When skincare is also brain care

May is skin cancer awareness month! Of course, for dermatologists like me, every month is skin cancer awareness month because your skin is exposed to potentially harmful, skin cancer-causing rays every day of the year, no matter the weather—or even whether you go outside. You can be exposed to harmful UVA or UVB rays just by sitting near a window, or with your hands on your car’s steering wheel.

That’s why faithful, daily application of sunscreen is my #1 skincare recommendation. Sunscreen is the #1 way of preventing skin cancer. Think of it as your best friend!

But did you know that skincare can also be considered brain care?

It’s true. There are several reasons for this:

  1. Your body is composed of interrelated systems, meaning that taking care of one system will positively impact the entire body.
  2. More specifically and significantly, your skin and your brain are intimate members of the NICE—neuro-immuno-cutaneous (that’s Latin for skin)-endocrine (hormone)—network. NICE is a multidirectional web of communications that enables you to respond to both internal and external stimuli. What’s happening externally, as reported by your skin, affects your mental state, which determines what you do with that information, sometimes triggering the release of hormones (the endocrine system), and often either boosting or draining your immune system. Conversely, what’s happening internally, as communicated by your nervous system, can cause you to blush, break out in hives or eczema, trigger the release of hormones, and, correspondingly, boost or drain your immune system. You think, you feel, your skin responds. And vice versa.
  3. When you take the time to care for your skin, you’re building up its protective barrier, which helps skin to protect the rest of your body from burns, scrapes, and scratches, but also from toxins and inflammatory agents—including inflammatory agents that affect the brain. (More on that in a minute.) At the same time, skincare also sends soothing messages to your nervous, immune, and endocrine systems. This care can take the form of a relaxing a bubble bath, an invigorating, exfoliating brush or sugar scrub, a deeply nurturing facial, the application of oils, lotions, and other moisturizers, sunscreen and more.
  4. In addition to being the package that keeps us all together, our skin is the “face” we present to the world. We all feel better when we’re able to present our best “face,” and conversely, our self-esteem naturally suffers when acne, eczema, or other skin flare-ups prevent us from doing so. That’s why In a 2014 National Rosacea Society survey of 1,675 patients with rosacea, 90 percent reported lowered self-esteem, 54 percent reported anxiety, and 43 percent reported depression as a result of their skin condition. More than half said they avoided face-to-face contact—either because they were ashamed of how they looked, or they feared being judged by others. So when our skin looks good, we tend to feel better about ourselves! A 2019 survey by InStyle magazine found that a full 76% of women, regardless of age, felt good about themselves if they thought their skin looked good.

OK, even if you’ll readily admit that skincare feels good, does it really protect or improve the health of your brain?

In a word, yes.

As you know, your skin is your largest organ—covering every inch of you! A big part of its job is protecting your internal systems from external stressors—which means that your skin bears the brunt of a lot of external “insults” that can cause inflammation. This This chronic, consistent, low-level inflammation has been linked to most of the chronic diseases affecting modern humans, including Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

For years, scientists assumed that an overloaded immune system was the explanation for inflammaging and its negative health effects, until dermatologists at UC San Francisco proposed a different explanation. They hypothesized that the inflammation might come from perhaps the one organ big enough that even minor inflammation could affect the whole body. “Skin is a good candidate for this because of its size,” explained Mao-Qiang Man, M.D, a research scientist at UCSF and senior author of the study the group published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology.

As our skin starts to deteriorate at around the age of 50, changes to its pH, its ability to retain moisture, and damage to its permeability barrier also can cause it to release inflammatory cytokines. (Although cytokines are simply small proteins that signal the immune system to get to work, when there are too many, or they are constantly present, the immune can “over function,” with adverse health effects.) We now know that this chronic, low-grade inflammation can increase the risk of age-related degenerative diseases, including heart disease and Alzheimer’s.

However, the study’s authors also showed that skincare—specifically, twice daily application of an over-the-counter skin cream formulated with cholesterol, free fatty acids and ceramides that had previously been shown to contribute to skin repair—was able to reverse cytokine levels and return them to levels nearly equivalent to people in their 30s.

Although larger studies are needed, the early evidence is that skincare not only repairs and protects the skin—which, in itself, is essential to your well-being—it also protects your brain and other organs.

And don’t forget: hydration is both skincare and brain care!

Water is essential to the functioning of every cell in your body. Hydrated skin is essential to your skin’s barrier function, as well as to your brain’s health and cognitive function. Even mild dehydration reduces the performance of brain cells—both subjectively and objectively. Slightly greater dehydration can even cause the brain cells to shrink, pulling away from the skull, resulting in headaches—as anyone who’s consumed too much dehydrating alcohol can confirm.

In short, health is all-inclusive: everything in the body is connected! That’s why skincare is healthcare, including brain care!

#Modern Wellness!

DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider, who should also be consulted with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.


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