Unadultered Skin Care: 3 Holistic Healing Tips for Clearer Skin

skin care has become a hot topic as of late, and while in my EO post i mentioned i don’t do anything special, i do have rules when it comes to taking care of my precious skin.

i take skin care very seriously because of my hobbies (hot yoga, hiking, and most especially brazilian jiu-jitsu) and attribute the comments i receive about my skin to these rules.

there is a huge web of ways to ensure the microbiome of your skin and the cells that make up your largest organ stay healthy but it can be refined into three big ideas:

  1. start from the inside

  2. relax and take it easy

  3. keep in mind what you put on your skin

Start From the Inside

here it is again for the nth time on this site: you are what you eat (actually, you are what you absorb but we’ll get into the extremely important semantics of that later). the nutrients in real, whole foods give your cells the vitamins, minerals, cofactors, and other naturally occurring chemical compounds to keep your body (cells) functioning properly. in order to start looking healthful and glowing, we have to start at the cellular level.

each cell is perfectly designed to do the job it’s assigned to do. the cells that make up our skin, and every other organ in the body, are created inside the body. (surprise!) each skin cell begins its life cycle as a single layer of thick cuboidal or columnar shaped cells (keratinocytes) and are slowly pushed to the surface.

as the cells move from one of the four epidermal layers to the next (there are five layers in the fingers, palms, and soles) they accumulate more and more keratin until they finally reach the surface where you apply your moisturizer, coconut oil, etc.

when cells with impaired function go through this process, they stick around longer in layers and clog pores. this is one of many ways impaired function at the cellular level contribute to different skin conditions.

skin conditions are caused by systemic inflammation. specifically inflammation of the circulatory system, digestive/elimination system, endocrine system, integumentary system, lymphatic/immune system, and reproductive system (the web really is huge and complex). inflammation of these systems can be caused by three main foundational complications:

  • Digestive dysfunction + food allergies – ex. small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), leaky gut, low stomach acid, lack of beneficial gut microflora or dysbiosis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease
  • Blood sugar dysregulation – ex. hypoglycemia, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, adrenal dysfunction/fatigue
  • Fatty acid imbalance – ex. low fat diet; hydrogenated + partially hydrogenated oils; industrial omega-6 oil heavy diet i.e. canola oil, soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil (hormones that control inflammation/anti-inflammation processes in our bodies are “built” with essential fatty acids)

these three foundational dilemmas, particularly blood sugar dysregulation, influence and exacerbate hormone imbalances (that thing you see every mindbodygreen article about these days) that aggravate acne, excess hair growth, and other outward manifestations on the skin. it’s all a big-sugary snowball.

addressing the reason for inflammation at the cellular level not only fixes the skin problem, it prevents it from showing up again. this is where nutrient dense, properly prepared, whole foods nourishment comes in. it is the ultimate foundation of optimal cellular health.

no amount of antibacterial creams, topical oil treatments, or oral antibiotics will get to the root of inflammation caused by nutritional deficiency.

here’s a short list of real, whole foods that positively influence skin health:

  • Pastured meats, specifically organ meat: rich in vitamin A (as retinol which is more easily absorbed by the body than beta-carotene), zinc, biotin, B vitamins, K2, selenium, and sulfur to help reduce the incidence of acne and inflammation
  • Grass-fed dairy i.e. butter, yogurt, kefir, (raw) milk and cheese: rich in vitamin A, K2, and probiotics for healthy cell regeneration (smoothing out lines and wrinkles) and a healthy balance of beneficial gut bacteria
  • Pastured eggs, especially egg yolks: omega-3 fatty acids, biotin, and sulfur to help reduce inflammation and boost collagen synthesis
  • Seafood: omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, B3, selenium, and sulfur help reduce inflammation and acne while giving you smoother looking skin
  • Garlic, onions, brussel sprouts, kale, broccoli and asparagus (fermentation increases bioavailability, try sauerkraut!): extremely rich in sulfur, to help prevent free radical damage (anti-aging), and healthful prebiotics that help nourish the beneficial gut microbes
  • Fruit such as strawberries, mangoes, kiwi, melons, citrus fruits, avocado: rich in vitamin C and silica which help stimulate collagen production
  • Herbs such as thyme, basil, cilantro, gotu kola, and rosemary: rich in vitamin C, A (as beta-carotene), and zinc to prevent free radical damage and reduce dry, rough skin
  • Nuts and seeds such as almonds, brazil nuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds: omega-3 fatty acids, biotin, and B3 to boost collagen synthesis and reduce inflammation

simple changes to the diet can have a huge impact on skin. start inside.

