I am a big proponent of treating your skin internally, in addition to using topical products. Product marketing, magazines, and big cosmetic companies push the concept that your skin’s problems are best resolved with topical skin care products, be it prescription creams from a dermatologist, or the latest serum to hit the department stores.
Your skin is your bodies largest organ, and just like any organ, has nutritional needs. What food you give your body is assimilated and your body uses this nutrition to develop your cells, your organs, your blood, your brain, your skin- you whole body. This is why nutritional deficiencies result in specific illnesses like anemia, rickets, and even in some cases dementia. Your body fat content is mostly a result of what food you consume as well, so it stands to reason that the health of your skin is impacted by your diet.
With this being the case, comes quite a few myths about food’s role in your skin’s health, such as the misconception chocolate causes acne. In reality, true cocao actually contains a lot of minerals and antioxidants that can benefit the skin. What comes with chocolate is often a lot of sugar, which causes glycation of the skin cells (a type of damage done to skin cells that results in premature aging), and powdered dairy products which promote hormones that can cause break outs (these are the same hormones that benefit young cows to grow, which is milk’s true purpose). In a culture obsessed with the “next new miracle cream”, it’s easy to understand why we often forget that skin is an organ, and affected by what is going on internally just like any organ. I consult with some clients exclusively about what foods to eat and what supplements to use for their specific skin issues, and most are surprised by how dramatic the results can be. In reality, cosmetic companies and dermatologists don’t profit from you eating properly, so the emphasis is always on treating the skin from the outside with a topical product, when in reality, it should really be treated from both sides.
Herbs & Vitamins
The concept of treating skin issues with herbs in actually ancient, as Ayurveda and Chinese medicine have addresses skin with internal herbs and acupuncture for hundreds of years. There are a multitude of combinations of herbs, amino acids, vitamins, lipids, minerals and beyond that have helped my clients skin. Though hardly a complete list, I will highlight many of the best ones available and their uses.
GlutathioneCalled the “Mother of all antioxidants”, glutathione is found in every single cell of the human body.
Glutathione is going to get increasing attention in next few years, as leading scientists find more evidence through their research that depleted glutathione is linked to aging and many chronic illnesses. “If you haven’t heard of glutathione yet, you will,” says Mark Hyman, MD, founder of The UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Mass., and a pioneer in the field of functional medicine. “In terms of staying healthy, it is one of the most important molecules in the body.”
Skin Benefits: Reduction of hyperpigmentation (sun spots and scars) is reported by many who take glutathione. It also increases your skin’s ability to defend against future sun damage. In general, glutathione is amazing for it’s age fighting properties and will help your skin become, and stay vibrant.
Niacin (Vitamin B3) opens the entire bodies blood vessels wider, and greatly increases circulation. This effect is often called the “niacin flush” and should be something you should be aware of. Niacin (real nicotinic acid), when used properly, offers benefits in terms of cholesterol reduction, acne, depression, as well as for general detoxification.
Because Niacin is a water based vitamin, you excrete it through urination and cannot overdose. Taking 1500 mgs a day works well for acne, and 3000 mgs a day is recommended for depression and anxiety as well. You will develop a resistance to the “flush” effects eventually, but until then, work your way up gradually.
One of niacin’s unique properties is its ability to help you naturally relax and get to sleep more rapidly at night. And it is well established that niacin helps reduce harmful cholesterol levels in the bloodstream. Abram Hoffer, M.D., Ph.D. explains: “Niacin is one of the best substances for elevating high density lipoprotein cholesterol (the “good cholesterol) and so decreases the ratio of the total cholesterol over high density cholesterol.” Avocado, yellowfin tuna, and sunflower seeds are a natural source of niacin.
Skin Benefits: Reduction of acne, increased circulation, and overall clarity and vibrance.
I highlight grapeseed extract, because of it contains more OPC’s (oligomeri prothocyanidin complexes) than any other antioxidant extract. OPC’s are essential to the bodies production of glutathione, the master of all antioxidants, and a component of every cell of the human body. This powerful antioxidant assists in protecting the skin from UVA and UVB damage, and strengthens immunity. In addition to it’s anti-aging benefits, it has been proven to decrease cancer rates, protect against brain damage, dementia, and improve blood pressure.
