Clear, radiant skin requires more than lotions and potions, no matter how religiously you baste yourself. Those products help, of course, but to have beautiful skin you really need to cleanse your whole body, inside and out. That’s why skin-care professionals emphasize a wholesome diet as the path to healthy skin and suggest an occasional fast or cleanse to purify your system. Done properly, a nutrient-rich detoxifying cleanse can boost your complexion’s intrinsic beauty and revive your youthful appearance.
“A cleanse is a way to eliminate toxins from the body,” says Hali Sofia Schatz, author of If the Buddha Came to Dinner: How to Nourish Your Body to Awaken Your Spirit (Hyperion, 2004). Look at it as a seasonal cleaning of the body’s closets, a way to help the body rid itself of the ill effects of a buildup of impurities–environmental contaminants from the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the toxins we consume in our less-than-healthy diets.
Looks don’t lie.
Nutritionist and author Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, says the face seldom lies about your dietary indiscretions. “Simply put, what you put into your body comes out on your face.” But even though she sounds negative, Gittleman actually offers hope. “Dryness, oiliness, pimples, bumps, dermatitis, blotchy skin, large facial pores, brown spots, wrinkles, collagen loss–all of these conditions can be managed, treated, and controlled with diet and proper nutrition.”
Think of skin as a shell that protects us, says Jen Murphy, esthetician for Pangea Organics. It’s the first line of defense for the immune system and readily reacts to any systemic assault by swelling up and turning red, a sign of inflammation. Unfortunately, Murphy says, this exacerbates the aging process because “the body then uses all its energy fighting off irritants rather than making healthy cells.”
The body eliminates fully one-third of its alien invaders’ bacteria, viruses, and toxins–through the skin, according to Gittleman. When the organs of elimination (like the liver, colon, and kidneys) become overwhelmed, the skin picks up the slack. The body pushes toxins through the pores to the surface of the skin, where they do less harm systemically. Overall that’s good news, but at skin level, those toxins can clog pores and cause irritation, leading to breakouts, redness, and inflammation.
A skin-oriented cleanse (and subsequent diet) typically reduces or eliminates substances that trigger problems for your skin. The worst offenders include hydrogenated vegetable oils (trans fats), sugar, caffeine, alcohol, red meat, excess dairy, processed foods, and refined carbohydrates.
Feed your face.
Along with getting rid of the bad stuff, you must consume more vital nutrients so your digestive system can handle the heavy lifting and sifting of toxins. Without plenty of antioxidants and other vitamins, your body can’t break down these toxins, and they continue to work their poison.
It’s also important to transition properly from your regular diet to one that will help your body detoxify itself. “Unprepared fasting in today’s world can make you really sick,” Gittleman says. “Your liver can be overwhelmed by the process of breaking down and purifying toxins that have been stored for decades. Detoxifying stimulates the release of fatty deposits that can dump toxins into your system. If this happens too quickly and without nutritional support, you can exceed your liver’s capacity for detoxification.”
To avoid those conditions, dietary experts recommend ramping up your daily dose of fruits and vegetables, substituting whole grains for refined carbs, replacing fatty red meat with omega-3-rich fish, cooking with olive or sesame oil instead of hydrogenated vegetable oil, consuming nuts and seeds and foods with high levels of antioxidants, and drinking plenty of fluids, especially purified (but not distilled) water.
Of particular importance to skin-conscious detoxers: foods rich in the “skin” nutrients vitamin A and zinc. Butter and cod liver oil contain ample amounts of vitamin A, while eggs and pumpkin seeds are packed with zinc. And you should probably consider taking these “beauty” supplements: vitamin B complex, which helps your body cope with the skin-taxing stress of daily life; vitamin C, which aids in collagen building; and vitamin E, which rejuvenates. Both C and E are strong antioxidants that break down toxins and help the skin rebound from sun damage and other assaults. Also include some manganese and magnesium, two beautifying minerals that help eliminate toxins from the liver.
Taking additional essential fatty acids (EFAs) is also vital for skin-oriented detoxing. They not only help reduce cholesterol, but they provide many skin-related benefits as well. “EFAs are key to moisturizing the skin, decreasing wrinkles, and protecting the skin from sunburn,” says Gittleman. “They help treat dandruff, eczema, psoriasis, dry skin, and other sensitive skin conditions. They also help maintain the fluidity of skin’s natural water-loss barrier, which prevents dangerous substances from inflaming the skin.”
Omega-3 fish oils may grab most of the EFA headlines, but the unsung hero of radiant skin is actually omega-6, specifically gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Found mostly in plant oils, such as black currant seed, hemp, borage, and evening primrose oils, GLA moistens the fatty layer beneath the skin and increases cellular resistance, making it one of the best internal moisturizers. GLA supplementation can reduce sun damage by decreasing the dehydrating effect of sun on the skin, and the oils help block androgens, male-based hormones linked to everything from acne to baldness. Research has also shown that GLA deficiencies lead to weakened capillaries. “This is significant for people who complain of redness and sensitivity,” says Gittleman. She recommends 500 mg to 3 grams of GLA a day, depending on your weight and specific needs. Keep in mind, however, that the body needs to maintain a specific ratio of omega-3s and -6s to protect the heart, and hemp oil provides both of them in that correct ratio.
Keep it clean.
Remember to cleanse your skin regularly during a detox. Routinely brush your body (but not your face) to remove dead cells and other detritus from the skin’s surface. Take frequent hot showers and spend some time in a sauna or steam room–both activities will help speed up the elimination process. Symptoms (blotches, breakouts, and rashes) sometimes can get worse during a detox before they get better. In any case, a symptom should last no more than a week. If it does, check in with your healthcare provider–the last thing you want to do is exceed your body’s ability to cope with the detoxification process.
Valori Treloar, MD, who is a board-certified dermatologist, takes a holistic approach to skin care at her Integrative Dermatology clinic in Newton, Massachusetts. She views detoxing as a lifestyle, not an isolated event. The best results come from long-term changes to diet and behavior, not a drastic, temporary overhaul of eating habits. “The problem with a detox diet is that some people take it as permission to toxify, as if a detox will undo all these lifestyle habits that aren’t conducive to good health,” says Treloar. “A better approach would be to maintain healthier practices consistently.”
Gittleman recommends an initial detox, followed by an extended maintenance program. Her year-round plan suggests a restorative focus for each season: Spring tones the liver; summer targets the heart and small intestines; autumn highlights the lungs and large intestines; and the kidneys and adrenals get their due during winter. Throughout the program, the diet and nutritional focus remains on seven beauty fundamentals: a detoxified system; purified water; proteins; essential fatty acids; immune-boosting fruits and vegetables; balanced hormones; and vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Pregnant women and nursing moms shouldn’t undertake a cleanse. Nor should those with a delicate constitution or other health issues that make it unwise for them to risk the potentially negative symptoms that may accompany the release of dormant toxins. But if you’re generally healthy and ready to make a rejuvenating change–give it a go. And then adopt a healthy, skin-friendly diet. The rest of your body will love you for it.
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