skin epidermis

What factors REALLY have an impact on skin health?

The global cosmetic industry is valued at over 500 billion per year and is expected to reach over 800 billion by 2023. Humans want to look good so we spend a lot of money every year buying products to put on our skin.  The skin is made up of layers, the very top layer we see is the epidermis and it is composed of dead cells (the stratum corneum) that continually slough off and new cells from the lower basale layer continually replace the corneum.  You can see the epidermis layers in this figure from my textbook, notice that only the basale layer is near blood vessels.  We need to be healthy on the inside for the skin to be healthy and for the epidermis to look good.

What are the most important factors affecting your skin?
  1. Consume nutrients our skin cells need to function and regenerate. Skin health is more about what we eat than what we put on it, although the skin is very absorptive so there are some things we can put on it.
  2. Remove harsh chemicals, soaps, and cheap make-up that will damage the skin, also avoid smoking, and excessive sun exposure.
  3. Promote the health of our normal flora microorganisms that live on our skin and protect us
  4. Increase blood flow so the skin layers can get the nutrients required
  5. Keep the skin hydrated, this comes from consuming water, promoting the production of extracellular proteins that keep the skin tissue hydrated, and we can also put good moisturizers on our skin for extra protection
  • Vitamin A – promotes skin cell regeneration in the dermis layer and promotes the secretion of natural oils that protect and moisturize the skin. Low vitamin A causes dry flaky skin.  An interesting sign of low vitamin A is having little bumps that look like goosebumps on the back of your arms, butt, or legs, called keratosis pilaris.  Foods that are high in vitamin A include liver, cheese, eggs, fish (herring and salmon are the highest), and grass-fed butter. Beta carotene is a precursor for vitamin A and is found in sweet potato, carrots, squash, spinach, pumpkin, peas. A vitamin A metabolite called retinoic acid can be absorbed through the skin and can be applied as a cream.  There is retinoic acid in some anti-aging moisturizers, you can also buy it in a higher concentration from a dermatologist. Use it at night and don’t go in the sun with it on your face because your skin will burn a lot faster than normal.
  • Vitamin C – is a very important antioxidant that reduces free radicals formed by the sun and pollution that damage the skin cell’s DNA.  It is also a key nutrient needed for the production of collagen proteins that gives your skin strength and prevents sagging and wrinkles.  The main symptoms of scurvy (vit C deficiency) are from the inability to make collagen.  A telltale sign of low vit C is corkscrew hair growth.  We can consume a lot more vitamin C per day than the RDA amount of 60mg/day.  1000-3000mg/day is entirely safe and has many benefits not just for skin but for immune function. Foods high in Vit C include red and green peppers, oranges, grapefruit, kiwi, cruciferous (broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, kale, cauliflower), berries, tomatoes, and cantaloupe.  You can also buy vitamin C (ascorbic acid) serum from a dermatologist that will absorb into the skin and significantly helps reduce free radicals that damage the skin.  Use this in the morning before normal moisturizer, especially if spending time in the sun.

