Q: I noticed that you have gorgeous skin! Do you have any secrets to share?
~Skin To Glow
A: Diet and lifestyle are really the keys in honoring our beautiful bodies, and skin is a reflection of the choices that we are currently making. As such, there aren't any "secrets" to glowing skin. Many of the things we know already, yet we have to do them (not just know about them)! Drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, eating real food, and minimizing toxins are the walls that set up a strong foundation. I share a few extra tidbits that work for me (especially as relating to dry, sensitive and ageing skin), and maybe they will work for you, too :)
1. Water. So, we know it's necessary, but why? Water is needed for proper cellular functioning, as well as to flush out toxins from the body. Since the body is comprised of 80% water, water figures in as a vital element in having glowing skin. Be sure to drink filtered or spring water (tap water is full of toxins that you most certainly want to avoid). And yes, do aim for at least 8 glasses (or 2 liters) a day.
Tips To Get In Enough Water:
2. High Water/Real Food Diet. Not only do you want to be eating a clean diet with real food (as opposed to junk and processed food), but veggies and fruits are 80-90% water. A clean diet also includes eating organic foods (or growing your own organically), and avoiding toxic foods such as GMOs and hydrogenated/trans fats. A good rule of thumb to follow is to make each meal comprised of about 80% veggies, whether you're on a whole foods, vegetarian or paleo diet. Plant-strong is the way to go! :)
3 & 4. Avoid Eating In The Evening/Get Enough Sleep. Eating a snack or a large meal in the evening is not a good idea because it means you will have food in your stomach while you sleep. This puts a major strain on your liver, as it takes this rest period to clean and detoxify your body. This also goes if you skimp out on sleep. If you only get a few hours per night, the reason you feel so tired is because your body didn't get a chance to do the "work" it needed to keep your body functioning optimally. Then, the next day when you go to eat, all your body systems are working at a sub-par level. You try to compensate by eating foods which might give you energy (like more coffee) or you make bad food choices because you are tired and just feel you want some "comfort" food. The real comfort you want is your bed! Yes, we've all been there, but if this cycle continues, it will wreak havoc with your body and your skin will reflect it.
Weird Tip To Try: For those odd times out when you weren't able to get enough sleep, EAT LESS. I know it may seem counterintuitive, but it often works. Why? If you've ever fasted, you know sleep and you are no longer bosom pals. Home come? All that energy that was going to digest food got freed up, so you don't need to sleep as much. Flip that over: you got less sleep, so eating less (like in fasting) will stabilize your energy. Speaking from experience, it doesn't work first thing in the morning, but by mid-afternoon/early evening I would feel better (still tired, but not so groggy and perhaps irritable had I eaten). Give it a try and see if it works for you.
5. Exercise. There are various cardio and weight training modalities out there--- the body is designed to move! Movement allows the body to flush out toxins, work the cardiovascular system and provide benefits to the musculo-skeletal system. Find what interests and works for you and just do it :) I personally do many different types of exercise. My fave is running and skipping along a bike path, but I also do circuit training and HIIT training. Weight training with bands and weights, pilates moves, yoga for stretching, and mobility training are also modalities I use.
Sidebar: A lot more could be said on this, but I've seen a lot of people being bored or wasting their time at the gym, like reading a book or spending time chit-chatting. Then the same people ask me about my workout routine--- or comment on my skin! Similarly, I meet a lot of people who don't work out, are overweight, have health problems and skin issues, yet haven't figured out that there are TONS of ways to move your body (like pole fitness, tai chi, water spinning, and so many others).
Tip For The Gym Goers: you want to enjoy what you are doing AND be present while you are doing it. Some examples: I don't have time to be bored when I'm doing a HIIT routine and am on the clock with 50 sec work and 10 sec rest. I don't have time to be bored when I'm running fast for 45 seconds on the treadmill and then 45 seconds running at a slower speed on a steep incline. I don't have time to be bored when I'm doing a focused program of push/pull supersetting back and chest, and then using my rest time to do an ab exercise or mobility work like scapular band pull aparts. In short, keep your time focused on what you are doing, but enjoy it too :) If you're not focused, it's time to change it up: new routine, new exercises, maybe do a class, play with tempo, try time-volume training---lots to explore, so go and see what new stuff you can find!
