Several months ago, I woke up one morning thinking ’35 is not looking good on you’. It’s wasn’t actually an age thing, it was a complete lack of self-care. I vowed that morning to change things, and after implementing a few strategies to start naturally improving my skin, I can say that I’ve seen a pretty dramatic improvement.
If I’m being honest, it would have been hard for it to get worse. I spent months chronically sleep deprived, while also receiving a significant amount of my ‘nutrition’ from the Starbucks drive-thru, practicing zero skin care routine, and never taking the time to get myself so much as a glass of water. I could have been 18 and probably still would have looked haggard.
When most of us think of skincare, we think about the products we’re putting on our skin. Which is a great place to start, and I’m obviously an advocate for safer skincare. But there’s much more we can do in addition to using quality skin products and cosmetics to find gorgeous skin, and much of it starts internally.
Improve Skin from the Inside
Drink some water.
Your skin is an organ, and like all other organs, it’s made up of cells. And like all other cells, the volume of skin cells is mostly water. Water helps deliver oxygen to cells, it transports nutrients to cells and removes/flushes wastes and toxins, it plumps up cell volume, and it supports the body’s healing processes. When the body has the water it needs to preform these functions, radiant skin follows.
So how much water do you need? I knew you were going to ask, and I don’t know. It really depends on you.
If you are eating a whole foods diet limited in processed foods and full of vegetables, probably not a ton. You are getting both water and electrolytes (minerals needed for water absorption) from your food. You can trust your body to send you thirst signals, and you should drink when you are thirsty.
The whole eight glasses a day is a myth, taken out of context from some government information in the 1940s and has never been proven to be the optimal amount of water in any study.
Dehydration really becomes a problem when we are eating a diet high in processed foods and low in real foods, especially vegetables and fruit. Processed foods do not contain water and are void of minerals. Following this sort of diet for a length of time not only leaves the body depleted of necessary nutrients, but it can lead the body to function in ways that it’s signals can not be trusted. For example, heavily processed foods can stimulate excess thirst.
While you could drink a hundred ounces of water per day to make up for the lack of dietary water, you’ll also be potentially flushing out the already limited electrolytes you have in the body, which guess what… leads to more thirst. Vicious cycle. Try a diet of less processed foods (and, on repeat…more veggies!) and see how your body’s water requirements change.
Choose foods and supplements that support your skin.
Skin, like every other organ, requires nutrients to perform. And I include ‘looking damn good’ as part of it’s job description.
What can you eat to naturally improve the condition of your skin? Here are my three favorites, though any whole food is going to support your skin, just as it supports any organ in the body. These three just happen to be ‘super’ foods for skin.
- Probiotic foods can help aid in digestion and, as we’re finding with nearly the entire body, the skin and the gut are intimately connected. Better digestion means better nutrient absorption and less inflammation, which both support healthy skin. One way that inflammation expresses itself is through the skin (and a million other ways that you can’t see inside your body that are not good for long-term health). This can be acne, rosacea, eczema, or just a general ‘ickiness’ to your skin. Foods that help reduce inflammation can help with skin conditions. I’m a big fan of kombucha and sauerkraut. There are so many readily available probiotic foods now that you can buy, find your favorite!
- Bone broth and collagen supplements can help fight the thinning of skin and breakdown of collagen that naturally happen as we age by introducing more of the protein collagen to the body (collagen is what makes up the majority of connective tissue). The benefits of broth go far beyond skin, and collagen supplements can also help those with joint pain and digestive stress. I prefer a mix of both and typically cook with bone broth a few times a week (I make my own using my Instant Pot bone broth recipe) and add a scoop of collagen to my morning coffee. I prefer Vital Proteins and also use Great Lakes, though some people say Great Lakes has more of a taste. I’ve never noticed a taste with either.
- Fatty (oily) fish provides a great whole food source of the omega-3 fats, EPA and DHA. (I’m not a big fan of fish oils as I’m not convinced they can be processed in a way that doesn’t damage the fats.) Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory and help reduce inflammation that can lead to premature aging. Plus, they help build healthy cell membranes, which are responsible for allowing nutrients in, including water. Nice plump cells make for nice, less wrinkly skin!
Skip foods that don’t support the skin.
It makes sense that if certain foods support skin health, other foods are going to have the opposite impact. As you’ve probably guessed from above, processed foods aren’t going to do much for the quality of your skin (or anything else), so I’ll consider them already called out. The other two that I’d like to make note of are:
- Sugar. I hate to label food as good or bad because it’s just food. Calling it ‘good’ or ‘bad’ gives it a lot more power than it should have. But there are some foods that objectively have more negative impacts on our health and sugar is one. In terms of our skin, it plays two roles in keeping it from looking its best. First, it’s inflammatory and we know that can be expressed as skin conditions, from mild to severe. And second, it’s involved in a process called glycation, where (in very simple terms, this is much more complex process) excess sugar binds to a protein, in this case collagen, and makes a new molecule that is very stiff. ‘Stiff’ is not a quality you want in glowing, elastic skin.
