By Dr. Karen Carleton
Our skin is more than simply a wrapping for this package that is our body. We want it to look the best it can so it’s easy to only focus on what we can do for it from the outside. What we put on our skin and how we do it is definitely important, but I’d like to focus on how we can support our skin from the inside. When we are healthy and vital and full of life it shows not only in the glow of our skin but in the radiance of our entire self.
Understanding the role of the skin helps to be more conscious of what we do on a daily basis whether that be the food we eat, what we drink, what we do for fun, and, in general, how we care for ourselves. The skin is an organ that weighs almost twice that of the liver or the brain and receives 1/3 of the circulation of the blood. The skin functions as a protective shield to the body structure and it helps to regulate body temperature. It works as a respiratory organ by breathing in and absorbing oxygen and other nutrients as well as an organ of detoxification by aiding in the elimination of toxic wastes from the body.
Of our organs of detoxification: lungs, kidneys, intestines and skin, the skin is the largest. By definition, these are organs that are capable of allowing excretions to exit the body – so the lungs breath out carbon dioxide and water, the kidneys excrete wastes through urine, the intestines (well, we know what happens there) and the skin excretes wastes through sweat. Each must do its part efficiently and effectively. Just like any group working together for a common goal, weakness in one forces others to carry an increased workload. When the skin is overloaded it may appear as acne, rashes, dermatitis, psoriasis, eczema, dark circles under the eyes, unrelenting dryness or excessive oil secretion.
The word toxin often gets a bad rap in health circles. There are toxins that are created by the normal functioning of our cells – nutrients go in and wastes go out. But there are also the toxins to which we are in constant low level exposure as a result of the everyday reality of modern life. These toxins for example, can be environmental pollutants and chemicals. Or they can be foods – the processed non-food substances or foods that for different reasons one’s body is sensitive to and sees as an invader. Anything you put on your body or in your body that is more harmful than beneficial.
If our skin is our largest elimination organ, how can we support our skin to most efficiently do it’s job? There are many different supplements, herbs and foods that may be a part of treatment plan. Working with a practitioner may be a necessary step depending on what’s going on for you, but a good place to start is basic lifestyle choices that you can make for yourself everyday.
Here are some general guidelines that anyone can add to their daily routine to help their skin from the inside out!
- Choose foods that are healthy – lots of veges from as many colors of the rainbow as you can get your hands on, include protein with each meal, good fats like avocado, ground flax seed and olive oil.
- If dairy is a part of your diet make it organic. If meat is a part of your diet then be sure it is from an organic fed, grass-finished, free to roam raised animal.
- Fiber – plenty of it. This is going to come from all the veggies as well as from sources such as ground flax or chia seeds which also provide fatty acids that your skin will love.
- Hydration with good old fashioned fresh, clean water. We need plenty of water in our tissues to get oxygen and other nutrients into our cells and to move wastes out. When we are dehydrated, toxins begin to build up in our cells and as that accumulation continues it becomes more difficult to clean out the cells. We then start to see the effects of this in our skin and in our (lack of) energy. Keep in mind that alcohol, coffee, sodas and even fruit juices pull water out of our system and so that water must be replaced
- Sleep– at least 7-8 hours every night. Sleep is a powerful medicine. Much tissue repair and hormone regulation occurs at night so not only does a good night’s sleep set your internal rhythm (which is essential for good immune function) but it also directly affects the appearance of your skin, your energy level and overall sense of well-being.
- Movement – or exercise. This is going to mean something different for each individual. It may be working out in the gym, walking outside, jumping rope, yoga, etc. This provides detoxification, increases circulation to the skin (and your entire body) and supports your immune system.
To find out what else you can do that is specific to your situation, be it balancing hormones, improving your quality of sleep, or learning what foods work best for your body, we (of course) recommend working with your Naturopathic Physician or other integrative healthcare practitioner! As we are each unique, our own causes of imbalance are unique. An important point to keep in mind is that no skin issue results from a deficiency of a topical steroid cream or the like. Yes there may be a place for medications, over the counter or prescription, but they can’t give you long term relief from the underlying cause of your skin issues. Whatever the cause is will likely also impact you in other ways and determining what the issues are can be explored a number of ways including a good medical history and pertinent laboratory testing.
The skin is often the first to show signs of a deeper condition taking place and it is often the last to heal. So, when treating a skin issue or any health condition it takes patients to truly heal and to reach your optimal level of wellness. After all, it’s no coincidence that patients are called patients.