You know how I’m always going on about using natural and organic products on your skin? This article written by nutritionist Fleur Borelli will explain why this is indeed the best choice. We forget that the skin is an organ with many important functions and all the creams and potions in the world will not make it glow or look good if you don’t have a healthy lifestyle. Your diet, how much alcohol you drink, stress and the amount of sleep you get are all important factors in how healthy your skin will be.
We all spend vast amounts of money on cosmetics, creams, make-up, treatments and procedures to look fresher, younger and clearer. However, your skin is more a reflection of what is going on internally than what you put on top.
We tend to think of the skin as just a coating but it is a living, breathing organ with many important functions. It acts as a protective barrier whilst allowing for the absorption of nutrients and the sweating out of toxins. It absorbs sunlight and converts it into Vitamin D – becoming one of the most crucial nutrients for health. It helps control body temperature and acts as a sensor to what is going on in the environment. All of this takes place whilst it deals with the ravages of pollution, cigarette smoke, toxic chemicals in skin lotions and products and often damage from over-exposure to sun. But it can lead to signs of premature ageing such as wrinkles, blemishes and loss of skin tone.
Fortunately the skin is able to continually renew itself but it may not be able to restore the perfect complexion of childhood. Skin has to work very hard and needs continual nutrients and an energy supply for renewal as cells are always being produced and to move up to the outer edge. Natural ageing is a normal physiological process in which we acquire visible lines on our face as we get older and our skin needs to repair. Accelerated ageing is where lines, wrinkles and even sagging occur prematurely to make us look aged before our time. The culprits that produce the damage are known as free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules in the body that go around causing wear and tear. Free radical production is caused by pollution, poor diet, cigarettes, excess alcohol and sun damage. Each time skin is damaged it repairs itself but this can cause wrinkles in the process.
The solution to slowing down unhealthy ageing can be found in food. The pigments that give fruit and vegetables their vibrant colour are also the ones that protect us against free radical damage and these are called anti-oxidants. Blueberries, for example, have a high antioxidant content and wild blueberries have over double the antioxidant capacity of cultivated ones. This is because wild and organic fruit and vegetables have to mount their own defence against predators such as birds and toxins such as moulds. It is the substances they produce to prevent attack that give plant foods their vibrant colour and provide us with our skin protection.
Antioxidants are now being divided into two categories: direct and indirect. Direct antioxidants are the vitamins you are familiar with such as Vitamins A, C and E. Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin found in most fruit and vegetables. Vitamins A and E are fat-soluble and so their sources come from fat. Liver, and fish oils contain high amounts of Vitamin A whilst Vitamin E can be found in avocadoes and nuts. Together they help to neutralise free radicals by grabbing onto to them and rendering them unable to move around in an uncontrolled way. Indirect ones can activate our body’s own anti-oxidant systems, promote detoxification and help the body to recycle its own stores of antioxidants. Examples of indirect antioxidants include sulforaphane in broccoli, curcumin in turmeric, anthocyanins in berries and resveratrol in red wine and red grapes. Rather than taking mega doses of one antioxidant in particular it is better to get a varied intake each week as they all work together as a team. Getting a good night’s sleep is also hugely important as at night we produce melatonin and melatonin is a repair hormone which stimulates the production of glutathione – the master antioxidant so named because it is the strongest one known to us.
The skin is made up of two important proteins – collagen and elastin. 95% of the underlying skin below the top layer is collagen which holds things together like glue. Fine lines and wrinkles occur when collagen breaks down and has to be repaired. Elastin, as the name suggests, adds elasticity to the skin and can be found in larger amounts in the outer layer. As we age, both collagen and elastin fibres are not produced as much and skin can get thinner and less elastic and succumb more to gravity. Hyaluronic acid is an important component of skin as it gives it its gel-like consistency. This is because it can hold up to a thousand times its own body weight in water which keeps the skin hydrated by acting as sponge. Youthful skin is able to maintain its plump, firm appearance with hyaluronic acid. This is because the skin at the surface does not have as good a blood supply as the dermal layer beneath. Hyaluronic acid can be found in shitake mushrooms and bone broth where an animal carcass has been boiled for long enough for the bones to become brittle and soft. It may become even more relevant for its hydrating capacity after menopause when the drop in oestrogen levels causes lowered blood flow
Eating a varied diet free of processed foods means a higher intake of minerals in general. Seafood and nuts are great sources of zinc which helps prevent damage to skin and deficiency will hinder collagen production. Essential fatty acids, omega 3 and 6, are necessary components of cell membranes and silicon found in green beans helps to stabilise collagen.
It is not just about what we eat, however, as the skin is a reflection of our health and wellbeing. It’s important to manage our stress as best we can. Conflict in the form of foods that cause inflammation in the gut such as gluten and often dairy or an unpleasant situation at work can also create skin problems.