What does your immune system do for your skin?

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Skin Health Advisor
Ask Felicity

07 November 2018

Does your skin have a role in your immune system?

Your immune system is pivotal when it comes to keeping your body protected from infections and viruses, working around the clock to ward off harmful pathogens and bacteria. Believe it or not, your skin has a vital role in this process, forming an integral part of your innate immunity.  This is because your skin is a primary defence mechanism, acting as a physical barrier between your bloodstream and antigens (harmful foreign particles).

That’s why so many different immune cells exist on your skin, including around 20 billion T-cells!1  Even kerinocytes, which are primarily responsible for producing keratin, communicate with nearby immune cells when antigens are detected, inspiring an influx of white blood cells to the affected area. When your immune system is in prime condition, this relationship works well and even if antigens do breach your skin, your immune system is equipped to deal with them as it triggers an inflammatory response to deal with the threat. 

Despite what you may have heard about inflammation, in the right circumstances, it can be a good thing as it helps to isolate the harmful antigen and attracts white blood cells which can get rid of the intruder. T-cells and B-cells may rush to area to eliminate the antigen and produce antibodies, preventing reinfection.

What happens to your skin when your immune system becomes weakened?

When everything is ticking over nicely with your immune system, your skin should definitely see the benefits. However, when your immune function becomes weakened or impaired, it can sometimes spell disaster for your skin, which becomes more vulnerable to inflammation, hypersensitivity and other problems. Below I’ve examined a few of the more common issues that can rear their head when your immune system becomes run down.

Your skin won’t heal as efficiently 


Your immune system isn’t just responsible for protecting your skin from nasty viruses and infections; it also helps your skin to recover from wounds. When you injure your skin, your immune system will respond by flooding the trauma site with specialised immune cells known as ‘macrophages.’ These cells help to clear the wound of any debris, prevent infection and encourage the growth of new, healthy skin cells.

In order to get these macrophages to  the affected area as quickly as possible, your immune system will trigger an inflammatory reaction to help isolate the area and to dilate your blood vessels, allowing for white blood cells and nutrients to move more efficiently. However, while a moderate amount of inflammation can be useful, if your immune function is weak, it may struggle to regulate this inflammatory reaction which can inhibit the healing process.That isn’t all though, as I shall discuss shortly, if your immune system isn’t functioning properly it can also increase your risk of contracting an infection.

You’ll be more prone to bacterial infections

As I’ve just discussed, your immune system is vital for preventing infections but, in cases where your immune function is compromised, it may struggle to protect your skin from harmful bacteria and infections. This can be problematic as your skin, like many other areas of your body, including your gut, has its own delicate microflora system composed of friendly and unfriendly bacteria.

When your levels of unfriendly bacteria increase, unchecked by the immune system, it can make it easier for your skin to develop bacterial infections. Eczema sufferers are particularly at risk here as staphylococcus aureus, a strain of bacteria that normally exists harmlessly on your skin, is capable of producing a super-antigen in 90% of eczema patients.3  

It isn’t just eczema sufferers that need to watch out though, if your levels of unfriendly bacteria increase, it makes it easier for the candida yeast to reproduce more freely, sometimes leading to fungal infections such as Ringworm or Athlete’s Foot – definitely not what you want!

Your skin may start to breakout

Have you ever noticed that whenever you contract a cold or flu, your skin seems to suffer too? Well, one reason for this is that your immune system is so preoccupied with fighting off the virus that other areas of the body, like your skin, might not get the same level of attention. If you suffer from a condition like acne, this means that your immune system might not be as efficient at combatting the bacteria, P.acnes, that is responsible for your breakouts. 

Your immune system may become hypersensitive

It is one thing to feel the effects of having a sluggish immune system but things can be equally problematic when your immune system becomes hyperactive. In these circumstances, even harmless particles like pollen  or dust can trigger a rush of inflammatory chemicals like histamine, causing symptoms such as swelling and itchiness to occur. The worst part is that sometimes it’s not always easy to identify the trigger - detergents and soaps that never previously bothered your skin may suddenly inspire a reaction.

Things only get worse if you already suffer from a skin condition like eczema. In eczema, the epidermis (your outer layer of skin) is already weakened which means that you’re already more vulnerable to pathogens and bacteria. If you combine this with an immune system that’s been kicked into hyper-drive, you’re almost guaranteed to experience a nasty flare-up.

What about autoimmune conditions?

