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What Every Waxer Needs to Know About Inflammation

Advanced Education for Waxing Professionals


(c) Judy Fleming Zifka 2014

Book Jacket

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

Section 1 ~ Theory


Chapter 1 ~ Introducing Inflammation
Chapter 2 ~ What is Inflammation?
Chapter 3 ~ The Immune System
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Homeostasis

Chapter 4 ~ Building Blocks of the Immune System
Chapter 5 ~ The Role of Inflammation in Healing
Chapter 6 ~ The First Trigger of Inflammation - Nerve Stress
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Physical Stress
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Environmental Stress
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Emotional Stress

Chapter 7 ~ Calming Nerves to Reduce Inflammation
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Fast-Adapting Nerves
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Slow-Adapting Nerves

Chapter 8 ~ The Relationship Between Hair and the Brain
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Evolutionary History
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Primary Purpose of Hair
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Neuron Migration
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The srGAP2 Gene
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The K111 Virus

Chapter 9 ~ The Second Step of Inflammation - Histamine
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Histamine Causes Vessel Dilation
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Anti-Histamines

Chapter 10 ~ The Inflammatory Cascade
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Six Steps of the Inflammatory Cascade

Chapter 11 ~ The Third Step of Inflammation - Vasodilation
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The Circulatory Environment of Vasodilation
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Comparison with Thermoregulatory Vasodilation
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Factors that Determine Blood Speed
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Perfusion

Chapter 12 ~ The Fourth Step of Inflammation - Leaking Fluids
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Using Heat to Increase Perfusion

Chapter 13 ~ The Fifth Step of Inflammation - Adrenal Glands
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Adrenaline
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Motor Neurons
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Cortisol

Chapter 14~ Alternatives to Hydrocortisone - Caffeine
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Using Caffeine to Treat Inflammation
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Using the Right Doses of Caffeine

Chapter 15 ~ The Sixth Step of Inflammation - Lymphatic Drainage
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Lymph Vessels
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Lymph Nodes

Chapter 16 ~ Ingrown Hairs and Pimples
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ingrown Hairs
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sebaceous Glands
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sebaceous Cysts
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Pimples

Chapter 17 ~ Final Remarks on the Theory of Inflammation


Section 2 ~ Techniques

Technique 1 ~ Holding the Skin Tight to Avoid Pain
Technique 2 ~ Numbing the Skin Before Waxing
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Numbing Agents
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Slapping the Skin
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Using Heat

Technique 3 ~ Calming Nerves with Distraction
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Using Conversation to Distract
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Using Music to Distract

Technique 4 ~ Calming Nerves with Breathing
Technique 5 ~ Using Pressure to Calm Fast-Adapting Nerves
Technique 6 ~ Using Pressure to Calm Slow-Adapting Nerves
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Applying Pressure to the Upper Lip
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Applying Pressure to the Neck
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Applying Pressure to the Back
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Applying Pressure to the Chest
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Applying Pressure to the Pubic Area

Technique 7 ~ Using Heat to Treat Inflammation
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Safely Heating Towels and Washcloths
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Applying Heat to the Skin
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Using Heat Before vs. After Waxing

Technique 8 ~ Using Caffeine to Treat Inflammation
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Amount of Caffeine in Popular Products
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . How Much Caffeine is Safe?
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Timing the Dose
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Client Consent

Technique 9 ~ Using Anti-Histamines to Treat Inflammation
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Using Oral Anti-Histamines
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Using Topical Anti-Histamines

Technique 10 ~ The Rule of Color
Technique 11 ~ Treating Ingrown Hair and Pimples
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Extracting Ingrown Hairs
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Dry Brushing - The Best Way to Exfoliate
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Using Acne Treatments on Ingrown Hair and Pimples
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Using High Frequency Treatments

Technique 12 ~ Using Essential Oils to Treat Inflammation
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Using Carrier Oils to Dilute
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Lavender Essential Oil
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Tea Tree Essential Oil

Technique 13 ~ DIY Home Remedies for Inflammation
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Moist Heat
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Aspirin Mask
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Baking Soda Mask

