We’ve all heard it before, “The skin is the largest organ of the body,” but rarely do most of us pause to comprehend the impact of how this massive organ functions to protect us on daily basis. Because it holds the title of being the largest organ we have, it would follow that its responsibilities would be quite sizable as well…
There are 4 main functions of optimal skin barrier function:
1. To provide optimal nutrition to all of the skin cells
2. To prevent inflammation
3. To engage in barrier repair, and
4. To protect you
When these elements aren’t working correctly, we begin to notice the appearance of abnormal skin conditions, including acne, psoriasis, eczema, sensitive skin, dermatitis, rosacea, actinic keratosis, and visible signs of aging.
There are lots of things to discuss regarding what specifically affects inflammation and skin barrier disruption, which we’ll get to in a later article. For today, I’d like to talk about the actual structure of the skin barrier so we can better understand how it’s affected by the choices we make every day.
Let’s travel back to high school biology (don’t worry, this will be a short trip). When we look at the cell membrane, which is essentially the “skin” of each cell, it’s made up of what’s called the lipid bilayer, and this is the key to your skin’s ability to do it’s job, and do it well.
The cell membrane is made up of, and is entirely dependent upon, essential fatty acids. These are actually the building blocks for great skin, and my #1 recommendation for skin health. They’re called essential because your body can’t make them on its own, which means they must be ingested from food or supplements. This lipid environment keeps the cells viable and gives them a happy place to live. It creates a fluid environment that allows for nutrients to enter, and toxins to exit.
Clinical research has shown that damaged skin is often linked to a deficiency of healthy fats to make up the structure of the skin. Without a healthy lipid bilayer, functionality starts to deteriorate, and abnormal skin conditions can start to flourish.
So, where can we find these all-important fats? Essential fatty acids come from dietary sources that include nuts and seeds, and walnut and flax contain some of the highest amounts of them. They can also be found in some grains and fatty fish, such as Alaskan salmon. Leafy green veggies also contain a high amount of healthy omega fats. This also means that grass-fed sources of beef have much higher amounts of healthy fats (and much less saturated fat) than agriculturally raised beef, which is grown to eat corn or grain, instead of grass. A high-quality fish oil is also a great way to get these healthy fats in every day.
Dr. Karla Alberts, ND