Beauty rituals have been engraved in the indelible layers of time for centuries together. Ancient cultures used botanical formulations, traditionally crafted from the pure, potent and natural gifts of the earth, to enliven their skin and hair. Today, with the advent of myriad commercially marketed cosmetics, plant-powered beauty traditions have been largely eclipsed by a wave of mass-produced, clinically compromised formulations whose labels seldom carry a comprehensive list of ingredients. As beauty users, however, applying a topical product without knowing its elemental composition can be detrimental to skin in the long run. After all, every single ingredient in a formulation should serve a purpose; by knowing which ones do what, you can be better equipped to decide whether you are paying a fair price.

To determine how quality skin products can truly transform your skin, it is first necessary to delve into the structure of the skin and its underlying layers. This is because, for a beauty application to be visibly effective, it must be able to soak deep into the skin to do its work. In light of this, it becomes important to evaluate every application that touches your skin, to not just understand how you can benefit from it, but also to limit, if not eliminate, the number of toxins that integrate with the circulatory system.

Your skin is like a mirror that reflects an array of influences, shining a light on your genetics, your lifestyle choices, your exposure to the sun and your nutrition. As the largest organ in the body, it acts as a formidable shield against the atmosphere, preventing potentially harmful molecules from entering. With age, much of the skin’s inherent ability to prevent dryness, inflammation and pigmentation reduces, thanks to the compromised mechanics of its three chief layers, spotlighted below.


The Epidermis

The epidermis is the sheer, outermost layer of the skin. It plays host to lipids (oils), which work to film the skin in a protective, water-resistant lock. This seeks to optimise skin hydration by preventing water loss. The epidermis also responds to exfoliation, revealing newer, radiant layers underneath. In addition, it holds melanocyte cells, which are responsible for influencing the skin’s natural colouring and protecting it from sun damage. Successful skin lightening formulations incorporate substances that work by interfering in the melanin production process, hindering skin darkening. Skin lightening apart, the epidermal lipid layer is so beautifully woven, that it provides a seamless cover that only allows minute microscopic molecules to penetrate. This means that a topical beauty application can only be effective if its inherent molecules are smaller than the gaps in this layer. Chances are, many of the products on your dresser aren’t as potent as they claim to be, all thanks to their molecular composition.

The Dermis

The dermis is far more robust and thicker than the epidermis and forms a cradle for nerves, sweat glands (also known as sebaceous glands), lymphatic vessels, hair follicles and connective tissue. This layer also contains collagen and elastin fibres, which contribute towards skin elasticity, flexibility and firmness. Age, moisture deprivation, environmental toxins and the unforgiving sun can weaken the structure of these fibres, giving rise to wrinkles and other signs of ageing. While ageing itself cannot be reversed, its symptoms can certainly be fortifying collagen and elastin fibres, and stimulating the production of hyaluronic acid, a substance that plumps cells by promoting water absorption.

Vitamin C in a concentrated form can be a powerful propellor of collagen production, but only when it forms about 10-15% of a product’s formulation. Any less than that and you likely won’t see adequate benefits; any more than that, and you’re likely to witness diminishing returns. Like vitamin C, hyaluronic acid can work anti-ageing miracles in topical applications.

The Hypodermis

The hypodermis acts as the link between the skin and the muscles and bones. It stores about half of the body’s entire fat reserves and shields the body from temperature changes and also provides it with essential fuel. Superlative skin-smoothing emollients successfully sweep through the hypodermis, into the bloodstream.

Understanding skin structure and chemistry can go a long way in helping you stay empowered in your buying choices in haircare and skincare. By being in the know of the ingredients of every product on your dresser, and by staying a step ahead, you can make informed choices that your skin will thank you for later.

Before making your next beauty buy, discover 5 skin miracles you can achieve through plant-powered beauty products in our next article