Technique 14 ~ Caring for the Skin After Waxing
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Products Used in the Salon
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Products Used at Home
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sex After Waxing
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Exercise After Waxing
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Public Pools
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Bed Linens

Technique 15 ~Screening Clients for Sensitivity to Inflammation
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Questions to Ask Clients

Technique 16 ~ Hard Wax vs. Soft Wax
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Hard Waxes
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Soft (Strip) Waxes
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Choosing the Right Wax

Bibliography
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Adrenaline (Epinephrine)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Art of Distraction
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Caffeine
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Circulation / Perfusion
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Evolution
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . FDA Warnings
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Heat
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . High Frequency Treatments
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Histamine
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Hormones
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Nerves
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Rule of Color
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sebaceous Glands
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Stress

Table of Illustrations


Section 1 ~ Theory
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .The Immune System is Balanced by Four Basic Systems
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Web of Nerves Around a Hair Follicle
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Fast-Adapting vs Slow-Adapting Nerves
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Distribution of Slow-Adapting Merkel Cells
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Mast Cells
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Histamine Dilates Blood Vessels
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Six Steps of the Inflammatory Cascade
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Adrenal Glands
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sebaceous Glands

Section 2 ~ Techniques
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Using Breath to Calm Nerves
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Fast-Adapting Nerves
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Slow-Adapting Nerves
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Distribution of Slow-Adapting Nerves
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Applying Pressure to the Neck
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sensitive Areas on a Man's Back
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Distribution of Nerves Related to Sensory Input
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sensitive Areas on a Man's Chest
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Distribution of Merkel Cells in the Pubic Area
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Towel Placement on Body
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Caffeine in Popular Products
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The Rule of Color
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ingrown Hair vs. Plugged Sebaceous Gland
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Needle Tipped Tweezers for Extracting Ingrown Hair
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . High Frequency Wand

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Chapter 1 ~ Introducing Inflammation

Every waxer needs to understand inflammation because it is something we create in nearly every client who comes to us for hair removal. The process of removing multiple hairs at once almost always causes the skin to turn bright pink or red for a few minutes or a few hours. This is inflammation, and it is universally disliked by our clients. The faster we can get rid of it the happier they are.

Since waxers are the ones creating inflammation, it makes sense that waxers should also be experts in how to treat it. After all, we see inflammation every day in all types of bodies and all kinds of skin. There are very few professions that offer a better opportunity to observe the causes and effects of inflammation than waxing.

And yet, despite our intimate relationship with inflammation, most waxers have a surprisingly limited understanding of it. If we were taught anything at all about inflammation in school, it was probably the same ideas that were being taught 40 years ago. There have been some amazing discoveries in the past decade, and it's time to bring our understanding into a new light. I hope this book does it for you.

For the past 12 years I have been experimenting with how to reduce the inflammation I create when I wax my clients. During my days in beauty school I received little or no education on this topic and so, out of necessity, I am self-taught. That is, in many ways, an advantage because I began my journey without preconceived ideas of what causes inflammation. I approached my research with an open mind and compared everything I read to what I actually observed.

My goal in the beginning was simply to understand what is happening when the skin of my clients becomes red and how I could make it go away faster. I had lots of ideas to try out, and with an active clientele I also had a steady stream of guinea pigs willing to try my experiments. As a result, my waxing studio became something of a research laboratory where I investigated inflammation.

In time, I developed techniques that proved very successful in reducing the amount of redness (inflammation) that my clients experienced. My clients were pleased and so was I, but I was also a bit confused because some of the methods that produced the best results were nearly opposite of what I had been taught. It was quite a dilemma. I couldn't argue with the results of my experiments so I had to challenge what I had been taught.

It became my mission to understand inflammation and I poured myself into it. By day I waxed clients, and by night I researched every medical field I could think of to find clues that would explain what triggers inflammation and why it was responding so well to my unorthodox techniques.

