Nutrition for the skin
We have previously discussed skin and its function, so let’s just take a brief moment to highlight some key information. Our skin is a powerful, yet vulnerable, protective shield covering our whole body, and its condition is very often a reflection of our overall health (particularly of what is happening in the gut and liver). It only takes 26 seconds for a substance to be absorbed by our skin into the bloodstream, and it absorbs everything oils, toxins, harmful chemicals, dyes, makeup, aggressive cleansers, etc. Our protective layer is also covered with all kinds of friendly bacteria and microbes that are a part of our microbiome, and therefore a huge part of our immune system, so compromising skin health means also compromising immune health. Every day, our skin has to deal with many stressors, including temperature changes, toxic load, soaps/sanitizers, minor injuries, and/or mechanical damage.
If something is wrong inside, it will show on the outside too. Symptoms of food allergies are very often visible on the skin in the form of a rash, itching, eczema, or acne. Even if the creams we are given to treat these issues worked, all they ever did was cover up the symptoms, not target the real problem that most likely started in the digestive tract. If we want to keep our skin healthy and functional, we need to properly nourish our bodies. Many people, including some doctors, don’t really admit or realize the connection between the inside and the outside of our bodies, between the food we eat and the state of our health. Our cells are literally made of the food we eat, so of course what we put in our mouth matters. We are what we eat, as they say. Have you ever met someone with a glowing, radiant complexion and thought to yourself: Damn, s/he looks so healthy? Health is attractive. It is about the skin, not the skinny. It’s about what’s happening inside that shines out through the skin. A healthy body will look healthy on the outside as well, and that is very attractive.
Unfortunately, the skincare industry has further confused things with a myriad of myths. If you have oily skin, you are probably terrified of fats and oils in your skincare or even diet because you were taught it would make things worse. If you suffer from dry skin, you were probably told to moisturize a lot with a heavier cream and drink a lot of water (the latter is actually great advice). You also likely believe that you are stuck with bad skin for life. The good news is that every cell in our skin completely renews itself approximately every 30 days, so how your skin is going to look, feel, and perform depends on the building materials you give your body to work with. And we already know where our bodies get those building blocks: from the food we consume. It is actually a pretty simple premise healthy food creates healthy cells for healthy organs in a healthy body. There are a few simple things you can do to further support your skin health, so let’s talk about them.
FEED YOUR SKIN
Nutrition is a huge part of our health. Eating the right food for our metabolic type can solve many health problems you may be currently suffering from. As little as eliminating hollow, processed foods from your plate makes a huge difference in a short period of time. With the information overload of countless internet resources and print materials, it is a challenge to actually see the real truth, but it is as simple as this: real food is the way to go. But what does real food even mean?
Your body naturally craves foods that are anti-inflammatory, healing, and full of nutrients. There are some nutrients that are very powerful for skin health, so let’s call these food for the skin. Healthy protein from humanely raised animals and free range eggs, carbohydrates from (fresh) fruits and vegetables (and maybe a few organic gluten-free grains like rice and quinoa), and good fats are important basics. If you want to further support your skin health or improve an already existing condition, consider adding more skin food to your diet. Bone broth is one of them. Homemade bone broth is full of gelatin, glycine, and minerals like calcium, magnesium, and silicone which are vital ingredients for building new skin cells (and other tissues). Have a cup of broth every day and you will feel (and see) the difference soon. The broth is easy and inexpensive to make, you can make it in bulk and freeze it for later, drink it by the cup, or cook with it (adding flavor and nutrients to cauliflower rice, soups, and sauces). Also, you can incorporate organ meats like liver and heart for an extra nutrient boost.
If you don’t mind the taste and texture, add sardines to your diet. Whole sardines, with the bones still in, are very rich in EPA and DHA fatty acids, calcium, and taurine. Sardines are low on the food chain, making them a better option than high-food-chain fish like salmon or tuna, which are more likely to contain toxins and heavy metals they accumulated from their food. Whole sardines are not expensive and you can eat them straight from the can for a quick protein and fat fix; I love packing sardines as easy protein when I’m traveling as well.
Speaking of fish and organs fermented cod liver oil like this one is one of the best fish oil supplements for the skin. An additional source of skin food is fermented foods. These sour foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, or kombucha are important for skin health because of sulfur, a mineral that is necessary for collagen synthesis in the body, and also because of their probiotic properties that help to improve digestion. Just like bone broth, fermented foods are very easy to make at home! You can ferment almost any vegetables including carrots, beets, cauliflower, green beans, asparagus, and radishes.
Supplements are never quite as good as the real food sources, but there are a few really high-quality ones that we still consider real food, like Amaranth Seed Oil. It contains a compound called squalene that protects cells from oxidative damage, bacteria, and fungi. Squalene, which can also be found in fish, is a precursor to cholesterol, one of the most important building materials our body has (you can learn more about cholesterol here). Another superfood supplement we highly recommend for not just skin health, but for overall vitality of connective tissues, joints, bones, nails, and hair is AuraSil a unique blend of juices, minerals, and probiotics that will make a perfect addition to your smoothie or just a glass of water.
