They say ‘love the skin you’re in’, but what if your skin’s irritated, spotty, blotchy, sore and constantly puffy? What do you do then? And how do you stop it getting worse?
I’ve met so many people who as teenagers, had spots and because they also often had an oily t-zone, were told ‘it’s your hormones’. ‘It’s normal’. ‘You’ll grow out of it’. But then the spots become angry and painful and spread to their outer cheeks, chin and chest.
The solution was to try alcohol wipes, anti-microbials, expensive dermalogical creams and lots of lotions. Some people used medication; some even tried elimination diets, omitting wheat and diary. In some cases this had varying degrees of success, but nothing really worked. At least not long-term. What’s more, in their late 20s and into their 30s and even 40s, they’d still have flare ups.
The thing is that few were advised to look at what was happening deep inside their body. No one related their symptoms to their immune function, hormones, gut activity or elimination processes. If this sounds like you, read on and as you do think that; ‘understanding my bio-chemistry, (pause) is vital to understanding, (pause) the reaction my skin has to the outside world’.
What is the skin?
On the outside – The outer layer of the skin or the epidermis is a live, breathable, bi-layer between you and the outside world. It has to be tough and hardy to protect, but also light, moveable and flexible to let out toxins, sweat and heat. I like to think of it as a series of thin muslin cloths interwoven with web-like fibres which are then carefully meshed together.
The paradox – Our skin needs to be kept clean, which our bacteria do a good job of contributing to. But at the same time, the top layer which is essentially dead cells, also needs to be gently buffed so that new cells can emerge. This helps to ensure that the top layer doesn’t become dull, flaky or susceptible to harmful substances. But equally anything too abrasive or harsh can damage and even scar or blister the skin.
On the inside – Nutrients travel up through the blood vessels from the lower level dermis, to the epidermis on the outer layer to feed the skin. But as you know we also have hair projecting from our skin and this is where toxins, sweat and grime can get caught up as they too push to the surface. Similarly to the rest of the body, the skin also has a lymphatic system. This should take away toxins through other body organs, but this too can get stagnant and blocked if it is not moved.
This is a pretty good video which gives a general idea about what the skin is.
So what can make our facial skin problematic?
Excessive oil production – If our skin was completely dry, it would become easily chapped and damaged. So our skin needs an oily shield. Sebum is that shield. It provides nutrients and bacterial protection to the skin’s hairs and muslin layers massaging and soothing the skin. But if our sebum levels becomes excessive, particularly with hormonal changes, changes in diet, temperature or even stress it can be problematic. When this happens the skin’s tiny hairs or follicles can become clogged, potentially leading to infection and spots.
Bacteria – Our bacterial helpers sit all over the skin and are essential for keeping the skin clean. But if bacteria become trapped, it can create an infected site. This is where spots, acne and puss appear. They, as with the bacteria, are a symptom, not the real problem.
Over cleaning – Another paradox – Rather than healing, strong cleansers may actually cause damage to the skin. Whenever the skin is damaged, the immune system will try to heal the site by stimulating the immune response making the skin puffy and red. In addition, in some cases antibiotics may be used to bring down a bacterial infection. But whilst it may relieve the topical issue, it can cause further problems deeper in the body. Antibiotics may contribute to reducing the levels of helpful bacteria in the gut. This may then in turn distort the body’s ability to maintain balance and the healthy immune system needed to deal with infections.
Why it’s less topical and more of a deep internal solution that’s required
Hormones – Females produce high levels of oestrogen and low levels of testosterone during menstruation. This is vital for healthy reproductive health. But an imbalance in these hormones may lead to an over production of sebum. Equally, an over production of oestrogen can also have adverse effects. Whilst this may happen naturally, perfumed products and cosmetics and some foods may contain chemicals which mimic oestrogens causing a disruption to the hormonal balance.
What you can do
- Only use organic and natural beauty products.
- Use natural aromatherapy oils rather than perfumes.
- If still menstruating, change tampons to organic cotton ones.
- Remove soy from your diet for a period and monitor to see if you experience any changes.
Detoxification and the gut – The body needs to eliminate waste effectively to maintain balance. We certainly don’t want masses of it trying to spill through the skin. So where should it go? It may be weird to think about it in this way, but elimination actually starts in the mouth, in the way that we break down food. But it also involves the whole gastro-intestinal tract.
If foods are not broken down wholly in the gut (in the case of carbs) or by the liver and gall bladder (in the case of fats) or in the stomach (in the case of proteins) then the undigested particles rather than feeding our cells or being eliminated, can instead enter the blood stream. When this happens the immune system may respond by attacking and trying to eliminate the particles. This is where potential allergic reactions often experienced on the skin may appear.
What you can do:
- Keep a food diary and monitor how your body reacts to different foods.
- Check your bowels to see what you are eliminating. Are you eliminating?
- Get a stool analysis or food sensitivity diagnostic test to pinpoint the exact foods that may be causing your body harm.
- Leave any problematic foods out of your diet for at least 3 weeks (preferably 6) and note if there are any changes.
- Cultivate the healthy bacteria in your gut by introducing more pre-biotics foods. These include: onion, garlic and Jerusalem artichokes (but beware that these can make you gassy, so start slowly).
- Up your levels of vegetable fibre with cruciferous vegetables (if you can tolerate it).
Inflammation – Inflammation is a natural process which actually helps us. You’ll see it yourself whenever there’s infection or damage to the skin. Tissue becomes inflamed and puffy but we don’t want an over active immune system which continues to make our skin unnecessarily inflamed.
What you can do:
- Use a skin brush or ball massager all over the body to get the lymph moving. This may help to remove waste and regulate the elimination process.
- Move your body. The lymph sits under muscle tissue, so it can’t be easily reached, but the activation of muscle can have a knock on effect in moving the lymph.
- Remove inflammatory foods. There may be certain foods which aggravate your body, but common inflammatory foods are, wheat, gluten, grains, dairy and for some sugars and fatty foods.
- Introduce more zinc rich foods found abundantly in proteins. 1 Zinc has been shown in some studies to lower excessive inflammatory responses, but more importantly zinc is a critical mineral for development of healthy skin cells.
- Drink plenty of water. This will aid the gut but also contribute to the lubrication of the skin.
The stress connection – Stress has an impact on all of our organs. The adrenal glands which are responsible for the stress function also simultaneously support the production of oestrogen. Too much adrenaline or cortisol can not only impair healthy gut and immune function, but it may also contribute to unbalancing hormonal function.
What you can do:
- Reduced your stress triggers and cleanse from the inside out. Look at the things which cause you stress and consider ways that you can deal with these. Find a relaxation technique that works for you whether that’s getting outside, reading, listening to music, dancing, meditation or something else. You know what will work for you.
- Stabilise your blood sugar, eat small meals regularly. Try to have 3 main meals and 3 snacks a day.
- Sleep well. I have not found any condition that sleep isn’t helped by and here’s why. Sleep allows the body to re-calibrate and heal many cleaning, detoxification and healing processes.
If you you’ve tried a whole host of things, don’t give up! You can get a free 15 minute confidential consultation by calling if you want to explore how nutrition may help you to encourage the development of a healthy complexion and healthy skin.
- Ogawa, Y., Kinoshita, M., Shimada, S and Kawamura, T (2018) ‘Zinc and skin disorders’ [online] Nutrients. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29439479