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In the course of these efforts I discovered some surprising things. For instance, I began with a somewhat naive expectation that if I dug deep enough I would eventually find that someone had already figured all this out and my questions would be answered. Instead, the deeper I dug the more I realized that it hadn't been figured out yet. The scientific world knows a lot of things about inflammation, but knows very little about how hair fits into the picture.

Because of my work as a waxer, I already knew that an important relationship exists between hair and inflammation. I only needed to look at the skin of my clients to see evidence of it. And yet, I found very little discussion of this relationship in my review of scientific literature. It seemed as though no one was paying any attention to the inflammation caused by hair removal, and it meant that a lot of valuable information about inflammation had not yet been explored.

I was also surprised to discover that one of the most fundamental ideas we have been taught about inflammation is simply not correct. In particular, we have a misunderstanding of how blood flows through a vessel that is dilated because of inflammation. It's a small error, easily over-looked, but it explains why some of my most successful treatments were contradictory to what I had been taught.

At first I found it inconceivable that this error had not been recognized before. And yet, there it was. By making this one small correction in the description of how blood flows through an inflamed vessel, my working model of inflammation suddenly became more complete and accurate.

How did I know that my description of inflammation was more accurate than the traditional one? Because making this one correction presented a completely new set of options for treating inflammation and they worked on virtually every client, including a few doctors and nurses who became believers when they saw the results.

It's not easy to convince people that a long-held belief is actually false. If there is a fundamental error in our understanding, why hasn't it already been recognized by medical researchers? How could a waxer discover something that doctors and researchers have not?

To answer that question, let's first release any assumptions we may hold that people in the beauty industry are not as smart as those in the scientific fields. We are all just people who have chosen a profession to focus upon, and there is nothing about one's chosen profession that automatically infers intellectual superiority or inferiority. There is no reason that a waxer cannot make observations about inflammation that are not obvious to others, especially when they have such a unique opportunity to view inflammation that researchers don't have.

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For most people, body hair is a superficial part of being human, an insignificant remnant of our ancient history. But for a waxer, body hair is the primary focus of our work and everything needs to be explained from the perspective of hair. If you think body hair has no value, it makes sense that you wouldn't expect it to provide valuable answers. But when you see hair as important and explain inflammation from that perspective, it reveals many secrets that have been previously overlooked. It turns out that hair is much more important than it has been given credit for.

Hair is important to waxers, and we work in conditions that researchers can only dream of. We don't need government grants or volunteers to study inflammation because people willingly pay us for what we do. We aren't bound by rules of ethical treatment that requires most researchers to work only with laboratory animals and then extrapolate their conclusions to humans. Waxers work exclusively with humans and we do it without violating any ethics. The observations we make do not have to be extrapolated.

A waxer works with clients that represent a wide variety of ages, skin color, hair color, and sensitivities. We witness a diversity of responses that researchers would find difficult to duplicate. Waxers operate in a world where hair is important and inflammation can be studied in ways that are not available to traditional researchers.

As I conducted my research in the waxing salon, I tried to remain true to the principles of scientific investigation. I started with observations and then asked questions. Why does removing hair cause such a rapid inflammatory response? What causes some people to react more than others? How can I reduce this response? When is the best time to intervene? What else can we try?

To answer these questions I had to step into many different branches of science and read hundreds of technical papers, some of which contradicted each other. The work presented here represents thousands of hours of research into neurology, immunology, evolutionary biology and many other branches of science. Thankfully, I had a good background in the sciences before I became a waxer, so I was not intimidated by the complexity of the research.

I did become tired, however, of the scientific jargon that most research papers use. It began to feel like they were using a language designed to prevent most of us from understanding what they are saying. Their science may be good, but their communication is not.

My goal is to share the results of this research with you in a way that is easy to understand and yet still accurate. I want these ideas to be understood by everyone, not just those with a science background. This requires that I sometimes leave out the finer details of how things work in an effort to simplify a subject that is actually quite complex.

Despite this goal of simplicity, care has been taken to make sure that the explanations are accurate. The details I have omitted do not materially change our understanding of the processes I describe. If a reader wants to learn more details about any of the subjects covered here, an extensive list of resources is provided in the Bibliography.