Tip For Those Who Don't Workout: find an activity you enjoy, something you feel good doing during and after, plus have reasons why. Here are some reasons I enjoy working out: running makes me feel good, gives me that "happy" high, plus I get to enjoy the view along the water. Running allows me to process issues I'm experiencing. Working with weights allowed me to go from being "skinny fat" to toned, and so I continue to do it because I enjoy the results. I enjoy being in a body that is strong, flexible and healthy. Weight training also allows me to push myself, and when I tried different types of exercise, I discovered they challenged my body, my mind, and they were fun! While I usually go solo at it because this is my "me" time, it's also nice to meet friends and have a support system, like with a yoga, barre, martial arts or dance class. These reasons might help you with yours---find out what yours are, and get into moving and grooving! Your skin (and body) will thank you for it :)
6. Work the Lymphatic System. The lymphatic system is an important yet highly underrated system that plays a vital role in removing cellular waste and toxins from the body. While exercise in general helps to move lymph, rebounding ~or jumping on a trampoline~ is a highly effective way that is even touted by astronauts as it helps to rebuild bone tissue. Compared to high impact, pavement-pounding running, rebounding is a low-impact exercise that is gentle on ankles and knees, and burns about the same amount of calories.
While I personally love running, I do incorporate rebounding: as a warmup, as a cardio exercise in circuit training (e.g. chest/back superset then rebound for 45 seconds then back to chest/back), or as a low-impact way to get in cardio. When I've done rebounding for time (20-30 minutes or more), I have found that I feel good and get something similar (but not quite as intense) as a "runner's high." Trampolines are also cheap and affordable, so this is something you can easily do at home while watching TV or listening to music. Worth looking into.
7. Herbal Infusions & Decoctions. One of the ways that I get in minerals and help to keep my body systems running optimally is to drink what are called herbal infusions and decoctions. A herbal infusion is nothing more than a tea that is steeped for 4-8 hours. The tea is made with 1 ounce dried herb + 4 cups boiling water placed in a 1-liter mason jar. Let steep, then strain. A decoction is a tea that is boiled for 20-30 minutes. Place 3-4 TBSP herb in a ceramic or glass pot with 4 cups water. Cover, let come to a boil, then simmer for 20-30 minutes. You should now have about 2 cups of tea. Strain and enjoy!
For herbs that help with the skin, you want to look for what are called blood purifiers. We are using herbs in this way from the inside out (as opposed to putting a cream on your face, for which different herbs are recommended). Skin issues in Chinese medicine are often due to poor liver functioning, such as from fatty, greasy food and too much sugary carbs like pastries. Blood purifiers are so-called as they help to keep your body free of toxins and wastes. Gentle herbs that are alterative (affect all body systems) include Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale), Burdock root (Articum lappa), and Red Clover (Trifolium pratense). You can drink 2-4 cups of Red Clover infusion and Dandelion/Burdock decoction 2-3 times a week. When your body is healthy and systems are running smoothly, your skin will reflect it. Note that Burdock, Red Clover and Dandelion all grow out in the wild, yet you can buy seeds and grow them easily in the garden. Red Clover is great to fix nitrogen in the soil, and can even be grown hydroponically as sprouts.
Other herbs that help flush waste, toxins, and excess weight out of the body and that help with edema/water retention are diuretics (they help with those puffy under eye bags). Cleavers (Galium aparine), Self-heal (Prunella vulgaris) and Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) are alterative herbs often associated with the lymphatic system. Cleavers is in the same family as coffee and you can juice the fresh herb, steam it and eat it like spinach, or make an infusion or tincture with it. Stinging Nettle is in the same family as mint and you can do the same things with Nettle as you can with Cleavers. Self-heal makes a tasty infusion, and I've seen it as a gentle tea in Asian Markets, sometimes with green tea and honey. You can find these herbs growing out in the wild (I collect Nettle growing along a watery bank and Self-heal grows on many a-lawn where I live) yet you can get seeds and grow them easily in the garden or in containers. The infusions from these herbs are the most potent medicinally, so drink 2-4 cups a day, 2-3x a week. Great to drink as a warm tea or a cold brew in your water bottle.
8. Go High on Minerals. Antioxidants from herbs help with free radical damage, which shows up as parched, dry, and inflamed skin. The herbs mentioned in #7 above are high in minerals, which are too often missing from our diet. Take Nettle as an example: high in protein, B vitamins, Vitamin A, C and K, fatty acids, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, iron, and polyphenols such as quercetin. Wow, Nettle could probably be considered as a superfood!
Since soils are depleted or deficient in minerals, growing your own food in mineral-enhanced and enriched soil is another good idea. A third idea is to eat seaweeds. High in minerals, they are called a "yin food" in Chinese medicine, which means they help to lubricate joints, skin, and hair (amongst other things). There are a host of seaweeds that are available, including Wakame, Kelp, Dulse and Nori, and they come in various forms, such as in sheets, flakes or strips. You can toss them into soups and stews, or add a touch where a flavor of the ocean is needed.
I use Kelp to tenderize beans and you can read about How-to HERE. Recipes abound online, so have fun investigating the possibilities and delicacies :) In so saying, agar agar is a seaweed that is commonly used in vegan aspic dishes. You don't have to be a "vegan" to benefit from the minerals in this seaweed! Try some juicy jello recipes or explore creating savory veggie aspic dishes.
