“The Skin is the Largest Organ”
That’s a common refrain heard from dermatologists, estheticians, and everyone else in skincare professions.
But it’s true. It’s undeniable that clear, radiant skin is the foundation of a healthy appearance. First impressions are often based upon appearances, and appearances can even go as far as to help or hinder our ability to succeed out in the world. The way you look can affect your confidence which can affect your performance. We all want to look and feel our best.
Many aspects of your appearance can’t be changed - your height, your eye color, your hair (for the most part), or your skin color. But you can change your overall skin health. You can improve its tone, its texture, and its glow.
A Cellular Approach to Skin Care
Skin cells are constantly cycling. They’re growing anew, getting old, sloughing off, and growing anew again. This is why, with external care, it’s always recommended to exfoliate once or twice a week. It cleans up old skin cells and makes way for the new ones. With our skin cells having such high turnover, we’re gifted an everlasting opportunity to improve our skin.
One very buzzworthy term you may have heard as of late is autophagy. Since Yoshinori Ohsumi won the Nobel prize for medicine in 2016 for his discoveries about the mechanisms of autophagy, the cellular process has garnered a lot of attention. The word autophagy translates from Greek as “self-eating” and is an important way the body cleans up cellular debris, wards off disease, and stays healthy overall. As a byproduct, activating autophagy is also a potent way to improve the skin. Habits such as fasting, protein cycling (having alternating low protein days), and vigorous exercise are all ways in which autophagy can be activated to drastically improve skin health.
Best Topical Skin Care Practices
The skin is incredibly porous and absorbs a lot of what is put on it. For this reason it’s really important to only use natural skin care. Ingredients like parabens and the dangerous oxybenzone (found in many sunscreens) can act as endocrine disruptors, cancer causers, and more. It’s best to use very gentle natural cleaners. New discoveries in skin care are showing us that a lot of acne might actually be caused by a imbalance of bad to good bacteria on the skin. Harsh cleansers can harm the skin’s delicate microbiome and cause all sorts of problems from dry skin to overactive sebaceous glands. Apart from using gentle, natural products, one can actually make an amazing mask from whole food ingredients. Mango, avocado, lemon juice, honey, and oatmeal can be blended together and applied to the face. This natural mask can be left on for a short period of time and rinsed off. The enzymes, fats, acids, and polyphenols will leave your skin brightened and refreshed. This is a cheap, effective, natural, fun way to care for your skin on a regular basis.
Exterior skin care is important, but one of the best ways to nurture the skin is from the inside out. You can use all of the most expensive cleansers, creams, and serums, but if your body doesn’t have the ability to repair the skin then it can’t look nice.
How to Care for Skin through Nutrition
Having great skin is clearly a complicated venture. If we want to assist the body’s internal processes of maintaining a radiant dermis, we should provide it with the best nutrients. Everyone knows they need to stay hydrated, and that’s step one. But how you choose to hydrate really affects the appearance of your skin. Consuming too much caffeine can be harmful to the skin’s appearance, and excessive sugar intake can really jump start the processes which create fine lines and wrinkles. If possible, stick to high quality purified water. Reverse osmosis (RO) water is a great choice. It generally maintains some minerals and tastes great in addition to being ultra pure. Many grocery stores have RO water on tap and you can bring a reusable glass or plastic jug to purchase it very inexpensively by the gallon.
Dialing in your diet is the next step. Vegetables, and especially leafy greens, are the foods people skip out on most often. These tend to be very high in a lot of different vitamins and minerals which nourish the skin, especially vitamin A and other carotenoids. These phytonutrients lend the skin a brightness and glow and help it look less dull. Chard is my very favorite leafy green for skin health. All varieties of chard are great, especially rainbow. Chard is delicious and incredibly healthy when lightly sauteed in butter, and it lacks the bitterness found in kale.
The Best Supplements for Skin Health
Assuming you exercise and your diet is accounted for, the final step in caring for your skin is looking into supplements.
If your diet lacks omega-3’s, supplementing with a high quality fish oil is one of the best things you can do for your skin. It’s been shown to improve eczema and psoriasis and reduce inflammation. EPA and DHA may also benefit cell membranes, helping to keep skin plump and hydrated. Just be extremely cautious about quality, as not all fish oils are created equally, and a low quality fish oil can actually do more harm than good.
Collagen is another great skin health supplement. Humans previously consumed much more meat and animal products in all forms - eyeballs, bone marrow, organ meats, fatty cuts, etc. These all contain tremendous amounts of collagen. A modern diet is severely lacking in collagen which our brains have coincidentally evolved to require more of as they’ve grown over the millennia. Collagen is really easy to supplement with because you can find it in a tasty powdered form. Find a chocolate collagen protein powder and add it to coffee and smoothies. You can expect a boost in the skin’s elasticity as well as improvements in overall appearance of skin, hair, and nails when supplementing with a collagen protein powder.
Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) is the third supplement we recommend (in a rather biased fashion) to support skin health. Chaga grows on Birch trees in cold Northern climates like Alaska and Russia. Chaga is a very dense source of micronutrients and may help in the treatment of conditions like eczema and psoriasis, while also promoting overall skin health and appearance.
Chaga is high in powerful compounds such as the anti-cancer triterpenoid betulinic acid and ultra antioxidant superoxide dismutase (SOD), which has an exceptionally high ORAC value (capacity for absorbing free radicals). Chaga has among the highest SOD concentration of any known natural source. It’s also very high in minerals like copper, zinc, magnesium, selenium, manganese, potassium, and iron, as well as B vitamins - all major players in the health of hair, skin, and nails. Interestingly, it’s also rich in melanin.
Wild-harvested Chaga has shown to be nutritionally superior to cultivated Chaga, but sustainability is an important concern for consumers. The environments in which it grows are delicate, and there is not an infinite amount.
Taking good care of your skin requires a multifaceted approach. It’s important to show it love both inside and out. Doing things like exercising, sweating, and exfoliating are important to assist in cellular autophagy and the turnover of old skin cells. Replenishing with high quality moisturizers, masks, nutritious food, and supplements is also important to give skin what it needs to glow. However unfair it may be, genetics are also a huge part of how your skin looks. Some people don’t take any steps to take care of their skin and it still looks flawless. Others toil with every skin care measure under the sun still can’t escape a blemish. Just do the best with what you have and don’t get discouraged - everyone is uniquely beautiful!