Healthy Skin: it’s what’s inside that counts
Skin. It’s the first thing we notice about someone next to their smile and their eyes. It tells the world how healthy we are – do we have blemishes or poor colour? Or does our skin look radiant and full of life? In an effort to give the impression of healthy skin, we cover our skin with makeup to conceal or enhance what we don’t want others to see, yet what we should really be doing is putting the effort in to cleaning up our insides. Keep reading for some fundamentals that will prime your skin and reflect your inner health.
A Bit About Skin
Skin is the largest organ in our body and serves as a barrier to the outside world, our temperature and moisture regulator, and as a large detoxifying organ. The last point is why suppressing skin conditions with topical medications is generally a bad idea: if the toxins can’t get out, they’ll find another out, and it’s usually as progressively worse digestive inflammation. Treating the toxins in our body and ensuring they don’t come back is the best way to achieve the healthy skin we all want.
Our skin has 3 layers:
- The epidermis – this is comprised of up to 30 layers of dead skin cells called keratinocytes that slough off constantly. The amount of time it takes for the newest (deepest) of these layers to reach the outer surface depends on your age: 2 weeks in infants and gradually increasing up to 3 months as you age into your 50’s. This is part of the reason babies have such beautiful skin – it’s always new!
- The dermis – this is made of collagen and elastin fibres within a gel called hyaluronic acid. They combine to give our skin it’s pliability and plumpness. This layer also contains sweat glands, hair follicles, nerve endings and small blood/lymph vessels. The collagen and elastin also have higher turnover when we’re younger.
- The subcutaneous layer – this is mostly a fatty layer that gives us our insulation and shock absorption. It also houses the larger blood/lymph vessels and nerves. Collagen fibres are also in this layer as they support and hold the larger vessels and nerves.
This is really about wrinkles and bumps, or lack thereof. Wrinkles are caused by natural ageing and weakening of the collagen and elastin fibres, as well as a loss of hyaluronic acid, so your skin can no longer hold the fullness that it once did. Bumps can refer to anything from deposits, rashes, infections, etc. I’ll cover more individual conditions in later blogs. Smooth skin also refers to the evenness of the epidermis, or a buildup of dead skin cells. Treatment for wrinkles focuses on supporting collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid. Bumps are treated on a case by case basis, and an uneven epidermal layer can be rectified by dry skin brushing or exfoliating.
This is always up for interpretation, but generally refers to a “shine” or “luminescence” that the skin has, and comes from the right balance of moisture and the ability to reflect light. Oily skin, generated from sebaceous glands beside the hair follicles, is drastically affected by hormones; whether through adolescence or from foods. The T-zone is an area across the forehead and down the nose, and is particularly rich in follicles and sebaceous glands and is therefore more prone to acne and oil buildups. Conversely, dry skin comes from slow turnover of keratinocytes in the epidermis, dehydration, exposure to cold or dry air, poor circulation, overuse of soaps, or the fatty layer not able to withhold the moisture. A uniform surface (see Smooth Skin) will also better reflect the light. Treatment focuses on balancing hormones, proper hydration and circulation, lifestyle changes, supporting the fatty layer, and evening out the skin.
The rosy colour comes from good circulation within the blood vessels in the dermal layer. Our blood is red from the oxygen within it, so any anemia will decrease this colour – low iron, B12, folic acid, etc. Poor circulation could be caused by cold internal temperatures (i.e. Thyroid), weak capillary walls, an under functioning heart, poor venous return, poor lymphatic drainage, or “sludgy” blood. Treatments will vary greatly, but will likely include improving anemias, exercise, hydration and cleaning up the diet.
Some skin treatments:
- Vitamin A topically and internally – increases hyaluronic acid
- Vitamin C topically and internally – needed in collagen formation
- Vitamins B internally – needed for new cell growth
- Omega 6 Essential Fatty Acids internally – GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) is found in very few foods (borage oil, evening primrose, etc.), but can be converted from linoleic acid (found in many foods) in our bodies if the conditions are right. It helps retain moisture and is needed for collagen and elastin formation, and cell growth
- Omega 3 EFA’s – fish oils are vital in reducing inflammation
- Iron – needed to carry oxygen for new cell growth and repair
- Selenium – needed for skin elasticity and immune function
- Zinc – needed for new cell growth and repair
- Lycopene – reduces skin inflammation and decreases likelihood of burning
- Anti-oxidants – e.g. CoQ10 for toxin removal
- Acupuncture – stimulates blood flow, new cell growth and improves elasticity
- Diet do’s – eat your fruits and veggies, fish, healthy oils, fibre, clean proteins
- Diet don’ts – gluten, dairy, fried foods, heated oils, nitrates/nitrites (processed meats), high amounts of fat
- Lifestyle do’s – exercise, reduce stress, optimize sleep
- Lifestyle don’ts – over-exercise, too much time in the sun, smoke, electromagnetic radiation (screens, etc.), chlorinated water
- Hormones – balancing sex hormones, insulin