All too often we think of oil as the enemy when it comes to our skin; we all want to be well hydrated and dewy, but nobody wants to be oily. As such, poor old oil has almost become the victim of an unfair smear campaign, targeted by many a product like it’s the devil incarnate. But the reality is a balance of both oil and water is absolutely essential to your skin health.
The role of water in your skin
As you might already know, water makes up more than half of your body. The exact amount varies based on your age; babies are born with almost 80% of their body made up of water and this drops to around 55-60% by the time we are adults.
Every cell in our body contains water; in fact, without water, it’s impossible for our cells to function properly.
In our skin, Hyaluronic Acid binds and retains the water our skin cells need. But just like collagen, our production of Hyaluronic Acid declines with time. Seeing as it is this which holds onto the water our skin cells needs to function properly, as well as giving our skin that soft and plump appearance, it is the gradual loss of Hyaluronic Acid and water in the skin which leads to the signs of ageing such as wrinkling and sagging. (Want to replenish it? Find out how here)
Beyond this, water is also an essential part of our skin’s protective barrier, the acid mantle.
The role of oil in your skin
Also known as sebum, the oil in our skin is created by the sebaceous gland. The only places you won’t find sebaceous glands on your body is the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet. There are two types of sebaceous glands; those which are connected to a hair follicle, and those which are not.
Prior to birth, the sebaceous glands create that thick, waxy substance which newborns have all over them when they are born. After this massive effort, the sebaceous glands will then chill out for a few years until hormones kick them into overdrive once you hit puberty.
Sebum is also an essential part of the body’s defences against microorganisms and our skin’s protective barrier. You’re probably starting to get where we’re going here, right?
The role of oil and water in the acid mantle
To understand what the acid mantle is and why it’s so important, let’s take a quick look at the basic physiology of our skin.
Your skin is actually your single largest organ and there’s a whole lot of complicated stuff going on with it. We said this was a quick look though, so let’s just stick to the basics.
Under the surface of the skin is a layer known as the dermis; that’s where all your blood vessels, sebaceous glands, sweat glands and hair follicles live.
On top of this is the epidermis; it’s what you can see. Your acid mantle sits on top of this, essentially forming an invisible barrier which is there to stop nasties getting in, and good stuff getting out.
As we mentioned above, both oil and water are key players in the acid mantle. When they’re out of balance, bad stuff starts to happen.
If your skin is dehydrated and your acid mantle is therefore lacking water, the much-needed moisture in our skin is then able to evaporate in a process known as trans epidermal water loss. Your skin realises this is bad though. So, in order to try and preserve the moisture which remains, it will actually up its production of sebum to try and replenish the skin’s barrier. And that’s when it can start to go really wrong. Far too many people will then incorrectly think they have oily skin and use a product to strip that oil out, once again impairing the skin’s barrier, allowing more moisture out and making your skin once again produce more sebum to try and replace both the lost moisture and oil.
As you can see, there’s a balance which needs to be struck between our skin’s levels of both oil and water to make sure our acid mantle can do its thing.
How can I balance the oil and water in my skin?
First and foremost, stop stripping your skin! Many cleansers contain harsh detergents or surfactants to make them lather, but unfortunately these are normally very alkaline (your skin is naturally slightly acidic) and strip away your skin’s barrier. Ever said you like your skin feeling “squeaky” clean? You’ve basically said you like the feeling of your skin with its barrier stripped away. Oops. To say sorry to your skin and start repairing it, try a pH balanced cleanser which cleans without stripping and helps replenish the acid mantle; every one of our cleansers fits the bill! Balancing Cleanser and Triple Action Cleanser are popular choices.
Secondly, be sure your skin is getting the moisture it needs. Many people who think they have oily skin actually have dehydrated skin, but mistakenly won’t put a moisturiser on thinking it’s going to just make their skin oilier. Sometimes the opposite could actually be true though! We have a wide range of nourishing moisturisers which work to balance the oil and moisture in your skin. The best fit for you will vary depending on your skin type, but Essential Hydration Cream is a great starting point.
For skins which are seriously dry or dehydrated and seem to be letting moisture out due to a lack of oil, you could help it to up its defenses by using an oil based serum such as our Vitamin E Serum under your preferred moisturiser. This will mimic what oil in your acid mantle does and help to form an occlusion which will help to lock that moisture in.
Of course, the advice is this article is quite general and there are many scenarios we have not covered here. To receive personalised advice on how to get the water and oil in your skin back in balance, request a live online skin consultation. We love nothing more than helping our customers to achieve happy, healthy and balanced skin!