Within this book you will learn about much more than just inflammation. You will learn about neurology, embryology, and immunology. You will learn how stress affects inflammation, and how our blood flow changes as vessels dilate and contract. The world of human biology opens up in new ways when it is explored from the perspective of hair. You may find that many of these ideas have practical applications in your life outside of the waxing studio, too.

This book is divided into two sections: Theory and Techniques. The Theory section covers the fundamental principles of hair and inflammation. This is where new ideas are introduced and discussed. The Techniques section is where these new ideas are put into practice. This is where you will learn exactly how to incorporate these ideas into your waxing business.

You can improve your waxing skills right away by using the ideas in this book. You can be comfortable knowing that they are reliable, tested, and supported by evidence from outside research. But what is truly great about these ideas is that they cost little or nothing to implement. They don't require you to purchase a product or invest in a piece of equipment or pay a franchise fee. The only investment you have to make is a small amount of time and a large amount of understanding.

I encourage you to try these techniques in your waxing practice and see for yourself what kind of results you can get. Even if you implement only one or two of the ideas in this book, your clients will notice and rave about how nobody takes care of their skin like you do. When you demonstrate your understanding of how to treat inflammation, you are demonstrating your expertise as a waxer. Expertise is what every client wants, and your efforts will be rewarded with loyal clients and word-of-mouth referrals that will keep you busy for as long as you care to work.

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Chapter 2 ~ What is Inflammation?

We all know that waxing causes the skin to turn red. A lot of people, including our clients, do not think of this redness and irritation as inflammation because they think inflammation is only associated with infection. This is not correct. Inflammation is one of the most basic responses of our immune system, and it can occur for a variety of reasons. Infection is one reason and waxing is another. They both cause inflammation because inflammation is a universal and primary response of the immune system.

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In simple terms, inflammation is a response from the immune system that causes skin to become red, hot, swollen, and tender. This is what we see immediately after hair is removed by waxing. The skin becomes red, individual follicles become swollen, and the area is temporarily tender.

Inflammation is produced by our immune system as a response to irritation, and there are many types of irritation we can experience. Waxing creates irritation because we over-stimulate the hair follicle nerves when hair is forcibly removed. Friction, bruising, and cuts also cause irritation because tissue is being damaged. Insect bites, bacteria, and parasites are also irritating because they are invaders into our system. All these sources of irritation are capable of triggering the immune system and causing inflammation. Inflammation is therefore present in a wide range of health conditions.

When inflammation comes on quickly and lasts for a short period of time, such as what is experienced with waxing, it is called acute inflammation. In medical terms, acute means short duration and chronic means long duration. Waxing produces acute inflammation, but not chronic inflammation. The redness of inflammation lasts for a few minutes or a few hours, depending on the client.

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When skin is inflamed and becomes red, the color of the skin is caused by something we can't see — vasodilation, or the dilation of blood vessels. All of the symptoms we associate with inflammation — the heat, the color of the skin, the swelling, the tenderness, the buildup of fluids — are because blood vessels have dilated under the surface of the skin.

Almost everything that happens during inflammation is controlled by vasodilation, and so when we talk about controlling inflammation we are really talking about controlling vasodilation. This important fact will guide many of the treatment methods we develop.

If inflammation is controlled by vasodilation, then we have to ask what controls vasodilation. It is our immune system that controls vasodilation, so when we talk about controlling vasodilation we are really talking about controlling our immune system.

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When we think about the immune system, we don't usually think of opening and closing blood vessels as one of its major functions. Instead, most people think the immune system's major function is to fight off germs and infection because that's the part of our immune system that advertising talks about the most.

For the vast majority of people, almost everything they know about the immune system has come from advertising and it is an incomplete picture. The germ fighting powers of our immune system are important, but regulating the blood flow by opening and closing vessels is much more important from the perspective of waxing, because this is how inflammation is controlled.

