Skin Imbalance: what might cause it and how to fix it.
Holistic Nutritionist Eliza Hedley explains what might be causing your skin imbalance and how to get a healthy glow back.
Firstly, fun fact – our skin cells fully regenerate every 27 days, so we’re constantly turning over new skin, and with these, we can see improvements within a month. Secondly, our skin is always the manifestation of what’s going on inside our bodies.
When it comes to skin imbalance, our skin is part of our immune system and is our first line of defence. Our body likes to push toxins out of us, and through our skin, this happens via sweat and this can often block our pores and cause breakouts. Breakouts are also driven by inflammation and hormonal imbalances, which is what we will go through.
What we eat directly impacts the quality and state of our skin and can cause skin imbalance. We’re either feeding it pro-inflammatory foods, or anti-inflammatory foods. And our skin is one of the last places to receive nutrients, so it really does convey the quality of our diet and lifestyle choices.
Gluten, Dairy, Alcohol and added Sugars are the four main immediate drivers of skin imbalances. And this is both on the deeper level of their impact on our gut microbiome.
Gluten creates spaces between our intestinal cells, allowing molecules, bacteria, and other compounds to “leak” through into the bloodstream. This drives intestinal inflammation, which will play out on a whole-body level, seeing acne, breakouts, rosacea, and dry skin.
Dairy is mucus-forming and is a damp food with respect to Traditional Chinese Medicine. Dairy drives pus formation, and our body wants to excrete it, which often happens through our pores. Cutting out dairy will literally change your skin in a few days (this also includes whey and casein proteins, opt for collagen, hemp, brown rice etc.).
Alcohol is also going to disrupt the microbiome and our skin. It’s pro-inflammatory, disrupts our balance of bacteria, and often dehydrates us, leaving us puffy, our skin dry and dehydrated and flushed.
Added sugar also drives skin imbalances, feeding the unfavourable bacteria and driving gut inflammation, as well as accelerated ageing.
Consciously swapping out these 4 for alternatives, whether it’s coconut yoghurt and almond milk, kombucha, virgin skinny Margheritas, and honey and dates for a month, or longer, will really positively impact your skin’s health.
SEX HORMONES AND SKIN IMBALANCE
First is the pill, or birth control. A lot of GP’s prescribe girls go on the pill as a “one-stop-shop solution” for problems such as heavy periods to bad skin. But the pill isn’t always the answer. In a quick nutshell, the pill tricks our bodies and releases hormones that make our bodies think we’re pregnant, hence the no period, the mood swings, glowing skin etc. So it plays with our bodies own natural levels, and when we come off, usually after years and years, our bodies like “what just happened” and everything becomes mayhem, and we usually default and go back on it, rather than getting to the true bottom of the problem – your hormones need help. SOS. So if you’re coming off the pill, or if you’re off birth control and your skin is throwing you all kinds of states;
-Eat hormone balancing loving foods – all the leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, flax and chia seed for fibre, bitter foods (cacao, ACV, rocket/arugula).
-Support the liver in its phase 2 detoxification – high-quality proteins (grass-fed/organic), tempeh, legumes, vegan protein powders, turmeric, broccoli sprouts, NAC, vitamin C, calcium-d-gluconate, and green tea.
-Cut out gluten, dairy, alcohol, excess sugar, and avoid eating and drinking out of plastics, additional chemicals and toxins from our skin/make-up/beauty/household products. Go greener and cleaner where you can.
-Optional – Get your sex hormones tested via a saliva test. You’ll need to work with a practitioner to access this test, but it’s really interesting and I’d recommend this if it’s been a few months/years and you’re not getting anywhere.
-Utilise hormone balancing adaptogens such as Cordyceps, Maca root, Chaste Tee/Vitex, Pine Pollen, Shilajit, Ashwagandha, etc.
Oestrogen is protective for the skin.
TESTOSTERONE: Higher androgens = more breakouts, pimples and acne
High testosterone in all of us sees more acne and bad skin.The sebaceous gland is the main site of hormone biosynthesis and is stimulated by androgens. Androgens are the male hormone family (dihydrotestosterone DHT, DHEA, testosterone and androstenedione). Regulating the androgen receptor on sebocytes is important in regulating acne, so we can see how the hormone-disrupting pill and medications fit into this puzzle. In girls, higher testosterone and androgens manifest as PCO/PCOS (polycystic ovaries/syndrome) and insulin resistance, and the acne will usually appear more on the chin and jawline and neck.
Back to the pill, a 2017 review found that Progesterone only pills are linked to dermatitis, acne and eczema. Also interesting is the link with pollutants and toxins that oxidise the squalene in our skin, and thus damages it and can cause acne. So consuming antioxidant-rich foods / adding some on our faces is key. Key antioxidants in skincare products include all plant oils, whether it’s jojoba, hemp seed, marula, red raspberry seed, pomegranate seed etc. Fruit extracts like Rosemary leaf, Aloe Vera, Buplereum and kiwi fruit. Herbs and adaptogens such as Turmeric, Green/white tea, Shiitake mushroom, Ashwagandha, Schisandra berry and Amla. As well as compounds such as Coq10, squalene, vitamin C extracts and retinol.
Cortisol – our main stress hormone – gets a bad rap but is integral to our normal functioning. It’s cortisol who gets us up in the morning and keeps us safe from threats. However, when we’re not managing our stress or having buffers in place (meditation, breathwork, journaling, adaptogens etc), we become depleted. Cortisol also shuts down our digestion, disabling us from extracting and utilising the nutrients from our food for our skin. Our immune system becomes compromised and this includes our skin barrier. Utilising adaptogens such as Withania, Rhodiola, Asian ginseng and Reishi mushroom, are all amazing. Also taking inventory of where in your life your stressors are coming from, whether it’s relationships, time, expectations, over-thinking, and seeing where we can intervene, delegate and release.
LIVER AND TOXINS
Our liver is probably the most amazing organ in my opinion. Our liver filters our blood, creates new compounds, metabolises and detoxifies toxins and chemicals, and regenerates itself. This feeds into our skin health as our skin is part of our excretory system, we push waste and toxins out of it. Our skin is toxic when we are, and when our liver is over-burdened. We want to be supporting our liver through eating:
-Lots of green and leafy vegetables
-Our culinary herbs – parsley, coriander, basil, sage etc.
-Berries, citrus and high vitamin C foods
-Good quality protein
-Drinking enough water each day (at least 2L)
-Drinking teas like dandelion root, burdock root, liquorice root, green tea and
-Supplements such as milk thistle, liposomal glutathione, NAC, chlorella, spirulina, will all be awesome and super helpful.
Overall, adding these lifestyle principles in your life, slowly but surely, will have long term benefits and actually be a part of the solution to any skin imbalances you may be experiencing.