The appearance of your skin is intimately connected to your self-confidence and self-esteem. It is a reflection of your health both inside and out. In this post you’ll learn how you can help your body build healthy and radiant skin. I recommend a three step plan for restoring your skin, regardless of age:
If you can begin to think of your skin with an appropriate wonder and appreciation for the magnificent creation it is, you’ll be more likely to care for it properly. So let’s begin with a brief discussion of how your skin is constructed and its many vital roles in your body.
Your skin is the single largest organ in your body, covering over twenty square feet and weighing as much as ten percent of your bodyweight. It contains over half a million sensory receptors and varies in thickness from as little as a tenth of a millimeter on your eyelids to as much as four millimeters on the soles of your feet.
It’s a marvelously complex organ. In fact, if we took a section of your skin the size of a quarter and put it under a microscope we would find three million individual cells, one hundred sweat glands, fifty individual nerve endings, three feet of blood vessels, and another three feet of lymph vessels. All in the space of a quarter! In the care of your skin it is vital to understand that your skin is in a constant process of repair and reconstruction completely replacing itself every thirty days!
Skin is comprised of an outer layer, middle layer, and fat layer. The outer layer is a paper thin layer called the epidermis which is continually being shed and replaced by new cells provided by the dermis. The dermis, or middle layer, makes up some ninety percent of your skin and contains the nerves, glands, and blood and lymph vessels. Two proteins responsible for the flexibility and elasticity of the skin, collagen and elastin, also reside in the dermis layer. Finally the inner fat layer serves as padding and energy storage.
One of the primary purposes of the skin is protection. The epidermis is comprised of tightly overlapping dead cells, much like shingles on a roof, rich in tough and fibrous protein, keratin. Also within the epidermis are cells producing melanin, a pigment providing our skin color and protecting us from ultraviolet radiation. The oils in this outer layer of the skin are important for retaining moisture and preventing dehydration.
The skin is our first line of defense for our immune system. In addition to a physical barrier, healthy skin maintains an acidic PH barrier which is inhospitable to bacterial invaders. Sweat glands work with blood vessels in the maintenance of body temperature as well as serve to remove toxins from the body while the rich network of lymph vessels in the skin removes impurities.
One of the most vital roles of our skin is utilizing ultraviolet radiation to convert cholesterol to Vitamin D. Current research shows that Vitamin D actually functions more like a hormone and we now know that Vitamin D receptors exist almost everywhere in the body and proper levels are critical for our health.
Finally, skin serves as a sensory organ providing a variety of precise tactile sensations including heat, cold, pressure, vibration, pain, and pleasure. These sensations are vital for protecting us from threatened or actual tissue damage as well as providing our rich experience of life.
Your Emotions and Your Skin
The health of your skin is a reflection of your general health. Whatever you experience internally will eventually show up on your skin. This includes not only the nutrients provided by your diet but also the chemical cascade initiated by your thoughts and emotions. Always remember, emotions change physiology and physiology changes emotions. From a holistic perspective you are one inseparable whole; body, mind, and spirit. While my recommendations here focus on the body, don’t forget to nourish your emotional requirements.
STEP ONE – REDUCE DAMAGE
Damage to the skin is caused primarily by three factors; inflammation, free radicals, and toxins.
Inflammation is the result of your body’s immune response. In a healthy immune response it is a temporary condition followed by healing. A proper immune response uses inflammation as a way to remove infected and damaged cells and once the damage has been removed the inflammation is shut-off. Inflammation becomes chronic, rather than temporary, when it doesn’t get shut-off. This chronic inflammation can damage healthy tissue. For you best skin, eliminate these pro-inflammatory foods, conditions, and activities.
- Overgrowth of Bad Gut Bacteria
- Bad Fats
- Excess Omega-6 (polyunsaturated vegetable oils incl. safflower, sunflower, corn, peanut, soy)
- Hydrogenated Oil
- Damaged Fats
- Refined Sugar & Processed Carbohydrates
- “Excessive” UV
Sun exposure is vitally important for the production and maintenance of proper Vitamin D levels. Sun exposure that leaves the skin burnt is “excessive” UV exposure. You can create healthy Vitamin D levels through sun exposure without ever burning. Look for more information on this in a future post.
