When we think about skin care, we often just think in terms of topical product application and daily cleansing and moisturising routines, which is a good place to start, but truly great skincare (and great skin) involves so much more than that.
The truth is that our skin is a mirror to our internal health, giving us a reflection of what is going on inside our bodies, and a lot of skin challenges - from acne to premature aging, dryness to rosacea - really point at issues happening beneath the surface. This is why thinking about integrative health, especially if you have chronic skin complaints, is vital to obtaining and maintaining your best skin ever.
When tackling skincare from an integrative health approach there are 5 key areas that are important to take into consideration;
- Gut Health
- Stress Management
- Environment & Detoxification
- Skincare Products
You are what you eat, and the first step to healthy, vibrant, glowing skin is to ensure you are feeding your body the best ingredients. This means fresh, whole foods which are also local and organic, where possible. Think of phytonutrient rich non-starchy vegetables, antioxidant rich berries, organic or grass-fed protein (wild caught fish, grass fed beef, pasture raised eggs, organic and non-GMO tempeh etc) and healthy fats like avocado, olives, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, ghee etc.
These foods are anti-inflammatory, will balance your blood sugar and hormones, boost your brain power, mood and mental clarity, as well as help your gut to function well. All of which will positively impact your skin.
Protein is especially important as we age, especially as natural collagen in our skin starts to decline. It's why collagen supplements and bone broth are so popular right now, as they are fantastic for supporting internal health as well as for boosting skin health. .
As much as possible try to avoid processed and junk foods, sugar, too much caffeine, industrialised meat and dairy, conventionally grown wheat and grains etc as these foods will drive inflammation in your body, negatively impact your gut, make you feel fatigued and lethargic as well as adding to the toxic load your that your body has to deal with.
2. Gut Health
Hippocrates was right when he said "All disease begins in the gut", and this is where most of our skin complaints originate too.
The gut is the great regulator of our health, but as our gut lining is only one cell thick it can easily be compromised by poor diet, medications, environmental toxins, stress and more. Once your gut begins to malfunction, illness soon follows - autoimmune disease, allergies, mood and brain disorders, skin problems, hormone imbalances, weight gain and even autism can all be linked to imbalances of the gut*.
Rosacea in particular has been linked to SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), while eczema is often linked to food sensitives caused by a leaky gut**.
To feed our gut and support better gut health we should be eating plenty of plants (vegetables, berries, herbs) to feed it the prebiotic fibres and polyphenols that will support the good bugs in there and get them thriving. It's also great to include fermented foods such as sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, pickles, kefir etc and sometimes a probiotic too.
3. Stress Management
You can eat all the kale in the World but if you're stressed out and unhappy you're not going to be able to reach peak health with diet alone. Stress can be physical, mental or emotional, acute or chronic, and can include everything from our relationships to work, to social anxiety and politics.
How we perceive stress is important to take into consideration. This is the amount of stress that we believe ourselves to be under and determines how we react to the stress and attempt to cope with it. We all have different mechanisms for dealing with life's stresses but generally the more coping tools you have in your toolbox the easier your are going to find things when stress does pop up.
Some of the best tools for reducing modern stress include meditation, deep intentional breathing, gratitude journaling, yoga or tai chi, reframing events, mantras, getting out into nature and effective time management. Honestly, just making a cup of tea and taking 5 minutes out to drink it and breath is one of the best de-stressing tools that there is!
If you are experiencing flair ups of eczema, acne, rosacea, allergies etc, look at your current stress levels and think about how you are handling things. Is there a link between flair ups and stressors in your life? What can you do to handle stress better? Good stress management will help you feel calmer and more resilient, and will support your physiology in functioning well, reducing incidences of disease and health issues, including skin issues.
4. Environment & Detoxification
Our body has some awesome natural detox powers, and our liver is an incredible organ capable of detoxing so much that comes through our bodies. The issue is that the sheer level of toxins in our modern lifestyles often overburdens the liver and messes up our natural detox pathways, resulting in malfunctioning of these systems.
Alcohol, caffeine, medications, processed foods, sugar and inflammatory fats etc. all place a burden on our detox systems. The result can be weight gain, hormone imbalances, skin conditions, PMS, fatigue etc. If you're feeling terrible all the time, and dealing with health issues (mental or physical), it's a huge sign that your inner systems are off balance and it's really your body's way of warning you that you need to make changes to your diet and/or lifestyle.
The truth is that you can't avoid all toxins, but regular detoxes and practices can support your detox pathways and your liver, removing unwanted toxins from your blood and cells, boosting your health and your mood in the process.
There are many great detox books and plans out there to help you - two that we love are Dr. Mark Hyman's 10 Day Detox Diet and Dr. Alejandro Junger's Clean 7 - and you can also boost your detox pathways on a regular basis with simple activities like body brushing, cold showers, Epsom salt baths, time restricted eating, drinking adequate clean water, getting good sleep, ensuring you are pooping at least daily (the ideal is 1-3 brown snakes a day!) and eating plenty of polyphenol-rich non-starchy vegetables and antioxidant-rich berries.
While most skincare issues will be best fixed by working on your internal health, using the right skincare is important too. Choosing skincare that will help to protect and restore the skin's natural barrier is vital, as is choosing skincare made from safe, clean ingredients.
Choosing clean personal care products is important because our skin absorbs some of what we put on it into our bloodstream - you just have to look at patch and gel medications to know that molecules can be delivered into the body via the skin. Of course absorption depends on a number of factors, including the structure and size of the molecules within the product, the integrity/ health of the skin barrier, the amount of time the product is left on and the quantity used etc.
Learning how to read a label and knowing what to watch out for in terms of potentially hazardous ingredients is as important for our skincare as it is for our food. It's a great idea to use a resource like EWG's SkinDeep or the ThinkDirty app to check out how your favourite brands rate in terms of ingredient safety. Then it's looking at which active and key ingredients are going to help with your particular skin condition. Below we've broken down some of our favourite products and ingredients for tackling common skin complains.
Remember the foundation for good skin, healthy hair and nails is good internal health, and that comes from a clean, whole food diet, good quality protein, plenty of sleep, hydration and stress management.
If you are struggling with skin complains think about your lifestyle, and the products that you use, and look at where you can make changes that might support better skin. A holistic approach will benefit every aspect of your health and wellbeing, as well as helping you achieve your healthiest, most radiant skin ever.
Best For Breakouts & Blemishes
Best For Aging Skin
The Organic Pharmacy, Retinol Night Serum 2.5%, €45
Best for Dry & Dull Skin
Best For Eczema
Best for Rosacea & Sensitive Skin