I know for certain that every one’s skin has the potential to glow. It’s just a matter of how you look after it that decides how healthy it looks. Some people are blessed with good genes and start off well with a glowing skin. All they need is to take a little care of their skin. But sadly, these people sometimes take their skin for granted and come to me in a panicked state when it is far into the damage zone. Some of us are not so blessed and our skin may need correction and constant care.
Then there are the two types of people with extreme attitudes. The first are those who come running the day they hit 20 and ask me endless questions about changes that occur with ageing. They are so sure they need surgery right then and there. Besides turning down most of their requests, I have to calm them down with advice on what they actually need.
The second types are those who let go so badly in the name of ‘ageing gracefully’! To me this term means so much more than looking beautiful. It means someone who at their age looks so serene and beautiful that it makes me wish I look half as good as them when I reach their age.
5 signs of healthy skin
If you have good and healthy skin, you find friends complementing you on your glowing skin and asking you about the secret recipe to it. You feel nice, happy, and energetic, and your skin, hair, and nails glow even brighter with confidence. When you don’t have great skin, either you ignore it or you work at improving it because you know the negative impact it has on you, your confidence, your mood, relationships, and sometimes even your efficiency.
But getting that healthy glow does not come after following just one step. Most patients come to me and ask for the secret to glowing skin as if there’s a bulb in them that I can turn on. Like I said before, your outside, i.e. your skin and how it looks, affects your insides, your mood, and your health. And what you put inside—your nutrition—shows on the outside.
So before we move ahead, let’s first talk about how a healthy, beautiful skin should look and feel.
#1 Even skin tone: Your skin should have a consistent colour no matter what your complexion is. It does not matter if you are fair, dusky, or dark; the evenness of skin tone is what makes you look attractive. Little shadows are natural to Indian skin tone. But for it to look attractive, the colour graduation has to be seamless, blending with the rest of your facial skin colour.
#2 Well hydrated: You know skin has enough moisture when it feels supple to the touch. Another way of knowing whether your skin is well hydrated is when your skin bounces back as you press and release it. You know then that the lipid barrier is well preserved, causing minimal transepidermal water loss.
#3 Smooth texture: Healthy skin looks smooth and feels smooth. If you look closely in the mirror, you will notice a uniform layout of your pores, and tiny peaks around your hair follicles (yes, our face does have a very fine layer of hair, almost invisible to the naked eye). The pores are small, tight, and feel smooth to touch.
# 4 Reflects light: Your skin is neither too dry or chapped nor too oily. The pores are closed. This makes the light that hits your face travel back in a straight line instead of scattering it, so that a person looking at you sees your skin shine and glow.
#5 Normal sensations: When your skin is healthy, you will not feel any irregular sensations like stretching, burning, or itching.
Is there a way to guess how you may age?
Stand with a hand mirror in your hand and look at your reflection in the mirror, with your hair tied up. Bend forward to look at your face more closely and that’s how you will look 5 years later. Bend backwards or lay down with the mirror on top and that’s how you looked 5 years ago. You have the potential to get back to how you looked 5 years ago with right care and intervention.
Your skin DNA
Recently there has been a lot of hype about customizing one’s skincare products as per the DNA analyses of the skin. Yes, sure science has gotten this specific. But do we really need it? First, let me tell you that despite all the testing that’s being done, all that research has told you is whether your skin needs anti dry/anti lines/anti free radicals/anti redness/anti pigment ingredients more in your skincare creams or not. But don’t we already know most of it?
Remember remarks like, ‘Look at your mom-in-law to see how your wife will age’. Just look at your parents and siblings and you’ll know what elements of ageing you should focus on most.
One of my actor patients was once telling me, ‘Doctor, my special skill is that I can cry onstage or when a shot demands it. Or I can let a tear drop slowly from my eye if I’m shooting a sad scene. Also, I can grow a pimple in real time basis when stressed.’ Likewise, we all know how we react to stress, certain food substances, menstrual cycles, and dust in a specific way.
Supposing both you and your friend suffer from the same skin problem, say pigmentation. Even though you may end up buying the same skin product, you will notice that a particular product may give her better results while your skin will show no signs of improvement. The answer to this must lie deeper in the skin.
Your cells are coded in such a way that they react to different actives in different ways even if the skin issue is the same. This is where your doctor’s experience counts in looking at your history and signs that your skin gives out—like pigmentation on stress areas like say body folds and elbows/knees or the pattern of skin reacting during cycles and seasonal changes—and then identifying and changing the ingredients. So what works for you may not work for your friend and you must go to an expert for the right opinion.
