True story: Her hands were cracked, dried, bleeding and painfully burning. She had tried all of the usual over-the-counter remedies, and had been to 4 different dermatologists. She had been placed on numerous prescription salves, and she had taken oral steroids and other medications. Still she suffered for months on end with no relief. Nothing was working. She came to see me as the doctor of last resort. I started with a history and then proceeded with an examination. She was dry all over, but her hands were in particularly bad shape as described above. After contemplating the issue, I started her on a targeted nutritional program to build her skin health from the inside out. When I saw her back in the office a few months later, I could hardly believe my eyes! Her hands were as smooth as a baby’s bottom. The thick, dry skin was gone. There was no sign of the cracking and bleeding. The patient was relieved that she didn’t have to live a life of suffering with this painful condition, and she was delighted with the outcome. I shared her joy in seeing such an amazing recovery. All of this was accomplished with no drugs, but only by fixing her gut and giving her body the nutrients it needed to heal itself.
I use this story to illustrate the importance of skin health, and to point out that we need to build skin health from the inside out. We tend to take our skin for granted until something goes wrong. Also, we focus on the cosmetic topical aspect of skin care while ignoring the underlying functional and structural integrity of the skin. Certainly topicals may be helpful, but attention to the fundamentals of nutrition, hydration, hormone optimization, detoxification, and stress management plays a crucial role in optimal skin health.
Skin is the largest of all of our bodily organs. It is what interacts with and protects us from our environment; heat, cold, chemicals, UV radiation, and infection. It has many important bodily functions such as: detoxification, regulating hydration, and controlling body temperature. It carries blood vessels, and is home to many of our nerve endings. It houses the fifth sense, which is the sense of touch. Finally, it is the first thing that we and others see, so understandably it is important for our appearance to others and our own sense of self.
It is also important to understand that many underlying medical conditions, including nutrient deficiencies and toxins, may manifest themselves as skin conditions. Drug reactions, cancer, infections, gut dysfunction, rheumatologic conditions, allergies, and more may present as skin conditions. Stress, both acute and chronic, may affect the appearance and health of the skin. All sorts of skin conditions, including eczema, psoriasis, and hives may experience an exacerbation during a time of intense stress.
As you can see, skin is not just something to hold our innards in. It deserves its rightful place, right up there with heart and brains, in the list of complex and important organs. Now here are some tips to help you maintain beautiful, glowing, youthful, healthy skin at all stages of life.
*Attend to the foundations of wellness: Nutrition, optimal hydration, exercise and restorative sleep. All of these affect your skin health.
*Diet: It all starts with what you eat. Start with a whole food (not processed food), mainly plant food diet, with added lean protein, and some “good fats.” Your body needs the fiber to keep the gut healthy which affects the skin. Your skin needs the bioflavenoids for healthy vessels and blood supply for the skin. It needs the protein to help build the skin. It needs the good fats to build healthy cell walls and lubricate the skin.
*Foods rich in the “good fats” include: salmon (and other cold water fish), walnuts, canola oil, olive oil, flax seed, flax oil, and fish oils.
*Maintain good gut health. Good digestion, absorption, and metabolism are important for these nutrients to get to the source.
*Add a good multi-vitamin and multi-mineral
*Also add extra beta-carotene, biotin, and B complex
*Add extra anti-oxidants: Vitamin A, C, E, D, and selenium.
*Antioxidant rich foods such as blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, plums, and green tea may also be helpful.
*Avoid frequent prolonged hot baths and hot tubs.
*Avoid harsh detergents.
*Avoid over exposure to household cleaners and chemicals.
*Avoid lotions, oils, sprays, sunscreens, etc. with toxins and harsh chemicals.
*Acupuncture and Chinese herbals may also be helpful.
*Avoid sugar, simple carbs, and processed food.
*Get your hormones tested, optimized, and balanced. Hormones play a critical role in maintaining skin health.
*Healthy levels of testosterone for men and women are important for skin moisture thickness.
*As women lose their estrogen, everything dries out, creating a significant increase in facial wrinkles. Supplementation with bio-identical estrogen can help tremendously. Also, topical estriol face cream may also be very effective for wrinkles, and skin moisture
*Don’t smoke- this is disastrous for your skin.
*Avoid overexposure to the sun or tanning beds.
*Use natural skin care products without toxins.
*Dry brush exfoliation in the AM before your shower may also be helpful.
*Topical Vit C and Vit E, and regular skin care may also be helpful.
Bottom line: Take care of your skin, so that it can take care of you.