If you're anything like me, you've been worrying about your skin for a long time - from the pimples of puberty to the wrinkles, dryness, and droops of age, we obsess about it. It is our biggest organ, and it's right there for everyone to see. Dr. Nina G. Jablonski, the chair of the anthropology department at Pennsylvania State University, is a scientist who studies skin not from the dermatologist's perspective, but from the evolutionist's - how we went from ape fur to human skin. And she thinks skin is our most underappreciated organ.
When Jablonski was asked about her own skin in a New York Times interview, she said, "I like it. It is my unwritten biography. My skin reminds me that I'm a 53-year-old woman who has smiled and furrowed her brow and, on occasion, worked in the desert sun too long.
"I enjoy watching my skin change because it's one of the few parts of my body that I can watch. We can't view our livers or heart, but this we can."
In her book, "Absolute Beauty," Pratima Raichur, writes that we can live without sight, sound, taste, or smell, and even with only one lung or kidney, but we would die in about five hours without our skin. "A section of skin the size of a quarter contains three million cells, a hundred or more sweat glands, and a yard of blood vessels. Its nerves, blood vessels, and glands carry vital information and nutrients to every other organ, and help to regulate critical bodily functions, including water and temperature control, absorption, secretion, and excretions.
"With more than six hundred forty thousand sensory receptors overall, the skin is in constant communication with the brain, even when we sleep. New research shows that it also plays a key role in the body's immune response...Is it any wonder, then, that the stimulation of this largest of the sensory organs has far-reaching effects on our health and well-being?"
I must say I hadn't quite realized how important it was to keep my skin not only looking good, but healthy. So what is the best way to take good care of our skin?
I find the skin care section of the drugstore aisle overwhelming and confusing these days. I honestly cannot figure out what regimen is best for my skin. Each company promises something different, and I find in my confusion that I mix and match products and probably use too many altogether. According to Raichur, a New York skin care expert trained in the south Asian Ayurvedic tradition (Ayurveda is a science of longevity and immunity whose first aim is to maintain balance and overall well-being), good skin care doesn't mean spending vast sums on the most recent cosmetic fad.
Rather, she suggests that a twice daily gentle cleansing with a few natural ingredients like almond flour, and moisturizing with an essential oil, are all that is required for healthy and supple skin. This appeals to me. I'm going to learn more about the Ayurvedic approach to healthfulness and I think I'm going to try Raichur's more basic approach to skin care. If it works, I'll let you know.