A final idea is get in a mineral supplement, such as Concentrace Minerals. This water is cultivated from the Great Lakes in Canada/USA. To start, use 3-5 drops a day and gradually increase until you get to 10 drops a day. Take in a bit of water before bedtime. The taste is certainly salty!
9. Be Mindful With Bitter Herbs, Sour Foods & Heating Spices. If you happen to have dry skin (as I do), you might be looking at your spice collection and fruit basket with new eyes. Sneaky culprits called bitter herbs, warming spices, and astringent citrus fruits can create heating symptoms much like a thermostat on a cold winter's night.
Bitter herbs (such as Wormwood, Black Walnut, and Oregon grape) are often recommended to help the liver with detox and remove toxins, such as with candida, parasites, or a sluggish liver, yet they can also be quite drying on skin tissues. Similarly, sour foods such as lemon, lime, and grapefruit, although helpful to mop up excess fat, are astringent, which is why if you overdo sour foods, your skin can look puckered--- just like the face you make when you bite into a too-sour fruit!
And yet another source that can dry out skin is a category called warming spices. Sure, Thai, curry, Mexican and chai spices are lovely to make flavorful dishes and do help to warm you up during those cold winter days. Yet those common ingredients like cayenne pepper, garlic, onions, paprika, turmeric, chilies, cumin, cinnamon and nutmeg, which many spice blends contain, may be creating a drying effect in your body and explain (in part) why your skin is dry.
This is especially true if you have digestive issues and gut inflammation, such as I do with IBS. Cooling and cleansing foods and herbs help to tamp down on that inflammation, while mucilaginous herbs (such as Slippery Elm or Marshmallow root) help to repair any issues with the mucosal lining. While you can ingest the "culprits," just be mindful if you suspect that a certain food or herb is giving you symptoms.
As an example, I never realized garlic was an issue for me until I cut it out of my diet. When I ate something that gave me symptoms, I started to realize that garlic is added to a lot of foods, including pasta sauce, tempeh, and Italian seasoning blends. My symptoms included having the worst breathe ever and smelling like garlic all over (yes, my armpits and even vagina smelled like stinky garlic!). My belly was bloated, and it took about 2 days for my body to get back to normal. As another example, a friend of mine who doesn't have gut issues also cut garlic out of his diet. He notices the foul breath that comes every time after he's inadvertently eaten something that had garlic in it; then he says his skin feels dry and itchy, and his wrinkles under his eyes are more noticeable the next day. My friend is also a naturopath with over 25 years experience, and he's recommended upteempth times to his clients how warming spices (and citrus fruits) can have a drying effect on our bodies.
Two other noteworthy substances that are known to dry out skin are coffee and cocoa. Dark and raw cocoa actually contain more theobromine than milk or Dutch processed cocoa.
Personal Experiment: I have taste-tested several brands of cocoa, from crushed raw cacao beans, organic dark cacao, to Dutch processed cocoa. Being sensitive to caffeine (theobromine is similar to caffeine), I assessed my symptoms based on: how dry my skin became, how "wired" I felt, and any heart palpitations and/or issues with sleep. The raw/organic cacao was the most heating, with symptoms appearing not long after I consumed it. While the Dutch processed one also yielded symptoms, the effects were milder compared to the raw cacao. Resume of the story: as reiterated above, citrus, warming spices, coffee and cocoa can dry out skin tissues, but it depends upon the quantity you are taking and the internal terrain of your body. Do note, however, that if you are sensitive to caffeine (or gluten or chemicals), you will want to do your research when it comes to products for your body, including makeup, shampoo, and body and face cream.
10. Limit Chemicals & Toxins/Use Natural Products. There are many toxins in the water, food, soil, air, etc. While some people have filters to clean the air, chlorine filters in their shower and water filters on their tap, a good rule of thumb is to buy natural products for your home and body. Note that companies, even natural ones, do not have to divulge all the ingredients listed on their products and that the cosmetic industry is highly unregulated. You can check the EWG's website to see how clean the ingredients are in the products you are using. Note: although not mentioned in #9, essential oils can inflame and aggravate dry skin, and can cause contact dermatitis. EOs are powerfully potent, so just be aware that while they are "natural," your body might be opposed to the ingredient, just as it might be opposed to any food, herb or spice.
While I favor natural products as I have highly sensitive skin, my skin needs have evolved over time. Ageing skin is universal, and lines, wrinkles and sagging skin are signs that the body has started its journey to return to the earth. Hydration is another issue many face, yet as mentioned in the information above, we want to nourish our bodies with high quality, real foods that keep them healthy.
My Current Skin Care Routine involves using a fragrance-free cleanser or AHA cleanser to remove dead skin cells. We want to encourage skin cell turnover, and applying cream over flaky, dry skin is not going to help much. Avoid toner: it dries out your skin and contributes to transdermal water loss. Instead, use a serum with hyaluronic acid or Vitamin C.
