The condition of our skin indicates more than our age - it tells a story about how we have lived our lives. As our body’s largest organ, our skin is in reality an outward expression of the health and vitality of the rest of our bodies. Like all our tissues, our skin has to adapt to the environment we expose it to. Our choices about nutrition, air quality, alcohol and other drugs, UV light, stress, exercise and choice of skin care are written into its DNA, literally. In the west, a great deal of time and money is devoted to eradicating signs of both age and a less than ideal lifestyle. We tighten, smooth, lighten, fill and conceal with an aim to preserve the youthful appearance of our skin. Thankfully, there is now a groundswell movement away from the notion of beauty as synonymous with youth, towards the idea that it is a state of health in body and mind, no matter what our age. Here we describe how our all natural and certified organic skin care can play its part in keeping your skin healthy, and therefore beautiful, at any age.
Growing older and ageing gracefully
In Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of medicine, true health is achieved by bringing balance to all aspects of our lives. It stresses the importance of self-care, meditative practices, physical exercise and a diet and lifestyle appropriate to our body type. It acknowledges that everyone’s needs in these areas is different, and that they change throughout our lives. Whatever philosophy we choose, it is becoming clear that taking charge of our health is the key to achieving it. When we learn what foods and activities best suit our body, when we understand the nature of our mind and spirit and how to nurture them, we come closer to achieving true health and vitality. By paying attention to these, we develop the skills to create the ultimate vehicle to take us through life. Perhaps this is a step closer to the wisdom of the ancients, where nurturing mind, body and spirit was the path to enlightenment, which is perhaps beauty in its purest form.
The science of ageing
Skin ageing, in particular, has been the subject of much study and interest. We now understand that ageing is a result of a genetic ‘clock’, which limits the number of divisions a cell can undergo. The speed of ageing can be increased by exposure to environmental factors that damage genes and the proteins they encode. The most damaging are the oxidants which are generated both by normal metabolic processes in cells and by external agents. In the case of skin, the external agent that causes the most damage is UV light, while factors like cigarette smoke, car exhaust fumes and other air pollutants generate oxidants in our whole bodies.
What does aged and UV damaged skin look like?
Aged skin is thinner. Both the outer epidermis and the deeper dermis are affected. There is a reduction in the amount of collagen and a reduced density of blood vessels in the dermis. Both dermis and epidermis have a slower healing response. The amount of glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), the molecules that hold water in the skin and keep it plump and hydrated, also reduces with age.
When skin is overexposed to UV light, there is an increased rate of production of oxidants, and a corresponding decrease in the levels of antioxidant enzymes. These changes cause additional damage to DNA and its encoded proteins, reducing the protective function of both dermis and epidermis. Further, UV light activates matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), the collagen-degrading enzymes, and also inhibits the production of new collagen production. UV overexposure causes an initial thickening and then a thinning of the epidermis. It becomes wrinkled and shows irregular hyperpigmentation. In the dermis, collagen and elastin fibres degenerate and there is a further loss of the hydrating GAGs, while blood vessels become sparse.
Slowing down ageing: diet and lifestyle
The more we learn about diet, the more it seems we don’t know. Despite this, a finding that comes through time and again is that a plant-based diet provides a higher density of age- and disease-protective nutrients.
The degeneration of the collagen and elastin both in our skin and throughout our bodies is enhanced by glycation, a chemical reaction that is increased in diets high in sugar and foods that have undergone the Mallard reaction (cooking that results in browning - frying, grilling and roasting). Limiting our intake of these foods can slow down the degeneration of collagen and elastin throughout our bodies.
The antioxidant vitamins A, C and E as well as other antioxidant molecules, the polyphenols, flavonoids, resveratrol and cucurmins are most abundant in fruit and vegetables. These antioxidants protect against free radicals and reduce inflammation in the body, and may also protect our collagen and elastin from glycation.
The essential fatty acids, which are abundant in hemp, chia and walnut seeds as well as some fish and grass-fed meat, are incorporated into cell membranes throughout the body, and are important for proper functioning of hormonal, immune and other regulatory systems in the body. In the skin they reduce the level of injury from UV-B radiation and improve the skin's barrier function.
A healthy gut flora is considered one of the cornerstones of good health, and is also one of the tenets of Ayurveda. It now seems that a high fibre, plant-based diet is the best route to developing a healthy gut biome.
Overall, a varied, plant-based diet, combined with regular exercise, a happy social life, a means of releasing stress, and having a purpose in life, all seem to be consistent markers of a slow rate of ageing, and therefore a long and healthy life.
Slowing down ageing: the best skin care products
It would seem logical that the same dietary nutrients that slow ageing will have the same effect when applied to the skin. However, the skin forms a barrier to absorption of some molecules, and lacks the enzymatic machinery to convert others into their active form. In addition, the scientific research has not been done to properly evaluate the specific effects of all molecules of interest.
