Last week I wrote about the importance of getting the garbage out of your system to promote healthy skin. In Chinese Medicine, the skin is sometimes referred to as the “third lung,” because it “breathes” through its pores – excreting toxins and absorbing what’s put on it. The lungs work as a pair with the colon: while the lungs take in oxygen and let go of carbon dioxide, the colon takes in water and lets go of solid waste. Like the skin itself, these two organs are sort of the “frontier” between the inside and outside of the body. They need to be functioning well in order for our skin to glow.
The flipside of clearing out the waste is feeding the body with everything it needs for healthy skin. Here are some nutritional measures you can take to promote clearing of rashes and youthful and elastic skin.
- Water. I mentioned water last time as an important factor of detoxification. Because it’s about two-thirds of what we’re made of, it’s also a vital part of nutrition. When I was studying botany, one of the most fascinating courses was Post-harvest Physiology – a class all about how to keep crops fresh for as long as possible after they’re picked. One of the key factors in the shelf life of fruits and vegetables is water loss. It’s why we now coat most fruit with wax – to keep water in. As they lose water, leafy vegetables wilt, crunchy things get mushy, citrus gets hard, juicy fruits get mealy, and things with skin get wrinkly. We’re so much like fruit, really. Our skin rapidly loses quality when we’re dehydrated. So, drink water frequently and evenly throughout the day.
- Deep breathing and aerobic exercise in clean air. I’m speaking loosely of nutrition when I when I recommend you “feed” yourself with more oxygen and better blood flow. Work with the lung-skin connection and oxygenate yourself. Do it away from cars, factories, construction sites, and moldy areas. Exercise brings more blood to the skin and promotes better elasticity. Breathing, circulating, and sweating don’t just get more life to your skin, but as I mentioned last time, they’re important for detoxification.
- Give yourself a daily oil massage. Because the skin is more permeable than most people think, sometimes it’s most efficient to feed the skin directly. Infusing the body with oil through the skin is a major emphasis of Ayurvedic medicine. You can either use a liberal amount of oil on yourself before taking a shower (ideally right after doing skin brushing), then shower without soap, dry off, and you should still have a nice layer of moisture left. Or you can use a smaller amount of oil after showering. Good oils include sesame, jojoba, avocado, coconut, and safflower. If you can afford it, kukui, tamanu, and rosehip oil are especially great when there is sun damage, scarring or irritation. Always store your oil in a dark, cool place and throw it away if it becomes rancid.
- Consume plenty of healthy fats. Some good sources of healthy plant-based fats include: coconut and coconut oil, avocado, almonds, walnuts, sesame seeds (especially the black ones), chia, olives and olive oil, flax seed and flax oil, hemp seed and hemp oil, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Good sources of healthy animal-based fats are free range, omega-3 fortified eggs, fish and fish oil, and the milk and meat of grass-fed mammals (these last two in moderation). These fats are instrumental to the suppleness of skin, and many have anti-inflammatory properties that help calm rashes and irritation.
- Eat protein. Most Westerners overeat meat, but I still encounter quite a few patients who don’t consume enough protein. Amino acids are essential to the formation of collagen, cartilage and muscle, which are vital for good looking skin and the underlying facial structure as we age. Egg and whey (milk) protein are the most usable by the body, followed by meat, and then by beans and seeds. An amino acid or sugar free protein powder can help if you have trouble getting enough protein in your diet.
- Eat lots of brightly colored vegetables and fruits. These are rich in minerals, vitamins, beneficial pigments, and antioxidants. They help maintain healthy tone of blood vessels and structure of the skin and underlying connective tissue, and protect against the oxidative damage that leads to aging and cancer. Health articles might lead you to believe that antioxidants are the miraculous solution to everything that ails us. That’s a bit far from the truth, but oxidative stress does play a significant role in skin degradation, and it’s worsened by exposure to pollution, smoke, radiation, various toxins, trans fats and other junky food. Fruits, vegetables, and spices are our best dietary source of antioxidants. Some potent ones include blueberries and other berries, pomegranates, green tea, capers, cloves, garlic, cinnamon, rosemary, cayenne, red cabbage, black plums, and kiwis.
- Consider supplementing with extra skin nutrients. If it’s hard for you to get enough of the good stuff through diet alone, there are a few supplements worth considering:
a. MSM. MSM, or methyl sulfonyl methane, is organic sulfur – an element found in every cell, and integral to the structure of hair, skin, nails, cartilage, and other connective tissues. It’s mostly thought of for joint pain, but can be taken internally, or used in topical creams, to improve skin elasticity.
b. Vitamin A. Vitamin A is probably the most used nutrient for skin problems. It is instrumental in skin and cartilage growth. Synthetic forms of this vitamin have long been used in the treatment of acne and to tighten the skin. Vitamin A benefits a wide array of skin conditions, and when it’s deficient, our skin tends to become rough and scaly. We may also develop bumps on the backs of the arms. Cod liver oil, liver, whole milk, and egg yolks are the main dietary sources. You can also take 25,000 IU’s of vitamin A (not its precursor, beta carotene) a day in supplement form. Pregnant women should not take more than 5,000 units a day.
c. Alpha Lipoic Acid. This powerful antioxidant occurs naturally in the body and is also available as a supplement and in topical skin products. https://abodycandle.com has a multitude of skin care ‘hygienic’ products which come with a litany of other benefits. Such products are much stronger as an antioxidant than vitamin C or E. It may reduce puffiness, blotchiness, fine lines and wrinkles, and even skin tone.
d. Zinc. Zinc improves wound healing, decreases inflammation, and promotes cell regeneration. It may be beneficial for acne, eczema, and other chronic skin conditions. Oysters and other shellfish are really the only sources of abundant zinc. Plant sources are mostly inadequate; vegetarians are often deficient in zinc. You can take 30 milligrams once or twice a day. Make sure you have some food in your stomach when taking zinc, otherwise you can get a stomachache from it.
Don’t expect overnight changes in your skin from dietary modifications and supplementation, as it takes a while for internal changes to manifest on the surface. But, everything I’ve recommended here is good for you in numerous ways, so, do expect that these changes will have benefits beyond nice skin.
Dr. Peter Borten