I spent many hours as a teenager working on the perfect tan, and though I was surely getting my fill of vitamin D, I was also setting myself up for major sun damage. I had freckles, a perpetual red nose and extreme rosacea into my 30s. I remember the day I decided to do something about it. I was outside playing with my kids in the sun, and I came in and looked in the mirror. From where I was standing, it looked like I was 200 years old! My skin looked terrible. It was that day that I decided to make some serious changes.
What I soon realized was that it wasn't just my skin that needed rejuvenating, it was my whole body. How healthy we are on the inside is often obvious on the outside. Premature wrinkles, rashes, lack of tone, acne -- poor skin health is one of the ways our body puts up a red flag for help. Between the unhealthy foods we eat in this country and the cell phones, microwaves and toxic exposure, it's no wonder our skin cells are crying for help.
Unfortunately some people in the beauty industry have us convinced that we need to cover up our flaws and symptoms instead of getting to their root causes. After trying to cover up the problems with my own skin for years, it was when I finally changed my diet, monitored my stress and replaced my toxic skincare products with natural products that I began to see a gradual change. This past weekend, I was at a conference and had several people comment on how healthy my skin looked. I told them it wasn't always this way. And sadly, there is no magic cream or pill to get you there. The secret to stunning skin is in caring for your whole body.
Free radicals and your skin
In addition to sun exposure, our bodies are exposed -- inside and out -- to highly unstable oxygen molecules called free radicals. When we have an abundance of free radicals, they move around the body searching for stability, often stealing electrons from healthy molecules, and thus contributing to premature aging.
External pollution, cigarette smoke, x-rays, chemicals and toxins in your favorite lotions and cosmetics can all contribute to free radical exposure. Our diets are another potential source of free radicals, especially foods high in sugar and highly refined carbohydrates. Undiagnosed food sensitivities, additives, artificial sweeteners, and trans fats can also contribute to skin issues.
Antioxidants play a major role in skin and whole body health because they help to prevent oxidative damage by neutralizing free radicals. Here's a list of some potent antioxidants that have been known to support skin health:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- Beta carotene
- Coenzyme Q-10
- Alpha-lipoic acid
- Dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE)
Your Skin Rejuvenation Plan
We can't always change the skin we were born with -- some of us are naturally fair, dry, oily, freckled, or prone to pimples -- but we can change what we expose our bodies to. Sometimes small changes in your diet and your daily routine can make a great difference. I've found the following tips helpful in rejuvenating wrinkled and damaged skin:
The skin is often a vehicle for the body to rid itself of toxicity. Whether it's pesticides, chemicals, food allergens or something else, your skin is a reflection of your body's internal environment. Eat fresh, whole foods that aren't processed or infused with unhealthy additives. Organic fruits and vegetables are great sources of antioxidants, particularly citrus fruits (unjuiced), berries, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, fish and herbs. Red wine, soy, and green tea are also rich in antioxidants. I would also recommend finding a good multivitamin and omega-3 supplement to fill in any nutritional gaps.
Many women have been conditioned to believe that moisturizer is a must. Some of us slather it on even on the most humid days of summer, just out of habit. But the reality is: over-moisturizing can send the message to your skin cells that they don't need to produce their own moisture. When you do need to apply added moisture (especially during the dry winter months), search for a moisturizer with an ingredient called hyaluronic acid. This substance is abundant in our skin when we are young, but decreases as we age or overuse moisturizers. Hyaluronic acid can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water, so it makes sense that it can keep the skin smooth and plump. Be sure to avoid products that contain propylene glycol, phthalates, sodium lauryl sulfate and parabens.
Vitamin C can regenerate oxidized vitamin E, making this antioxidant combination work synergistically on your skin. Together, they can increase antioxidant power up to 70 times greater than when used individually. Look for a stable combination of vitamin C and E or fresh L-ascorbic acid (an active and very effective form of vitamin C). By fresh, I mean formulated within six months. L-ascorbic acid can gradually loose stability and effectiveness over time. When put directly on the skin via a serum or cream, ascorbic acid can not only promote collagen production in the skin, but can also serve to protect your skin from the sun. Its natural sun protective properties is why vitamin C is most beneficial during the daytime.
A cream or serum with active vitamin A (such as a form of retinol) can stimulate the production of collagen and encourage your skins cells to behave more like youthful skin cells. It's important to find vitamin A in its retinoid form so that it can penetrate your skin to revitalize and nourish it effectively. Vitamin A on your skin is a great nighttime regimen because it works as your skin rests and restores.
Your skin restores itself while you sleep and absorbs whatever is on it -- good or bad. So be sure to wash your face before bed with a cleanser and toner based on your skin type (making sure that is free of sodium lauryl sulfate and propylene glycol). And get a good night's sleep! If you go to sleep without washing, the various elements you've come into contact with during the day or residual makeup can clog your pores, stretching them and setting you up for prematurely aged skin.
Be mindful of when and how long you're in the sun. The best times to be in the sun are in the morning before 10 a.m. and in the afternoon after 2 p.m. If you are going to be exposed to sun for a long period of time during peak hours, chose a natural sun block free of propylene glycol, phthalates, sodium lauryl sulfate and parabens. Do your best to limit your exposure to radiation, toxins and stress. Look into purifying your water and your air and give yourself breaks from electronic exposure every day, if possible, or at least once a week. Most importantly, I urge you to find time to de-stress. The stress hormone cortisol can increase free radicals and inflammation, affecting your skin and your whole body.
For detailed guidelines, see my full article on nutrition.
Glowing from the inside out
Open your mind to a whole new approach to skin care, one that is helpful for your whole body and doesn't cost you an arm and a leg. Liberate yourself from any products that may contain toxins or that may simply not be helping your skin. Take a good look at what's inside your kitchen cupboards and refrigerator and at how your body is responding to the foods you eat. Believe me, you can make natural changes in your life for great glowing skin every day.
For a more detailed look at skin care, read my article on holistic skin care.
Follow Marcelle Pick, OB-GYN N.P. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/marcellepick