Your skin is the largest organ of your body. Most disorders of the skin reflect an inner imbalance and often the need to detox. External factors however, can still have a huge impact on the quality and appearance of the skin.
Let’s look at the internal factors first.
The skin is made of collagen and elastins. Vitamin C has an important role to play in the structure of these two protein-like substances. When we consume high amounts of sugar we inhibit the absorption of Vitamin C into our tissue because they both use the same transport system. Vitamin C has collagen and elastin- building, immune, bactericidal, virocidal, tissue ‘glue’ (mucopolysaccharide) forming functions, which are all inhibited by sugar.
Sugars also cross-link proteins, leading to ageing and wrinkles even in the youngest of skin, as well as inhibiting the release of linoleic acid (LA) from storage in fat tissues, creating an EFA deficiency. When this happens, we become ‘functionally’ deficient in LA despite adequate intake.
From a dietary perspective it is not just sugar that has such a negative impact on the skin but hard or altered fats such as cheese, pizza, chips, hamburgers and ice-cream. These can all create a variety of skin conditions.
A diet full of hard fats can give skin that ‘greasy’ look. The molecules in hard fats stick together creating the grease effect as opposed to the EFA-rich oils, whose molecules disperse, creating a softer, nourished effect.
Perhaps surprisingly, cholesterol is secreted by glands in our skin. It protects our skin from cracking, dehydration and the wear and tear of water, wind and sun. Cholesterol helps heal skin tissue and may prevent infections by foreign organisms. Unfortunately, cholesterol -lowering medications can inhibit this effect.
Brown spots or discoloration on the skin (commonly found on the face, head and hands) are a sign of fatty degeneration and antioxidant deficiency. If you can see them externally you can be certain the effects internally are the same, especially showing up on the heart muscle and brain.
Other nutritional factors which benefit healthy skin are Vitamin A, E, zinc, silica and sulphur.
Vitamin A, C and E are brilliant antioxidants which prevent free radical damage to the skin.
Vitamin A is particularly beneficial to the skin health as it holds a major role in wound healing, acne reduction, psoriasis and tooth and gum disorders. A deficiency can create rough, dry skin. Good sources of Vitamin A are carrots, green leafy vegetables, liver, mint, egg yolk and fish liver oils.
Silica is primarily found in connective tissue with particularly high concentrations in cartilage, ligament, skin, hair and nails. It acts as a cross-linking agent in connective tissue. When silica levels are low, you are more likely to suffer boils, ulcers, acne, abscesses and pustules. Skin heals slowly and imperfectly and skin wrinkles prematurely when the body is deficient in silica. Good sources of silica are barley, oats, root vegetables, whole grains and horsetail plant.
The skin can be one of the first areas to manifest a zinc deficiency. People suffering diseases that involve the skin such as lupus erythematosus, scleroderma and psoriasis often show a zinc deficiency. Good indicators are stretch marks, skin blemishes, rashes and slow healing of wounds. White spots on fingernails can also indicate a zinc deficiency or copper excess (copper is an antagonist to zinc). Certain drugs such as anti-inflammatories, anti-depressants and diuretics can adversely affect zinc status. Alcoholics and people whose diets contain a lot of grain foods can develop a zinc deficiency due to the high levels of phytates which can decrease the absorption of zinc. If you are pregnant, lactating, suffering from an infection or taking medications you may require increased zinc intake. Vegetarians often require increased zinc intake, especially if their diet is high in grains. Good sources of zinc are sunflower and pumpkin seeds, cashews, ginger, oysters, lamb, beef and egg yolks.
Feeding the skin externally is equally important and care needs to be taken not to use harsh ingredients which can damage the skin. When it comes to choosing skin care there are a few main points to note.
Avoid harsh petroleum-based ingredients such as mineral oil. This is an ingredient used in industry as a lubricating oil. Its effects on skin however, are that it forms an oily film over the skin which locks in not only moisture but toxins and wastes. It also stops skin respiration, locking toxins in and oxygen out. It is essential to allow your skin to breathe!!