HYDRATE YOUR CELLS
Drink more water for glowy skin is not just a line from magazine advertising, it is one of the very few common beauty tips that actually has some reason behind it. We lose water throughout the day via our skin, even when we don’t think we’ve sweat too much, so adding enough clean water back into the body is important for the hydration of our cells. There is a big difference between irrigation and cellular hydration though. Our cells might need more water even though we don’t feel particularly thirsty. Dehydration of cells can cause serious problems within the body and even as little as a 2% drop in the body’s water storage can have an impact on our health. In order to keep our cells hydrated, we need to give them the best water we possibly can pure, clean, fresh, and declustered.
The water we drink from the faucet is actually not the best water possible. The quality of tap water is worse than in the past because it is polluted by accident (with chemicals used by agriculture for example) and on purpose with chlorine. Chlorine actually protects our water from being contaminated by certain bacteria, but it is not something we should drink in a high concentration. Tap water also often contains ozone, chlorine dioxide, chloramine, and fluoride. None of them sound like something Id like to drink. Fluoride has been labeled as a toxic drug by the FDA! Ozone is one of those compounds that accumulate in our fat tissue and cause damage to the endocrine system and chloramine is considered a mutagenic compound. You can turn to bottled water, or you can get one of the various water filters that are available on the market. And you can learn about declustered water.
Clustered water refers to water with strong molecular bonds between its atoms of oxygen and hydrogen. Only declustered water can enter the cell through the aquaporin channel (the plumbing system of the cells, as called by Peter Agre, an American physician and molecular biologist who discovered aquaporins in 2003 and received a Nobel Prize for the discovery ). Loose water molecules mean that hydrogen can easily penetrate the cell, and water like this is readily available in nature, for example in aloe vera or lemon juice, or rain water. Industrial water is very high in clustering, but there is an effective way to decluster it. There is a mineral present in nature called mica, it is a silicate based, crystallized mineral. When it is mixed with ceramic clay, it creates something we call Laminar Crystal. This substance has a special ability to break apart these clusters, lower the tension of the water molecule, the acidity of the water, and the oxidation reduction potential, when they come in direct contact with the water cluster. Keeping one of these mineral devices in your glass or water bottle is an easy way to provide superior hydration to not only your skin cells, but your whole body. You can get Laminar Crystal Pearls in a variety of different sizes and use them for your drinking water, cooking, or even in your bath.
How much water should you drink for optimal hydration? If you have plenty of fresh produce on your plate every day, you might be less thirsty than someone who eats a diet based on hollow, processed foods, because fresh fruits and vegetables already contain a lot of water. Drink when you are thirsty, drink more in summer months or after a workout when you sweat more, and don’t count caffeinated drinks into your daily fluid intake. Stick with water (feel free to add some fresh lemon juice and a scoop of collagen powder, or a pinch of Himalayan salt for electrolytes), herbal infusions, coconut water, or fermented beverages like kombucha and kvass.
LET THE SUN SHINE IN
Just like fat phobia, fear of the sun is one of the biggest and most dangerous myths of the past. We were told that sun exposure causes cancer and that we should cover our bodies with sunscreen creams from head to toe, and we should absolutely stay inside the house around noon, when the sunlight is the strongest. Once again, the experts were wrong. The biggest reason why avoiding sunshine is one of the worst ideas in today’s modern world is Vitamin D.
Vitamin D is one of the key nutrients involved in maintaining human health. It plays a huge role in reducing inflammation, immune health, neurological function, heart health, calcium absorption, and even gene expression. Vitamin D production elevates levels of endorphins and serotonin (feel good hormones), and it also helps with a process called apoptosis the natural self-destruction of damaged cells. This makes Vitamin D an excellent tool for cancer prevention. Vitamin D is, technically speaking, not a vitamin, but rather a hormone, and our body creates it when UVB light interacts with a specific type of cholesterol in our body particularly below the epidermis of our skin. From here you can understand that not exposing our bare skin to sunlight actually prevents us from producing this critical vitamin. There are very few food sources we can get our Vitamin D from like eggs, wild salmon, mackerel, small fish like sardines, or cod liver, but the amount of Vitamin D in these foods is not enough to cover our daily needs.
We generally don’t need too much sun exposure to get an adequate amount of Vitamin D, but with the modern, indoorsy, sedentary lifestyle most of us tend to live, getting that minimal amount of sunlight can be challenging for many. We spend our days locked inside buildings, under artificial light, we commute to work before dawn and return home after dusk, and in winter months, we hardly ever feel the warm touch of sunlight on our face, sometimes even for days! According to Mark Sisson and Chris Kresser, Vitamin D deficiency is an epidemic these days and is among the root causes of many health problems including fibromyalgia, depression, joint pain, and several types of cancer. The absence of Vitamin D in the body actually turns off a certain gene in our body that takes care of the cell replication, so the risk of cancer and melanoma (the more serious form of skin cancer) increases when we don’t get enough. Sun exposure is not actually causing cancer, but rather it is the lack of sunlight, to put it simply.
