Why Skin Health Matters for Keeping up Your Immune System

March 06, 2020 5 min read

skin health and your immune system yellow bird blog

Everyone is talking about staying healthy/ avoiding germs/ building up your immune system right now, and with good reason-- sickness and viruses are no joke. But thankfully, there is a lot of stuff we can do to support our immune system. Things like:

  • prioritizing sleep (when the body resets and detoxes)
  • working through stress (stress causes an inflammatory reaction in our body)
  • get outside (allow Vitamin D to help us process nutrients and also decrease inflammation)
  • taking care of our skin: Spoiler alert-- this is what this article is all about

    That’s right! Your skin is the first line of defense when it comes to coming in contact with outside “germs” (bacteria, viruses, and fungi). Building and maintaining strong skin is a way to support your immune system. 

    So, how DO you strengthen your skin? 

    Keep your skin clean. The best way to do that is simply to use soap and water. Wash them for at least 30 seconds (not forgetting the tops of your hands and sides of your fingers.)Soaps work to take grease and oil (fats)offof things because the tails chemically grab (bind to) the fats, and then the heads grab only water molecules, allowing the grease to be washed off, dissolved into water. (read more about this here

    Keep your skin moisturized. Dry skin has breaks in its lipid barriers which lets germs in; however, moisturized skin stays flexible and whole allowing your skin to be an effective barrier. Moisturization comes from water staying in your skin. Hydration comes from your skin cells having water. For hydration, drinking water, and having a humidifier is a huge help. Natural ingredients that help with hydration are things like aloe and hydrosols. For effective moisturization, you want to pat your skin dry, and then, while it’s still damp, apply a moisturizer (something that will lock in the water like our face oils). After being in water, a shower, or even a face wash, your pores are the most open, so adding an additional layer of oils will not only allow the nutrients of the oil to sink down deep but will also lock in any water still on your skin. 

    Keep the good bacteria alive. That’s right-- we have good bacteria that lives on our skin that helps with processing dead skin cells and fighting foreign bacteria. There is a lot we don’t know about the microbiota, the good bacteria on our skin, but here are a few things we have learned about the importance of its health (and the surprisingly complex effect it has on our immune system). 

    Skin is a barrier that's one of the first lines of defense against harmful microbes. Specialized immune cells within skin tissue also help to fight invading organisms. The skin's surface is home to surprisingly diverse communities of bacteria, collectively known as the skin microbiota…. “We often have a sense that the bacteria that live on our skin are harmful,” says study co-author Dr. Julie Segre of NHGRI. “But in this study we show that these bacteria can play an important role in promoting health by preventing skin infections from becoming more prolonged, pronounced and more serious.”
    “Certain inflammatory disorders of the skin have been linked to a change in the nature of the bacteria that we have on the skin, but the relationship between this change and disease was not clear,” Belkaid says. “Our findings provide a mechanistic link showing how these bacteria can manipulate immune responses and inflammation.”
    " Beneficialbacteria on the skin of lab mice work with the animals’ immune systems to defend against disease-causing microbes and accelerate wound healing. We explored how the microbiota was sensed by the immune system and the defining properties of such responses. Here, we show that a skin commensal can induce T cell responses in a manner that is restricted to non-classical MHC class I molecules."

    There is so much cool research going on in this field! I can’t wait to learn more about the connection and interaction between the gut and the skin’s microbiota.


    Now that we have looked at ways to strengthen our skin, to support our immune system, what would weaken our skin or tax our immune system)? In other words, what should we AVOID putting on our skin?  

    Things that weaken your skin and to avoid if you can:

    • Products with alcohol. Alcohol can cause irritation and dryness, especially with overuse. (If you don’t have access to soap and water, by all means, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol)
    • Strong foaming agents like sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). It is a skin irritant and has been linked to cancer, hormone disruption and a host of other things. 
    • Antibacterial agents, especially benzalkonium chloride.  While ”antibacterial” sounds good over 19 have been banned by the FDA, because they kill both good and bad bacteria on contact.  This actually weakens our skin’s first line of defense-- the good bacteria. Benzalkonium chloride is rated 6 by the EWG and can lead to skin irritation and antibiotic resistance (2)
    • “Fragrance”. This ingredient can mean just about anything, including phthalates and PEG which can cause endocrine disruption. 
    • Being dehydrated. Lack of water will cause skin will lose its elasticity and will be more likely to break (which makes the body a lot more susceptible to infections)
    • Inflammatory ingredients, like soy. It is rich in omega-6 fatty acid, but since we all get plenty of those in our diets, the additional ones found in soy cause inflammation (1) And soy (mainly as soybean oil is in a lot of skincare ingredients. In fact, most tocopherols are derived from soy (unless it’s explicitly stated on the label).

    Choosing products to put on your skin can seem overwhelming-- there’s already so much to think about, reading one more label can feel exhausting. So here are two lists to help you-- 

    1. Ingredients that help detox your skin and keep that outer layer clean
    2. ingredients that help strengthen the outer layer of skin (oils) 

    Skin detoxing ingredients

    • Bentonite clay
    • Activated charcoal 
    • Zeolite clay
    • Salt

    Antioxidants really can help thwart the negative effects of environmental toxins by interrupting the free radical damage they cause when used as a part of your daily routine.

    And don’t forget to sweat- Help your body get rid of toxins on your skin by working up a sweat. Either through exercise or a shower or bath. 

    Anti-inflammatory ingredients

    • Ginger
    • Frankincense 
    • White Willow Bark
    • Lavender 
    • Coconut oil
    • Sunflower Seed Oil-- Rich in vitamin E 

    Natural antibacterial ingredients

    • Hemp 
    • Tea Tree 
    • Eucalyptus

    Skin strengthening ingredients

    • Sunflower oil
    • Jojoba oil
    • Safflower Oil
    • Hemp Seed Oil
    • Coconut oil 

    *some oils are thicker than others, [ check outthis comedogenic rating of oils article for more information ] so be mindful of what oils you put on your face 

    Other things to help keep your body functioning with its parasympathetic nervous system (to keep detox going on in your body) and to keep stress down:

    • Aromatherapy
    • Deep Breathing 
    • Sleep 
    • Get Outside and let your skin get Vit D-- Vitamin D helps reduce inflammation in the body and even prevent it. 
    • Eat food rich in antioxidants (and take yourElderberry Syrup)

    7 ways to boost your immune system the yellow bird blog

    Nicole P
    Nicole P

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