Friday, August 19, 2016

Anti-Aging Skin Series Post 1: Skin -- Structure

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a short little blog post explaining that I am going to break down into pieces a long post titled "Can Science Really Reverse Aging Skin?".   Since then, I have been planning the series in my head and on paper.  In order to understand whether science offers any real solutions to the problem of aging skin, we must understand what skin is all about.  To start off the series, I thought exploring the basics of 'skin structure' would be good.  For some readers the material might be too elementary in detail.  I would challenge you to think deeply about the simplicity of the descriptions and also I will include links for you too (on the side with greater detail).  With this in mind, lets explore the structure of the skin.

Structure Of Human Skin

The structure of the human skin can be broken down in many ways -- many layers of complexity.  In light of the subject matter, we will start simple and then work our way (through the series) into more detail.  Below is the classical structure of human skin taken from the 'Wikipedia' page on "human skin":

At first sight, the image might  be daunting.  No worries, unless you are a dermatologist or a medical school student, you will not be quizzed over the material.  The point of showing the image above is to illustrate that there are different layers of that make up skin.  Furthermore, each layer has a specific role to play in the overall function of skin (as we shall see).

In the description of the "structure" of skin, there are numerous facts disjointedly put together.  According the "Wikipedia" the structure of skin (section) should contain the following opening two paragraphs (overview) shown below:

Skin has mesodermal cells, pigmentation, such as melanin provided by melanocytes, which absorb some of the potentially dangerous ultraviolet radiation (UV) in sunlight. It also contains DNA repair enzymes that help reverse UV damage, such that people lacking the genes for these enzymes suffer high rates of skin cancer. One form predominantly produced by UV light, malignant melanoma, is particularly invasive, causing it to spread quickly, and can often be deadly. Human skin pigmentation varies among populations in a striking manner. This has led to the classification of people(s) on the basis of skin color.[7]
The skin is the largest organ in the human body. For the average adult human, the skin has a surface area of between 1.5-2.0 square metres (16.1-21.5 sq ft.). The thickness of the skin varies considerably over all parts of the body, and between men and women and the young and the old. An example is the skin on the forearm which is on average 1.3 mm in the male and 1.26 mm in the female.[8] The average square inch (6.5 cm²) of skin holds 650 sweat glands, 20 blood vessels, 60,000 melanocytes, and more than 1,000 nerve endings.[9][better source needed] The average human skin cell is about 30 micrometers in diameter, but there are variants. A skin cell usually ranges from 25-40 micrometers (squared), depending on a variety of factors.
Skin is composed of three primary layers: the epidermis, the dermis and the hypodermis.[8]

The description of the structure above is fragmented to illustrate the far reaching parts of the structure of skin.  Although, there are good pieces of information and should not be dismissed in any manner.   In all fairness to the authors of the content on the page, the breakdown and descriptions go into greater detail as the reader progresses down the page (with a lot of information).

From the standpoint of the purpose of the series on science and aging skin, the following questions must be answered to tie the current blog post to the 'Anti-Aging Skin Series':

1) What is pertinent about structure to understand anti-aging of the skin?

2) What is the function of each pertinent element of the structure of skin?

While the two questions above are important to address in the context of the blog post series, the function of the skin is the basis for the structure of the skin.  Structure (of the skin) defines function!  That is a very important point to keep in mind.  Especially, when concerning oneself with the application of skin care products.  Not all skin care products are good for the skin -- in regards to the function of the skin.   Remember what the functions (purposes) skin serves for the human body:

1) keeping water in and chemicals out -- natural barrier toward infection

2) serves as padding for bones and other organs

3) serves as a temperature control system for the body


Obviously, as a scientist, I like to learn as much as possible.  Although, in the interest of brevity, I will stick to answering the two questions above.  As we move forward in future posts, I will refer back to this page and add to the stated information in greater detail as the information pertains to answering the global question: Can Science Really Reverse Aging Skin? 

Starting off easy -- i.e., from a global perspective will give you a chance to think critically about the skin care products that are on the market that advertise any benefits in terms of 'anti-aging' properties.  If by chance I skip over any, please feel free to leave questions and comments in the comments section and I will try to incorporate them into the series.

Remember, I am a chemist.  Skin care formulation is not my profession.  I am an instrument manager at a University.  Analysis of research is my area currently -- seeing that I maintain the usual army of instruments that you would find in any chemistry laboratory across the world.  One of the main reasons that I am writing this series is to demonstrate that the majority (98%) of my sources will be open source or information that is online.  I hope that in writing these posts, I pass on the confidence onto you to search and do research 'online' for yourself into the hazards associated with the chemicals found in consumer products.

Until next time, have a great weekend!!!!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Secret Life of Cacti

What I love about cacti is how they flower just at the time I need a reminder that even prickly things can be beautiful.  The plant on top might be a peanut cactus (Echinopsis chamaecereus) which I have had since college, possibly 20 years.

The plant on bottom is definitely crown cactus (Rebutia krainziana) that I got at a Cactus and Succulent Society of America (CSSA) annual show and sale at the Huntington Library 4 years ago.  When these plants bloom, I know the regular academic year has ended and summer is here!  Usually I get one or two flowers around my birthday (in July).  And these flowers aren't shrinking violets, they're vibrant in color, shocking pink or rich red-orange.  These two varieties of cactus are ideal for container gardening, since they are petite and would be easily overwhelmed among other plants in a large garden.

