Here are 10 things an aesthetician should know about the immune system:
- The skin is the gateway. This skin is the largest organ of the body which serves many functions; several of which are crucial to the body’s overall immune function. The skin has the ability to absorb moisture and nutrients which can fortify the cells to create a stronger barrier, secrete sebum and other substances to lubricate and protect the barrier, and also to excrete toxins from the body via the sweat glands. When the skin’s barrier function is intact, it can properly protect the inner systems of the body from bacteria, fungi, viruses and environmental pollutants. If the skin is not properly cared for, the immunity of the entire body is compromised.
- Proper hydration is essential to a strong immune system. Every cell, organ, fluid, and system of the body is made of water and needs to be replenished by it constantly to be able to function properly. Without proper hydration, cells cannot regenerate, toxins cannot be eliminated, food cannot be properly digested, body temperature cannot be regulated, and metabolism slows down. Any and all of these issues have the ability to negatively affect the immune system. Water escapes through the skin via transepidermal water loss (TEWL), therefore the skin must be adequately hydrated itself, and that moisture must be sealed in to prevent dehydration. The skin is the last organ to receive hydration and nutrition from what is consumed internally, which is why proper skin care is essential to the health of the immune system.
- Certain skin conditions can indicate poor immune function. Acne, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, and hyperpigmentation are common conditions seen in the treatment room which are often visual manifestations of internal inflammatory or autoimmune conditions. By the time a condition presents on the surface in the skin, the immune system is already significantly affected. While a conventionally trained and licensed aesthetician cannot provide insight into a person’s medical or nutritional regimens, they are able to make observations that a client might not have yet considered and make referrals to appropriate health professionals.
- Seventy percent of a person’s immune system is located in the digestive tract. Many studies now show a direct relationship of gut health to skin health. Gut dysbiosis is the improper balance of pathogenic bacteria, yeasts, and other microbiota to healthy strains of bacteria and microflora located along the digestive tract (primarily in the small and large intestines). This condition can lead to many inflammatory and autoimmune conditions which might ultimately appear as acne, thrush, cold sores, eczema, rosacea or other common skin conditions.
- Candidiasis – or Candida overgrowth – attacks the immune system as a whole. It is a result of gut dysbiosis caused by certain diet and lifestyle choices leading to toxic overload, and most people are not aware that they have it. This is also not a condition that is commonly mentioned in conventional medicine outside of yeast or fungal infections. There are many mental and physical symptoms of Candidiasis including migraines, obesity, multiple sclerosis, lupus, depression, endometriosis, athlete’s foot, miscarriages, hypothyroidism, acne, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, and scleroderma.1 Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and Celiac disease have also been linked. There currently are training programs for aestheticians to become certified in detoxification, including body wraps, ion foot baths and other forms of hydrotherapy, in addition to limited nutritional and supplement-specific protocols. Many clients report an improvement in skin conditions after following a Candida-specific spa regimen or program.
- Vitamins, minerals and antioxidants boost the immune system. Studies show that the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants found in raw fruits and vegetables have a protective effect on the body’s immune system. Antioxidants such as vitamin C, E, A, as well as those found in darkly colored fruits like grapes, acai berries, pomegranates, and those found in green tea are very powerful for preventing free radical damage to the skin, as well as internal organs and systems. They also are anti-inflammatory, which is important since persistent inflammation is very taxing and detrimental to the body’s immune response. Choosing skin care products containing properly formulated antioxidants is a great way to prevent oxidation and inflammation in the layers of the skin, which will enhance its role in immunity.
- Stress negatively affects the immune system. There are many studies that show direct correlations between stress and the immune system. In addition, there is also research called the Gut-Brain-Skin Axis2 that specifically shows how stress compromises the health and function of the gastrointestinal tract, which then leads to inflammatory skin conditions. The spa is a great place to go for stress relief, and regular spa treatments can be an integral part of a regular stress management regimen.
- Smoking is very harmful to the immune system. Most people are aware that smoking damages the respiratory system, but its effects go beyond that. Smoking weakens the immune system by depressing antibodies and cells that are in the body to protect against foreign invaders.3 It also introduces toxic and carcinogenic chemicals such as carbon monoxide into the mucus membranes and bloodstream, which poison healthy cells and potentially lead to DNA mutation and cellular malfunction.
- Allergies often indicate a weakened immune system. More and more people today are affected by seasonal, indoor, outdoor, and food allergies and sensitivities. People often consider this to be a normal inconvenience, but in fact it is a signal that something more serious is going on. When an offending substance, called an allergen, enters the body it reacts with an antibody produced by the immune system to form an allergen/antibody (immune) complex. When large amounts of these complexes are formed, the body does not know what to do with them. They end up causing numerous problems by being deposited in various tissues,4 causing edema and depleting the cells of oxygen and nutrients similar to smoking.
- Sleep is crucial for a strong immune system. Sleep is the only time when the body is devoid of physical and emotional stress, and has the uninterrupted ability to self-repair. Studies have linked lack of sleep to various mental and physical illnesses and have also been shown to trigger an inflammatory immune response at a cellular level.5 Unbroken, lucid, and non-drug-induced sleep is paramount for a healthy immune system.
- Pontillo, Rachael C. "Candida: It Causes More Problems than You Think." Holistically Haute. Holistically Haute, LLC, 17 Feb. 2011. Web. 15 Feb. 2013.
- Bowe, Whitney P., and Alan C. Logan. "Acne Vulgaris, Probiotics and the Gut-brain-skin Axis - Back to the Future?" US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 31 Jan. 2011. Web. 15 Feb. 2013.
- Shaw, Jerry. "How Does Cigarette Smoking Affect Your Immune System?" LIVESTRONG.COM. Livestrong, 9 Mar. 2011. Web. 15 Feb. 2013.
- Francis, Raymond. "The Shocking Truth About Allergies." Beyond Health News. Beyond Health International, 1996. Web. 15 Feb. 2013.
- Nordqvist, Christian. "Severe Sleep Loss Affects Immune System Like Physical Stress Does." Medical News Today. MediLexicon International, 02 July 2012. Web. 15 Feb. 2013.
Rachael Pontillo is an AADP board-certified Holistic Health Practitioner, licensed aesthetician, writer, and entrepreneur. In addition to working with clients in individual and group coaching programs, she also teaches holistic skin care, nutrition, and wellness classes in the Philadelphia area and has presented lectures at national conferences. She is the founder and author of the popular website and blog Holistically Haute™ at www.holisticallyhaute.com and is owner of the local skin care and wellness company Holistically Haute, LLC.