The skin is often an under estimated organ. We do care about how it looks though as it so overtly transmits information about us. People can make instant assumptions about where we come from, how old we are and how healthy we might be, just to begin.
People who experience problem skin, such as acne, psoriasis and allergies are particularly sensitive to this kind of judgement. If prolonged, some experience crises of confidence, social withdrawal and psychological problems such as depression. In teenagers/young adults, or older adults in the case of acne rosacea, often the first line of treatment is the oral contraceptive pill (OCP), anti-biotics and/or medications such as roaccutane. All of these treatments may have significant side effects, which may seem irrelevant to the sufferer, who just wants clear skin. It is possible that for some, these treatments may be necessary for a short time to break the cycle and solve the problem. Unfortunately these are rarely short term medications and in many ways thwart natural healing mechanisms. For example, anti-biotic treatment is known to damage the biome (gut flora) which in turn compromises immune function, detoxification processes and many other biological systems. The OCP leads to a depletion of nutrients and roaccutane, a synthetic vitamin A derivative, often leads to worsening of the condition before it improves, whilst other very common side affects include alteration of blood chemistry (sometimes leading to anaemia), muscle soreness, eye problems such and infection and irritation due to dryness and other skin problems such as dermatitis. Roaccutane has also been linked to psychological problems such as mood disturbance, and has very high teratogenicity (meaning increased risk of birth defects), so much so that anyone falling pregnant while taking the medication is counselled to terminate the pregnancy.
To further exacerbate the issue, the natural tendency is to want to cover the blemishes, often with products that will very likely exacerbate the condition. Any skin care products that are not organic are likely to contain a long list of chemicals, including parabens, propylene glycol and PEGs. These substances will not only make acne worse (through blocking the skin and increasing xeno-oestrogens), they will also be absorbed into the body, adding to toxic load and wreaking havoc with our hormonal system. When I first started advising people to avoid these products, it was difficult. Fortunately now it is much easier.
Most products we put on our skin will be absorbed. Remember this is a known delivery system for medications such as hormone patches, creams, painkillers (such as morphine) and nicotine (for cigarette withdrawal), so it is important not to underestimate this avenue for toxin overload.
The skin in also an important channel for elimination, so it is hard to believe that in some cases this natural elimination of toxins is inhibited by injection (underarms) of another popular toxin (botulinum toxin, otherwise known as botox).
Some tips to improve skin (and health) are:
- Drink plenty of filtered water.
- Get enough good quality sleep.
- Avoid/limit fast foods, processed foods, sugar and dairy.
- Eat plenty of fresh vegetables, ensuring at least some raw (great for nutrients, fibre and enzymes).
- Eat organic as much as possible (to avoid endocrine disrupting chemicals in herbicides etc.).
- Practice stress management.
- Choose organic skin care and personal hygiene products. That is, everything from skincare, haircare, make-up, toothpaste, sun care products and deodorant.
- Dry skin brushing, this is an effective form of exfoliation and is stimulatory to lymphatic and circulatory systems. This invigorating practice creates smoother skin as well as greatly enhanced detoxification.
- Do not use coconut oil on the face (great for the rest of the body).
- Allow some sun exposure but avoid sunburn (to increase Vitamin D levels).
- Pay attention to fat balance (good ratio of omega 3 to omega 6) and avoid transfats.
- Be gentle with skin cleansing regimes, avoiding harsh exfoliation, and of course avoid extraction unless done by a professional who can do this without causing spread or pushing bacteria deeper.
- Infra-red saunas. Sweat induced through IR saunas helps detoxify the body and improve skin.
- Certain nutritional supplements may also be of benefit, such as zinc and Vitamin A, however this should be prescribed by a health practitioner who can tailor a program to you.
As more people are being more discerning about organic skincare and personal care products, we are not only helping our own health, but also contributing to changing the environment by reducing harmful chemicals in our waterways. For example, an article in this month’s EWB regarding proposed banning of microbeads in cosmetics, details a situation whereby tiny plastic beads used in exfoliants and even toothpaste are proving hazardous to marine life and environments. Some companies have already voluntarily removed these harmful additives, but we have a ways to go.