Free radicals damage skin and lead to premature aging of the skin. When they damage the collagen and elastin in your skin it becomes stiffer and less elastic making skin sag and wrinkle. Free radical damage can also occur in the fat layer further reducing the skins flexibility and softness.
Free radicals are defective molecules that attack and destroy other molecules within your body. The loss of one of their electrons causes them to scavenge an electron from surrounding molecules, effectively destroying them. While a single free radical causes little damage, it is their cumulative effect that damages our health. They can damage any tissue in your body including your skin. Their oxidizing effect is much like rust, progressing slowly and perhaps un-noticed until there is a catastrophic failure in tissues or organs.
Free radicals can be the byproduct of normal metabolism but they can also be introduced by outside forces. Your body has a built-in defense for free radicals. It uses antioxidants to mitigate their damaging effects. Your goal should be to minimize the free radicals your body must deal with. Reducing their level will not only improve your skin, it will also improve your general health. For your best skin eliminate these preventable causes of free radicals:
- Daily stress – emotional and physical
- High Blood Sugar/Insulin
- Pollutants, Chemicals, Additives
- Food, Food Prep, Food Storage, Cleaning, Personal Care
- “Excessive” UV
Toxins have invaded our environment and food supply. These toxins, once inside your body, can disrupt normal metabolism, trigger inflammation, increase free radicals, and cause disease. Your skin is one of the detox organs your body utilizes to try to rid your body of their toxic onslaught.
Here I will explain how to reduce your toxin exposure in your home environment. Step two of my three step plan will address reducing your exposure to toxins in our food supply.
Most popular consumer products contain toxins. You should be particularly concerned about personal care products because they are rarely tested for safety and provide a direct route to your bloodstream. Your skin is thin and permeable. Personal care products placed on your skin can reach your bloodstream in the same way a transdermal medication is delivered. You may be unknowingly applying toxins on a daily basis with the personal care products you use. For your best skin eliminate these preventable sources of toxins from your home:
- In the kitchen
- Store food and water in glass or stainless steel
- Cook with cast iron, stainless steel, or uncoated bake ware
- Eliminate plastic utensils
- Don’t wash plastic in dishwasher
- Don’t store hot foods in plastic
- In the bathroom
- Buy non-toxic Shampoo, Body Wash, Lotion or do not use
- Buy non-toxic Make-up or do not use
- Use a filter on shower if water is chlorinated
- In the home
- Read product labels.
- “Danger” most toxic.
- “Warning” less toxic than “Danger”
- “Caution” less toxic than “Warning”
- Buy or make non-toxic cleaners.
- Dust is highly toxic.
- Wet dust often.
- Read product labels.
In the kitchen: All plastics leach chemicals. The leaching is increased by the presence of heat and oils. Store food in reusable glass containers. Replace plastic utensils and kitchen tools such as spatulas with stainless steel. Non-stick cookware releases toxins when heated and can flake off into the food being cooked.
In the bathroom: Some of the most common toxins in personal care products are phthalates, parabens, and sodium laurel sulfate. In scented products phthalates help the scent linger but phthalates have been shown to disrupt endocrine function, cause reproductive and organ toxicity, and accumulate in the body. Parabens are added to personal care products to prevent bacterial growth. They have been shown to disrupt endocrine and immune function, cause reproductive toxicity, and cause allergies. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a foaming agent used to create lather in most personal care products and household products. It has been shown to cause skin and eye irritation, reproductive and organ toxicity, neurotoxicity, and to be an endocrine disruptor.
If your home uses chlorinated water, add chlorine filters to taps and especially to your shower head. Besides damaging your gut bacteria, which are vital to your immunity, chlorine strips protective oils from your skin.