Corkscrew hair growth is a telltale sign of low vitamin C

  • Zinc – is a co-factor for enzymes involved in many chemical reactions including cell division and regulation of gene expression and protein synthesis, low zinc appears as slow wound healing, poor immune function, and increased acne. Without zinc our skin can’t make collagen or new skin cells.  Foods high in zinc include oysters, beef, shellfish, chicken, beans, pumpkin seeds.
  • Biotin – is an important co-factor for many enzymes involved in hair and skin cell growth. Many hair and skin supplements include biotin and it is beneficial to supplement your diet.  Low biotin can appear as dandruff, hair loss, or dermatitis.  It is important to note that raw egg whites contain avidin which can bind biotin from any foods in that meal and prevent absorption, so limit raw egg white intake if you add them to protein shakes cook the whites of eggs if frying them.  Raw yolk is very healthy.  Biotin-rich foods include liver and egg yolks, almonds, sweet potato, eggs, onions, oats, tomatoes, peanuts, carrots, walnuts, salmon, mushrooms, pumpkin seeds, cauliflower
  • Sulfur – is required for collagen synthesis, it is found in only 4 amino acids (methionine, cysteine, homocysteine, and taurine). Low sulfur wrinkling and sagging skin.  Sulfur is also required for synthesis of glutathione, which is an extremely important antioxidant made in our cells that gets rid of free radicals and prevents DNA damage. Foods that contain sulfur include egg yolks, beef, poultry, and fish, also garlic, onions, kale, and fermented vegetables like sauerkraut.
  • Silica – required for the production of collagen in connective tissues like skin, tendons, and ligaments. Silica is also essential for the production of glucosaminoglycans (GAGs) that are the building blocks of connective tissues like hyaluronic acid that holds water in the tissues.  Without hyaluronic acid, skin dehydrates and becomes thin, wrinkled and less firm. Silica is found in potatoes (the skin), peanuts, beets, whole grains, bananas, pineapple, mangoes, green beans, spinach, lentils, and leeks.  You can also take it as a supplement or drink horsetail tea.
  • Vitamin E – important fat-soluble antioxidant that works in conjunction with vitamin C to get rid of free-radicals. Vitamin E is also secreted onto the skin from the glands that produce sebum.  This natural oil is very important for keeping the skin hydrated and moisturized so do not excessively wash your skin.  Vitamin E also helps to decrease inflammation and helps heal skin damage like cuts or scrapes.  Even breaking open the oily vitamin E capsules and putting it directly onto damaged skin and rashes, including diaper rash, helps the skin to heal.  Highest food sources of vitamin E include wheat germ, seeds, nuts, and peanuts (which are a legume).
  • Vitamin K2 – required for preventing calcification of proteins such as elastin, which is a protein in the skin that allows it to be flexible and stretchy and go back to its original shape.  Skin lacking functional elastin will sag and wrinkle.  Vitamin K2 also prevents calcification of blood vessels that occurs in late stages of heart disease.  Studies have shown that people that can’t metabolize vitamin K have premature skin wrinkling.  Vitamin K2 is produced by healthy gut bacteria, so it is beneficial to consume fermented probiotic foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, and kimchi.  Also consume prebiotics, which are fibrous plant foods that feed gut bacteria.  Cows eat grass and convert K1 into K2, cows that eat grains don’t produce K2, so try and get grass-fed dairy. Healthy bacteria also play a role in decreasing inflammation that is involved with skin conditions such as dermatitis or psoriasis.  
  • Don’t over wash the skin – using harsh soaps on the skin kills healthy bacteria that keeps the skin healthy and removes beneficial natural oils that protect and hydrate the skin. You can put plain yogurt with active cultures on your skin to help replenish normal flora, leave on a 5 min and rinse with warm water.
  • There is a strong connection between gut health and skin health – having poor/ unhealthy gut bacteria, intestinal inflammation, or breakdown of the intestinal lining barrier plays a significant role in skin health. Often, skin conditions such as rosacea, rashes, and psoriasis are signs that intestinal health is off. 15-25% of people that have bowel/ intestinal inflammatory conditions such as colitis, Crohn’s, celiac, or irritable bowel syndrome also have skin manifestations.
  • Hydration – It is important to drink enough water, we don’t have to go nuts, we may not need 8 glasses per day, but if you consume a lot diuretic beverages such as alcohol or caffeine then your skin will be less hydrated and you will need to balance that with more water intake. We can also hydrate our skin by putting healthy moisturizers on it.  My favorite moisturizers are coconut oil, nut oils, and olive oil (at night because you don’t want to smell like a salad at work ha).  Moisturizing cream ingredients that are good include retinol, hyaluronic acid, glycerine, ascorbic acid, zinc (zinc is a good sunscreen), aloe, vitamin E, amino acids, emollients (keep moisture in corneum), lanolin, jojoba.  Creams should not contain parabens (carcinogenic) and alcohol (dehydrating), fragrances, phthalates (disrupt hormones), or aluminum.
  • Increase blood flow – Exercise, sauna heat increases skin blood flow, and inverted postures like headstands, forward fold (touch your toes) or downward dog yoga postures help to bring blood carrying all the good nutrients you are eating to the skin where they can function.
  • No excessive sun exposure – some sun is beneficial for the skin because UV rays convert cholesterol in the skin into vitamin D that is beneficial for immune regulation and preventing inflammation but excess sunlight damages DNA and dehydrates the skin. Excess UV light also stimulates the production of enzymes called MMP (matrix metalloproteinases) that digest collagen, we don’t want that, collagen is very important for skin health.
  • No smoking – Smoking is the very worst thing for your skin because it causes constriction of skin blood vessels and therefore prevents nutrients from reaching the skin, and also because of all the toxic compounds that damage DNA and prevent cell regeneration.
  • Reduce stress cortisol contributes to breaking down proteins in the skin.  

Fun facts:

  • The whole outer layer of the epidermis sloughs off and is replaced approximately every 28 days
  • Dust mites eat dead skin cells that have fallen off
  • Our hair grows about 1mm every 3 days and fingernails grow about 1mm every 12 days

References

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