“Isn’t skin interesting?” In customer support for a skin care company, we say that almost everyday to people writing in with questions that vary from the simplest inquiries about glitter to the most complex questions about hormones and diet. Let me tell you, there’s never a dull day at the ASC customer support desk.
All of our question and answer dialogues led me to wonder, what is skin? How do we take this complex concept and make it into something that’s easier to understand? How can we try to turn all the skin issues that come across our CS desks from an embarrassing beauty problem into a growth experience?
I went around to all of my coworkers and asked them, “What is skin to you?” I found that everyone had a different answer, which was intriguing in and of itself, but you know what? All the answers were spot on. The skin is an impressive jack of all trades and I want to explore that with you!
Skin is an Organ
In fact, it’s our largest organ. Skin covers the entire body from head to toe in three layers that are constantly cycling through cellular metamorphosis.
Courtney said that this is the main way she sees skin. It is a utilitarian organ that houses the other parts of our physical being. Kevin mirrored Courtney, with his typical one-word response that said it all. “Sack.” We had a great laugh about that, but he’s exactly right!
Niquita considers the skin a protective barrier for her skin, and she’s right, too! The skin, specifically the sebum it secretes, protects our bodies from pathogens and microorganisms. The deepest, fatty layer of skin also acts as a protective cushion for the fascia, muscles and bones.
The skin is also responsible for the body’s heat regulation. The same fatty layer that cushions your body helps you keep in the heat when its cold by storing fat, and when you get hot, you sweat that stored fat away.
Hope talked about transportation and how the skin is working all the time to take things in and push things out. Traditional Chinese Medicine sees the skin as the third lung, and why not? It absorbs everything in your environment and excretes what your body doesn’t need. (Try standing on a clove of garlic and time how long it takes you to have garlic breath!) When our other elimination systems (liver, digestion, and lungs) are not properly functioning, the skin can take that elimination roll on – that’s when you see things like rosacea, eczema, and acne caused by diet and hormones.
Here’s a quote from Malady’s Esthetics that might blow your mind: “An inch of skin contains 8ft of Blood Vessels, 32ft of Nerves, Millions of Cells, 100 Oil Glands, 65 Hairs, 1,300 Nerve Endings, 155 Pressure Receptors, 12 Cold and Heat Receptors.” Sit on that for a minute before you move on.
“Everything I Touch, Everything I Feel”
Hugging someone you love, the softness of a rose petal, the coarse beard hair your mountain man friend has, or the difference in being barefoot in sand and barefoot in mud. Oh yes. Touch is immensely important in our ability to understand and communicate with one another and the world around us.
Natalie was describing the feel of the sun and the wind on her skin and the way that clean sheets feel at night with such excitement that we were all laughing out loud because those sensations are warming to our hearts. Without sensation, those clean sheets would be a matter left only for laundry, and the sun would only be a bright ball in the sky. The world would be much drearier.
“A Gateway to the World”
Rachel said that the skin is the way our internal self is expressed to the world, meaning everything from inner beauty to the health of all of our organs. We’re fascinated by our instincts and their relation to beauty! Animals – including the human kind – have a natural inclination to see healthy things as being beautiful. Our skin is something that gives potential mates and our community an idea of how we’re doing.
You probably know this by now, but we’re huge proponents of face mapping when it comes to what could be going on inside of your body.
Think about the last time you went out all night and didn’t drink any water before crashing at 3am. Those bags under your eyes gave you away didn’t they? What about that time that you spent the day walking in the sunshine, drinking water, eating a healthy home-packed picnic, laughing with your friends, and getting to bed on time. How did your skin look after that day?
If you aren’t sure of the difference, try experimenting and take some selfies after binge eating sugar, fat, and dairy for two days and then again after healthy eating and self-affirming positivity!
“Skin is the House of Myself and My Being.”
Abby and I were chatting about the skin being a barrier that defines what we are and what we are not. More than just being a physical barrier, the skin is an emotional and metaphysical barrier because so much of what we ‘are’ is defined by what we choose to incorporate into our being.
When was the last time you blushed? What about the last time you were so excited or scared that you had goosebumps? That is an example of your skin reacting to your emotional state. So many skin issues can be caused by emotional turbulences like stress, grief, depression, shame, or embarrassment (that’s right, being embarrassed about your acne or rosacea could be making it worse).
On the flip side of that, positive intentions and happiness can help clear up your skin! Positive affirmations, like saying “I love you” and “you are beautiful” to yourself everyday can be really beneficial for your skin. Annmarie is a big proponent of self-affirmations because they work so well for her! The first time I'd ever heard of that was when I started working for ASC. Then I had a workshop with a holistic practitioner who told us to record ourselves enthusiastically saying positive things and listen to it during our morning routine to help our skin.
“Everything that is happening to my being, is happening within my skin. Everything that is happening outside of my skin, is not happening to me.” This is a mantra that has been bumbling around in my head because I do a lot of work with empathetic boundaries, and having a tangible organ to tie this idea of “boundaries” to is helpful. In a way, it gives shape to the difference between the responsibility of self and concern for others, which is easily compromised when we add emotion and permeability to the mix.
Jack of All Trades
So, what is skin? I guess we don’t have just one answer for that, and that’s why we do what we do. Skin is a window into someone’s health and a door that swings both ways for nutrients. It serves as a physical barrier and an emotional one. It is a connection to community and also defines what only exists as one’s own being. I guess the better question is: what isn’t skin.
So next time you look in the mirror and see something that you don’t like about your skin, Try to say thank you for all the things that you do like, because your skin is an overworked and underpaid friend that you’ll have for your entire life.
Learn More About Your Skin
- How to Determine Your Skin Type
- Which Oils You Should Use if You Have Combination Skin
- What's the Difference Between Dry and Dehydrated Skin
What is your favorite thing about your skin?
by Aubrey Wallace, Resident Herbal Scholar
Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism: The science and practice of herbal medicine. Rochester, Vt.: Healing Arts Press.
Quizlet: Milady’s Esthetics