The Role of Electrolytes

"I will just drink more water."

How many times have we, as skin care providers, heard this statement to help alleviate dry or dehydrated skin? The combination of our skin's natural aging process, environmental damage and transepidermal water loss can encourage dryness and/or dehydration. Oily skin can even become dehydrated. "A drink of water" does not always remedy what our skin may be experiencing. There is more to the physiology of the skin when it comes to combating dry conditions and improving overall appearance. One of the most uncontrolled culprits to premature dry skin may be an electrolyte imbalance.

Potassium (along with its electrolyte brethren) is vital in replenishing the body and foreseeing the proper function of our cells, tissues and organs – including the skin.

Our stratum corneum has many integral components to repair, regenerate and maintain a well-functioning skin barrier for internal homeostasis and to prevent intruding pathogens into our system. Homeostasis is our ability to maintain a safe internal temperature. When we exercise, our body sweats and creates a film on our skin that evaporates to keep us cool, while blood vessels dilate to release excess heat. In warm weather and heat, the perspiration gives our skin a healthy glow, but alone does not improve our skin's condition. Without internally replenishing the lost potassium and sodium electrolytes from sweating, we may be making our skin vulnerable to dryness and dehydration. Water alone does not replenish electrolytes. Increased consumption of salts, sports drinks and foods high in potassium – including bananas, avocado, tomatoes and salmon – can replenish lost electrolytes in your body and promote healthier skin.
In cold weather, our body does not react so well. Blood vessels constrict and the body shivers as it tries to keep its vital parts warm. Most winter environments include a drop in temperature and humidity levels, making hot showers delightful. This combination increases the prevalence of dry skin and dehydration. Ironically enough, potassium content in our skin decreases as the hydration does, possibly making it a critical component in skin hydration. Together, calcium and potassium promote a strong epidermal barrier, promote cell regeneration and improve the fatty acid content of the skin. All of these components are vital to maintaining homeostasis and managing transepidermal water loss.
Skin dehydration may not be indicative of a potassium deficiency or internal dehydration, and cannot be remedied with sports drinks or supplements. Maintaining a well-balanced skin regimen at home is the best for age prevention. Consuming a diet balanced in potassium-rich foods may prevent external dryness, but it must be balanced with a hyaluronic-based serum, gel or moisturizer to help hydrate the skin topically. Hydration combined with gentle exfoliation and – if needed – a moisturizer is the best way to keep the skin moisturized and healthy. Dry skin and dehydration can be the combined result of chronological aging and environmental stress. The link between a potassium deficiency and acne is not clearly understood or proven; we do know that acne has internal hormonal aggressors and maintaining exfoliation and oil control is critical to managing the condition. However, topical potassium alum has astringent properties that have been used in natural acne remedies at home. No matter what skin condition you may be struggling with, understanding the skin and its components is the best way to deliver a result.
The proverbial "drink of water" with a good banana is the best way to refuel your body with hydration and electrolytes. Maintaining a balance with internal hydration, nutrition and topical skin care is the best way to help keep your body and skin in great working order. Potassium is certainly not the "miracle ingredient" to keep our skin flawless and youthful, but it is a key player in our stratum corneum function and barrier resilience.

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