The condition and appearance of our skin is key to our overall health and wellbeing. When skin is in good condition it works hard to protect our bodies from environmental stressors such as irritants, allergens and microbes, regulates temperature and looks and feels smooth, calm, well hydrated and even in colour. There are many factors – both internal and external – that affect skin condition and influence how it looks and feels. For example, because of its compromised skin barrier, hypersensitive skin is more prone to irritation than well-balanced skin. Some factors we cannot influence, but many we can. Careful skincare can protect skin and keep it looking younger for longer.
Understanding skin What are the factors that affect it?
A person’s genetics determine their skin type (normal, dry, oily or combination) and effect their overall skin condition.
Genetics and biological skin aging
Genetics also determine the biological aging of skin which is characterized by:
- A decline in cell regeneration and renewal.
- Reduced sebaceous and sweat gland secretions.
- Degeneration of the connective tissue so that skin is less able to bind in water and loses firmness.
- Degeneration of elastic fibers that results in reduced skin elasticity.
Biological skin aging should not be confused with premature skin aging which is caused by external factors such as the sun and can be influenced.
A predisposition to skin conditions such as Atopic Dermatitis, Psoriasis and Ichthyosis is also decided by genetics. For example, those born with a genetic Filaggrin (a protein found in skin) deficiency have skin with a weaker barrier function and are prone to sensitive skin and Atopic Dermatitis. With such a predisposition, skin can be triggered more easily by stress and exacerbated by external influences, so it’s important to have a proper skin care routine in place. Read more in dry skin and Atopic Dermatitis.
There are also some diseases – such as diabetes and kidney disorders – that can impact on skin condition.
The weather can have a significant impact on skin condition:
Sunlight in moderation is good our overall wellbeing, but too much sun can damage skin. The sun’s rays affect skin in different ways:
- UVB rays are responsible for sunburn. HEV Light has not been associated with sunburn.
- UVB rays and, to a lesser extent, UVA rays have been linked to DNA damage which can cause skin cancer. HEV Light is not associated with skin cancer.
- Both UVA rays and HEV Light can cause skin to age prematurely (photoage)
- Sun allergies are mainly triggered by UVA rays but can also be provoked by UVB.
- UVA, UVB and HEV Light rays can induce hyperpigmentation and may contribute to conditions such as age spots (also known as sun spots) and melasma.
You can read more about the difference between UVA and UVB rays in ‘How UVA, UVB and HEV Light rays affect skin, and find out how to look after your skin in How to protect skin in the sun?
Extreme temperatures, and the speed of change between them, impact on skin.
In cold conditions skin reacts by narrowing the blood vessels to protect the body from losing too much heat. Sustained cold temperatures reduce sebaceous gland secretion and cause skin to dry out. Read more in dry skin.
In hot and humid conditions (for example tropical countries or a sauna) sweat glands produce more sweat, leaving the skin moist and shiny and, in some cases, prone to acne.
Low humidity, as found in aeroplane cabins and even caused by central heating, can cause skin to become dehydrated and lead to increased sensitivity.
Some skin conditions, for example Rosacea, can also be triggered by hot temperatures. This is one of the reasons why it is recommended to use warm rather than hot water for facial cleansing, hand washing and bathing.
Harsh skincare products, an inappropriate routine and exposure to certain chemicals in the workplace can stress skin:
Skin is naturally mildly acidic, with a pH of between 4.7 and 5.75. Aggressive cleansers and moisturising products with an alkaline pH overtax skin’s natural neutralising capability, damage cell structure and impair the barrier function of the outermost layer of the epidermis. As a result, skin can dry out and become sensitive or even hypersensitive.
When skin is sensitive it is susceptible to skin infections and flare-ups of diseases such as Atopic Dermatitis or Rosacea. Sensitive skin (which is characterised by a weakened protective barrier) and hypersensitive skin (which additionally has hyperactive nerve fibres) are both particularly prone to the drying and damaging effects of harsh products.