In this article I want to focus on something that is aging your skin, which you may not be aware of and that is loss of lipids.
Many of you have a keen awareness of the fact that with age we lose collagen in the deeper layers of our skin. This is why we get wrinkles and people are really focused on how to improve collagen, how to delay loss of collagen from the skin.
Go into any store and you’re going to see collagen supplements, collagen creams, etc.
But one thing that people are neglecting to pay attention to is that we also lose lipids with age.
Our body doesn’t produce lipids in the skin as readily and that actually is a major reason for the visible signs of photo aging, which you may be neglecting.
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What are Lipids?
They’re large molecules that don’t mix with water and they are a major part of cell membranes.
Lipids in general include things like animal fats, plant oils, hormones, certain vitamins. Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat soluble vitamins.
Lipids are really important for cellular function. They are about 50% of cell membranes and without good lipids cells become leaky, they lose their integrity and they start losing vitamins and minerals.
But lipids also play a major role in signaling within the cell membrane. They play a vital role in communication.
Our skin has its own natural lipids, things like ceramides, cholesterol, fatty acids. These are really important for skin barrier function. They play a vital role in keeping moisture within the skin and allowing for exclusion of impurities, irritants and infectious organisms.
Cholesterol is a really important lipid in our skin it accelerates skin barrier recovery and it plays a vital role in the elasticity of our skin.
With age, we start making less cholesterol in our skin and that leads to less elasticity and the visible signs of dry skin. We are more prone to irritation and we also are more prone to symptoms of stinging, burning. These are manifestations of sensitive skin, but the root issue here is loss of lipids in the moisture barrier, allowing for more irritating things to get in.
Cholesterol is important for keeping our skin plump, bouncy and hydrated. As we start losing cholesterol in our skin in our 30s and 40s, we are noticing some of the visible signs of skin aging related to cholesterol deficiency: dry skin. skin that’s more readily irritated. more prone to redness. peeling and symptoms of sensitivity.
As cholesterol production declines in the skin, our skin is much more vulnerable to damage from reactive oxygen species from environmental stressors, further contributing to breakdown and weakening of the skin barrier and the visible signs of photo aging. This also translates to collagen that is more easily destroyed in the deeper layers of the skin.
You’ve got to have that healthy moisture barrier intact and those lipids play a vital role.
Beyond cholesterol, you’re probably familiar with the other type of lipid in the skin barrier – ceramides.
These two are really important for maintaining the integrity of the moisture barrier, keeping those irritating things out. A major under underlying cause of dry skin is a deficiency in ceramides.
Some people are born with problems with ceramide levels in the skin and they are prone to eczema.
Also with age, we start making fewer ceramides and we’re more prone to dryness and water loss from the skin.
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What to Do?
There are many things that you can do proactively to help your moisture barrier and to keep your skin healthy and functioning properly.
First of all applying cholesterol topically actually can help strengthen your skin’s moisture barrier.
Cholesterol is actually found in many moisturizers and applying cholesterol topically can help with moisture retention.
Also applying ceramides topically from a moisturizer too can help in improving moisture retention.
Simply using a moisturizer can help the function of your moisture barrier as we start making fewer lipids. With time it becomes even more important.
Moisturizers applied to the skin regardless of if they have cholesterol and ceramides helps you seal in moisture and allow your skin’s moisture barrier to function better, to recover better and to keep you protected, to keep irritating things out.
Using a moisturizer is so important to the health of your skin, especially as we get into our wiser years and we’re making less cholesterol in skin and less ceramides in the skin and we’re more prone to that irritation.
So while everyone is focused on collagen in the deeper layers of the skin, don’t forget the importance of the lipids up top to seal everything in and keep the fluidity and integrity of the moisture barrier.
This is really important because an intact moisture barrier is better equipped for protecting you from those environmental stressors that ultimately destroy that collagen.
Intact moisture barrier keeps irritating things out like pollutants and potentially infectious organisms, like fungus or bacterial infections.
An intact moisture barrier also allows you to tolerate other topical medications or ingredients better.
Obviously applying a moisturizer is really important.
Wearing sunscreen is also another really important part of addressing this issue of your moisture barrier.
One thing most people don’t realize is that the majority of sunscreens will help to some extent with improving moisture retention in the skin. They’re going to have ingredients that help seal water in.
They may not be the optimal moisturizer, meaning they may not have ingredients that really bind on to water in the top layer and amp up hydration in the top layers of the skin.
But ultimately they do reduce water loss from the skin.
But importantly they block out some of the damaging rays from the sun that ultimately destroy your collagen down in the deep layers. But also impair the integrity of the moisture barrier by damaging the lipids in the top layer of the skin.
So the sunscreen piece is really important!
Beyond just wearing sunscreen though, obviously protecting your skin from the sun by wearing sun protective clothing is also really important.
Protecting your skin from ultraviolet radiation is definitely something you need to factor in when considering how to optimally protect your moisture barrier.
Have you ever noticed if you happen to be unfortunate enough to sustain a sunburn that the skin is not exactly glowing and hydrated?
The sun protection is a major thing to reduce damage to your skin.
As we start making fewer ceramides less cholesterol in the skin our skin is more prone to dryness from cleansing.
Selecting a gentle cleanser to remove dirt and impurities at the end of the day is really important. But you don’t want to over cleanse your skin, you don’t want to use extremes of temperature.
You’re already losing some of the lipids with time. Why strip them away with harsh cleansers, hot water, cleansing too frequently.
Keeping your skincare routine really simple is recommended. Especially as we get in our wiser years, we’re making less cholesterol in the skin. fewer ceramides, the skin is going to be more prone to irritation from things that come in contact with the skin.
Those things that come in contact with the skin that are more likely to cause irritation, they subsequently can further impair your moisture barrier by disrupting the pH of the moisture barrier.
Keeping it simple is always your best option,
Skin care products can only do so much, but the moisturizer piece and the sun protection piece of your skincare routine are going to help out your cause the most.
What about your diet? That always is a major factor in really anything when it comes to health, including the health of your skin.
You want to make sure that you have a diet that includes some healthy fat sources.
I want to make one clarification.
When we’re talking about cholesterol in the skin, that is not the same as dietary cholesterol. It’s not the same as HDL and LDL and plaques and the arteries and cardiovascular disease.
You shouldn’t go out and eat Big Macs in an effort to get better looking skin. That’s not what I’m talking about.
There are some foods in your diet that can help out the lipid cause in your skin.
Foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids: walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, fatty fish, avocado. Incorporating these into your diet is going to help with that lipid piece of your skin and help the moisture barrier.
These foods also help with the skin’s ability to handle free radical damage better.
There are some supplements too that show promise. Specifically evening primrose oil and borage seed oil supplements are rich in fatty acids. These have the potential to improve the moisture barrier.
What about dietary ceramide supplements?
There is some evidence that they can help in improving moisture content in the skin.
I want to emphasize that using really any moisturizer can help with the integrity of the moisture barrier and ultimately help downstream in terms of recovery of the skin barrier and your skin’s ability to better handle free radicals.
The tips in this article are not about a cosmetic outcome. It is about preserving function, keeping your skin as healthy as possible, so that in your wiser years, it’s less likely to be prone to dryness, irritation.
A side effect of better moisturized skin is it looks better, the skin cells are more hydrated, they’re plumper. When they’re hydrated, they help in smoothing out those little fine wrinkles.
There is a cosmetic benefit there, but the focus really should be on function, preserving function and integrity of the moisture barrier.
Rebecca is a licensed aesthetician and certified laser technician with almost 15 years experience in the dermatology. Her life-long passion is making people look good and happy.