I'm hoping to visit the Cactus and Succulent Society of America (CSSA) Intercity Show at the LA County Arboretum happening next weekend, August 13-14, 2016.  I've always wanted to visit the arboretum, and this will give me an excuse to spend a day there.

Freaky Flowers: Echinopsis Cacti in Bloom
from EchinopsisFreak on Vimeo.

Flowering aside, what I admire about cacti is their ability to grow in arid environments.  With the drought in the Southwestern US, maybe more people should embrace the cactus (not literally, of course, due to their spikiness).  The graphic below from the National Weather Service uses a chocolate-brown color to depict areas in drought.  This assessment was issued July 21st.  The next seasonal drought outlook will be issued on August 18th.

Cacti produce food; ever heard of pitaya or nopal?  Nopal is from the Opuntia cactus (like the one pictured below).  This cactus was photographed at the CSUN Botanic Garden, which contains 1,200 different varieties of plants, including California native plants such as Opuntia littoralis. I wonder if cacti will become more popular out of necessity if we enter a period of megadrought, as predicted if climate change continues.

I feel like even cacti are feeling the drought.  The Opuntia (prickly pear) in the botanic garden are watered regularly (image above), but this massive momma (image below) is on a busy streetcorner.  It seemed like all the pads were dehydrated, like paper-thin.  I didn't see any sprinkler system here.  Maybe there's runoff from the yard behind that keeps the whole colony alive.

Cacti originated in the Americas from three main areas: Mexico/United States, Peru/Bolivia/Chile/Argentina, and Brazil.  Their habitat is shown in green in the map below.  The blue is the mistletoe cactus (Rhipsalis baccifera) which is found in tropical regions.  In Australia, the Opuntia are considered Weeds of National Significance, since they are not native to the area.

Shoutout to the Cactus Store in Echo Park.  I saw an article about you in the Los Angeles Times.  We were in your neighborhood last weekend, but didn't realize it until the next day.  I'd love to come browse your diverse collection.  Until then, I will follow you on instagram.  Let's remind people how beautiful cacti can be and how appropriate for our climate.

An important function of plants is that they absorb carbon dioxide produced via combustion and respiration and turn it into sugar, releasing oxygen so that we can breathe.  Cacti are able to do this with lower requirements for water and a higher tolerance for heat.  For a description of metabolism in cacti, without breaking out the biology textbook, see here.  For a comparison of the adaptations in cacti versus "normal" plants, see here.

I like the above photo because it makes everything pretty simple.  All plants produce oxygen in the daytime and absorb carbon dioxide at night.  Cacti photosynthesize in their stems instead of leaves, in order to minimize their surface area-to-volume ratio, minimizing water loss via transpiration.  

It's easy to propagate cacti.  Echinopsis and Opuntia have offsets or "pups" and "ears" or segments that can be easily detached.  I have not used a rooting hormone on these, just set them or slightly bury them upright in soil and voilĂ !  The Rebutia offsets will be a bit more tricky since they need to be cut with a sterile knife, and I have many that are growing larger by the day.  I tried shaking them loose recently when I repotted it, but the pups wouldn't fall away from the parent with just gentile shaking.

Maybe you can appreciate cacti for their utility (food), beauty (flowers), or metabolic efficiency.  Or maybe all of these qualities appeal to you.  If so, consider bringing home a cactus from a CSSA Show or the Cactus Store.  It will reward you sparingly for caring for it sparingly.  The most common way to kill a cactus is overwatering.  Consider purchasing leather gloves for when you need to transplant your cacti.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Can You Please Break Down Into Bits Your Anti-aging Article?

Back in June, I wrote an article on titled "Can Science Really Reverse Aging Skin?" -- which was well read -- thank you for your interest in the topic.  After writing the article, Kayla, another author on Kaiserwellnesscenter expressed her views on the article - to say the least.  The first remark was an immediate -- "break down the article."

After 24 hours, the comment was revised to the following: "Out of the blog post, Mike, you could easily get 20 blog posts (short posts) in order for the rest of us to understand."  That was the overarching comment of the blog.  Is that far off the beaten path?  I will let you comment below?

After listening and thinking about her comment (for a month), I have decided to revisit that blog topic.  In the following series titled "Science and Anti-aging," I will simplify the "long-drawn out blog" which I wrote.  I thought that the blog post was good personally.  I will admit the post was lengthy and would be difficult for some people to digest it is one sitting.  Which is why I have decided to break the subject down further into easily digestible parts.

What do I need from you the reader?

A little help would be great in the form of comments.  If you are having difficulty with any of the subject matter contained in the series of blog posts, will you please leave a comment below and let me know?  Then I can address the subject.  If you feel uncomfortable having your comment published, just list in the comment "Please do not post this comment" and I will respect your request.

Alright, that is all I wanted to say for now.  In the next couple of weeks, I will role out the first post.  I am still planning the "bite size" content of each.  Again, if you would like to help in the planning process, please do not hesitate to leave a comment.  I hope that you have a wonderful day and I look forward to explaining further a complicated subject (even for me) in due time.  Cheers!