How to Keep Your Skin Smooth

While softness is superficial, skin's smoothness is defined at a deeper level.

Lying beneath the epidermis is the dermal layer which gives skin its spring and suppleness. The dermis is intimately connected to the subcuta­neous fatty cells and muscle fibers. These three structures together determine how firm and well-defined our skin looks and feels from the outside.

Good muscle tone gives skin definition. When the muscles grow flaccid from under use, the skin that lies over them begins to sag, irre­spective of its age. The most effective way to give the face and body a natural lift is by toning up the muscles. Exercises which stretch and lengthen muscles as they work help to cultivate smooth, sleek contours.

The fatty layer provides a padding which makes skin feel soft and sensuous. While most women are preoccupied with whittling away excess fat cells, it is worth remembering that dieting is unselective. Cutting back on calories will not necessarily shift fat from where we would like - namely the hips, tummy, bottom and thighs. This is because fat metabolism is complex and various other factors come into play.

The female hormone, oestrogen, is primarily responsible for cultivating feminine curves. It appears to hold sway over the distribution of fatty tissue and needs to be taken into account when we set about remodelling our physique.

Refining Force

The skin, fatty tissue and muscles are richly supplied with blood capillaries that feed them with oxygen and nutrients. They are also bathed in a clear fluid that leaches from the walls of these tiny vessels. This liquid is known as lymph and it is similar to blood in every way except it has no red cells. Most of us know little about the lymphatic system, but it holds the key to smoother, firmer skin and enhanced health.

Lymph's purpose is to pick up any cellular by­products that are too large to pass into the blood capillaries and whisk them away so the tissues don't become congested with their own wastes. When the lymph flows smoothly, the skin feels smooth and firm. But if the lymph laden with wastes lingers in the underlying tissues, the skin starts to look puffy and swollen.

Invisible Network

Although its primary role is deep-tissue cleans­ing, the lymphatic system is also part of the circulatory and immune system.

The lymph vessels form an intricate network of channels that spread throughout the body. Having cleared cells of debris (which may include old cells, bacteria and toxins), the lymph drains away from the tissues and flows along the thin-walled lymphatic canals towards the heart.

On its journey this opaque fluid passes through lymph nodes which feel like small nodules. Found under the chin, in the armpits, behind the knees and in the groin, the lymph nodes are like clearing stations. They contain large numbers of white blood cells or lymphocytes capable of engulfing noxious substances including bacteria and viral cells. Here lymph is cleaned and purified before being returned to the bloodstream at a junction in the upper thorax beneath the collar bone.

Every day 2 litres of cleansed lymph is returned to the bloodstream.

System Overload

The lymph system is most efficient when doing simple day-to-day cleansing duties. But any kind of infection, such as a cold or the flu, more than doubles its daily work-load. When the nodes feel tender or swollen it shows the lymph system is working overtime. As the lymph clears away all kinds of impurities, the more rubbish we take in the harder it must work.

Over-exposure to environmental pollutants such as air pollutants, impurities in water and pesticides sprayed on food crops, coupled with drinking too much alcohol and coffee, and eating lots of refined, starchy foods laden with additives can overload the lymphatic system. When the lymph is burdened with external toxins it cannot perform its normal cleansing activities so effectively. As impurities accumulate, the underlying tissues get congested and the skin becomes puffy and prone to painful spots. If nothing is done to cleanse the lymph and get it flowing freely, the conditions are perfect for the onset of cellulite in certain areas.

Spring Cleaning

However, there will be times when your lymph system needs a little extra help to clear away any congestion.

Blood circulation is powered by the heart, but the lymph has no such driving force. Its flow relies on the gentle squeezing brought about by deep rhythmic breathing and the contractions of major muscle groups. Moving, deep breathing and regular exercise are the best ways to keep lymph flowing freely.

It is especially beneficial to do a lymph spring-clean' sometime during February or March to help it shake off the residues of winter coughs and colds. This will help to tone, firm and smooth skin in time for summer.

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