- Foods to which you are intolerant. No one likes this one, because it means you might have to address that dairy or gluten problem. Here’s the thing, if you are intolerant to a food, that food causes inflammation in your body. If you have a skin condition you can’t kick, it’s time to consider an elimination diet to see if food might be the culprit. I know that I don’t tolerate dairy, but sometimes it feels like it’s worth it. (It never is.) When I do eat it, I suffer from red blotches all over my face for days (among other unfortunate side effects). Not sure where to start? I highly recommend the Whole 30 (website, book).
Get enough sleep.
Sleep feels like a very restful time (unless you bed share with a toddler, then it feels like an MMA match), but the body is actually incredibly active during sleep, busy repairing and regenerating. Beauty rest is a real thing. During sleep, the body can rebalance hydration (and reduce puffy eyes), regenerate collagen, and handle all sorts of cellular repair. Sleep is also key to balanced hormones, which play a role in our skin.
But adequate sleep can be tough. I get it. We have babies that require attention, work multiple jobs, and sometimes just need an hour to ourself to relax. If you can’t commit to eight hours a night, you can start with making the most of the sleep you can get. Create a bedtime routine, give yourself time to wind down, understand how your electronics may be keeping you awake, and skip the afternoon and evening caffeine.
This is a pretty high level discussion of how you can support your skin internally. If you’re interested in digging deeper into supporting gorgeous skin from the inside, I highly recommend the Purely Primal Skincare guide by Liz Wolfe. She is an amazing resource for natural skincare and has put her knowledge from many years of research, working with clients, and drastically improving her own skin all in one helpful guide that addresses both the internal and external factors. Click here to get the guide.
Improve Skin from the Outside
Choose Safer Products
If you’re putting in the effort to support your skin from the inside, you definitely don’t want to be putting all that good work to waste by then slathering your face with a bunch of toxins and unsafe chemicals. Many products may appear to be helping the condition of your skin, but that doesn’t mean they are safe or even tested for safety.
I recently shared a post on Food Renegade all about five steps to transition to safer skincare products. The key takeaways are
1) that it matters – personal care products can harm our health – here’s a video where I talk all about this in detail,
2) transitioning doesn’t have to be an overnight, all-or-nothing process, and
3) you can go the all natural route using common household ingredients for your skincare, or you can take advantage of companies who do the heavy lifting of safer products for you.
I urge you to check out your current skincare products, even if they are working great for you, to see how safe they are. You can use the Skin Deep database from the EWG to start.
Concerned about what you found? The safer skincare world has come a long way and there are tons of brands making high performing products that result in great skin while not compromising other aspects of your health.
In fact, I’ve talked to many people who thought they were using great products, switched to safer and more natural products, and have been very impressed at the changes they’ve seen in their skin. Since I’ve started talking about safer skincare, I’ve even chatted with two women who have switched to safer products (two different brands) and been able to kick prescription acne medication to the curb.
My Safer Skincare Routine
I’m not a fan of DIY, and instead I love to support brands that make safe products. I use products from three different companies, mostly Beautycounter but also Primal Life Organics and Dragonfly Traditions. Each of these companies is safe, transparent about ingredients, and high performing. Below I’ve detailed out my routines to give you an idea of how safer products can feel just like your old favorites.
If you prefer to make your own products, I recommend checking out my friends Brittany over at The Pistachio Project and Noelle at Coconuts and Kettlebells. Both ladies share tons of recipes for DIY skin care.
I wash my face with a charcoal cleansing bar followed with a few drops of hydrating oil. The charcoal helps detoxify and absorbs impurities and the hydrating oil leaves my face super soft without any greasy feeling.
I also use a tinted moisturizer with SPF and mascara. (If I’m not using my tinted moisturizer, I do a quick pass of this sun stick.) For special occasions I will wear more makeup, but these are my everyday staples. Throughout the day I apply my favorite ever lip balm from Dragonfly Traditions.
I use a coconut oil based cream cleanser to wash my face and remove makeup. If I have particularly stubborn makeup, I use plain old coconut oil or a cleansing balm. Every few days I use the exfoliator , also from Beautycounter’s Nourishing line, instead of the cream cleanser. I follow up either with a moisturizer and eye cream, again from the Nourishing line. After I brush my teeth I apply lip conditioner that makes my lips amazingly soft. It’s like a mini lip mask every night while I sleep.
Weekly (or so…)
I’m loving how amazing charcoal is for skin and I use a charcoal mask once or twice a week. I focus on my problem areas, which for me are large pores and very red skin on my nose and chin. This mask works wonders to clear out pores and reduce their size.
As we’re getting into winter, I’m definitely noticing my skin feeling a little dryer. I use this cleansing balm as an overnight mask about one night a week and wake up with incredibly hydrated skin. A dime sized amount is enough to cover your whole face.
If I have a really rough night of sleep or am super stressed out, I’ll use the Vitamin C serum from Primal Life Organics before bed for an extra oomph. It really helps sooth skin and is pretty amazing, but it also comes at quite the cost. I bought it very sleep-deprived one night, sure it was the answer to all my mothering problems. Amazing for skin, but it does not make your child sleep through the night. 😉
So this is how I’m eating, drinking and sleeping to support skincare and what I’m using on my face these days. I’d love to hear what safer and natural products you are using, or any lifestyle changes you’v made to see improvements – leave them in the comments!