Our skin reflects what is going on inside our body. Unfortunately, no amount of skin cream is able to make up for a poor diet or lifestyle factors. Conditions like eczema, acne or psoriasis are all a signs of a deeper issue within the body. Treating these conditions with medications or steroid creams is a superficial band aid solution which rarely results in the long term remission of symptoms. Plus, steroid creams have undesirable side effects which can cause much larger problems later on. Real treatment can only be obtained by identifying and addressing the underlying cause from the inside out, while supporting all the body systems required to truly heal. Healing needs to be a multi-functional approach involving an assessment of all bodily processes, including digestion, lifestyle habits, stress levels, sleep and more!
Although skin conditions can often be disheartening and impact self-confidence, I encourage you to see it as a beautiful wake-up call to re-evaluate what you are putting in and on to your body. It’s sometimes not until problems like eczema, acne or psoriasis arrive that we truly start delving into how to improve our overall health and start questioning our lifestyle and dietary choices. The good news is that nutrition and other natural medicines are so effective at treating the root cause of your problems and creating long-lasting sustained health.
Common Skin Conditions
Acne - Acne arises when the sebaceous glands become overactive and sebum accumulates, blocking the hair follicle. This leads to a ‘plug’ of dead cells, sebum and bacteria which creates an infection giving rise to pimples, cysts, whiteheads or blackheads. These are most commonly seen on the face, neck, chest, shoulders and back. Acne can be caused by poor digestion, hormonal imbalance or fluctuations, stress and medication. Insulin resistance, infections, inflammation and perspiration can also exacerbate acne.
Psoriasis - Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune condition that causes cells to overproduce and pile on top of each other resulting in inflamed, scaly, white lesions. It is most prevalently seen on the knees, scalp, elbows, hands and feet. Relief of this condition is often seen when focusing on an immune-boosting, gut-healing diet. Addressing nutritional deficiencies that are specifically required for healthy skin and immunity is also extremely important in psoriasis, as well as managing stress levels - as it has been found to be a large contributor to autoimmune conditions.(1)
Eczema - Eczema is a term for a number of medical conditions that result in red, flaky and itchy skin all over the body. It is a common condition and is generally caused by an allergy or intolerance to something you are putting into or on your body. Eczema is often accompanied by an unrelenting itch which can result in bleeding in severe cases. Other factors that may contribute to its presence include digestive issues, an imbalance in gut bacteria or leaky gut, fungal infections, stress, altered detoxification pathways, genetics, nutritional deficiencies, environmental chemicals, natural chemicals in food, nutritional deficiencies or a suppressed immune system.
The onset of a skin condition often stems from biological and/or environmental factors. Biological factors may include an underlying health issue, food intolerance or allergy, nutrient deficiencies, hormonal imbalance, excessive alcohol, poor immunity, smoking or medications. The main environmental factor is toxicity which can come as a result of conventional food, body care, makeup, fragrances, cleaning products and other pollutants. The health of our liver and kidneys is also important to consider in skin conditions - as they are organs responsible for detoxifying and eliminating toxins that may be flaring skin conditions. Stress is also a large aggravator of skin conditions and always needs to be addressed and reduced.
- Pimples, cysts, whiteheads or blackheads
- Psoriasis, inflamed, scaly, white lesions on knees, scalp, elbows, hands & feet
- Eczema, read, flaky and itchy skin
Although acne, psoriasis and eczema are all treated differently in a clinical setting, there are key nutrients required for healthy skin that benefit all people with skin conditions. Deficiencies in these nutrients have been linked to a higher prevalence of skin disorders and therefore need to be considered when looking at someone’s health holistically!
- Essential fatty acids: These are called essential because our body doesn’t manufacture them and we need to obtain them in the diet! EFA’s have shown that they reduce systemic inflammation and help improve overall health (2). They’re found in wild caught oily fish (salmon, trout, tuna), chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds & walnuts.
