I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve been asked this question: If I put on moisturiser/night cream/sunscreen/makeup/ANYTHING, won’t it stop my skin from breathing? Shouldn’t I just leave my face bare, at least for a few hours everyday, so that my skin can breathe? Are there any specific products that will help my skin breathe?
The question has even stumped the experts. In James Bond’s cult-icon Goldfinger, there was death by being painted gold from head-to-toe for Jill Masterson (aka Shirley Eaton). So convinced were the filmmakers of this villainous strategy, they even left a patch of paint-free skin to make sure the actress wouldn’t die during filming. That’s because in the 1960s, when Goldfinger was released, people believed that skin was a source of respiration.
Have things changed since then? Is there any actual health benefit to naked, breathing skin? I spoke with a pantheon of dermatologists to find out.
Firstly, can skin actually “breathe”?
According to every single dermatologist I contacted, skin doesn’t “breathe”. Because the top layer of skin is dead. Instead, it’s the lower, living layers of skin that are continuously being nourished by oxygen and nutrients from the blood supply (which is why what you eat and drink is at least as important as what you’re putting on your face!).
So, when people talk about skin “breathing”, they’re actually referring to whether the pores are clogged up or not. Clogging the pores – whether it’s with non-comodegenic skincare and makeup, sweat, grime, pollution or any other environmental toxins – can cause pimples, whiteheads or blackheads. It is also these pores that can absorb various substances, like certain vitamins or nicotine from medical patches.
But human skin, in itself, does not breathe.
What about beauty products that claim they let your skin breathe?
Usually, what they likely mean is that their products are ‘non-comedogenic’ – that is, they won’t clog your pores. Not blocking the pores helps fight acne, but it has nothing to do with breathing.
In that case, will skipping makeup make your skin healthier?
Even though skin doesn’t breathe, there are other benefits to cutting down on makeup, especially for those with sensitive or acne-prone skin. Makeup usually contains heavy oils, preservatives, fragrances and allergens, which can irritate the skin or clog pores. But still, as long as you cleanse away everything properly, your skin should be fine.
If skin doesn’t breathe, why do I need to exfoliate?
Exfoliation helps get rid of the dead cells that make skin look dull and blotchy. It also speeds up skin regeneration and helps fade scars by revealing the fresher, undamaged layers of skin underneath. Plus, exfoliating helps balance the natural pH of the outermost layer of your skin, which helps it protect the layers underneath. So, those salicylic acid pads, alpha-hydroxy toners, weekly scrubs and Clarisonic brushes are winners all around.
Still have some questions? Write to me in the comments below and I will try to get you the answers