You know those people who are so healthy that their skin is literally glowing? Yes, good genes are one thing, and some people are just born with a naturally beautiful complexion - but there is a great dealt you can do to shift the balance in your favour.
1.You’re only as good as your gut
Most disease stems from one underlying common cause - poor gut health. It is becoming extremely rare these days for anyone not to have had some degree of dysbiosis (an imbalance of good and bad bacteria that live in our digestive system). If you have ever used prescription medication (especially antibiotics), over-indulged in rich, sugary or fatty foods or had too much to drink on the odd occasion, you would have damaged your beneficial bacteria. If you dosed up on probiotic foods straight after, you might have rebalanced your gut – the trouble is, most people are simply not aware of the damage they do, and so don’t ensure they introduce more friendly bacteria.
When you have an overgrowth of bad bacteria in your gut, toxins that are usually cleared in a timely manner via the bowel have a much longer transit time and because they are now hanging around in the gut waiting to be moved, they get reabsorbed through the bloodstream. Toxins which are not cleared via the bowel are pushed out through the skin, and can present as eczema, psoriasis, hives, and acne. So to keep your skin clean and healthy, start by fixing your gut.
2.You need fat to retain moisture
Omega-3 deficiency is one of the most common deficiencies in the Western world. If you remember your high school biology classes, skin cells are made up of a permeable fatty layer which is responsible for maintaining cellular fluid balance. And what do you need to make a healthy lipid bilayer? Fat! And no, not the kind of fat you find in a bucket of fried chicken.
Here’s a tip to tell whether your cells are hydrated or not: when you drink water, does it go straight through you? If so, this is because your cells lack the essential fats needed to retain water. Not to be confused with abnormal water retention, you should retain a portion of water ingested to hydrate your cells. Eczema is one skin condition where the body's cells cannot retain moisture. The dry skin is then prone to cracking, and becomes inflamed and sore. Eczema stems from a deficiency in essential fatty acids and often an underlying food intolerance (dairy and wheat being the most common) which, if left untreated, can damage the gut, which further aggravates the skin.
The two main beneficial omega-3 fatty acids are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). EPA is most well known for its anti-inflammatory actions, while DHA is essential for the brain and nervous system. By down-regulating inflammatory pathways, you can improve conditions associated with subclinical chronic inflammation, like acne, eczema, psoriasis, depression, anxiety, arthritis, dementia, Alzheimer's, cardiovascular disease, hyperlipidemia … the list goes on. Essentially, everyone needs either a good omega-3 supplement, or to eat oily fish daily. If you have red, dry, itchy or blemish-prone skin, you need a double dose of essential fatty acids.
3. Harness your hormones
Hormonal imbalance is a driving factor in acne, especially for teenagers, but also for adults who still suffer from outbreaks. Typically, acne that presents around the jaw line is strongly associated with hormonal imbalance, but it is not limited strictly to this area. For teenagers with hormonal acne, the best thing to do is to take them to a naturopath, clinical nutritionist, or an integrated doctor. For adult women with hormonal breakouts, the most common cause is an imbalance of oestrogen and progesterone. The vast amounts of xenohormones (chemicals found in skin care, make-up, plastic, artificial foods, and air pollution which impact hormones in the body) we encounter daily, together with many other diet and lifestyle factors, mean most women tend to have high oestrogen and low progesterone, which contributes to PMS and worsens mental health and skin conditions.
Excess hormones and toxins are cleared from the body via the liver, so supporting this organ is important for anyone with skin issues. The herb vitex increases progesterone, making it especially helpful for treating acne and premenstrual syndrome. The Brassica vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale) promote clearance of excess oestrogen via the liver; eat more of these veggies or take a nutritional supplement to clear this pathway. Another great remedy for hormonal imbalance is vitex (chaste tree berry). This herb increases progesterone levels and is particularly useful for premenstrual acne, depression, anxiety and irritability. Always consult with your health care practitioner; do not self-prescribe, as you may not address the correct hormones. Functional testing in a clinical setting is the best way to determine how to treat your hormonal imbalance.
4.Wash your face and sheets!
You’d be surprised at how many people (teenage boys being the worst offenders) simply don’t wash their face properly or change their pillowcases enough. Your face should be cleansed twice daily, upon waking and before going to bed, to remove dirt and grime that clog pores and contribute to a build-up of excess sebum (the stuff responsible for blemishes). Use a natural cream cleanser, or a natural gel cleanser for teens. The most common mistake people with oily skin make is to use a gel or foaming cleanser that is too harsh and that strips the skin of its natural protective oils: the skin then produces more oil to compensate, and a vicious cycle occurs.
Your pillowcase, well, this is obvious - your face is literally all over it when you sleep, so if it's dirty that bacteria will be on your face, contributing to blemishes. Finally, be aware of how often you touch your face, and how clean (or not) your hands are. Make a conscious effort not to rest you head in your hands or pick, rub or touch your face.
Diana is a Melbourne based clinical nutritionist. www.dianarobinsonnutrition.com