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The skin is the largest organ in the human body and it is made up of up to seven layers. Besides regulating some body functions, skin plays an important role in protecting underlying muscles, ligaments, bones, and internal organs. As regulator skin plays an important role in immunity as well as in controlling excessive water loss. Additional functions of the skin include insulation, sensation, temperature regulation, synthesis of vitamin D, etc. Given the myriad functions of the skin our ancestors used topical preparations (cosmetics) for curing and healing of skin as much as they used them just for cleansing or beautification.

Modern day definition of cosmetics is “Articles with mild action on the human body, which are intended to be applied to the human body through rubbing, sprinkling or other methods, aiming to clean, beautify and increase the attractiveness, alter appearance or keep the skin or hair in good condition”. Cosmetics include among other things personal hygiene products such as soaps, shampoos, and toothpastes.

The commercial soap industry of today is worth $20 billion per annum globally, and it is expected to surge to $24 billion by the year 2022. Change in bathing rituals, which was earlier a once in a week affair has now become a once daily or even twice daily activity. Growing pollution and interesting commercials that pressurize people to look good, clean & presentable led to surge in demand for hygiene products. The demand itself was fulfilled by the introduction of soaps made of cheap chemicals that also helped keep the costs low.

No wonder then that most cosmetics available in the market today emphasize only hygiene/ beatification, totally discarding the need to keep the skin and hair nourished and healthy so that they can carry out necessary regulatory & protective functions. Many of us have even stopped paying attention to the labels on our cosmetics. We hardly care about the nature or amount of chemicals or synthetics our skin has to put up with routinely, and end up having skin concerns like dryness, allergies, eczema etc.

The findings in a study done by Loden M et al in 1995 emphasize that skin care products do not only form an inert, epicutaneous layer, but that they may penetrate and influence the structure and function of the skin1

The outermost layer of the skin, Stratum corneum (SC) has bilayered lipids(fats) which contribute to the permeability barrier function of the skin. Normal skin cleansing is associated with damage to the SC lipids, in particular the skin fatty acids, which in turn is associated with a variety of pathological skin conditions as well as with dry skin, because cleanser surfactants, in addition to providing the desired effect of the removal of sebum and skin soils, have a propensity to disrupt the bilayered lipids by extracting skin lipids or getting deposited into the bilayer. It is critically important that we choose cleansing agents which not only do not disrupt the bilayer, but also replenish SC lipids. 2

Many clinical studies have established well the short- & long-term adverse effects of ingredients in non-natural soaps. For e.g. topically applied Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) easily penetrates the living cell layers of the epidermis which induces rough skin by disrupting moisture function3. Topical application of Sodium dodecyl sulphate (SDS) disorganizes the skin lipid structure and causes undesired structural & functional changes in SC 4. Cocamidopropyl betaine (CAPB) causes allergic reactions5. The evidence is out there for us to refer to, but we are not tuned to look at our cosmetics that way.

 Natural plant oils have been used as a translational alternative to modern medicine and have potential benefits in pharmaceutical, nutritional, and cosmetic applications 6. The cleansing & nourishing effects of coconut oil, olive oil, palm oil, etc. have been established even before the start of the “AD” and have been revived lately by a handful of natural handmade soap manufacturers. These natural substances help in restoring and protecting natural skin barriers in addition to providing a cleansing effect.

Given all the above facts there is an urgent need to educate ourselves to read labels for our cosmetics in order to make sure that what we choose is right for our skin.

In scientifically formulated cold processed natural organic soaps we see a promise that it will restore the damages already done to the skin and prevent any further adverse effects to skin barrier functions. May your soap cure as much as it cleanses so that your skin can radiate your true inner beauty.

 Nakshatra Nair

 References adapted from-

  1. Lodén M. Biophysical properties of dry atopic and normal skin with special reference to effects of skin care products. Acta Derm Venereol Suppl (Stockh). 1995;192:1-48. doi: 10.2340/00015555192148. PMID: 7653198)
  2. Ananthapadmanabhan KP, Mukherjee S, Chandar P. Stratum corneum fatty acids: their critical role in preserving barrier integrity during cleansing. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2013 Aug;35(4):337-45. doi: 10.1111/ics.12042. Epub 2013 Mar 8. PMID: 23363400
  3. Mizutani T, Mori R, Hirayama M, Sagawa Y, Shimizu K, Okano Y, Masaki H. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate Stimulates the Generation of Reactive Oxygen Species through Interactions with Cell Membranes. J Oleo Sci. 2016 Dec 1;65(12):993-1001. doi: 10.5650/jos.ess16074. Epub 2016 Nov 9. PMID: 27829611. (Free Article)
  4. Yanase K, Hatta I. Disruption of human stratum corneum lipid structure by sodium dodecyl sulphate. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2018 Feb;40(1):44-49. doi: 10.1111/ics.12430. Epub 2017 Nov 3. PMID: 28922453.
  5. Cocamidopropyl Betaine: Side Effects of the Personal Care Ingredient (healthline.com)
  6. Kim S, Jang J E, Kim J, et al; Enhanced barrier functions and anti-inflammatory effect of cultured coconut extract on human skin; Food and Chemical Toxicology Volume 106, Part A, August 2017, Pages 367-375
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