The skin is our largest organ – all eight pounds (3.5 kilograms) and 22 square feet (two square metres) of it. It’s our coat, protecting us and regulating our body temperature; plus it’s also a major detox organ, helping our bodies eliminate junk and germs.
Healthy skin is vital for our overall wellbeing but is our skin in crisis? A quarter of adults who visit their GP complain of skin issues, and adult acne is rampant, with dermatologist Dr Stefanie Williams calling it ‘an epidemic’. It’s not just celebrities like Emma Stone, Katy Perry and Cameron Diaz who are suffering: a study by What Clinic found a gargantuan 200 percent rise in adults seeking treatment for the skin condition.
So what is going on with our skin? Maybe the problem comes because we think of our skin in terms of beauty, rather than health. It’s not really surprising when the skincare industry, worth a whopping £92 billion worldwide, is constantly bombarding us with wonder-products that promise to make our skin brighter and better.
From peptides to probiotics, from collagen to Korean 27-step routines, it’s hard to know where to start and what to choose. Let’s take it back to basics, looking at the best ways to keep your skin healthy from the inside out (plus the products that really do work).
Feed your skin
Good skin starts from within so what we eat is absolutely crucial. ‘The good skin diet is seasonal, inclusive and balanced,’ says holistic facialist and natural beauty expert, Eminé Ali Rushton, founder of The Balance Plan . ‘Start with lots of healthy fats and EFAs (essential fatty acids).’ Research shows that EFAs can improve the skin’s texture and softness and also work hard to keep skin cells supple and strong by reducing the amount of water lost through the epidermis (the top layer of skin). So boost your diet with oily fish, walnuts and almonds, dark green leafy vegetables and cold-pressed olive, hemp and flaxseed oils (drizzle over salads, vegetables or pasta – they degenerate when heated).
‘A diet high in antioxidants, such as curcumin and polyphenols (powerful antioxidants able to neutralise free radicals that cause skin damage) has also been shown to benefit skin health,’ says Eminé. So make your meals as colourful as possible with plenty of yellow, orange, red, green and blue plants (think carrots, apricots, spinach, tomatoes, blueberries – the whole rainbow). Studies show that Curcumin (turmeric) can protect the skin by quenching free radicals, reducing inflammation and boosting collagen.
Cocoa is full of polyphenols but Dairy Milk won’t cut it – research shows that you need to eat chocolate with 90 percent cocoa solids (which is pretty unpalatable). Esthechoc (£42.50 for a month’s supply; beautyisskindeep.com) is seriously smart – a daily nibble of super-charged chocolate that tastes good and protects the skin. Win win!
So what shouldn’t we eat? ‘Empty foods,’ says Eminé. ‘Trans-fats (found in margarine and many baked goods and snacks), sulphites (preservatives used in wine, beer, dried apricots), and refined foods in general won’t help your skin at all.’
Sugar, in particular, is a real skin no-no. ‘Sugar makes your skin lose its elasticity and plumpness,’ says nutritional therapist Dr Marilyn Glenville. ‘It bonds with protein in the body in a process called glycation, making collagen and elastin less effective. It also causes the formation of toxic chemicals that cause the skin to harden and lose its elasticity.’
The effects are clearly noticeable. Scientists from the Leiden University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, and Unilever in the UK, measured the blood sugar levels of 600 men and women aged between 50 and 70. They then showed photographs of these people to 60 independent assessors who had to guess their age. The result? Those with higher blood sugar looked much older.
Supplements for skin?
No supplement can take the place of a good diet but a great supplement can certainly tip the odds for good skin in the right direction.
Bacteria may sound unglamorous but healthy bacteria really are the foundation for good skin. ‘They create the skin’s healthy eco-flora,’ says dermatologist Dr Tiina Meder. Research at New York State University backs her up. Professor of Dermatology Dr Whitney Bowe found a link between acne and over-colonisation of the gut by bad bacteria. Conversely, studies in Korea and Italy both showed that taking probiotics (good bacteria) internally lessened acne and rosacea. Equi’s Beautiful (£62; Equi) is formulated by nutritional therapist Alice Mackintosh and combines four strains of friendly probiotic bacteria alongside a powerhouse of antioxidants, EFAs, vitamins, minerals, green tea extract, plus collagen, peptides and hyaluronic acid.
The latter three (collagen, hyaluronic acid and peptides) dominate the skin beauty market. Collagen is a protein that forms a scaffold for the skin, providing strength and structure. Hyaluronic acid acts like a sponge in the skin, holding in moisture and keeping skin plump and healthy. Peptides are chemical compounds, made up of two or more linked amino acids. When collagen breaks down it forms specific peptides which signal to your skin that it’s damaged and needs to make new collagen. So peptides trick your skin into thinking it needs to make more collagen.
Fountain’s The Phyto-Collagen Molecule (£40; victoriahealth.com) combines fungi-based hyaluronic acid with collagen, peptides and marine phytoplankton that can help cellular regeneration. It comes in powder form so you can whiz it into your morning juice or smoothie.
This feature appeared in a much abbreviated form in Spirit & Destiny. I will post two other posts in the following days, concerning winter skin and ayurveda, and how to deal with ‘problem’ skin.