I sometimes use a serum, sometimes not. But I do use an oil that contains vulnerary properties. I make my own Rose Hip oil from whole rose hips, but you can buy rose hip seed oil. Rose oil is known to help soothe and heal inflamed skin. Note that there are many other oils which you can use, such as Seabuckthorn and Argan oil.
While my skin is still wet, I lock in the water by applying the oil on top. I use oil especially during the winter, when indoor air is dry and outside it's darn cold! I then apply a fragrance-free cream (in summer, I skimp on the oil as it's humid where I live, so no need). Once in a while, to help with skin cell turnover, I use a cream that contains AHA. Depending on the weather, *my secret ingredient* is to use a face salve that I make using vulnerary herbs and beeswax. I have received many compliments on my dewy, glowing skin, as the wax helps to further seal in moisture. Just a thin layer is needed, and yes, it is somewhat greasy. My evening routine is the same, however I will use from time to time a cream that contains glycolic acid. Again, this is to help with skin exfoliation.
I will say that if you have dry skin such as mine, you can't expect your cream to last you all day. Much like you touch up your makeup throughout the day, you should realize that you want to do this for your skin too. I often don't wear makeup, but when I do, I will add oil on top of the foundation, and yes, I have used that same greasy salve to "set" my foundation instead of powder. Powder is too dry for my skin, and my skin balks at the brush bristles rubbing against it. Mind you, the look is dewy, so it's not for everyone. But, you asked, so I'm sharing and maybe it's something for you to try too :)
Indeed, if you want to find out about that Rose Hip oil or salve recipe I mentioned, HERE is for the oil, HERE is for the salve. My *secret* salve recipe I use includes 9 herbs and is called Salve Lotion No. 9. To it, I turn it into a salve and add Immortelle essential oil.
Personal Hyper-pigmentation Story: If your skin is bad, then seeing a dermatologist can be most helpful. I went to see one after developing a condition called melasma. I had developed dark spots on my forehead, and one place in particular was quite noticeable. I was given the usual prescription cream with hydroquinone. As per usual, my highly reactive skin reacted with redness, burning, and scaly skin. I then decided to consult with a medical esthetician after stopping the cream and was thankful that I did. She recommended a very expensive product by the company Skin Medica called Lytera (about $200). I gave it a go and after 2 bottles noticed a difference. I was amazed, but grateful! That was also when my skin routine changed, as described above, and I started incorporating exfoliation to help with skin turnover. After the first 2 bottles, the winter was here and I used another 2 bottles but decreased the use to 2x a week. By the spring, my pigmentation was gone! The only thing I noticed was that it came back during the hot summer months, not as bad, but it had now spread around my eyes and mouth. I used the product most days, as well as into the fall, and by the winter, the melasma was gone. What I do now is to take in the sun and use a large hat (as well as SPF 50) to shade my face. Melasma is associated with thyroid and hormone issues, which I have, yet it can be managed by diet as well. Sugar is a known culprit in skin issues, and while I didn't mention that above, having stable blood glucose levels is certainly important. Indeed, the summer before I developed melasma was a rough one, with record highs and a bad breakup. Stress of course is almost always a culprit, yet it was also the one summer that I retained the usual 5 pounds I always gain during the winter. You can see by this story the precipitating events before the melasma arose: sugar and stress!! Naturally, I healed, and yes, that cream was most helpful in resolving my issue. But for fine lines and wrinkles, um, no :)
Notes on Ageing Skin: When it comes to face creams, realize that they are really just an emulsion of oil and water together. I have made my own many times using simple ingredients like Aloe Vera, Shea Butter, plus a carrier oil like Walnut or Avocado or an infused herbal oil (caveat: be sure to add a natural preservative like radish root ferment, otherwise your cream will harbor mold and bacteria within 1 week of refrigeration). Creams are designed to help hydrate skin and help with a specific skin issue (acne, rosacea, pigmentation, etc). Pricey creams aren't going to change much to make skin younger; brighter perhaps, but they won't erase lines or *poof* suddenly make your skin firmer. Creams with special ingredients like essential oils and rare botanical herbs are still creams, designed to nourish skin and treat issues. Therefore, if your goal is to have a younger-looking face, then look into laser procedures, botox and dermal fillers. Lasers help with skin resurfacing and can penetrate the deeper skin layers that creams can't. Botox is used to temporarily erase lines such as crow's feet, while dermal fillers (often with hyaluronic acid) fill in areas of fat that are missing. A final and invasive surgical alternative is to have a mini or full facelift. Of course, many choose to age gracefully (read: diet, exercise, healthy lifestyle & self-care), as pictured in the smiling women in the pic below :)
To your graceful-living days ahead (and glowing skin!),
Originally Written in 2016. Updated 2021.
Savvy Health &