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Does the skin need to breathe?

Random blog posts and discussions on the Internet might be full of claims like “occlusive don’t let your skin breathe” and fight feverishly against any ingredient that is reducing the water loss and lets it stay moisturized. It’s interesting how persistent the myth is and we decided to run quick research to understand where it stems from.

Apparently, James Bond is the one to take the blame!

In the 1964’s movie ‘Goldfinger’ the villain kills his ex-lover Jill Masterson by painting her gold. Sean Connery’s Bond explicitly says afterwards that she died of “skin asphyxiation”. (Not a real thing, no). The movie became the classic and James Bond was so convincing that the myth became really widespread. Many even thought the actress Shirley Eaton also died while filming the movie… well, she had to be painted gold as part of the role, right?

The truth is our skin doesn’t actually need to breathe the “outside” air, as our dermis gets all the oxygen it needs directly from the blood, just like the water and nutrients (and that is why drinking lots of fluids is the first step in curing the dry skin). The upper layers of the skin that are composed of corneocytes are essentially dead skin cells. They aren’t breathing at all.

So we need the occlusion, right?

Possibly, yes. A lot of the water from our skin surface constantly evaporates. Just watch how quickly your wet hands become dry. Those dead corneocytes don’t need to drink either, but they look better when are moisturized and slightly polished with emollients like oils and butters. They resemble small bricks and with a bit of the sebum become a great protective layer to prevent the fast water evaporation from the deeper layers of the skin. However, not all skin types have enough of intercellular and surface lipids, especially people who are prone to eczema and dermatitis. For these skin types (or just dry seasons) we use various “sealants” including oils, paraffin, petrolatum and silicones in order to reduce the evaporation.

Another surprising fact is: these sealants are generally non-comedogenic if molecules are large enough. People tend to assume that the greaser something is, the more it’s clogging the pores. However, the large molecules of petrolatum are staying on the surface and not going anywhere. At the same time smaller molecules of coconut oil can penetrate deeper, which is why the unrefined coconut oil is great for the hair and isn’t as great for the skin.

What might be causing the breakouts is irregular cleansing of the skin. Bacteria loves and procreates very quickly in a perfectly moisturized “tropical” environment created by the occlusives. For oily skin types extra occlusion might also be ‘too much’.

Taking it to the next level?

People with the carpal tunnel syndrome or achy joints know how to enjoy paraffin treatments by soaking their hands and feet in the 160F paraffin mixed with water. As an added benefit, once paraffin is cooled down and peeled off, the skin underneath is very soft and moisturized. Many spa and nail salons already offer it as a complementary treatment. Well, it is so easy that anyone could treat themselves at home! Enjoy the relaxing occlusion wherever you feel like it!

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