Suffering from an autoimmune condition is slightly different from having a sluggish or overactive immune system. In cases of autoimmune conditions such as psoriasis, your immune system is not attacking potential pathogens but instead perceives its own tissues and cells as a threat. This means that your body is essentially locked into a conflict with itself and usually the treatments for this tend to be more long-term.

How can you support your immune system? 

At this time of year especially, with the cold weather setting in, your immune system is particularly vulnerable. That’s why it’s extremely important that you take steps to support it during the winter months and today I’ll be talking about just a few of the ways you can accomplish this. 

However, if you want more in depth information about how you can enhance your immune function, I highly recommend reading our Immune Expert, Dr Jen Tan’s, blogs over at A.Vogel Talks Immune Health. Here you’ll find plenty of useful information about how you can prevent a cold or flu and what you can do once one takes hold. 

1 – Feed your immune system

Getting the right balance of nutrients, such as zinc, vitamin A and vitamin C is absolutely crucial when it comes to maintaining a healthy immune system. If you’re not getting the right balance of vitamins and minerals or are binging on foods that are rich in refined sugar and unhealthy fats, it can place your immune system under additional pressure. Instead, as Dr Tan discusses in his blog ‘How can diet boost the immune system?’ brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds and healthy fats should all be on the menu. This doesn’t mean that your meals have to be boring though – soups, stews and curries are all great, warming winter meals that can help to give your immune system a boost!

My favourite immune boosting recipes

Spinach & Chickpea Curry

Spicy Sweet Potato Soup

Vegetable Stew

2 – Drink plenty of fluids

Yes, I know, you’re probably tired of hearing this but I cannot overstate just how important it is that you stay hydrated. If you’re not drinking enough fluids it means that toxins aren’t being removed from your body as efficiently, which will impact your immune function. It’s also important to remember that water helps to carry oxygen to your immune cells so, if you’re not drinking enough, these cells can become weak and lacklustre. 

Ideally you should be aiming to drink between 1.5-2 litres a day but I can appreciate that this may be challenging if you find plain water to be a bit boring. That’s why it might be a good idea to check out Dr Jen Tan’s blog, ‘8 drinks to boost your immune system.’

3 – Get plenty of sleep

Sleep is crucial when it comes to giving your body the time it needs to rest and repair. While you’re asleep, your immune system uses this time to produce more pathogen-fighting immune cells so, if you’re not getting enough sleep, your immune function may start to suffer. Studies have found that poor sleep can increase your vulnerability to inflammation and may make you less resistant to nasty bugs like the cold or flu. That’s why getting 7-9 hours a night is so important so to help with this it might be worth checking out our Sleep Advisor Marianna’s blogs over at A.Vogel Talks Sleep.

4 – Keep active

Getting plenty of rest when you’re suffering from a cold or flu can help to accelerate your recovery but, unless you’re in the grips of an infection, it’s important to remain active. Exercise can help to increase your circulation, making sure that your immune cells can get to where their needed more efficiently, not to mention it raises your respiratory rate, helping to flush out bugs and viruses. It’s also believed that engaging in regular physical activity can help to reduce your stress levels too so it’s a win-win all round! It doesn’t have to be anything too intense either – a brisk 20 minute walk or jog each day can do the trick!

5 – Make some ‘me time’

At this time of year it’s difficult to set aside some time simply to sit down and breathe. In fact, in general, our lives have become busier and often we struggle to cope with all of the demands placed on us. Stress is a very real problem and not only can it affect your skin, it can also weaken your immune system, making you feel tired and run down. That’s why it’s important to try and manage your stress levels and a great way of doing this is by setting aside some ‘me-time’ everyday, just so you can sit down and take it all in. Giving yourself this breathing space can help you to unwind and relax and who knows, perhaps it may also give you the perspective you need to tackle any sources of stress or anxiety in your life. 

6 – Consider Echinacea

When it comes to supporting the immune system, one remedy takes centre stage here at A.Vogel. Our licensed Echinaforce contains extracts of the Echinacea herb, which has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. It has natural antiviral and antibacterial properties which make it ideal for helping your immune system during troubled times such as when a cold or flu strikes. This remedy also comes in a variety of forms too, from drops to tablets to hot drinks

When it comes more specifically to your skin, we also offer an Echinacea Cream which may help to inhibit the breakdown of healthy skin cells, making it a good option if your skin is recovering from a wound or when it comes to repelling acne-causing bacteria.




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