However there are a few nutrients whose role in anti-ageing is well understood, and these have informed how we have formulated our certified organic skin care range:
Vitamin A and beta-carotene
The effects of topical retinol (vitamin A) application is well studied. It reduces the appearance of fine wrinkles, and induces production of both GAGs and collagen, helping to plump the skin. Although the effects of application of the vitamin A precursor, beta-carotene, on these markers have not been studied, it is known that topically applied beta-carotene is well absorbed into the skin and can be converted by the skin to retinyl esters, the storage form of vitamin A in the skin (Read more here). This suggests that plant-derived beta-carotene applied topically can also influence these processes. Skin care ingredients that are rich in beta-carotene include pumpkin seed oil, hemp seed oil, raspberry oil, sea buckthorn oil and rosehip oil.
Topically applied vitamin E reaches both the epidermis and the dermis, and probably reaches the deeper dermis via the sebaceous glands. In the epidermis it accumulates in the cell membranes as well as the non-cellular layer, the stratum corneum, where it contributes to antioxidant defences. Vitamin E is rich in a number of plant oils including avocado oil, pumpkin seed oil, sea buckthorn oil and shea butter.
Although vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps prevent UV damage, is important for the synthesis of collagen and can depigment the skin, it is notoriously difficult to deliver to the skin. As a water-soluble vitamin, it is not retained in plant oils, though it is commonly and incorrectly stated that rosehip oil and other plant oils contain vitamin C - they do not. Most water-soluble forms of vitamin C included in skin care are unstable, and degrade well before the vitamin reaches the skin. It is also difficult to transport this water-soluble vitamin through the lipid layers of the stratum corneum. There are synthetic oil-soluble forms of vitamin C available which do penetrate the skin. To our minds, it is simpler to deliver this vitamin to your skin via the diet.
Most polyphenol antioxidants are well absorbed by the skin, (here are some examples) and a wide range of powerful antioxidants are found in plant oils, including camellia oil, shea butter, cacao butter, sesame oil and borage oil.
These molecules are known to aid shedding of the outer layers of the stratum corneum, boost the production of collagen in the dermis and reduce hyperpigmentation. The alpha hydroxy acids include lactic acid, which is found in yoghurt and fermented foods. Beta hydroxy acids, such as citric acid, are found in some fruit juices. Salicylic acid, sometimes referred to as a beta hydroxy acid, may be used in synthetic form or, as we prefer, in its natural form from white willow bark and meadowsweet foliage. Care needs to be taken when applying the hydroxy acids to sun-exposed skin as they can increase the damage caused by UV light in some circumstances.
A number of plant extracts have been found to inhibit the action of the MMPs, the enzymes that break down collagen in the dermis, both in response to UV light exposure, and following inflammation. Both shea butter and aloe vera are examples of plants with anti-protease activity.
Essential fatty acids
We have written about these vital molecules previously (see this article), and their main roles include maintaining a healthy barrier in the skin, which protects the skin against dehydration and, to some extent, the penetration of oxidising pollutants. In addition, the essential fatty acids are anti-inflammatory, reduce the level of injury from UV-B radiation to the skin, and also reduce UV-induced hyperpigmentation. Plant oils rich in essential fatty acids include hemp, pumpkin, chia, walnut, flax, raspberry and elderberry seed oils.
What not to include in your skin care products for optimum health
At Mokosh, we believe that what we put onto our bodies should not differ from what we put into it. This means producing skin care with a rich array of plant-derived antioxidants, anti-inflammatories and skin-building fatty acids. Because certified organic ingredients are often richer in these nutrients, and contain fewer pesticides and other pollutants than conventional ingredients, we use 100% certified organic ingredients in all our all natural skin care products.
Unfortunately, most skin care is still formulated with synthetic ingredients - emulsifiers, preservatives, and other bio-incompatible substances that are designed to provide a good ‘feel’ on the skin, a desirable fragrance or for ease of application. We reject this method of feeding the outside of the skin, because:
These are powerful anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agents that can potentially disturb the skin microbiome. Just as antibiotics should be consumed as a last resort because they can damage the gut flora, we believe that the almost ubiquitous use of preservatives in skin care needs to be reconsidered. Because our skin care is formulated without water, Mokosh certified organic skin care can be made without preservatives.
Synthetic ingredients like emulsifiers are essentially detergents, binding water and oil to provide a stable emulsion for a water-containing moisturiser. Some emulsifiers have been shown to disrupt the skin’s all-important barrier function, potentially damaging rather than protecting the skin (read it here). All synthetic ingredients have the potential for causing problems for our bodies to metabolise and eliminate. For this reason, all Mokosh skin care is free of synthetic ingredients.
Synthetic vitamins and bioactives
When it comes to our skin, we can choose to feed it from the inside or the outside. Where a nutrient cannot be delivered to the skin safely and efficiently via the skin, we believe it is more effective to deliver it to the skin through the diet.
Mokosh certified organic skin care
Every ingredient in our all natural certified organic skin care range is carefully selected for its ability to support the long term health of your skin and reduce impact of processes that speed the ageing process. We ensure that every product in our range has an abundance of the anti-ageing, health-promoting nutrients that have been shown to help counter the ageing effects of free radicals and UV light. Because our products are strictly free of synthetic ingredients and preservatives, and undiluted with water, they are a concentrated source of vital food for the skin which will support your journey towards true beauty. The other part is up to you - choosing the healthiest diet and lifestyle that suits the truth of who you are will complete the picture.
Photo by Sian Redgrave .