Relax and Take It Easy

when it comes to addressing inflammation caused by digestive dysfunction/food allergies, blood sugar dysregulation, and fatty acid imbalances, managing stress plays a major role in tempering or intensifying said inflammation.

i know the feeling of waking up with a zit the size of a mini chocolate chip + as red as a stop sign (that commands as much attention as one, too!).  it’s a total confidence killer, and makes you want to crawl up into a little Crimson Chin ball. stress levels can go from a three to a ten in seconds.

the way our bodies deal with different forms of stress are the same regardless of the type or severity. what i mean by this is, if somebody cuts you off on the road, if you notice your coworker talking to your boss while giving you a dirty look, you’re rushing to pack up all your shit to move in one day, you have a mini meltdown from missing an important phone call, or you work in an environment with pollutants, formaldehyde derivatives, or other harsh chemical compounds, your body deals with these stressors the exact. same. way. and stress, whether its psychological or physiologic, triggers the release of cortisol.

now we’ve all heard of cortisol. this hormone gets a bad rep because it’s associated with high stress moments but it’s actually a very powerful anti-inflammatory hormone. it’s when our cortisol output is constant and your body never gets a break from its surges that things start to get out of control. lack of sleep, for example, leads to an increase in cortisol. this increase in cortisol also prevents restful sleep. thus, the never ending cycle of stress hormones released (to include adrenaline) cascade towards adrenal fatigue, hormone imbalances, thyroid problems, and overall increased inflammation.

in dr. esther sternberg’s book, the balance within: the science of connecting health and emotions, “[a stressful event] also triggers the adrenal glands to release epinephrine, or adrenaline, and the sympathetic nerves to squirt out the adrenaline-like chemical norepinephrine all over the body: nerves that wire the heart, and gut, and skin.”

unfortunately, our environment has become so complex and evolved so much faster than our genetic makeup. our ability to deal with stress also hasn’t increased with the increasing amount of triggers.

this evolutionary disequilibrium makes us more exposed to stress than our ancestors ever were. sure we don’t have to run from sabertooth tigers or worry about getting attacked by a neighboring tribe while we sleep but stressors have become so intricate and individualized that it’s not hard to find people yearning to retreat into the wilderness to escape the chronic hormonal stress responses or decompress.

but if that’s not enough to convince you to relax a bit more, insulin is another big player in our stress responses. you see cortisol, like all other hormones, is a messenger. one of “cortisol’s” messages is to “break down stored glucose” for the body to use. with all of the free-floating glucose, the body creates and sends out insulin to facilitate the use and storage of that glucose. so when we are constantly stressed, in the mind or body, we are releasing glucose into the blood stream and having to recruit more insulin to take care of it.

insulin protects fat storage, and fat cells give off inflammatory signals, can convert testosterone to estradiol (hello, estrogen dominance), and increase DHEA and androgens to fuel insulin resistance. not to mention, increase acne and excess hair growth.

chronic cortisol output also impairs the immune system. the nervous system and the hormonal stress response react to a stimulus in milliseconds, seconds, or minutes. the immune system takes hours or even days.

as the stressful stimulus hammers on, stress hormones and chemicals continue to pump out. cortisol shuts down immune cell responses making them less able to react to foreign invaders. so this continuous influx of hormonal stress weakens your cells, which obviously make up your skin.

so back to the microbiome of your skin, it’s not that the beneficial bacteria aren’t doing their job. in a stressed environment (your body), they are seriously impaired.

this is why i’m such a huge advocate for self-care and self-love. there are already so many things that cause our bodies stress on a day-to-day basis. don’t let your thoughts or lifestyle habits be one of them.

Keep In Mind What You Put On Your Skin

chemicals aren’t bad. they’re in everything. you and i are made of chemicals. (may i point out this is another aspect, of MANY, where our dualistic tendencies to label good vs. bad have got it all wrong)

it’s the combination of synthetic chemicals, our modern environment, and what chemicals we’ve evolved to use and eliminate in our bodies for the past eight million years that have gotten us to be the cancer/hormone imbalance/inflammation fearing shampoo and shaving cream users we are today.

our bodies have remarkable detoxifying capabilities. given the right conditions.

but before we get into that let’s first define the word toxin: no it’s not your ex, or whatever person you left behind in 2017… according to oxford dictionary a toxin is

“a poison of plant or animal origin, especially one produced by or derived from microorganisms and acting as an antigen in the body.”

so any poisonous substance produced by animals, plants, and or bacteria that induces an antibody response.

