with a daily supply of water intake.
This is all great, but how do I correct dry skin?
In my opinion, dry skin doesn’t have to be a lifelong battle. With properly targeted treatment, it can be greatly improved. First, it’s all about correcting the above mentioned behaviors and adding in our Replenishing Treatment for Dry Skin every 2 weeks. This facial routine is packed with three of my most favorite game changing ingredients:
- Essential Fatty Acids: Aids in the important maintenance of skin hydration.
- Hyaluronic Acid: Maintains the skin’s hydrated state and provides structural integrity.
- Peptides: Stimulates the synthesis of collagen and elastin, thus delivering strength, smoothness and firmness to your skin.
These three ingredients are already naturally occuring in our stratum corneum, our self-care facial goal is to supplement, strengthen and protect our natural skin barrier so it can maintain its natural hydrated state.
In fact, that’s our whole philosophy here at RaVina Labs. We believe that for the most part, your skin knows what it’s doing. We want to let the skin correct, balance and heal on its own by feeding the skin what it wants and what it needs. Don’t be afraid to listen to what your skin and body needs. It probably knows more than you think! As always, if you have any questions, we are just an email away.
I’m off to do my replenishing facial while I search for the fastest delivery of a water softener system.
Until next time,
Jenni + the RaVina Labs team