From Dr. Mercola:
Krill oil may be 48 times more potent than fish oil. This means you need far less of it than fish oil, as confirmed by this 2011 study published in the journal Lipids.
Krill oil contains phospholipids, so the omega-3 fats are already in the form that your body can use. This bioavailability means krill oil is absorbed very quickly and crosses your blood-brain barrier, so is able to reach important brain structures.
Fish oil is quite perishable and subject to oxidation, and oxidation leads to the formation of free radicals. Consuming free radicals further increases your need for antioxidants. Fish oil is weak in antioxidant content, whereas krill oil is rich in antioxidants. Krill oil contains astaxanthin—probably the most potent antioxidant in nature—which is why it is so stable and resistant to oxidation.
Many, if not most types of fish and fish oil are now contaminated with mercury and other heavy metals, even fish that is thousands of miles away from coal plants and other environment-polluting industries. Antarctic krill is not subject to this contamination.
Krill is also far more sustainable as a food source than is fish because it’s the largest biomass in the world, making krill harvesting one of the most sustainable practices on the planet.
Research has concluded that patients who took Krill oil for three months reported significant improvement in the texture of their skin, nails and hair.
Furthermore, these women reported a 60% reduction in wrinkles and fine lines and a 50% improvement in energy, stamina, mental alertness and concentration.
How does drinking water effect the skin?
The skin is both a system and an organ, and with that, it’s the bodies largest organ. Organs use water eliminate waste and metabolize cells, so in order to assure you are allowing your skin to perform it’s functions properly, it’s essential to get enough hydration. You skin is roughly 70% water, so it’s essential you get water in order to allow it to metabolize properly, process debris and bacteria effectively, and age optimally. This is especially essential for conditions like acne, and clogged pores, as the water content of your skin allows these impurities to process much more effectively, and sooner. The misconception with water, is that it should turn dry rough skin into soft balanced skin. In reality, if your skin is lacking a natural lipid balance (oil) it will feel dry, hydration actually provides clarity and elasticity to skin. In my article on dry skin, I go into this in depth and how to target dry skin properly.
In addition to the nutrients I discussed above, there are many great herbs, vitamins, lipids, amino acids, antioxidants and beyond that can work wonders for resolving skin concerns. This is a list of just some of the supplementary herbs and nutrients that can help skin, and their benefits:
Don Quai Root hormone balancing, fights aging and sun damage
Wild Yam Root hormone balancing, cleanses the blood
Kudzu root fights glycation, keeps sugar and alcohol cravings away
Red clover estrogen booster, hormone balancing
Alpha Lipoic Acid super antioxidant, sun damage and anti aging
Gotu Kola Leaf strengthens capillary walls, antioxidant
Nettle Leaf acne fighter, reduces sensitivity
Burdock Root strengthens skin’s defenses
Korean Ginseng detoxifying for skin and body, helps with acne and energy.
Yohimbe super antioxidant, also promotes sexual health.
DMAE tightening and anti aging.
Hyaluronic Acid the most potent humectant (hydration) known to science.
Alfalfa great source of chlorophyll, cleanses the blood, great for cystic acne.
Horsetail promotes collagen strength
Triphala super antioxidant, benefits cystic acne and digestion.
Ashwaghanda healthy cell development, great for anxiety and mood.
Oregon Grape Root antioxidant, helps psoriasis.
Xiao Yao Wan harmonizing and hormone balancing, great for acne and PMS.
More important than any herb or supplement to the health of your skin, is your eating and lifestyle habits. All the above mentioned are nutrients that all come from natural food sources, and food is the form in which your body best recognizes a nutrient. Basically, if you live on a diet consisting of martinis and cupcakes, all the super antioxidants and fish oil in the world will not make up for the negative effects of the harmful food that you do consume. In general, the foods that support healthy cell development in your body are what most benefit the skin. Micronutrient food such as dark leafy greens, fresh whole fruit, raw or lightly toasted nuts, legumes such as black beans and lentils, and nutrient dense protein sources such as wild caught fin fish and eggs are beneficial for your skin’s health. There are differing needs depending on your own personal chemistry, skin’s issues, and medical needs. Herbs can be incredibly powerful, and in some cases, interact negatively with prescription medication and over the counter drugs. It’s important to do your research before taking any supplement, and talk to your doctor about any possible interactions if you are on medication.