Make-up is particularly notorious for chemical additives. Fortunately there are a number of additive-free lines available. I recommend you visit the Environmental Working Group website at http://www.ewg.org/ to find non-toxic personal care, make-up, and household cleaners.
In the home: Read product labels for an indication of toxins. DANGER indicates that anything from a taste to one teaspoon can be fatal. WARNING indicates that anything from one teaspoon to one ounce can be fatal. CAUTION indicates that anything from one ounce to one pint can be fatal. Visit the Environmental Working Group website at http://www.ewg.org/ to find non-toxic household products and cleaners.
Dust is a serious source of toxicity in your home. In a 2003 issue of Environmental Science & Technology they reported finding 26 different chemicals in the dust of the homes they tested. These chemicals are the fallout of the synthetic products in our homes including; wall, ceiling, floor, and furniture coverings. These breakdown products end up in your household dust along with dead skin and contaminants tracked in on your footwear. Always wet dust with water, or a non-toxic option, to prevent spreading these contaminants.
STEP TWO – NOURISH DEEPLY
Remember that your skin is replaced every month. What raw materials will you provide to your body for it to build new skin with?
Choose grass-fed beef, free-range organic eggs and poultry, wild-caught, deep-sea fresh fish, and whole raw dairy. Consume .7 grams per pound of lean body mass daily. It’s worth doing this math, as very few of the clients I see are getting anywhere near the daily protein they need. Skin is a very protein rich tissue. Eating healthy protein in sufficient quantities is essential to your best skin.
Choose organic, preferably in season, local fruits and vegetables and whole, unrefined, properly prepared grains and legumes. Eat fruit(s) or vegetable(s) with every meal or snack. Limit high glycemic fruits and vegetables.
For hot uses use butter, lard, animal fats, coconut oil, palm oil, full fat dairy, eggs. For cold uses use extra virgin olive oil, nut & seed oils, avocado. Don’t eat any margarine, hydrogenated oil, trans fats, canola oil, corn oil, vegetable oil. They are highly inflammatory.
Drink pure, chlorine-free, fluoride-free water from glass or stainless steel containers. Add a pinch of sea salt to each glass if you do not have a salt sensitivity. To determine your daily minimum ounces divide your body weight by two. Replace any diuretics your consume with one and a half times as much water. Do not exceed one gallon/day. If you’re not drinking much water now, be sure to build-up slowly.
Eat fermented foods daily for healthy probiotics. Yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, komboucha, kim chi, kvass are all easily made at home and the best way to build a healthy balance of gut bacteria, which is critical to you immune system and your best skin.
BALANCE BLOOD SUGAR
Every meal/snack should combine PROTEIN (+) CARBOHYDRATES (+) FATS. This keeps blood sugar stable. Chronic high blood sugar can lead to chronic inflammation and depressed immunity.
STEP THREE – CLEANSE GENTLY
In terms of cleansing it’s important to understand the anatomy of your skin. Remember, your skin is actually a layer of dead cells that is constantly being shed. Exfoliation is the key to cleaning your skin. Removing the old and dead cells makes way for the new and healthy skin cell replacements. Exfoliation does not require any soap or liquid cleaning agents. A nice soft wash cloth, clean water, and a gentle scrub are all that are required. It’s equally effective for underarms and personal areas. Here are my recommendations for gentle cleansing;
- Eliminate Soap/Bodywash
- They remove protective oils
- Their alkalinity removes proper acidic balance
- normal skin pH is 4.5-5.5
- This is the key to cleaning without soap!
- Use a soft washcloth or loofah
- Your feet & palms may benefit from Pumice Stone
- Eliminate Shampoo
- Really only necessary on a periodic basis
- For occasional use try Apple Cider Vinegar (1tbsp/1cp water) or egg yolks
- Eliminate Shave Cream
- Use coconut oil
When you understand your skin it’s easy to understand why treating it from the inside out is the only truly effective approach for your best skin. These three steps will help you achieve your very best skin.
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