- Vitamin C: Fights against free-radical damage and prevents the usual signs of skin aging like wrinkles. Vitamin C is also Involved in the synthesis of collagen which helps keep the skin supple. Impressively, Vitamin C is also wound healing and a natural antihistamine, which is required when we’re exposed to allergens. In skin conditions such as eczema or acne that may be triggered by an allergy, this vitamin is an important one to consider! It’s found predominantly in citrus fruits, papaya, capsicum, cabbage, green leafy vegetables, kiwis and berries.
- Vitamin E: an antioxidant predominantly found in the skin! It helps strengthen our immunity, reduce allergic reactions and reduce inflammation (3). It also fights against free-radical damage and prevents the usual signs of skin aging like wrinkles. Vitamin E is found in nuts, seeds, avocado, sweet potato, salmon, tuna, prawns, chickpeas and egg yolk.
- Zinc: Zinc is imperative for skin repair as it’s found abundantly in the layers of the skin. It’s been shown to fix damaged tissue, is extremely wound healing and is required for a strong immune system. Deficiency has been linked to skin conditions Zinc is found in pumpkin seeds, dried beans, oysters, rolled oats, whole grain bread & organic meat.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D is so crucial to the healing process! It’s anti-inflammatory and a powerful immune-modulator. Vitamin D can be obtained through safe sun exposure, fish, egg yolks and mushrooms. Here’s a handy tip: put your mushrooms in the sun for 30 minutes before cooking them and you’re naturally increasing their vitamin D content!
- Fiber: Foods that contain adequate amounts of fiber are so important for healthy detoxification and clearance. Fibrous foods mop up excessive toxins and help us excrete them! Fiber’s also incredibly important for our gut health, so if your skin condition is related to a digestive disorder (which it most commonly will be!) then listen up. Fiber is food for our good bacteria. It allows our good bacteria to ferment and grow to create more of the stuff we need! There’s a type of fibre in particular that creates a chemical reaction in the body called a short-chain fatty acid and this process has been proven to be extremely protective for our colon. So where do we get it? Most plant foods will contain some fiber but there are a few standouts such as brown rice, oats, chickpeas, lentils, peas, beans, asparagus, onion, garlic, leek, artichokes, root vegetables, cabbage, apples, pears, figs, strawberries, raspberries, bananas and avocados!
Other Steps You Can Take:
- Make friends with fermented food - Add a form of fermented food to every meal. Try sauerkraut, kefir, coconut yogurt or kimchi. These foods all contain good bacteria which help to reduce inflammation and improve gut health. This is important, as research is uncovering the benefits of addressing bacterial imbalance in skin disease (4).
- Bone Broth - Consume 1 cup of homemade bone broth daily. Broth is rich in vitamins and minerals and is a direct source of collagen, which is beneficial for healthy skin. Broth also contains L-glutamine and glycine, two amino acids which have been found to help repair gut wall damage. The gelatin that bone broth produces has been found to reduce inflammatory markers in individuals with varying kinds of inflammation (5).
- Vegetable Juice Daily - Juice 3 stems of kale, 1 lemon, 1 cucumber, ½ beetroot, 2 celery stalks and ½ an apple daily. If you are short on time or don’t have a juicer available, simply combine 1 tsp of Superfood Greens Powder in water. These super drinks are a great way to get a quick dose of skin-boosting nutrients. Beetroot intake in particular is especially important for eczema so try and incorporate it where possible!
- Introduce foods to help your liver detoxify - Liver health is so important in skin conditions and there are certain nutrients and foods that are vital to the process of detoxification. Foods such as turmeric, cauliflower, kale, brussel sprouts, cabbage, bok choy and broccoli all do powerful things for the health of our liver (6).
- Go back to basics - Whole foods and the nutrients they provide are crucial for healthy skin. No amount of skin cream can replace a poor diet. Increase your intake of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, quality protein and nourishing fats. Reduce your intake of sugar, alcohol and processed foods such as refined carbohydrates.
Herbal, Superfood and Supplement Therapy
- Probiotics - They help to reduce the presence of irritated skin and also help to boost good bacteria in the gut (7). This is important as there is a link between gut issues like Leaky Gut Syndrome and skin disease.
- Fish Oil - Fish oil supplements are high in essential fatty acids and will help reduce inflammation in the skin (8) but also in other parts of the body (9).
- Vitamin C - A daily vitamin C supplement is a great way to include powerful antioxidants in your diet and is also a critical nutrient for strong immunity, skin integrity and wound healing (10). Vitamin C is best absorbed in split doses, so sip on it throughout the day!
*Please note that a nutritional medicine practitioner or naturopath would be best to advise which supplements and specific doses are required for health conditions.
- Detoxify your home - Switch to all-natural skin care and cleaning products. Use castile soap, fresh aloe vera, coconut oil and mineral make-up on your skin. Don’t use toxic perfumes. Use vinegar and natural cleaning products in the home to avoid chemical exposure. Often, skin irritations can be a result of the chemical-laden products that we rub on our skin or use in our environment daily. Stick to moisturisers that have minimal ingredients - ideally only one! Even consider changing your deodorant. They often contain alcohols, chemicals, perfumes, parabens and aluminium.
- Prioritize sleep - this is super important. Sleep promotes healing and reduces inflammation in the body. Try and go to bed a little earlier. The health of our gut is important to consider if you are sleeping poorly as the neurotransmitters required to induce sleep are actually produced in our gut. Practice sleep hygiene, such as removing bright lights from your bed area 1 hour before you sleep. Exercise breathing deeply to relax yourself and transition into a calm space before falling asleep. Don’t have any stimulants towards the end of the day. This includes all forms of caffeine and sugar. Burn some essential oils such as lavender in an infuser before your bedtime to promote relaxation. The more effort you put towards getting a good night’s sleep, the more your body is able to restore and repair your skin.
- Have an oatmeal bath - Oatmeal has been used for centuries as a soothing agent for irritated skin. You can put ground oats or oatmeal in a warm bath and soak in it. This will release soothing antioxidants which are therapeutic for your skin (11). Make sure the water isn’t too hot, as hot water can irritate skin conditions!
- Functional health tests - There are many tests that can help you uncover the cause of your skin condition. Whether that be assessing nutritional deficiencies, your hormones, a microbiome stool test or IgE food allergy testing - it helps us as practitioners put together a better picture of what’s causing your problem. Microbiome tests in particular will help to uncover the state of your gut microbiome and whether there are any bacterial imbalances. The food allergy testing can reveal your immune response to common foods and help us provide an individualised diet plan. Although there are many helpful concepts covered in this article that may be of huge benefit, skin conditions always need to be assessed individually as one approach does certainly not apply to all people.
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2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Inflammatory Processes. Calder, Philip C. 2010 Mar; 2(3): 355–374.
3. The Role of Vitamin E in Human Health and Some Diseases. Sultan Qaboos Univ Med J. 2014 May; 14(2): e157–e165.
4. Impact of the impaired intestinal microflora on the course of acne vulgaris. Klin Med (Mosk). 2001;79(6):39-41.
5. Gelatin tannate reduces the proinflammatory effects of lipopolysaccharide in human intestinal epithelial cells. Clin Exp Gastroenterol. 2012; 5: 61–67.
6. Plants Consumption and Liver Health. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015; 2015: 824185.
7. Clinical & Experimental Allergy. 2009; 39 (8): 1117–1127.
8. Acta Dermato-Venereologica, Volume 94, Number 5
9. Alternative Medicine Review. 2003. 8 (4).
10. J Foot Ankle Surg. 1999 Sep-Oct;38(5):333-8.
11. J Drugs Dermatol. 2015 Jan;14(1):43-8.
This article is provided for your general information only and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional advice, particularly medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek medical advice from a qualified health practitioner which takes into account your personal circumstances, general health and medical conditions.