If cold weather and artificial heat leave you with dry, cracked skin, here’s some good news. You can fix that problem and improve your overall health by following a few simple guidelines.
We tend to think of skin — the body’s largest organ — as something that takes care of itself. But it’s important to protect it against cracks and wounds because skin serves as a barrier to protect your internal organs from damage and exposure to bacteria and other harmful elements. Remember, too, that your skin can absorb substances from your bath water as well as from soaps, lotions, and washes. You should look for skin-care products that are as pure and chemical-free as possible.
Your skin says a lot about you. For example, we all know that wrinkles are a sign of aging. On the other hand, dry skin can happen at any age. Although it’s quite common, dry skin can mean your body is trying to tell you something about your health. In that case, I advise you to read on and follow up with some of my recommendations. Your skin won’t be the only thing that benefits. My patient George is a good example of just how much improving the condition of your skin can affect your health.
A Closer Look at Your Skin — and Its Enemies
Skin consists of several different types of tissue that have some very important duties, including:
- Maintaining a steady body temperature
- Preventing injury to internal organs
- Protecting you from the sun’s ultraviolet rays
- Delivering information from nerve endings in the skin to your brain
- Protecting against infection-causing invaders
- Producing vitamin D from sun exposure
Considering all that your skin does for you, why not return the favor? Get to know the names of a few ingredients to avoid. The following harmful substances frequently turn up in skin lotions, soaps, and body washes, even though other countries may have banned them.
Avoid These Skin-Care Ingredients
- Diethanolamine (DEA)
- Formaldehyde (may appear on labels as quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, or diazolidinyl urea)
- 1,4-dioxane (look for sodium laureth sulfate, PEG, polyethylene, polyethylene glycol, polyoxyethylene, polyethoxyethylene, and/or polyoxynolethylene)
- Fragrance, unless it is from an essential oil
I know the names are strange and difficult to remember. I suggest carrying this list in your wallet or purse to use as a reference when you’re shopping.
10 Tips for Healthy Skin
Regular readers know that I’m a big believer in the six building blocks that make up the foundation of good health:
6 BUILDING BLOCKS OF GOOD HEALTH
1. A nutritious whole-foods diet
2. Regular, moderate exercise
3. Plenty of fresh, filtered water daily
4. 7 to 8 hours of deep, restorative sleep every night
5. Stress management
6. Appropriate supplements
Without these supportive practices, you’re undermining your own health. Bad habits take a toll on everything, including your skin. So when a patient complains of dry skin, I start by discussing these six healthy habits (which you can review at the links above), and then I recommend some simple ways to treat and/or prevent dry skin from the inside out.
On the Inside
1. Add dietary supplements. Consider taking vitamin D3. A recent study found that dry skin occurred more frequently in individuals with low levels of this nutrient in their blood. Fortunately, supplements are an inexpensive way to correct it.
2. Cook with cold-pressed oils. Toss out any heat-processed or hydrogenated vegetable oils that harden at room temperature (the only exception is coconut oil); use cold-pressed oils instead. When oils are heated, they produce free radicals that harm your skin and your overall health. Ideally, you should use only organic, cold-pressed, extra virgin olive, coconut, or grapeseed oil for cooking and baking.
3. Follow an antioxidant-rich diet. Feed your skin from the inside with as many food-based nutrients as possible. Scientists repeatedly find that healthy skin begins inside the body, with a diet rich in antioxidants from vegetables and fruits as well as good fats found in omega-3 fatty acids. For example, yellow-orange veggies, such as carrots and squash, contain beta-carotene, which can help combat sun damage. And foods like salmon and shrimp are good sources of astaxanthin, another antioxidant shown to reduce skin inflammation, enhance immunity, and protect against sagging, wrinkling, and even skin cancer.
4. Consume foods containing friendly fats. Foods rich in omega-3s (salmon, trout, herring, and anchovies) help support your body’s own mechanisms that protect against sun damage and support healthy skin. If you’re not a fish fan or are concerned about the very real dangers of chemicals in seafood, supplementing with toxin-free omega-3s is a simple, safe solution. Take 1,000 mg twice daily for best results.
5. Drink adequate water. Don’t forget the most obvious (but overlooked) internal moisturizer of all — water. As a rule of thumb, the number of ounces you need each day is half the number of pounds you weigh. For example, if you weigh 160 pounds, you should drink 80 ounces of fresh, filtered water — or ten 8-ounce glasses of water — every day.
On the Outside
6. Reduce exposure to chemicals. Avoid antibacterial and deodorizing soaps as well as body washes with added fragrance. These products contain harsh chemicals that can damage your skin and harm your health. Instead, I recommend a simple, mild soap, such as Dr. Bronner’s castile soap.
7. Shower wisely. Take short showers in warm — not hot — water. Hot water can be very drying to your skin, and long showers tend to remove much of the skin’s natural moisturizers.
8. Use filtered water for bathing. Consider investing in a water filter for your shower or bath to remove toxins and other impurities, such as lead, rust, chlorinated by-products, and prescription drugs that are now in our water supply and can be absorbed through the skin.
9. Use natural skin-care products. Shop for skin lotions that contain natural moisturizing emollients, such as aloe vera, jojoba or coconut oils, or vitamin E. Whenever possible, go with fragrance-free products. Or simply apply a small amount of natural oil to your skin after bathing. A British study found that sunflower seed oil was far superior to olive oil for protecting skin from dryness.
10. Look for a skin moisturizer containing vitamin D3. The study I cited above noted that subjects who topically applied vitamin D3 had a significant increase in skin moisture.
Dry skin can be a sign of an underlying medical problem (such as low thyroid), but for most people, it’s simply an uncomfortable condition with remedies that pay off in unexpected ways. Many patients who have followed my advice on dry-skin care report that not only does their skin improve, but they also experience better heart health, less joint pain, better mental functions, and improved digestion and regularity. Now that’s what I call a winning combination!