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Zen & The Art of Skincare (part 3)

Cell signaling rules. Let’s find out.

Skin is a close second behind the brain as the most complex organ of the body. Nothing else comes close. The skin protects. That is its sole mission. So, why so complicated? There are many “systems” in play is the short answer, otherwise we would have hid like lizards.

Why didn’t we hide like lizards? Why is our skin more like the frog? It is likely our ancient human ancestors were more lizard than frog. They lived outside for the most part, in savannas that were dry. Pigmentation made us frog-like, it is an early evolved trait, a somewhat inefficient UV protection idea that has been superseded by our immune systems using more complex biochemical intervention techniques.

The immune system is in the process of taking us from lizard to frog. In a few hundred thousand years, if man is still alive, it is likely we will go all frog. Meaning the skin goes ultra-smooth, thin and with much reduced pigment.

For today, fellow tadpoles, if you want to know how vibrant your immune system is working, take a quick read? Look at your skin. Your average union member shaman can read everything from heart disease to intestinal disorders by the look of your skin. For part timers the clues are a bit iffy. If it’s all over in an itchy rash, you could be a nervous wreck, or have poison ivy or a bad reaction to that $80 moisturizer.

In both cases, the takeaway is the skin has sent you a message and is working to protect. Signals. That’s today and it rules..

The nervous system is another highly differentiated actor in the skin. Meaning it has a lot going on at any one moment. Pressure and temperature sensors, electro-chemical analysis, immune system interaction, metabolic prompts, and a lot more in the way of get-with-it memos to the skin factory are at work.

The face is particularly rich in its network of nerves and explains why we are in a constant balancing act with our environment there. The face tells the story. The story developed over a month, or a year, or a few days ago. Rarely does the story start and end today.

What you see is the past, the recent past, and the very recent past. Most likely what you see is what developed over the last 30 days. Today? Not so much.

The skin down deep reacts to what happens out there on the surface. Signals are sent from the surface down and back up. For every action you take on your skin, there is an equal and often a seemingly more than unequal response. That is why it is difficult to find out what is going on when things go wrong – we assume it happened from something we did today, or yesterday.

That is usually not the case. If your skin erupts today from an $8 moisturizer, it is most likely not the moisturizer. You had set the stage for the eruption with a poor skin environment long before. What you see is the outcome, not the cause. You will vow never to use the $8 moisturizer again, even if it is the innocent player.

The signaling is complicated because there are factors in play from orally dosed medications and dietary choices that involve the immune system. The immune system like the skin, reacts. Often way out of proportion. It is an evolving mechanism in human history, not yet complete and some are luckier than others in drawing this card.

But there is a way to manage what is sent down from the surface. Avoid charged particles. The signals of the skin are electrical.

That is to say, the skin responds to positive and negatively charged chemicals you apply. More or less. Most skin products contain charged particles. These range from powerful and destructive particles like alpha acids (glycolic, lactic, etc.) to very weakly charged particles from fats (fatty acids). There are other chemicals that are very weakly charged but have destructive effects, like phenols and even polyphenols that are ubiquitous in natural extracts. Salicylic acid is a phenol, not an acid. It selectively dissolves non-viable cells at the skin surface.

This would seem to be a great way to get around the charged particle problem, but of course, the skin is much smarter than that. In a short time, the skin will label salicylic acid as an invader. You will now have a subclinical (non-visible) response in play and when you apply the least bit more of something (the $8 or $80 moisturizer), all hell breaks loose.

You blame the moisturizer.

There are two primary issues contributing to the look of aging skin. Cell signaling and metabolism. You can help or hinder both. By far the more important is cell signaling. The cells bob around in a gel-like ocean called the Extracellular Matrix (ECM) and send messages back and forth.

The cells are made up of proteins and a warehouse of chemicals. The proteins look like the spiral ribbons on gifts. For the most part. Some look like a spiral ribbon that blew up. In any case, the structure of the proteins, every little bit of twist and turn has a function, a function that sends out an array of signals. Imagine all those cells and all those internal proteins sending zillions of signals per second.

This is maintenance. These functional areas are reporting and collectively the report is going out across the ECM to other cells. The BIG REPORT is read by the immune system. If bad things are happening, and by that, it is meant a threat to the protection of the vital organs by skin failures such as weakening from charged particles, a blob of protein is formed in the failing area.

There is an array of Praetorian guards sent out to locate any offending substance and remove it. This is done by macrophages and they will wash out the problem while protein sandbags are put in place (scarring).

Cell signaling that goes poorly will generate poorly formed cells with many structural problems. The next generation of visible tissue you see in the mirror looks drab and uneven in texture. Your solution is to add more highly charged particles or phenols (or something for god’s sake!) to stop looking like a cadaver model.

This solution is also called the skincare industry. In that world, the answer usually is more collagen, or protein. More. More. A magic substance applied to the skin will generate more collagen and protein by ‘nourishing’ the cells, as if they were in a buffet line and gorging like silk robed satraps.

Howard Maibach, M.D. author of more than 3,000 papers in dermatology has made it abundantly clear that ANYTHING APPLIED will increase skin protein population. For good or evil. The issue is not quantity, though quantity of cells is definitely decreasing with age, the BIG ISSUE is quality. Only quality cells will have a positive visible outcome. Swelling up from a negative reaction eliminates wrinkles for sure. Is that what you want? The quality of proteins is a function of signaling and that is a function of good health AND selective application of metabolites in very limited frequencies.

Metabolism is the next key to reverse visible aging. Metabolomics.

to be continued…

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