Avoid lanolin in skin creams as well as in make-up. Lanolin commonly causes allergic reactions and skin rashes often due to the high levels of pesticides found in it. It may be a natural sheep’s wool fat, however, look at what we do to sheep these days – sheep dip!
Most bars of soap are made from animal fat (or tallow). These can leave a greasy film over the skin, acting as a breeding ground for bacteria and also preventing good skin respiration. It can also leave a film on the shower screen!
Diethanolamine (DEA) and Triethanolamine (TEA) have for many years been shown to have carcinogenic effects and irritate the skin and mucous membranes. Be sure to avoid these.
Propylene glycol is found in a great many creams, shampoos, make-up and foods and is highly irritating to the skin. Studies have also shown it damages cell membranes, dries the skin, can cause rashes and dermatitis, is highly toxic to human cells and can cause kidney damage and liver abnormalities. It is also listed as neuro-toxic, which means it has toxic effects on the Central Nervous System as well as systemic nerve tissue.
SLS is something that I believe should NEVER come into contact with human tissue. SLS corrodes the hair follicle and impedes the growth of hair as well as stripping the natural oils from the skin, causing skin erosion. This creates a situation where the skin can then absorb toxic ingredients such as SLS into the deeper tissue layers more easily, allowing it to enter the bloodstream. SLS has been shown to build up in liver, lungs, heart and brain and cause biological dysfunction to the skin. It has major ill-effects on the eye, such as causing cataracts in adults and developmental changes to children’s delicate eye tissue. Take care to look out for this ingredient in your toothpaste.
Good quality skin creams will contain ingredients such as Vitamin A, C, E, almond-oil and a variety of herbs and plant extracts. The trick to remember is that natural ingredients are often given chemical sounding names and that not all chemicals are harmful. Some people go to great lengths to find ‘totally natural’. However, if the ingredients cannot absorb through the skin effectively, you will be receiving very little benefit anyway.
You can use ingredients such as almond oil directly on the skin, blended with some essential oils. Avocado oil is wonderful as a hair treatment and coconut oil and aloe vera are brilliant to use on dry or sunburnt skin.
Exercise is something we cannot overlook if we want healthy skin, due to the oxygenation and circulation benefits.
When you exercise, the blood pumps through the tiniest capillaries increasing the flow of nutrients to the extremities and allowing waste products from metabolism to be carried away for detoxification and elimination. Your red blood cells carry 4 oxygen molecules at a time around the body. Your capillaries are only 2/3 of the size of 1 red blood cell, so when the red blood cells squeeze through the capillaries, the squeezing action causes the red blood cells to drop off the oxygen molecules along the way. By exercising you increase the uptake of oxygen via the lungs, increase the flow of blood through the arteries and capillaries and cause greater oxygenation of the tissue. You also increase the rate at which the waste matter is being carried away from the tissues.
One of the functions of the skin is to allow toxic and metabolic wastes to be removed via the pores of the skin. Dry skin brushing can be a great way to stimulate skin detoxification and blood circulation. (it is important to use a natural bristle brush which can be purchased in some health food stores.) These brushes help to unclog pores and remove dry dead skin cells. A loofah can also be used in the shower to create an exfoliating effect, removing toxins and dead cells. By stimulating an increase in circulation an increase in waste removal is also triggered.
Saunas can be very beneficial to skin detoxification, infrared saunas create the biggest detox effect and allow 30% toxin removal to 70% water removal. This is a much better rate than traditional hot rock saunas which usually remove 3% toxins and 97% water. Gyms and spas often have saunas available for use, or for around $2000 - $5000 you can invest in your own home sauna.
Getting a suntan creates a natural protection for your skin. However, sunburn is extremely damaging. You need to create the right balance when it comes to going out into the sun. In countries like Australia many people try to stay out of the sun altogether due to skin damage and sunburn. Unfortunately this practice has led to an increase in vitamin D deficiency and problems such as osteoporosis and certain cancers. We need to get about half an hour of sun on our skin daily but we need to remember to avoid the midday sun. Before 10am and after 3pm is the safest time and will give your skin some natural protection and a healthy glow. When choosing a sunscreen be sure to avoid harsh or carcinogenic ingredients, which may be found in some standard commercial brands.
