When you think about people, chances are you think about skin. Most of what we see that isn’t covered up by clothing is skin, after all. Humans are skin bags. Sorry, did that make you feel kind of gross? Anyway, like it or not, the quality of our skin can have a big influence on how others perceive us. It’s why we get so distressed by things like acne, wrinkles, birthmarks, warts, and scars, even though they don’t actually compromise our function or health.
When people come to me for help with a cosmetic skin issue, they often act a bit sheepish about it, as if they believe I’ll consider them shallow for caring about their appearance. But I recognize how much our feelings about our appearance affect our happiness and the way we relate to others. I think that as long as we’re not obsessive about it, we should do whatever we need to do to feel pretty or handsome.
More importantly, skin health is an expression of overall health. This doesn’t mean you won’t get wrinkles if you’re healthy, but even a wrinkly face can look vibrant if it’s part of a vibrant body and spirit. Last month I discussed some basics of vehicle maintenance – i.e., taking care of your body – with regard to nutrition and digestion. Now I’m going to cover basic mechanics and maintenance of your skin.
There are a number of factors that affect skin quality, including genetics, climate (wind, dryness, sun, chlorine, smoke, pollution, etc.), and our internal environment, to name just a few. We have more control over certain factors than others. Obviously, your skin will need different things in a dry, windy place than in a hot, damp place. But regardless of your particulars, there are two main things worth focusing on for healthy skin: good nutrition and good detoxification.
This week I’ll focus on detoxification. Most naturopathic physicians see dull skin and chronic skin problems as an expression of internal toxicity, which often results from digestive imbalance and/or a sluggish liver, plus a history of exposure to chemicals and/or problematic foods. When we cleanse the liver and gut (and support the lungs and kidneys while we’re at it) skin problems frequently clear up. Even without rashes or other obvious problems, our skin tends to be flat, dry, or irritated when our detoxification mechanisms aren’t at their best.
Here are four basic starting points for supporting internal and external detoxification:
- Drink plenty of water. For any kind of skin problem, from acne to eczema to wrinkles, you should first make sure you’re well hydrated. The body functions better when well hydrated, and this includes our detoxification mechanisms. I recommend drinking half the number of pounds you weigh as ounces of water per day (thus, a 100 pound person would drink 50 ounces of water). And this should be consumed evenly over the course of the say, and should not be ice cold.
- Make sure your bowels are moving regularly. Constipated people are retaining toxins in the colon for longer than is healthy. If you’re not having at least one big, complete feeling bowel movement a day, here are some measures you can take. Try drinking a glass of hot water first thing in the morning. Adding some honey may help. Consider prune juice if necessary. As I mentioned above, be sure to get enough water throughout the day. Eat plenty of good fats for lubrication (olive oil, walnuts, chia seed, flax seed, oily fish, coconut and coconut oil, avocado, etc.) and plenty of fiber to scrub your colon. Get exercise that engages your abdominal muscles. Stop tensing your abdomen throughout the day if this is a habit of yours. If you need more help, get some powdered magnesium (such as Natural Calm) and gradually increase the dose until your bowels start moving more freely.
- Practice dry skin brushing. Get a natural fiber skin brush and brush over all of your skin, always working toward the heart. Start at your toes, brushing firmly up your feet and legs, going over the same area a few times, and gradually coming up the legs to the torso. Work from the fingers to the torso next. Then cover the torso itself. Be gentle over delicate areas, and don’t brush so hard that it hurts. When done, jump in the shower, finish with cool water, and then give yourself a quick massage with a high quality oil, like jojoba, coconut, or sesame.
- Sweat. You can induce sweating through exercise (a great option) or through heat (sauna). Take a cool shower afterwards. Sweat carries toxins, including heavy metals, out of our bodies. Spending a long time in a medium hot sauna, just to the point of glistening skin, is more sustainable than going into a very hot sauna and dripping sweat.
- As a basic cleanse, consider abstaining from all grains, meat, dairy products, nightshade family vegetables (tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, peppers), and anything processed. The bulk of your diet should be vegetables, including some raw greens (bitter ones are good), and basic homemade soups. Some fruit is ok, but veggies are best. If you need something starchy, bake a sweet potato in foil at 400 degrees for 90 minutes. Try it for one to seven days. You’ll feel great, and your skin will become more clear. On an ongoing basis, try a low dose liver cleansing formula such as silymarin (milk thistle), artichoke, and turmeric (you can get this as a premade formula called S.A.T. made by Thorne), or just take plain milk thistle or dandelion.
Give these strategies a try and report in the comments section on your results. Stay tuned for more on nutrition for healthy skin next week.
Dr. Peter Borten