By Dr. Stephanie Nishek, NMD
Our skin is the most constant part of our outward appearance; but just like we change our hairstyles and clothing choices through our lives, our skin undergoes many changes too. For all people, regardless of age, drinking adequate amounts of clean water is crucial to healthy skin, as are essential fatty acids (found in fish oils, olive oil, flax oil, etc.). Here are some tips to keep skin looking and feeling healthy, from infancy through the golden years:
Little ones should be encouraged to drink plenty of plain water. Fruit juices (even natural ones), many electrolyte drinks and sodas are high in sugar which can perpetuate fungal skin problems like diaper rash. Too much sugar in the diet can also shift the balance of bacteria in the intestinal tract in a negative way. Too many “bad bugs” in the gut can bring about a whole laundry list of health concerns, including gas, colic, headaches and skin rashes. When juices are given, dilute them at least 1:1 with water. Also, be aware that adults have “trained” taste buds that expect a certain level of sweetness to our foods and drinks. There is no need to sweeten or flavor a child’s food to suit your tastes. Instead, let them grow up appreciating the natural flavors of food.
Teens need adequate nutrition. Choosing healthy foods isn’t always top priority for a teenager, but it is very important to their growth and development. How they choose to eat can affect their energy, sleep quality and mood; and is also reflected on their skin. Acne has more than one cause, but a common culprit is a diet high in saturated fats (think burgers, potato chips, milk shakes and pizza) and lacking in essential fatty acids. The saturated fats clog up and inflame the normal oil-producing glands on the face, chest and back which leads to pimples and acne. With all the growth and developmental changes their bodies are going through, poor dietary choices can also lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. A mixed essential fatty acid supplement and a high-quality multiple vitamin/mineral supplement are worthwhile additions, especially for this age group.
Protect Yourself from Oxidative Damage. Many adults experience a few sun burns, are exposed to cigarette smoke and other environmental toxins, and drink alcohol and/or coffee. All of these things increase the rate of free radical formation within the body. The skin can be particularly affected by the effects of excess free radical production (termed “oxidative damage”), as skin is often the first line of defense. Anti-oxidants, like Vitamin C and Vitamin E, neutralize free radicals before they can cause damage to the body. Eating a diet rich in fruits and veggies (especially dark-colored foods like plums, eggplants and beets) and substituting green tea for coffee will provide the body with the anti-oxidants it needs. This translates into fewer wrinkles, a more even skin tone and a lesser probability of developing skin cancer.
Maintaining a Lovely Glow into the Golden Years. As we age, our hormone levels naturally decline. Fortunately, the advances in bio-identical hormone replacement therapy are improving quality of life for many older adults. Besides the many “deeper” benefits of hormone replacement (i.e. protecting against heart disease, osteoporosis, depression, and some cancers) it can also provide the “superficial” benefit of maintaining or restoring vibrancy to the skin.
In naturopathic medicine, one of our guiding principles is “Prevention Is the Best Cure.” As such, I encourage you to utilize all of the information in the sections above, regardless of which generation you fall into. Avoid using suppressive therapies on the skin, like steroid creams, whenever possible. Skin is considered one of the body’s organs of detoxification, so although skin problems may be unsightly and uncomfortable, the presence of these lesions is a cry for help from the inside. Instead of suppressing them, find a doctor who can help you determine the underlying cause and who will work with you to resolve the problem naturally.
Dr. Stephanie Nishek is a licensed Naturopathic Physician. She provides primary care services and alternative therapies to adults and children.