‘Seasonal skin’ is in full swing again. This week I have seen more clients than usual asking how they can improve their painfully dry and itchy skin. I also noticed myself that the ‘seasonal skin’ patches on my skin are developing, which occur every winter from the change in weather and the central heating. So it seems apt that this week's blog is on skin health, how to maintain that glow, what causes skin damage and how to heal problem areas. Here’s a clue - it involves a lot of avocados...
Oxidation, also called free-radical damage, accounts for the majority of damage to skin. Our environment and natural bodily processes create a manageable degree of ‘collateral damage’ – oxidation damage - to our skin. When this damage is accelerated by sun damage, regular exposure to pollutants (for example while commuting in urban areas), smoking, excess alcohol and high sugar diets, the damage becomes less manageable.
To counter oxidation damage with antioxidants make sure you increase your intake of fruits and vegetables to a minimum of five portions daily. Eating a colourful array of green, red, orange, yellow and purple fruits and vegetables gives the widest antioxidant protection because it is these very colours in fruit and vegetables that are antioxidant-rich. Skin-supporting antioxidant nutrients include beta-carotene, vitamin E, selenium and zinc.
Skin, hair and nails need a good supply of minerals in the diet. Mineral rich foods include lean meats, fish, eggs, grains, low-fat dairy, nuts and seeds. Iron and zinc in particular are needed for normal growth of skin, hair and nails. Iron supplies oxygen in the blood to nourish and fuel growth and zinc is needed for proteins to be used for growth. Since hair, skin and nails are growing and replacing themselves all the time they need good amounts of these minerals. Silica, found in beer, whole-grains, oats and the herb horsetail, is a mineral that is needed for the connective tissue in nails and skin.
Skin and hair quality are dependant on sufficient healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the diet. These are incorporated into the cell structure to improve flexibility and reduce inflammation. Dull, lifeless hair and skin are a sure sign that you need to eat more fatty acids from fresh nuts, seeds, and oily fish such as tuna, salmon, sardines and mackerel. Good oils to dress salads with are cold pressed walnut oil, flax oil or olive oil. These oils can also be rubbed directly into dry spots on the skin. Evening primrose (EPO) and starflower oils are the best sources of Gamma Linoleic Acid (GLA), a fatty acid needed for skin and hair follicle health, and can moisturise the skin from the inside. GLA is important for the formation of healthy skin cell membranes and helps to reduce itching and dryness in those with essential fatty acid deficiency. EPO needs to be taken in large doses of around 3g daily for 3 months. Pure evening primrose oil can also be rubbed directly onto the skin.
Vitamin A is required for healthy skin and deficiency can lead to scaliness, raised hair pimple follicles (this can be quite common on the back of the arms) and increased susceptibility to acne. Vitamin A supplements can help and many first line medical treatments for such conditions are derived from vitamin A. Antioxidants such as Vitamin E and C found in fruit and vegetables can reduce inflammation.
Post menopause / ageing skin
Avoiding oxidation damage to skin is important to keep skin elastic. Oxidation resulting in ‘cross-linking’ of proteins toughens up skin, making it leathery and wrinkly. Nourishing from within, via foods and supplements, works because it reaches the basal cell layer from which skin grows. You can only reach these growth layers to a very limited degree with superficially applied products and treatments. This makes nutrition the first line of action when looking to improve their condition. And what is good for skin is good for the whole body and general health.
Exposure of the skin to UV-light can generate an immune response, resulting in sun burn. This immune response activates immune cells to primarily protect the sun however they also produce inflammatory by-products which, over long term exposure, can be even more damaging to the key skin proteins elastin and collagen, and trigger a process called ‘cross-linking’. Antioxidants can reduce this ‘cross-linking’ of proteins that lead to toughened and leathery skin. The antioxidant supplement pycnogenol exerts anti-inflammatory properties to reduce the damaging side effects of this immune response.
As women go through the menopausal stages of life the production of the hormone oestrogen changes and this can also affect the elasticity of skin.
Spotty skin / Acne
A nutrient poor diet can exacerbate the symptoms of spotty skin or acne. A healthy whole-food diet (nuts, seeds, fruit, vegetables) that provides significant amounts of antioxidant vitamin and minerals should be eaten. Essential fatty acids found in high amounts in oily fish and nuts and seeds have an anti-inflammatory action. As skin conditions such as spots and acne are ‘inflammatory’ conditions, these foods can reduce this. Zinc deficiency is also very common in sufferers of acne or spotty skin. Acne has been linked with the overgrowth of the yeast organism Candida Albicans in the gut. Successful treatment of this through probiotics and anti-fungal natural medicine can help to improve the situation.
The mineral Zinc has shown to be useful in controlling acne. One study found that zinc therapy worked as well as antibiotic treatment. Studies show that this takes time to work and optimum results can be seen after 12 weeks.
Time is a great healer, particularly for skin. As skin is growing all the time, the potential to improve its condition is good. Skin replaces itself every 6 weeks so by making these changes to your diet and supplement regime you have a real opportunity to release your own inner glow!