If we want to have an accurate understanding of inflammation we must first have a better understanding of the immune system. This requires that some of our preconceived ideas must be dropped so we can explain inflammation as it truly exists. In the next section we will refine our definition of the immune system and put it in terms that are meaningful to a waxer. In the process we will see that the immune system is not as complex as we might have believed.

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Chapter 3 ~ The Immune System
Maintaining a State of Balance

The immune system is not complicated when you realize that everything it does is an attempt to keep us in balance. It has no motive other than that. It just wants to keep us in balance, and every action it takes is in response to something that has taken us out of balance. Too hot, too cold, too fast, too slow, painful, and broken are all unbalanced conditions that are addressed by our immune system. It's true that the immune system fights off infections and heals damaged tissue, but those actions fall under the larger umbrella of keeping us in balance.

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The attempt to stay in balance is called homeostasis (ho-me-oh-STAY-sis) and it is a force that governs all biologic systems, and certainly the human system. Every living thing has limits on what conditions it can tolerate and homeostasis is the attempt to keep a biologic system within those limits.

In humans, the nervous system is responsible for monitoring the conditions of our body. When conditions reach a certain limit, or threshold, a nerve sends a signal to the brain. The immune system, which is controlled by the nervous system, relies upon these signals to tell it that a threshold has been crossed and action needs to be taken. When a signal is received that our system is out of balance, the immune system tries to make corrections that will bring us back into balance.

Depending on which threshold has been crossed, our immune system makes a counteractive response that attempts to bring things back into homeostasis. If we are too hot, the immune system will try to cool us down. If our heart is pumping too fast, the immune system will try to slow it down. If a vessel is punctured and we lose blood, the immune system will coagulate it so it stops leaking. If bacteria invade, the immune system will try to neutralize them. If cells are damaged, the immune system will try to repair them.

Whatever problem we encounter, our immune system always tries to restore homeostasis and bring us back into a state of balance. And the immune system does this all day, all night, every day, for our entire life.

All humans share similar thresholds of tolerance for various conditions, but each person has their own individual threshold. What one person can tolerate, another person may not. Each of your clients will have different thresholds they can tolerate. We can make some educated guesses about people, but it is ultimately up to each individual to learn what their personal thresholds are because no one else, not even doctors, can assume to know one's limits.

The techniques that will be presented in later sections take advantage of the fact that our immune system is always trying to maintain balance. We help that process by adding or subtracting things from the environment of inflammation so that homeostasis can be achieved faster.

To help the immune system restore balance, we've got to first know which systems are out of balance. Only then can we know what needs to change to restore balance. Fortunately, there are only four fundamental forces that control whether the immune system is creating inflammation or suppressing it. Once we are aware of these forces, we can help the immune system and improve the way our clients respond to inflammation.

Therefore, the first thing we need to understand are the basic forces that govern the immune system. I don't want to make the immune system complicated by getting caught up in the details of how our biochemistry makes it all happen. What we need is a fundamental understanding of the forces that direct the actions of inflammation. Once we understand the basic forces that control our immune system, it becomes much easier to recognize what actions we can take that might help to restore balance and reduce inflammation.

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Chapter 4 ~ Building Blocks of the Immune System

As we talk about the immune system, it is easy to fall into the trap of referring to it as if it were a physical thing, but it is not a thing. There is no specific organ that controls the immune system, no specific place you can point to and say, "That's the immune system." It is a set of responses that are triggered when we experience stress on a cellular level, and virtually all of the major systems of the body are involved in one way or another to carry out the actions of this thing we call the immune system.

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The immune system is a set of responses. It doesn't have a mind of its own and it never attacks us, even though it is sometimes described that way. The immune system can only respond to signals that a threshold has been crossed, and if the immune system is active there must be a signal somewhere telling it to be that way.

