Love the Skin You're In
Let’s “Face it”- we probably all have a little vanity when it comes to our skin, especially the skin on our face, because we want to make a good impression and want to look our best when other people see us. Unfortunately, that’s not always easy; our environment and lifestyles are full of things that are downright harmful to our skin. Fortunately though, our skin is regenerative- rebuilding itself every 30 days! It’s one of our few organs with that ability, and at around 20 square feet it is certainly our largest organ. So how do we best take care of this living, breathing thing that protects us from so much and gives us a chance to put our best face forward? Eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, and acne are so common that one in four Americans suffer with one of them. How do we deal with those, and reduce the effects of aging, and keep our skin looking youthful as long as possible? How do we prevent skin cancer? I will talk about prevention or helping with all these conditions all at once because these four skin conditions have so much in common –in particular the Gut-Brain-Skin axis, as researchers like to call it. This axis and the bidirectional communications between the organs explain why researchers in Denmark found that a very high percentage of adults with Rosacea also had a gastrointestinal disorder such as IBS, Celiac, ulcers, or bacterial overgrowth. It also helps explain why large percentages of people with any one of those conditions report that stress causes flare-ups. The evidence is clear- fixing gut problems fixes, or significantly reduces, skin problems and many of our gut problems can be fixed by diet.
Eczema comes in first because aside from acne it effects the most people and is ranked as the #1 skin problem in the U.S. It affects about 1 in 10 kids. Also called Atopic Dermatitis, it is an Autoimmune Disease as well as general inflammation problems in the body and is characterized by patches of red, itchy, scaley skin particularly wherever there are folds such as the elbows or knees. Topical steroids do provide some relief, but many people are leery of steroids, and they don’t seem to be any more effective than dietary approaches. Rosacea affects more adults than eczema with one in twenty of the adult population being afflicted with it and the majority of those are women over 30. When men get it however, their symptoms are worse. Typical symptoms include redness of the face, flushing dryness, pimples, bumps and enlarged blood vessels. It can also include burning, itching, and swelling of the skin. Like the other conditions Rosacea is brought on, or exacerbated by, inflammation in the body-including hormonal changes which is why this sometimes is called perimenopause acne. The National Rosacea Society has found that adults who changed their diets experienced 95% fewer symptoms. Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune skin disease that affects one in 40 people worldwide. Symptoms include raised plaques of skin forming commonly on the elbows, scalp, knees, and lower back. Unfortunately, while drugs are available, they are either very expensive –think $100,000 per year for one person, or like cyclosporine come with significant side effects such as kidney damage, hypertension and malignancies –i.e. cancer and for all that, psoriasis is only kept at bay in about half of the people taking it. While the general dietary guidance for psoriasis is the same as the other conditions with the addition that researchers are noting improvements in autoimmune disease flare ups when dietary sodium is reduced; and we’ll talk about all of that later in this blog. Acne affects more than 50 million Americans and more than 8 in 10 teens. Whether teen, adult, peri-menopausal, or mask related acne it is caused by inflammation, which if the case of acne, unlike other conditions, causes our pores to clog. It doesn’t matter if the inflammation is caused by teen hormone changes, stress, menopause hormone changes, or diet. If it causes inflammation in our body, it can lead to acne-which at least we can see and know that we need to make a change in something. In 2019 The International Journal of Women’s Health reported that research supported the theory that peri-menopausal acne is often from hormone imbalances, but greatly influenced other factors such as stress, lack of sleep, insulin resistance and poor dietary choices leading to chronic inflammation. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that processed sugar increases inflammation. Finally, the Harvard Nurses Study and The American Academy of Dermatology found “a positive association with acne with intake of total milk and skim milk” after a study that followed 47,000 women. It’s no secret that teen acne closely parallels their hormone activity. So, what happens when we drink milk that is full of hormones produced by a cow, intended to quadruple a calf’s weight in less than a year? Keep in mind that turning milk into cheese doesn’t get rid of the hormones and as an –oh by the way- research indicates that 40% of people with acne have low stomach acid so we should avoid all of the over-the-counter antacids. So how do we prevent all those conditions or make them better? Well, since they all have inflammation in common it should be easy to address them all at once, and there are really just two things to do: get rid of inflammation from the inside and then take care of your skin from the outside. INFLAMATION: This is simple but that doesn’t make it easy. Reducing or eliminating inflammation comes to about three things: diet, sleep, and stress. Adults need 7 ½ to 9 hours of sleep per night. Less that that puts stress on your body raises stress hormones and causes and increases inflammation. If you’re not getting that, find a way to make that change for 2 weeks and you will be amazed at how many areas of your life will improve. A little bit of stress is good and improves our immune system response, but after about an hour, the reverse occurs and the over exposure to our stress hormones start causing inflammation throughout our bodies. What to do? Meditate, plan your day, use tools to make your life more manageable, change your environment. Check out our blog for more ideas. There are so many proven sources of inflammation in the Standard American diet. Processed sugar, refined starches, carbs that just turn into sugar in our bodies (like bread, pasta, and white rice) are all inflammatory. They cause your blood sugar to go up and then drop–your body hates that rollercoaster and responds with inflammation. Dairy causes inflammation and directly correlates with acne not to mention the number of people with Cassin or lactose sensitivities. With all of that, and with milk being the worst way to get calcium, what’s the point? Gluten is in general inflammatory. It causes gut permeability in everyone, every time you eat it, which leads to inflammation and autoimmune diseases and can accelerate a skin condition (among other things). There is no safe amount of trans fats. Junk oils are slightly trickier because (for many of us) our whole lives we were taught vegetable, corn, soy, and canola oils were so much better for us than the alternatives, but in reality, they are over processed to the point of damage, have no nutritional value and are, in themselves, inflammatory. Finally, the catch all: processed, highly processed, or refined foods. If it has an ingredients label, with anything except whole foods listed, it’s processed and has several problems for you, just one of which is inflammation. SKIN CARE: NPR’s Life Kit Health, interviewed dermatologist Dr. William Shaw and summarized skin care pretty succinctly: 1. sunscreen is a must and takes care of most of the work a skincare routine needs. 2. Learn your skin type (dry, oily, combination, normal) and know your goals. 3. Cleanse, treat, and protect- in that order. when doing this, pick one or two active ingredients to target your goals such as a topical vitamin C, a hyaluronic or a retinoid. 4. Follow a general order of thinnest to thickest when applying the treat and protect. 5. Find products that do more than one job or have more than one of the active ingredients you want so that you need fewer products. 6. Take it slow when trying new or adding products. You really need to give your skin 12 weeks to respond. 7. More is not more with skin care. Just adding more products isn’t better. 8. Hydrate from the inside out as well as from the outside. You need 8 glasses of water (or half your body weight in ounces) every day to give your skin a fighting chance. 9. Part of your skin’s resilience and regenerative ability comes from fat, so it is crucial to have enough healthy fat in your diet-olive oil, avocados, coconut oil, and nuts and maybe some free-range organic eggs. My wife has suggested that since covid and being forced to wear masks, she wears little to no makeup and has seen an improvement in the health of her skin on her face. She recommends giving your face a break from makeup. Also, both of us have noticed a marked improvement in the health of our skin since going on a vegan diet a year and a half ago. Skin care is an inside job. If you nourish your body properly and avoid inflammatory foods, many skin conditions will improve dramatically or even resolve entirely. After that a little basic skin care on the outside will have you looking young well into the future.
Written by Doug Davis, CHC