Moisture Needs of Plants and Skin

I see so many similarities between skin care and plant water needs. Many of us know our plants vary in the amount of water they need/use. In fact, the first steps in being a good plant parent are knowing what level of light your plant needs and how the soil should feel before you water it again. Some plants, such as ferns and calatheas/marantas, should be somewhat damp to the touch – they enjoy a humid climate and really don’t like to dry out. (There are many ways to create humidity even if your air is dry, but I’ll let you research that on your own and maybe touch on it myself in a future post). Others, such as the ever-picky fiddle leaf fig, like to have dry topsoil before being watered again. The worst mistake I ever made was watering my first fiddle fig too much. No, I didn’t kill it—it’s hard to kill a plant from overwatering if it is getting enough light– but it did shed all of its underside leaves and ceased new growth. The whole reason I bought a water meter was because of my fiddle fig. Since the first 3-5 inches like to be dry, I didn’t feel I could reliably determine when it was time to water again without a tool.

image1
My first fiddle leaf fig without lower leaves – they browned and fell off fairly quickly all at once. I’m convinced it was from too much water (and maybe the shock of changing locations from the nursery – these plants are widely known as drama queens!).

Succulents, widely thought of as “easy” to care for because they “don’t need watering” can survive on very little water and lots of sun, but they often won’t thrive under these conditions. I’ve been guilty of forgetting about some of my succulent plants for months (such as my postpartum periods – no time or energy for plants!). Living in San Diego, I always found them alive but definitely not thriving. The good thing is they are almost always easy to perk back up with a bit of TLC that includes occasional watering.

IMG_5367
Thriving Escheverias at a local nursery.

Like plants, we all have slightly different skin that will alter its moisture based on our environment. You might notice that plants that like to dry out between waterings have thicker/denser leaves (peperomias, succulents); they have good storage mechanisms for water, preventing evaporation. Thin-leaved plants (ferns, calatheas) can’t store as much water in their leaves and allow for more evaporation, so they rely on having a more constant source from the soil.

IMG_5543
One of my Peperomias (obstusifolia), has thick leaves and stems
image2
Calatheas and marantas have thin leaves. They like moist soil and a humid environment.

Skin is one of our main barriers to infection. This is such an important job! So it’s important to keep skin moist. Moisture helps preserve its integrity. Even if you were born with naturally moist or even oily skin, I would still recommend moisturizing after every shower (which sucks moisture out of our skin) with a lightweight moisturizer. In fact, keeping oily-prone skin properly moisturized can actually balance the surface oil production. If you’re prone to dry skin, you will need a heavier moisturizer or even cream. Parts of your body may even need ointment (think Vaseline consistency). This is especially true on the heels, which can dry out and crack easily. Nightly ointment on the heels works wonders for this. For the body, buy a large bottle of moisturizer with a pump and have it readily available by the shower. Get in the habit of using it every time everywhere you can reach. I also recommend avoiding very fragrant moisturizers that often can be quite irritating to the skin (and sometimes to those around you). If you have very dry skin, especially eczema (see below), you should stick to ONLY fragrance-free, sensitive skin products such as Cetaphil, Eucerin, Lubriderm, CeraVe and some Neutrogena products.

Part 2 – Common Skin Problems.

“Doc, I have a rash.” One of the most common rashes is caused by eczema, a common skin condition. In simplified terms, eczema is a sign the skin cannot hold on to moisture well in those areas. This causes inflammation resulting in redness, flaking, and cracking. Preventing eczema flares requires constant attention to skin moisture and regular use of lotions/creams/ointments. Treating flares may require anti-inflammatories (steroids) for short courses.

What about oils? Essential oils are used all the time on the skin. Keep in mind, though, that these can be irritants as well. Lavender is a classic one. You can develop a skin sensitivity at any time to an ingredient. Lavender is great for your aerometer but not necessarily as a topical ingredient. Despite this, many skin products have lavender in them because of the lovely smell. Beware. Similarly, many people use avocado as a facial moisturizer or even mask. I have seen countless cases of “contact dermatitis” from this – an itchy, red, sometimes painful rash. Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s harmless!

Can our skin have too much moisture? In a way, yes. Fungus infections of the skin can be a sign of too much moisture. Patients always ask “How did I get that? Who gave it to me?” In reality, fungus is everywhere around us in our environment. It’s just looking for opportunities to overgrow and cause problems. Loving moisture and heat, it will thrive in places on the body that trap moisture/sweat such as under the arms, under the breasts, and in the groin. Candida (fungus/yeast commonly found in these areas) will cause a red, sometimes itchy rash. Simply making sure to dry under the breasts (for large-breasted women it may help to use a blow dryer on a cold setting), around the groin and under the arms can help prevent candida. Changing clothes after a sweaty workout is equally important.

Tinea, also caused by fungus, results in circular lesions that are usually about coin sized, typically red but sometimes white, in the case of tinea versicolor. My husband has a symbiotic relationship with this fungus due to all of his surfing – the moisture and warmth inside his wet suit creates the perfect environment for it to thrive. Treating and preventing tinea can be as simple and inexpensive as using a selenium sulfide based shampoo (such as Selsun Blue) as a body wash in affected areas (the fungus don’t like this). Apply and leave on for several minutes before rinsing off.

I’ll save plant fungal infections for a future post. For now, I hope this helps you keep your skin (and your plants) thriving, not just surviving!

image3
Adromischus rupicola/maculatus, aka “chocolate drops” succulent. And my well moisturized hand before the dry weather really set in (I have eczema myself, so I keep good hand moisturizer in my purse, car, and on my office desk).

 

 

%d bloggers like this: