One of the beauty questions I am asked most often is, “How do I get beautiful skin?” Whether it’s redness, blemishes, eczema or persistent bumps, it’s highly likely that the answer will be, for the most part, an inside job. How many of us stop to consider that our outer layer is merely a reflection of inner processes, completely reliant on the health of the 50 trillion cells that you are made of? The health of those cells is impacted by everything from the food you eat, the nutrients that are present or missing from your blood, and the hormones and messages your body makes based on whether your thoughts are fearful or loving. Think about that.
When most people think about improving their appearance, they usually focus on a product, another “quick fix”. Yet when you consider that the skin cells on your face are a small percentage of the total number of cells in the whole body, it seems crazy that we don’t spend more time getting the majority of our cells functioning optimally, leading us to the outcomes we seek. As a nutritional biochemist, I’m passionate about helping people achieve radiant skin by taking better care of their whole body. When we’re providing our body with everything it needs to function optimally, to fuel the millions of biochemical processes inside of us that keep us alive, the natural by-product is excellent skin, hair and nails. With that in mind, here are five steps you can take towards clearer, more radiant skin.
1. Improve Your Digestion
When making changes to optimize your health and beauty, improving your digestion is a key place to start. We all know that it is best to build your house on a strong foundation, and building a robust digestive system is much the same. Gut issues are widespread, with one in five women in many Western countries reportedly suffering from IBS. Digestion is the perfect, and actually the first, place to start for amazing health and when you want to solve any beauty challenge. It can be difficult to balance hormones, for example, if your digestion is the bane of your life. Likewise, if the gut is not working optimally, it will often show up in the skin, as the skin is just another pathway of elimination for the body.
Some of the key ways to improve your digestion include:
- Chewing your food well (your stomach doesn’t have teeth and you have them in your mouth for a reason!)
- Being mindful of your portion sizes (remember, your stomach is only about the size of your fist when it is empty)
- Helping to lower the pH of your stomach by taking a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar in some warm water first thing in the morning
- Avoiding drinking water with your meals as this may potentially dilute your stomach acid (therefore increasing the pH of the stomach). Drink water between meals, instead.
2. Focus On Eating Whole, Real Foods With An Emphasis On Plants
It’s a bit cliché, I know! A nutritionist telling you to eat more vegetables probably incites a good eye roll from many of you. But I can’t underplay the power of whole, real food—especially plants. Plants are absolute superstars when it comes to what they provide for our bodies. They are packed full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that fuel our biochemical processes. Without them, the wheels begin to fall off of our health.
What you may not realize about nutrients is how your body utilizes them. Let’s say you consume a food that contains zinc. This indispensable nutrient is required for sex hormone production, proper immune system function, as well as the maintenance of vision and taste. It is essential for the function of over 300 enzymes, some of which are necessary for great digestion. It’s also critical for wound healing, contributes to our nail strength and even nourishes the scalp, helping to maintain the integrity and strength of hair. But here’s the thing: if you’re not getting enough zinc in your diet (which today, many people are not), your body has to choose where it sends the zinc first. Do you think it’s going to choose to send it to maintain the strength and integrity of your hair before it builds your digestive enzymes or strengthens your immune system? Of course not. It’s going to choose the most important processes first. Your body isn’t worried about how your skin looks, so long as it’s doing its job protecting you from the environment. And that is why it’s so vital to ensure you’re getting the nutrients your body needs to thrive—especially if you want beautiful skin.
3. Consider Your Consumption Of Substances Or The Activities That Dull Your Shine
Most people understand that smoking, tanning beds and excessive sun bathing all age the skin prematurely, but have you also considered how your liver health impacts on your shine? When it comes to every aspect of our health, the liver packs a mighty punch. It is one of the big guns when it comes to your energy, vitality and hormonal balance, as well as to the clarity of your skin and eyes. In conjunction with the gallbladder, the liver works endlessly to help us excrete fatty substances that the body no longer needs, including old hormones, pesticides and other potentially problematic substances we are exposed to in our daily lives.
For vibrant, radiant skin, we want a happy liver that is working efficiently. Any potentially harmful substance that we put on our skin (such as some of the synthetic substances in conventional skincare products), has to go via the liver to be processed and excreted. There are also a few substances we can consume that add to its load. I lovingly call these substances ‘liver loaders’ and they include alcohol, trans fats, refined sugars and synthetic substances such as those found in pesticides, herbicides and processed foods. Depending on our lifestyle choices, our liver can have quite a busy job! Considering your current consumption of or exposure to those substances and reducing your intake of them is a wonderful step toward radiant skin.
4. Focus On The Nutrients That Feed Your Skin
The vitamins that are particularly good for the skin are vitamins A, C and E. They all help improve the overall health of our skin, and they appear widely throughout real food. Vitamins C and E help to protect the skin against premature aging by reducing the damage caused by free radicals, which are generated by many things, including increased respiration and exposure to smoke and pollution. Vitamin C is also required for the production of collagen, a protein important for skin structure. Good food sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, kiwifruit, capsicum and Brassica family vegetables, while vitamin E is found in nuts, seeds and eggs yolks.
When vitamin A intake is inadequate, you are likely to see some skin-related symptoms, such as a dry, flaky complexion and/or scalp, because vitamin A plays a key role in normal structure and turnover of our cells. Orange vegetables and green leafy vegetables are rich in beta-carotene, which your body can convert to vitamin A.
Zinc is a mineral your skin loves and needs. It is particularly important if you have acne. Eaten in food or taken as a supplement, zinc promotes clear skin by regulating oil production, which may help to prevent acne. It is also important for healing the skin, including any existing acne lesions. Food sources of zinc include oysters (from clean, uncontaminated water), red meat (preferably grass-fed, organic), and seeds, particularly sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are also rock stars of the skin world. Fats from whole foods help to beautifully nourish your skin. If your skin is dry, and/or is often inflamed with white heads and black heads, you may be lacking EFAs, which are key for the skin’s natural oil barrier. Cracked heels are another sign of an EFA deficiency.
5. Consider Your Stress Levels And Look At Ways To Reduce Them, If Needed
When it comes to substances inside your body that can take away your shine, stress hormones, when produced consistently and over extended periods, can have a pronounced and visible impact. Your stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, can interfere with your sparkle as they communicate to your body that your life is in danger, which means that your body prioritizes the processes necessary for your survival. Their very presence in your body downregulates a whole host of biochemical functions such as your digestion and reproductive function, as well as your ability to burn body fat efficiently as a fuel—to name just a few. All of this will have an impact on your skin. So if you’re regularly feeling overwhelmed, stressed, rushed, under pressure or even just busy on a daily basis, there’s a good chance your body is churning out stress hormones, which will in turn be impacting on the health of your skin.
If this sounds like you, schedule and commit to regular diaphragmatic breathing exercises. It can literally change your life. And I do not say that lightly. Other practices that can help to reduce our stress hormones include meditation, yoga, Pilates, tai chi, qi gong and spending at least five minutes a day focusing on and giving voice to all the aspects of your life for which you are grateful.