Your skin health is strongly governed by the health of your liver. If your liver is toxic and struggling to deal with a fatty, processed, unhealthy diet your skin will tell the tale. Minimise alcohol, medications, sugar, processed fats and coffee and cut out table salt and cigarettes. These habits will all create premature wrinkling and skin dehydration. To boost the health of the liver drink plenty of filtered water, eat an 80% raw food diet and avoid harsh chemicals. Supplementing with antioxidants, Essential Fatty Acids and herbs such as milk thistle and broccoli may also help. Another way to help your liver is to ensure your digestive tract is performing optimally. Having 5 mL’s of apple cider vinegar or a small drink of diluted fresh lemon juice before a meal can increase the breakdown of foods and the absorption of nutrients.
If your skin has been damaged by the sun, weather or from scarring, Vitamin E, Rose hips and aloe vera can provide wonderful benefits. These ingredients help repair the damaged collagen and elastin and can help rebuild the connective tissue. Rose hips are brilliant for encouraging scarred tissue which is red or purple return to normal colour.
Adequate sleep is essential for good skin health. When the body is run down and tired it can take minerals and vitamin needed for skin repair and utilise them for adrenal nourishment. The requirements for certain vitamins and minerals increases in times of exhaustion or stress, particularly vitamin C which the skin needs for its Collagen and Elastin building blocks. Try to be asleep by 10pm each evening to attain the best benefit for your body rhythms and tissue repair.
If you want to have great looking skin, it stands to reason that you need to keep yourself well hydrated. Every cell requires a certain amount of water to function effectively and to remain plump and full. When cells dehydrate and shrivel, your skin loses its radiance and your complexion diminishes. This will hasten the ageing process creating deeper wrinkles and more fine lines.
To hydrate the skin properly adults need to consume 2 litres of filtered water daily (more in hot climates or with high levels of physical activities) and add good quality grey sea salt (not bleached white), rock salt or Himalayan salt. Around 1/3 teaspoon per day is ideal for an adult. These types of salt contain all 84 minerals our bodies need daily to function optimally. Avoid the standard table salt as it contains only 2 minerals - therefore it is deficient in the other 82 minerals - and this can create many imbalances such as high blood pressure and premature wrinkling. A great book to read on this topic is ‘Water and Salt’ by Philip Day and Dr F Batmanghelidj. This book explains in great detail the benefits of the salt and the absolute necessity of adequate water.
Most people have some type of ‘allergy, intolerance or sensitivity to particular foods, even if they are not aware of them. When you have sensitivities etc to foods it lowers your immune system and can create inflammation of your tissues. If these are foods you are consuming regularly (without realising the problem) then you may be creating a constant inflammatory response which can have a very negative impact on your health in the long run. Many chronic illnesses have their triggers or beginnings based in chronic low-levels of inflammation. This will negatively affect all areas of your body including your skin. Dehydration of the skin will be increased and rashes, acne, pimples, eczema or psoriasis and other problems can intensify. Acne itself often has its basis in food allergies. I have witnessed many cases of severe acne greatly improve or even be eliminated by removing the offending food allergies and removing harsh chemical based skin products.
If we look after our general health and maintain a high level of well-being it will show in our skin. Eat well, exercise, remain hydrated, avoid harsh toxic chemicals and food allergies, supplement where necessary, sleep well and get small amounts of sun. These steps can make a difference between looking 40 when you’re 60, and looking 60 when you’re 40.
The Nutrient Bible 6th Edition, Henry Oseicki. BioConcepts Publishing 2004
The Clinical Science of Mineral Therapy – Leslie Fisher. The Maurice Blackmore Research Foundation 1993
Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill, Udo Erasmus. Alive Books, 1993.
The ABC’s of Disease, Phillip Day. Credence Publications 2003
Water and Salt, Phillip Day and Dr F. Batmanghelidj. Credence Publications 2008
The Encyclopaedia of Natural Health, Joseph Pizzorno and Michael Murray.
Health and Wellness
Natural Health Books
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