Are you happy with the skin you’re in?
Your skin is often one of the first things people notice about you. So how is yours? Does it glow with the vitality of inner health?
It is not uncommon to see clients seeking naturopathic help for skin related issues such as acne, rosacea, psoriasis, dermatitis, redness, dryness and eczema. By the time people come to see me they have usually tried a whole variety of prescription and over the counter creams, lotions or drugs with varying degrees of success.
From a naturopathic perspective I look at the whole person, both inside and out.
Possible causes of skin complaints
There are many possible causes of skin problems and sometimes it may even be a combination of more than one.
Causes of skin complaints may include:
- nutritional deficiencies or excesses
- poor digestion
- disturbances of bowel flora
- food intolerances (exacerbated by intestinal permeability a.k.a. “leaky gut”)
- environmental toxins
- poor or dysfunctional immunity
- exposure to allergens e.g. dust mites
- hormone imbalances
- systemic inflammation
Your skin is one of the key elimination pathways in your body alongside the liver, bowel and kidneys. So, when one of these pathways is not working as well as they could, the extra load is carried by the remaining pathways. In other words, skin problems may be the external sign of a problem within.
As your naturopath, it is my job to sort out which of these possible causes may be driving your skin problems and develop a treatment plan to suit.
What can you do to support healthy skin?
If you have skin issues but you aren’t yet ready to see a naturopath, start by helping yourself with the following tips.
Eat lots of plants
Eating a plant based diet is good for your skin because it provides your body with lots of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants essential for good skin health. Plants also provide thousands of phytochemicals and whilst not considered “essential nutrients” these provide numerous health benefits to your skin such as supporting the integrity of cell membranes (think plump, firm skin), providing antioxidant support to the cells (preventing skin damage) and promoting optimal detoxification of hormones and toxins (keeping skin clear).
Your liver also loves plants, especially those green leafy vegetables and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, kale and brussels sprouts. Your liver detoxifies the toxins you ingest as well as by-products of your own metabolism, however if there is too much workload placed on your liver, it may show up in your skin.
Aim to get 30grams of fibre every day
Fibre is often forgotten about when the focus is on the essential vitamins and minerals you should consume, however it is integral to your skin health because it is essential for good bowel health. It helps your bowel clear waste and toxins from your body. A healthy bowel with regular bowel movements that are soft and easy to pass is what you want to aim for.
There are different types of fibre however if you eat a variety of fruits, vegetables and wholegrains you will have your fibre bases covered.
Water should be your main hydration throughout the day so aim to drink water regularly. Water helps your kidneys flush out toxins from your body. Drinking water also helps your lymphatic system and bowel to remove waste from your body so it doesn’t end up in your skin.
Plain water is ideal throughout the day, however adding in some herbal teas is a good way to increase your water intake if you’re not a great water drinker.
Regular exercise is great for your fitness and overall health, but it is also excellent at keeping all of your detoxification pathways working well. Exercise helps your bowel to work regularly and easily, supports your liver to change toxins and waste products into substances that are safe for your body to be eliminated and keeps your lymphatic system moving, essential for removing toxins from your skin.
Relax and get some sleep
Leading busy and stressful lives shows on your skin. Having a dull complexion, dark circles under your eyes and dry skin may all be signs of stress. Stress can also have an impact on your body’s ability to have deep restful sleep.
Learning to relax can be difficult if you are naturally a busy person, however aim to make it part of your healthy lifestyle. Practising relaxation when you’re going through a stressful time is often difficult. So, start when you are feeling good and incorporate it regularly into your day/week so that when you do encounter stressful situations you already have the tools to calm your nervous system.
Sleep is vital to good detoxification. Your liver, kidneys and bowel all do some serious clean up whilst your sleeping so getting enough sleep is important for good skin.
Choose natural skin care products
Natural skin care products such as Olive & Ash do not use synthetic substances, harsh chemicals or detergents and promote skin health by using simple natural ingredients that do not strip your skin of its natural oils. If there’s a lot of ingredients on your skin care bottle that you can’t pronounce then it may not be the best option for you.
There are many good natural products on the market so take a look and find one that works for your skin.
That’s a lot to start with! However, if you’re already doing those good things for your skin and it’s still not glowing, you may benefit from targeted nutritional therapy.
The following are just some key nutrients you need for good skin health.
Zinc helps repair damaged skin, modulate the immune system to avoid bacterial breakouts and reduces inflammation in the skin. Get your zinc from sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pepitas, walnuts, almonds, lentils, split peas, wholegrains, oysters, shellfish, sardines, fish and red meat.
Vitamin A is an important fat soluble vitamin required for healthy skin. Vitamin A is a potent antioxidant quenching free radicals to help your skin glow by protecting your skin cells’ membrane. Vitamin A also supports the production of new skin cells that keep your skin firm and fresh.
Add some vitamin A into your diet by including orange coloured fruits and vegetables such as pumpkin, carrots, sweet potato, red capsicum mango and apricots. Vitamin A is also in green leafy vegetables, poultry, liver and organ meats, cod liver oil, egg yolks and cheese.
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant and supports collagen synthesis which keeps your skin looking plump and youthful. Topical Vitamin C is becoming more popular and some research supports its ability to protect the skin from damage.
Boost your vitamin C intake by eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables in their raw form as Vitamin C is unfortunately not stable to heat and light. Some foods particularly high in vitamin C include; red capsicum, papaya, kale, red chilli, parsley, kiwi fruit, citrus fruits, lemons, blackcurrants, mango, cabbage, broccoli, strawberries, melon, spinach, tomatoes and tangerines.
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)
Vitamin B5 is great for keeping the skin moisturised and hydrated thereby reducing the appearance of lines and wrinkles. It is also a great vitamin (along with other B vitamins) for managing your stress response. Less stress = better skin.
You can get your Vitamin B5 from peanuts, liver and organ meats, avocado, mushrooms, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts and brewer’s yeast.
Protein is required for tissue growth and repair and is used by every cell in the body, including your skin cells. Protein makes up collagen, elastin and keratin which keeps your skin firm and plump.
Get your protein by eating lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, quinoa, chickpeas, lentils and nuts, seeds.
When to seek naturopathic help for skin complaints
If the above list seems overwhelming and you’re unsure where to start or you feel like you have already tried those things with limited success, that’s where I can help.
Chronic skin conditions can be stressful and you may have tried lots of different things to improve your skin with varying success. Sometimes, skin conditions require more than just a healthy diet. Investigating and identifying the causes specific to you, then using the appropriate tools (such as herbal or nutritional medicines, diet and lifestyle changes) to address those causes will be the key to your long term skin success.
The right combination of diet, herbs and nutritional treatments can make an amazing difference, not only to your skin but often to your energy and other areas of health as well.