It’s true, the skin is the biggest organ in the human body. It also plays a key role in detoxification. Dealing with skin problems, particularly as an adult, isn’t just frustrating; for many, it’s embarrassing and can have profound effects on our self-esteem and confidence.
Acne is a major problem, and not only for teenagers. I see an increasing number of adult clients complaining of skin issues and desperate to find solutions. Aside from acne, other common and troublesome issues include psoriasis, eczema, rashes and hives, and athletes foot. Unfortunately, the conventional mindset for addressing all of these skin problems is often missing the mark. While topicals, ointments, gels, lotions, and cleansers might be able to help with symptoms temporarily, the real goal must be getting to the root of the problem.
So what is at the root of poor skin health? It is important to understand that if you are experiencing a skin condition, this is a sure sign of another underlying problem.
Some common triggers of skin conditions:
- Undiagnosed food allergies/sensitivities
- Excessive past or current exposure to environmental toxins
- Reactions to personal hygiene products
- Excessive sugar in the diet
- Lack of healthy gut flora
Here are seven essential steps to treating skin from the inside out.
Simple hydration is not to be underestimated in both causing and treating skin conditions. Simply put, we cannot detox properly without adequate hydration. Water flushes toxins from our body, and if there isn’t enough of it, skin problems are far more common. Shoot for half of your body weight in ounces per day, and opt for clean, filtered water whenever possible. If you are a coffee/caffeine drinker, your quantity of water should be increased, as these beverages act as diuretics, which are substances that increase urine production in the body, which promotes dehydration.
Discover Hidden Food Allergies or Sensitivities
Acne is a very common symptom of a food allergy or sensitivity. The foods to which we most often react include gluten, dairy, soy, corn, eggs and grains, although an individual can be allergic to just about anything. A food elimination diet is the best (and least expensive) way to begin uncovering potential sensitivities. This involves eliminating commonly allergenic foods for no less than one month, and systematically reintroducing them in order to pinpoint which might be problematic.
Particularly if you’re dealing with acne, eliminating dairy in the diet should be step number one. A 2005 study released by the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found a positive correlation between dairy intake and teenage acne, but this goes for adults, too. Dairy includes primarily milk, cheese, and yogurt, and some may or may not do well with butter. (Ghee, a clarified butter, is a great alternative.) Eliminate dairy completely for at least one month, and see if you notice changes. If not, move on to the more extensive elimination diet described above.
Cut Out Sugar
A close runner-up to dairy, refined sugar is a major player in skin issues. The main reason for this has to do with hormones, as excessive sugar in the diet leads to blood sugar imbalance, which negatively affects our hormone levels. Instead of refined (table) sugar, opt for maple syrup, raw honey, and naturally sweet foods such as whole fruit.
Focus on Fats
Fortunately, our society’s obsessive fear of fats is slowly but surely dissipating, which is great news for our skin. It is true that commonly used cooking fats such as canola, soy and corn oils, along with deep fried foods, are oxidized (rancid) before even leaving the supermarket. These fats can wreak havoc on our body systems and skin, as they create free radicals that are damaging to cells and a leading cause of systemic inflammation. However, a focus on nutritious and skin-healthy fats such as coconut, olives, flax, walnut and avocado oils, avocado, grass-fed butter, ghee, and raw nuts and seeds can be very beneficial.
Go Easy on the Alcohol
This can be a tough one, but is extremely important in order to achieve healthy skin. Since alcohol converts to sugar when consumed, it creates problems similar to those described above with refined sugar consumption. Furthermore, alcohol congests the liver, which is our primary detox organ. Proper detoxification is essential to clearing up skin problems.
Include Probiotic-Rich Fermented Foods
Every qualified nutrition professional knows that healthy digestion is at the root of most skin problems. If our digestion is impaired for any reason — leaky gut, undiagnosed food allergies, lack of digestive enzymes or sufficient stomach acid, or an improper balance of gut flora — this can have profound effects on our skin health. Including probiotic-rich fermented foods on a daily basis is a great place to start, and the best options are raw sauerkraut, kimchi, coconut kefir, and kombucha tea.
While some skin conditions might not respond to these dietary changes and could require the guidance of a nutrition or integrative medicine professional, many of my clients find that their skin issues, especially acne, clear up after several months of these changes. Remember, skin issues are rooted in an underlying problem, and discovering which problems are affecting you is the key to achieving healthy, glowing skin.