The role genes play in your hair and skin
- Your skin’s genetic tendency to get acne
- How your skin will age in terms of wrinkles, sagging, neck ageing
- How your hair will change with age in terms of the texture, density and overall health
- How and when you’ll bald
- When you may start greying
- When you may enter menopause
How your skin forms scars
How your skin will pigment
How your skin will react to the sun or other external factors
How fast oxidation will damage your skin
How you will heal from an injury to your skin How your skin, hair, and nails will respond to any treatments or products applied to them
By putting the two together, you know what to remember in your skincare routine and what to stress on when you seek professional help towards ageing gracefully.
Other important skincare terms
> Transepidermal water loss: Skin acts as a major barrier against transepidermal water loss. Transepidermal water loss is water that passes from inside your body through the epidermal layer to the surrounding atmosphere via diffusion and evaporation process. The water loss from the skin is affected by the level of humidity, temperature, season, and your skin’s natural moisture content. This is a continuous process over which we have little control. It can increase due to disruption to the skin barrier due to wounds, scratches, burns, and exposure to harsh surfactants. This leads to extreme dryness. Disturbance in any layer of the skin causes this loss of water from the skin.
Stratum corneum has 30% water which is associated with elasticity of the outer layer of the skin. The innermost layer of stratum corneum has the maximum percent of water that supports the outer layer. The moisture on the outermost layer of the skin is dependent on the ambient humidity.
> Skin pH: pH is the measurement of acidity. But what does that mean in the context of your skin? It means the acid mantle over your skin, which acts as a barrier and prevents infections. This acid mantle is also important in controlling the enzyme activity on the skin and in skin renewal. pH is measured from 1 upwards, with 1 being highly acidic and 14 being highly alkaline. A pH of 7 is neutral. A pH between 1 and 6 is acidic and between 7 and 14 is alkaline. The optimal pH of our skin is 5.5. The layer of sweat and sebum together make the acid mantle. In fact the condition of the pH on your skin is dependent on internal factors like natural moisture, oil glands, sweat, genetic predisposition and age. Externally, skin’s pH balance can become affected by harsh soaps, astringent, medication, face wash, and cosmetics.
Using astringent soap or face wash removes the acid mantle and can leave your skin vulnerable to problems like acne, contact dermatitis, fungal and bacterial infections.
Free Radicals: Free radicals are atoms or groups of atoms with unpaired number of electrons that are formed when oxygen interacts with certain molecules. Oxidation is a very natural process that happens during normal cellular functions.
Now these unpaired electrons literally go on a rampage trying to attach to electrons from other molecules. So these highly reactive radicals react with important cellular components such as DNA or the cell membrane and damage them. After reacting with a free radical, the cells generally function poorly or die. Once free radicals react with the cellular DNA, they cause mutation and abnormality which then shows up on various organs including skin. Since 1956 doctors and scientists have agreed that free radicals are one of the major causes of premature ageing of skin.
External toxins like UV rays, pollution, and cigarette smoke are the biggest reasons why free radicals are produced in our bodies. This oxidative stress on the skin cells can be prevented by supporting your skin with antioxidants. You need to protect skin by both taking antioxidant supplements and eating antioxidant rich foods and applying creams and lotions with added antioxidant actives.
Enzymes: Enzymes are chemicals that speed up the rate of chemical reactions without being consumed in the reaction themselves. Our skin enzymes have two main uses: One for exfoliation and the other as an anti- inflammatory. In fact, enzymes derived from fruits are effective exfoliants and are often gentler than other methods like scrubs and microdermabrasion.
The enzymes work by specifically breaking down the keratin protein or the top dead layer, revealing the newer, smoother skin below. They are able to digest keratin protein and stratum corneum, thus strengthening healthy skin with natural antioxidant vitamins as they exfoliate.
In skincare, the most popular and commonly used exfoliating enzymes are derived from pineapple, papaya and pumpkin. Pineapple contains the strongest of the three enzymes called bromelain. Papaya contains the enzyme papain, and pumpkin is rich in the enzyme protease. The enzymes in these fruits are so potent that you can actually mash them up and apply on your face and get supple skin in a few minutes. The antioxidants that are added to the skin as these enzymes work are vitamin A from pumpkin’s protease, and vitamin C from pineapple’s bromelain and papaya’s papain. Other fruits that have skin smoothing enzymes include grapes, strawberries, pomegranate, and cherries.
These enzymes function as a scavenger of free radicals and protect the skin against oxidative damage. Simply put, enzymes can protect against damage from the sun, environmental pollutants, and even acne. However, they can be quite unstable because of changes in environmental temperatures and its pH due to exposure. So it is a good idea to use freshly mashed fruit as soon as possible on your skin for maximum benefit.