The skin is the body’s largest organ and represents approximately 20% of the body’s weight and it requires about one third of the body’s circulating blood to keep it healthy. It is the interface between the body’s internal structures and the environment serving as a protective coat against mechanical injury. It plays a vital role in body temperature regulation, sensory perception, and some immunological responses. The skin also plays an important role in elimination and has sometimes been called the third kidney. The skin’s main release of toxins is through perspiration and can excrete up to two pounds of waste daily.
When we look at the structure of the skin we see that it is divided into a number of different layers.
The first layer is the epidermis which is stratified squamous epithelium. The main cells of the epithelium are the keratinocytes, which synthesize the protein keratin. The four separate layers of the epidermis are formed by the differing stages of keratin maturation.
- The Stratum basale is the innermost layer of the epidermis and lies adjacent to the dermis. It is comprised mainly of dividing and non-dividing keratinocytes. As keratinocytes divide and differentiate they move from this deeper layer upward towards the surface.
- The Stratum spinosum is formed by the maturing basal cells as they move upward toward the surface.
- The Stratum graulosum is formed as a result of the continuing migration of the basal cells towards the surface of the skin.
- The Stratum Corneum, also called the horny layer, is the outermost layer. Here the cells are tightly compacted, tough and scaly. These cells remain on the surface of the skin for about two weeks and are shed as new cells push their way up to the surface from below. This layer serves the important function of being the main physical barrier to the environment and shields against environmental substances including Ultraviolet rays. These overlapping cells are covered by a thin layer called the Acid Mantle which helps the outer layer to retain moisture. This natural acidic covering over the top layer protects against bacterial build up and consists mainly of lactic acid and sodium salt mixed with the sebaceous fluids. The acid mantle ranges between 4.5 and 4.5 for most individuals under normal circumstances. This outer layer also contains natural chemicals, often referred to as the Natural Moisturizing Factor (NMF) that aid in maintaining the moisture balance of the skin. When the NMF and acid mantle are maintained, skin retains a soft, moist and supple appearance. Many factors can contribute to the compromise of this balance including sun damage, unhealthy diet and incorrect cleansing regimes.The movement of epidermal cells to this layer usually takes anywhere from 15 to 28 days depending on the age and health of the individual and is known as the epidermal transit time.The epidermis varies in thickness from 0.05mm on the eyelids to 0.8 – 1.5 mm on the soles of the feet and palms of the hand.
The next layer is the dermis which is composed of a tough, supportive cell matrix and ranges in thickness from 0.6mm on the eyelids to 3 mm on the back, palms and soles.
The dermis is divided into two layers. The thin papillary layer lies below the epidermis and connects with it containing thin loosely arranged collagen fibers. The thicker reticular layer extends from the base of the papillary layer to the subcutaneous layer and contains thicker bundles of collagen.
Within the dermis one finds fibroblasts which produce collagen, elastin and structural proteoglycans, as well as immuno-competent mast cells and macrophanges. Collagen fibers make up about 70% of the dermis giving it strength and toughness. Elastin maintains normal elasticity and flexibility while proteoglycans provide viscosity and hydration. Embedded within the fibrous tissue of the dermis are the dermal blood vessels, lymphatic vessels, nerve cells and fibers, sweat glands, hair roods and small quantities of striated muscle.
Beneath the dermis is the subcutaneous layer which is made up of loose connective tissue and fat, this can be up to 3 cm thick on the abdomen.
Skin can further be divided into a number of different types:
Normal Skin – here the oil glands produce sebum at a moderate rate, resulting in a balanced state neither too dry nor too oily. Normal skin looks plumb, moist and vibrant. It benefits from regular cleansing, toning and moisturizing.
Essential oils considered suitable for Normal Skin include: Roman chamomile, clary sage, lavender, geranium, neroli, patchouli, rose and cedarwood.
Carriers considered suitable for Normal Skins include: sweet almond, apricot, avocado, coconut, grapeseed, jojoba, olive, sesame seed
Oily skin – here the glands produce excess oil that results in a greasy, slippery texture which is frequently accompanied by large, clogged pores. Oily skin is prone to develop acne. Periodic aromatic steam treatments and clay masks will be of benefit.
Essential oils considered suitable for Oily Skins include: cajeput, cedarwood, cypress, fennel, frankincense, geranium, jasmine, juniper, lavender, rosemary, palmarosa, tea tree, vetiver and ylang ylang.
Carriers considered suitable for Oily Skins include: grapeseed, hazelnut.
Dry Skin – this is caused by under or inactive oil glands that do not produce enough sebum to keep the skin naturally lubricated. It is characterized by a dull appearance and often has flakes and scales. Dry skin feels itchy and taut and is often sensitive. It is important to hydrate skin regularly from the inside by drinking lots of fresh water, as well as to moisturize and protect the skin with rich oils. Dry skin is more prone to forming wrinkles than any other skin type. Dry skin benefits from rich formulas containing a balanced combination of oil and water to soothe and hydrate.
Essential Oils considered suitable for Dry Skin include: basil, Roman chamomile, frankincense, lavender, jasmine, myrrh, neroli, patchouli, rose, rosemary, sandalwood and ylang ylang.
Carriers considered suitable for Dry Skins include: Sweet almond oil, olive oil, avocado oil, rosehip.
Combination Skin – here there are both dry and oily patches on the skin and is one of the most common skin types. It is often seen as an oily T-zone, covering the forehead, nose and chin while the skin around the eyes, cheeks and mouth is normal or dry. It is most helpful to treat each area with the appropriate product.
Essential Oils considered suitable for Combination Skin include: Roman chamomile, lavender and rose.
Carriers considered suitable for Combination Skins include: Hazelnut, Jojoba oil.
Mature Skin – this is characterized by moisture loss and advanced collagen cross-linkage which shows up in wrinkles or facial lines. Sagging skin is a normal occurrence of the aging process.
Essential Oils considered suitable for Mature Skin include: clary sage, cypress, fennel, frankincense, geranium, lavender, neroli, rose, sandalwood, spikenard.
Carriers considered suitable for Mature Skins include: apricot, avocado oil, jojoba oil.
Sensitive Skin – can be dry, normal or oil and is characterized by its delicacy. It requires special treatment as it often reacts adversely to cosmetics containing alcohol, synthetically manufactured ingredients, fragrance oils and artificial colors. It benefits from using gentle natural products.
Essential Oils considered suitable for Sensitive Skin include: Roman and German chamomile, jasmine, lavender, neroli, and rose.
Carriers considered suitable for Sensitive Skins include: sweet almond, apricot, avocado, coconut, grapeseed, jojoba, olive, sesame seed.
Many carrier oils like sweet almond, apricot, avocado, coconut, grapeseed, jojoba, olive, sesame seed are suitable for all skin types however the oils noted under each section are particularly helpful for that skin type.
Once we have identified our own particular skin type it becomes simple to create a specialized aromatherapy protocol for skin care using essential oil based products. We should also incorporate a regular facial into our normal skin care regime making sure we incorporate the steps of clean, exfoliate, steam, massage, mask and moisturize.