an example of a toxin our body creates is ammonia. our bodies cannot store excess protein. after digestion in the stomach and small intestine are finished the amino acids float into the bloodstream and are transported to the liver. in the liver, the excess amino acids are broken down into other products by the process of deamination. the nitrogen in amino acids are converted into ammonia, uric acid, and urea to be excreted from the body.

most skin care and beauty products contain harmful synthetic chemicals whose interactions with each other are usually untested. the inclusion of these synthetic chemicals aren’t intended to benefit your skin, but to extend the shelf life of the product (which is why i believe small batch created products are the way to go).  you can improve the condition of your skin by carefully examining the products you use, and when possible, replacing them with solutions from your mother (earth).

chemicals to keep an eye out for when buying products:

  1. phthalates – a university of Maryland study showed that they may cause reproductive abnormalities and decreased testosterone production and fertility in males while others show a link between endometriosis and premature delivery in females.
  2. butylated compounds (BHT, BHA) – these chemicals are preservatives that act as endocrine disruptors and may induce skin allergies. both bioaccumulate within the body, which means they are absorbed at a rate faster than the body can get rid of them. these are also found in processed foods!
  3. octinoxate – an unstable chemical linked with thyroid disorders and endocrine disruption usually found in foundations.
  4. siloxanes – these are harmful to the reproductive system and are another set of endocrine disruptors (look for -siloxane or -methicone ingredients in products)
  5. parabens and phenoxyethanol – preservatives that negatively impact hormone function due to their estrogen mimicking properties. The US FDA has even put out a consumer warning alert that phenoxyethanol can “depress the central nervous system and may cause vomiting and diarrhea” in infants.

as anna gianni, founder of annmarie skin care, put it so perfectly, “we’re not here to scare you. we don’t want you to have nightmares that your future offspring will be jeopardized all because you wanted to sport a red lip, or that your loved one will get sick because you bought her an eye shadow palette for her birthday. but we have options when it comes to what we put on our faces and bodies. if the makeup industry isn’t going to make transparency a priority, we have to take it upon ourselves to do our research so we can make healthy choices.”

it’s estimated that our skin harbors approximately 1 billion microbes per square centimeter. like the bacteria in our digestive system, this extraordinary ecosystem of bacteria play an important role in the health of our skin, but also in our health overall. so instead of using creams and face wash that strip natural oils and beneficial bacteria from your skin, consider using products that fight off acne causing bacteria while preserving your skin microbiome.

be very picky. and instead of using 5 different moisturizers, face washes, toners, etc. on rotation, stick to one or two products with simple, maybe even single, ingredients.

as a side note, josh recently decided to eliminate every product he’s ever used but one. he also stopped washing his face with warm/hot water (stripping his natural oils and beneficial bacteria!). he hadn’t given his skin a break in twelve years. once he did this ‘elimination routine’ he had the clearest skin he’s had in his entire life. this begged the question, “do you really think we were designed to have so many different types of substances and chemical combinations on our face?”

personally, i’ve only used one face wash since i was a freshman in college (i even still have an instagram post up of when i bought it lols). i’ve stopped using it for almost a year now and strictly use face masks and oils instead. i think my skin is the best its ever been, too.

recently, i tried an oil pulling blend and grain exfoliator, pictured above, from a fellow colleague and NTP. (link to her etsy shop is here.) i LOVED the way they felt and the smells completed the experience, especially the smell of the grains. organic, small batch, simply crafted products are such a game changer!

i’ve mentioned before on an instagram live that i helped create a couple of face mask recipes for a start-up because they learned about how much i love using face masks, especially after jiu-jitsu. i obviously wanted to stay true to my values so there’s nothing that could cause or exacerbate endocrine imbalances. and the ingredients that aren’t clay are powders derived from real food.

each ingredient has its benefit, and together they have synergistic affects to reduce inflammation, pull impurities from the skin, and provide anti-aging/healing properties with their high antioxidant and vitamin content. and while the ingredients do have anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral properties, they’re gentle enough to preserve your skin’s microbiome using them twice a week.

so to reiterate the three big ideas when it comes to clearer skin:

  1. start from the inside – give your cells the nutrients they need for healthy, glowing skin

  2. relax and take it easy – stressing (about your skin) keeps your beneficial bacteria and skin from being their best

  3. keep in mind what you put on your skin – do your research to support companies and products that don’t put profit above health and do your best to preserve your skin’s natural oils and bacteria

hopefully this was useful. if you’re interested in discount codes to my curated face masks and other freebies on topics like this, leave your email and subscribe (as you can tell by my post timelines, i will not spam you).