The skin acts as the body’s front line of defense against the various environments we inhabit. As the largest elimination organ of the body, skin interacts with and responds to toxicities, nutrient deficiencies, food sensitivities, and hormonal imbalances. Because of the many complex interactions between the skin and the rest of the body it is important for us to understand how to take care of both so our skin can best protect us and what better time to do that than during Healthy Skin Month.
Our skin is made up of numerous layers. These layers build on each other to form a protective shield for the body. The most outer layer of the skin, the one we can see, is the epidermis, which is composed of stacks of skin cells. At the base of this stack are the mother cells, which regularly divide and move upwards as they mature. Below the entirety of the epidermis is the dermis. This layer is composed of connective tissue and houses blood vessels, nerves, glands, and hair.
Proper skin function requires assistance from the rest of the body, particularly hormones produced by the thyroid. For example, hair growth, grease glands and skin thickness all rely on thyroid hormones to be effectively and properly maintained.
In addition to protecting us from various negative aspects of life the skin also warns us of developing issues with a variety of identifiers. For example, alterations in skin texture and color as well as hair quality could be preliminary signs of imbalances, particularly if they are related to thyroid discrepancies. Other signifiers that point to conditions such as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis or Graves’ Disease can manifest themselves as dry or dull skin, rashes, hives, pre-menstrual acne and facial swelling.
The thyroid is an important factor in the body’s overall condition, but it also has a prominent impact on the skin. If the thyroid becomes underactive (hypothyroid) or overactive (hyperthyroid), various imbalances and disruptions can occur. This can lead to a domino effect impacting the entire body and leading to improper hormone, vitamin, and nutrient levels throughout the body.
Reduced thyroid activity, or hypothyroidism, can bring on various symptoms such as fatigue and reduced mental cognition. In regards to the skin, hypothyroid patients may experience cold, dry, and pale skin. In advanced cases one may not be able to sweat leading to keratoderma, wherein one’s palms and soles become thick and dry.
Hypothyroidism can be triggered by an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis in which the body turns on itself, specifically the thyroid, and destroys its own cells. Various symptoms of hypothyroidism can manifest themselves via the skin. These include:
- Pale, cold, scaly, wrinkled skin
- Coarse, dry scalp and hair
- Absence of sweating
- Hair loss located around the scalp, groin, lateral eyebrows, etc.
- Discoloration of the skin to white or yellow
- Puffy edema on various locations
- Brittle nails
- Poor wound healing
- Swollen lips and puffy eyelids
Hypothyroidism does not only impact the skin, but can be incredibly detrimental to the body overall. If you have experienced the above symptoms, consult a physician about hypothyroidism. Be aware, after treatment dry skin may persist even if blood tests indicate normal thyroid levels. Many labs tests are inaccurate due to improper ranges and other factors so a thyroid imbalance may still be present.
On the other end of the spectrum, excessively high thyroid levels cause a significant jump in basal metabolic rate. This causes the body to function at an exhaustive rate. Graves’ Disease is another autoimmune disorder, like Hashimoto’s, that causes the body to turn on itself. Graves’ commonly triggers hyperthyroidism leading to various issues. Hyperthyroidism impacts the skin in a number of different ways:
- Heat intolerance
- Increased perspiration and warm, moist skin leading to sweat rashes
- Shedding hair
- Onycholysis, or rapid nail growth that may cause the nail to lift off the nail bed
If you experience these symptoms, it is prudent to consult your physician as you may have hyperthyroidism. This condition impacts more than just the skin. If approached correctly, there are effective treatment options available.
Conditions such as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and Graves’ Disease can be precursors of, or trigger, hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism respectively. Common to both of these conditions is pretibial myxedema. More often than not this skin damage and irritation occurs in women and is usually seen in people over 50 years of age. Pretibial myxedema often causes itchiness and pain in the affected area and may persist even after thyroid treatment has brought hormone levels back into balance. This condition is recognizable by:
- Red/brown thickened areas of skin
- Prominent hair follicles
- Warty skin surface
- Increased hair and sweating
- Common locations include the shins but may also appear on the sides and back of the lower legs, thighs, and arms.
Protecting Your Skin
Because the skin is critical for various bodily functions it is important that we actively protect it. There are a number of ways to do this:
- Avoid soaps and lotions that irritate the skin
- Only utilize a cleansing bar/bar soap where one is dirty
- Regularly soak in a tub of warm water
- Use a moisturizer when the skin is moist, which helps keep moisture from escaping
- Avoid Endocrine Disruptors
Unbeknownst to many, personal care products such as some lotions and creams can be carriers for endocrine disruptors. These substances can disrupt and upset hormonal balance by mimicking hormone activity or even aggressively blocking it. Additionally, these materials can cause skin breakouts, weight gain, birth defects, early menopause, and even trigger autoimmune thyroid conditions. Always be on the lookout for endocrine disruptors when purchasing personal care products in order to avoid harming your body. By utilizing these treatment methods and being more informed about the interactions of the thyroid and the skin you are better equipped to help your skin help you.