Illustration of Immune System

Depending on what kind of stress our cells experience, every part of the body gets involved in the immune system functions at some point. From the perspective of waxers who are trying to reduce inflammation, however, there are four parts of the immune system that are most important to us:

    • the nervous system (brain and peripheral nerves)
    • the circulatory system (blood and lymph)
    • the integumentary system (hair, skin and glands)
    • the endocrine system (especially hormones produced by the adrenal gland)

Each of these systems has an important role in starting and stopping inflammation. Note that each of these systems is an actual physical thing, but the immune system is not. The immune system is just a collection of responses from these systems.

Nervous System
The nervous system is arguably the most important part of our immune system because it is the communication network that monitors our body for signs of irritation. Millions of peripheral nerves spread out from the brain to monitor every action in our body and alert us to any danger that requires action from the immune system. Strong nerve signals are what activate the immune system. Without nerve signals that indicate something is wrong, the immune system is practically dormant. Peripheral nerves therefore exert primary control over whether the immune system, and therefore inflammation, is turned off or on. Peripheral nerves are what we irritate when hair is removed during waxing.

Circulatory System
The circulatory system is almost as important to the immune process as the nervous system because the circulation of blood throughout the body is how the immune system moves things around.

The immune system would not have the power to heal if it couldn't direct its activities to a specific location. Antibodies need to travel in the bloodstream and accumulate at the site of infection or injury. White blood cells need to migrate out of the vessels and move into tissue to neutralize the damage. The lymph system needs to carry all the debris away. The circulatory system, therefore, plays a vital role in the effectiveness of the immune system.

Integumentary System
The integumentary system includes our skin, hair and glands in the outer dermal layers. Most of the immune system's battles are fought in the dermal layers because that's where most of the wear and tear is experienced as we go through life. If it weren't for our immune system, our skin would never last through a lifetime of abuse. Every cut would become fatal and every infection would lead to death. Instead, our immune system has evolved ways of reacting quickly to protect our skin from damage, and this protective instinct is one of the reasons why hair removal by waxing causes such a strong inflammatory response.

Endocrine System
The endocrine system is often overlooked in discussions of the immune system, but it provides a vital function. The endocrine system includes all the glands we use to control biologic functions, and among the most important in terms of inflammation are the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands manufacture adrenaline and cortisol, both of which are involved in turning inflammation on and off. The adrenal glands react very quickly when the brain senses danger, and their quick response is one of the reasons why inflammation appears so rapidly when the skin is irritated by waxing.

Each of these four systems — the nervous system, circulatory system, integumentary system, and endocrine system — contributes something important to the creation or suppression of inflammation. Each provides a unique function, but they all work together to create the condition we call inflammation. Whenever we see inflammation from waxing we can be sure that part of it is being controlled by the nervous system, part of it is being controlled by the circulatory system, another part is being controlled by the endocrine system, and part is being controlled by the skin.

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This gives us four different places where we can make corrections to change the course of inflammation. We can apply corrections to the nerves or to the way blood circulates. We can apply corrections to the way the adrenal glands secrete hormones, or we can apply corrections to the skin and hair.

The reason these corrections are effective is because of something we learned at the very beginning of our discussion — the immune system is always trying to maintain balance. When you change the conditions in one system, the immune system responds by changing conditions in other systems because it is trying to achieve balance.

As waxers, we need to understand two important things and use them to our advantage:

1. There are only four basic systems at work in creating inflammation: the nervous system, circulatory system, endocrine system, and integumentary or skin/hair system; and

2. The immune system's primary job is to maintain homeostasis, or balance.

Every day, all day long, the immune system maintains balance, or homeostasis, by lowering the levels of some systems while raising the level of others. Most of these effects go unnoticed as we go through our day, and you will often hear the immune system described as being dormant unless there is an active infection or injury.

In reality, the immune system is never dormant because it is always working to keep us in balance. Saying that it goes dormant is a useful concept because it draws a line between the everyday actions of the immune system and the more dramatic actions of inflammation. But for you to appreciate the beauty of the immune system, you should know that it is never dormant.

The immune system always needs a signal to respond to. It's waiting for something to trigger it into action. If we change the signals that are being sent from any of the four major systems, it will change the immune response. It's a cause and effect relationship, and not as complicated as most of us think.

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