By Dr. Brooke Azie-Rentz

There are a few definitions of skin in the Mirriam-Webster dictionary. 

The one that I assume you think I will be talking about today is “the external limiting tissue layer of an animal body especially the 2-layered covering of a vertebrate body consisting of an outer epidermis and an inner dermis.” 

While this is, in fact, the medical definition of our skin and, honestly, what this article is about, I also like the definition: “the life or physical well-being of a person.” 

I think we can all agree that well hydrated, uniform-colored (ie. not “blotchy”) skin can say a lot about the underlying good health of a person.  But appearance is just one aspect of what your skin can tell us. 

Your skin can change color or texture to indicate an allergy or metabolic disorder, it can control body temperature through sweating or indicate danger through pain.  Your skin is the first layer of defense against invasion from the outside world of pathogens and in this time of never ending hand washing and the start of bathing suit season, there is no better time than now to talk about skin. 

In Naturopathic Medicine, we say that our skin is a window into our gut. 

If you eat nothing but fast food, for example, your skin will be greasy, prone to acne and scarring, and sensitive to oxidative damage.  Eating healthy provides essential nutrients and anti-oxidants that protect the skin from long-term damage like skin pigmentation and wrinkles while aiding in collagen production and tissue repair. 

A few of these beneficial nutrients include:

Antioxidants (including vitamins C, A (retinol), E, lutein, resveratrol,  etc) scavenge free radicals, wound healing, prevent UV damage and decrease inflammation while also helping with collagen production and decreasing skin pigmentation.

Essential fatty acids (Omega 3 and 6): help protect the skin through a natural oil barrier, are anti-inflammatory, and help with cell proliferation and appearance

Zinc: anti-inflammatory, cofactor in cell mitosis, helps prevent acne and blemishes, part of superoxide dismutase (SOD) pathway, prevention of photo damage

Selenium: protects skin cells from free radical damage and UV damage, part of glutathione pathway, prevention of photo damage

Vit A and beta-carotene: important in cell production and growth, collagen production, treatment and prevention of photo damage

There are various ways in which our skin can be damaged by free radicals and oxidative stress; these stem from either internal or external forces. 

Oxidative stress is defined as a disturbance in the balance between the production of free radicals and the antioxidant defenses that protect against them. This oxidative stress has been found to be part of the mechanism in the aging process of the skin by impairing the constant renew and repair that happens in the skin, decreasing collagen repair and synthesis, decreasing elastin production, and increasing inflammation.  This all leads to age spots, more wrinkles and fine lines, uneven skin tones, and impaired wound healing.

External stress is easy to explain, most of it comes as sun damage.  Damage from prolonged exposure to UV light causes inflammation and depletes antioxidant levels which, after repeated exposure, leads to a decrease in the cellular repair mechanisms which in turn leads to skin laxity, discoloration, wrinkling and thickening of the dermis as well as abnormal skin growths and impaired wound healing.    

Internal stresses include imbalances in nutrients that can come from poor diet, nutrient deficient foods, emotional stress or chronic disease leading to poor absorption of these nutrients.  Basically, no matter how you look at it, there are only a few ways to protect your skin.  Either avoid the external stresses or try and feed your body with the right foods to support a healthy, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant rich diet so that the internal mechanisms of protection can do their job.

Here are 5 easy things you can do to treat your skin well:

  1. Protect yourself from the sun- use sunscreen at least 15 SPF, apply often and according to activity, seek shade when the sun is at its strongest, wear UV protective clothing and brimmed hats
  2. Here is a link to the 2020 EWG sunscreen report so that you can make an informed decision about what sunscreen is best for you and your family.
  3. In addition, if you haven’t tried UV protective clothing items, look them up!  This is a great option for those who don’t like wearing a lot of heavy sunscreen, forget to reapply often, or spend large amounts of time in or on the water
  4. Don’t Smoke- it produces oxidative stress that damages collagen and elastin
  5. Treat skin gently- limit things that deplete your body of oils like excessive bathing, strong soaps and detergents, moisturize regularly and avoid repetitive actions like drinking through a straw
  6. Eat a Healthy diet and stay hydrated, remember dry skin will cause more damage and lead to more wrinkles!
  7. Here is a short list of super foods that contain the aforementioned nutrients for skin health: Fatty fish (like salmon, tuna, sardines, anchovies and trout), avocados, walnuts, sunflower seeds, sweet potatoes, red and yellow bell peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, soy, dark chocolate, green tea and red grapes (yes, that includes red wine J)
  8. Manage stress- as mentioned above, stress can cause us to make bad food choices like consuming more alcohol, sugar or non-nutrient dense foods as well as cause our body to not absorb nutrients from our foods in an optimum way

At the end of the day, your skin, the largest organ in the human body, acts as a barrier.  It protects us from mechanical injuries, it regulates body temperature and fluid loss, and it protects us from outside pathogens. 

However, psychologically speaking, our skin has a role in how we feel about ourselves and how others view us.  As I said before, one of the definitions of skin includes “the life or physical well-being of a person.” Having a healthy “glow” is sometimes reflective of something positive going on in that person’s life. 

There is a lot going on in our lives right now.  When covered in a mask it is hard to see someone’s smile and with social distancing it is hard to feel the warm, smooth embrace of someone’s skin.  Many of us are drinking too much alcohol and eating too much sugar.  Our hands are dry and cracked from excessive hand washing and sanitizer. 

Our skin is showing the fatigue that we are going through in our society right now.  Take care of yourselves.  Make a conscious choice to drink more water, eat more colorful, fresh, fruit and veggies, love yourself and your body.  A little bit of self love can go a long way.  And if you have a little extra love to go around, spread it…this world could use a little more love these days.

Until Next Time…have a happy holiday!