The pigment in our skin, called melanin (don’t confuse it with the sleep hormone melatonin) is a natural chemical that protects our skin from UVA light. The darker your skin, the more melanin you have (and the better you are protected from UVA rays). UVA is able to penetrate deeper into our skin than UVB and causes oxidative damage to our cells, which contributes to collagen loss, leading to premature wrinkles and the previously mentioned skin melanoma. UVA rays damage the melanin-producing cells, basically destroying our skins defense mechanism against it. Tanning, on the other hand, is caused by UVB rays which increase the amount of melanin in our skin.
When we are getting enough UVB, enough to be able to produce an adequate amount of Vitamin D, our skin starts to darken and eventually can burn. This is the body’s natural reaction, telling us we have had enough sun for the day. UVB rays can be blocked with sunscreen or even windows, but UVA cant. UVA also doesn’t show any reaction on the skin, so there is no warning sign for us. UVA penetrates sunscreen, glass, and even cheap sunglasses. UVB, on the other hand, is not able to penetrate the sunscreen we put on our skin, so while we are trying to protect ourselves from getting a sunburn, we are actually doing two unhelpful things at once: not allowing our body to produce Vitamin D and putting harmful chemicals on our skin, that are absorbed into the bloodstream, causing more damage, and blocking the rays that would help our bodies to protect themselves!
You may ask: so what is the right amount of time I should spend in direct sunlight? It actually depends on many factors: your skin color, time of the day, time of the year, and your location in relation to the equator. The darker your skin is, the more time in the sun you will need in order to get enough UVB light for optimal Vitamin D production (of course only in the case that you don’t slather sunscreen all over your body). Dr. Michael Holick, author of The Vitamin D Solution recommends that the ideal maximum sun exposure should be half the amount of time it takes to sustain a slight pink sunburn that is noticeable twenty-four hours later. This will of course vary from person to person, depending on all the factors above. The UVB rays are actually the most effective between 10am and 3pm in areas most Americans, Canadians, and Europeans live; outside of this relatively short window, your Vitamin D production will not be very efficient.
Dr. Holick also says that by exposing your skin to the sunlight for your individual maximal period of time, while also uncovering at least 50% of your skin surface, you will be able to produce 2000-4000 IU (international units) of Vitamin D (the recommended daily dose is between 400 2000 IUs). This amount, received from sun exposure, will last your body twice as long as the same amount of Vitamin D taken in the form of a supplement. And while a good quality supplement (look for vitamin D3 + K2 in an oil base) is a good idea in the society and lifestyle we live in today, getting your daily dose of sunlight comes with a lot more benefits than just Vitamin D. For example, it can lower blood pressure, lower risk of cardiovascular disease, or uplift your mood. We evolved as humans under the sunlight; we spent most of our time awake under the sun, our daily rhythm is basically directed by sunrise and sunset, so there is a strong connection between spending time outdoors and maintaining health and vitality woven into our genetic makeup.
You can try to do everything you possibly can to support your health, but it is understandable that you simply can’t leave your workplace every day after lunch and walk around outside in a bathing suit for 30 minutes, especially in the winter. Supplementing Vitamin D from a quality source is recommended for that reason. Chris Kresser writes, that fair skin produces 10,000 25,000 IU of Vitamin D in just 30 minutes of sun exposure, and while our body can store some of it for later, getting around 2000 IU per day of Vitamin D from a supplement is safe and probably smart. Just make sure it is a bioavailable formula, like this one. Vitamin D is fat soluble, so the sesame oil in this option makes it easy to digest and absorb (there are other versions on the market in olive, coconut, and other oils too). But a word of caution here: there is a possibility of developing Vitamin D toxicity. If something is good, it doesn’t necessarily mean that more will be better. Check out this post from Chris Kresser about excess Vitamin D and how to avoid the point of overdose. It should, however, be noted that there are some factors that may affect your body’s ability to make or store vitamin D, so if you’re taking/getting the right dose and still have symptoms of deficiency, it may be something to discuss with your care team.
Our skin is not a suit we can put on and take off like we do our clothes. Skin health is just as important as immune health, mental health, or digestive health. It is a very important part of well, health. Skin health is a piece of the puzzle, not a different picture on its own. And together, we will learn how to take care of it, and how to make sure no pieces are missing, because we all want our picture to be complete. Skin health is not a simple science, some even say it is an art. Proper nutrition and digestive health are two major parts of it, which we have covered previously. Another important skin care factor is sleep. Your body regenerates, repairs, and resets while you sleep, so be sure to get enough quality time in bed, because there really is such a thing as beauty sleep. In the very near future, we are going to share even more strategies for beautiful skin through the art of natural skincare, so stay tuned!