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Skin Health

What your skin, hair and nails can tell you about your health

Our outside “shell” – including our skin, hair and nails, are all part of what we call the integumentary system.

This crucial barrier protects us from pathogens, pollution, other poisonous substances as well as some forms of radiation. As a result, it bares the marks of many of our lifestyle habits some of which may be symptomatic of dysfunction in other systems within the body.

This includes things like poor circulation, compromised liver function, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, problems along our gastro-intestinal tract and hormonal imbalances in the body.

Below is some information to help you recognise what your skin, hair and nails may be telling you about your health. There are also some natural and effective suggestions you can implement for healthier insides in order to get your outsides looking great.

What is oily skin saying…

Clogged pores, pimples and acne in the T-zone area, and other areas of the face, upper back, chest and shoulders are problems commonly associated with oily/combination-oily skin.

This results from too much production of a greasy substance called sebum from over-sized sebaceous glands. It also occurs on the scalp, so your hair may also accumulate sebum at its roots making it sticky and hard to manage.

Whilst there are a lot of great tips available for how to combat these problems from the outside, there are also some things you need to consider about what could be happening below the surface. In particular our diet and hormonal health have been documented to affect the oiliness of our skin. This is primarily because sebaceous glands are under the control of androgens. Androgens are a class of steroid sex hormones whose production is influenced by an increase in insulin and Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1).

What this could be telling you:

  1. Your liver might not be functioning at an optimum level. If your liver is not breaking down fats, steroids and other substances that are toxic to the body, it may try to release these via the skin.
  2. Your insulin levels are not being optimally regulated – hyper/hypoglycaemia, insulin-resistance, type II diabetes and other conditions that increase insulin levels and IGF-1 influence androgen production. Age is also a factor to keep in mind with higher levels of IGF-1 occurring with age.
  3. You need to relax more. The mechanisms of this are a little complicated, but increased stress, reflected by higher cortisol levels, can be problematic for our skin. It is associated with reduced fat metabolism and higher levels of insulin which can both contribute to the production of sebum and hence, oily skin. Sebum secretion also occurs in the sebaceous glands on your head.

What you can do:

  1. Consider trying a liver detoxification program – the benefits of this for your skin are two-fold. You will improve the function of your liver and also be reducing your intake of things like caffeine and alcohol which raise cortisol levels.
  2. Drink the recommended amount of water daily – at least 1.5 – 2 litres of water per day helps increase blood circulation which helps flush out toxic waste products that accumulate in our bloodstream.
  3. Reduce your sugar intake and high-glycaemic index foods – like commercial cereals, cakes, potatoes, soft drinks, beers etc…

Dry Skin

The hydration of our skin is affected by the rate at which water is transported to and from its surface (barrier function)

and the ability of the stratum corneum (the outer most layer of the skin) to retain water.

In order to keep our skin moisturized, the stratum corneum has a delicate balance of various amino acids and potassium, along with cholesterol and other lipids that form a hydrophobic mesh that can “hold” water on its surface. This is what gives skin its soft and supple appearance. When the skin is dry it can mean that there is a problem with either of these mechanisms, both of which are affected by other aspects of our health.

What this could be telling you:

  1. That your skin is dehydrated – as with oily skin, there is a genetic component to this. Variations in soft keratin genes appear to affect our barrier function.
  2. You’re nutrient deficient – Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Omega-6 and Omega-3 and Calcium are all important for skin moisture.
  3. That you need to get your blood moving around your body more. If your extremities are colder and drier than other parts of your body, it further indicates a problem of poor circulation. This can be caused by a number of things including lack of exercise and diabetes.

What you can do:

  1. Ensure you are drinking enough water and avoid / limit diuretics such as black tea and coffee.
  2. Consider a supplement program that could assist in helping to alleviate your dry skin.
    Vitamin A, Vitamin D and Vitamin E are all lipid-based vitamins and have to be processed by the liver before we they get through to our bloodstream.
  3. Eat lots of good oils. Our western diet usually means that we get enough omega-6 but usually miss out on omega-3, having the right balance of both of these polyunsaturated fats is important for our overall health. Omega-3 is an anti-inflammatory and important for healthy joints, cardiovascular function and ensuring our brain is working optimally. Good foods such as oily fish like Salmon, Herring, Cod or plant sources like olive oil, avocado, and walnuts are all great sources of good oils.
    You can also use an Omega-3 (or EPA and DHA) supplement.

* A note about Hydration: Whilst there is a general consensus among experts about the benefits of drinking enough water daily for our overall health, research is still unable to determine whether drinking water directly impacts hydration of our skin. Drinking enough water (preferably at room temperature) is also thought to increase blood circulation, which is important for the removal of waste products in the blood. This is also believed to help improve skin quality.

Weathered, damaged hair

Our hair is comprised of another form of keratin known as “hard” keratin. It is a window to many of our lifestyle habits including where we spend our time, how much sun we get along with the chemicals we expose ourselves to.

The more obvious causes of weathered damaged hair like bleaching, perming and straightening will cause structural damage to the keratin fibres as these processes strip the hair of moisture and causes it to break and split more easily.

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can also be responsible for breakage and may cause your hair to look dull and damaged.

One of the most common supplements used to combat hair breakage and thicken the hair is silica.

Silica is important for healthy connective tissue which is found throughout and our skin.

Good sources of silica are found apples, oats, almonds, oranges, strawberries, cucumber, mango, rhubarb and green beans. We actually get a lot of our daily silica intake from the water we drink (another reason to drink plenty of water each day!)

Weak, brittle-finger – and toenails

Do your nails become cracked or chipped easily? Are they flaky? These clusters of symptoms are easy to look for and worth some attention. Our finger- and toenails are mostly made up of two types of keratin, “hard” keratin, also found in hair and “soft” keratin which is found in epithelial cells. The nail is also comprised of several minerals including iron, copper, sodium, magnesium, zinc and calcium.

What this could be telling you:

  1. That you are not consuming enough minerals and vitamins in your diet
  2. That you are body and/or your skin is dehydrated – when our nails don’t contain enough water (below 16%) they become brittle and may begin to crack.

What you can do:

  1. Hydrate your body and nails from the inside and outside. Ensure you are drinking enough water* and avoid / limit diuretics such as black tea and coffee. To help hydrate the nails from the outside, wet or bathe the nails in warm water and then follow immediately with the application of a natural oil-based moisturiser rich in essential fatty acids – avocado oil and wheat germ oil are both great options.
  2. Investigate your iron and ferritin levels. An iron study can be conducted via a blood pathology test to see whether you have iron deficiency anaemia. If the deficiency is borderline, an increase in dietary intake of heme iron-rich foods will help. These are derived from animal meat which is much more readily absorbed by the body than nonheme iron found in plant foods such as spinach, lentils and beans. Iron supplementation may be necessary, particularly if animal meat products are not part of your diet
  3. .

  4. Biotin supplementation has been documented to be particularly useful for the improvement of nail health for a variety of conditions.
  5. Zinc, Magnesium, silica and/or selenium supplementation can also be used to help improve nail quality. These deficiencies may take six to twelve months to accumulate in the body.

Our skin will reflect our internal health and other factors are involved as well such as hormonal changes, auto-immune deregulations, and various medical conditions.

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