Acne-prone skin can be a nightmare. Have you ever felt so frustrated that no matter how well you eat, what you use and what you take, it seems to have a mind of its own? This is because the skin is a unique organ, requiring simplicity and consistency of action to finally clear. Many articles and books have been written, and many lotions and potions have been created to address this issue. I'm here to teach you how to clear your skin once and for all truly.
The word 'detox' is often overused and misunderstood, in my opinion. Many fad eating programs can result in toxic build up in the body and, in extreme cases, malnutrition. The key is in understanding how to avoid subjecting our skin to environmental damage, adding high-quality skincare ingredients to our daily routine and feeding our skin from the inside with a balanced nutritional regimen.
What Does "Detox" Really Mean?
To detox, in simple terms, means to remove toxins from the body. These can come from the environment, from your diet, and lifestyle choices such as smoking. Thankfully, there's little you need to do to aid this process.
Your lungs, liver, kidneys, and colon can remove harmful substances all by themselves. (Substances in alcohol and cigarettes can, however, cause lasting damage.) But that hasn't stopped people from embarking on juice cleanses and fad diets in a bid to fully "detox."
How Does This Relate to Your Skin?
The trend has also encouraged the beauty industry to adopt detoxification. And there can be quite a bit of confusion over what this means.
Because the skin is the largest organ in the body and can pick up dirt and grime, some believe it is possible to "purge" the skin and remove all the "bad" stuff that's clogging pores. This isn't true. There's no such thing as skin detox from a medical perspective.
What you can do, though, is protect it from potential environmental toxins, such as pollution and UV rays. These things — along with a poor diet and excessive cleansing and exfoliation — can deplete the skin's outermost layer. Also known as the stratum corneum or skin barrier, it helps keep skin healthy by blocking substances that can cause premature aging, among other damage.
This is an essential first step to know before making any changes. The basic anatomy of the skin that you need to know at this point is that it has many, many layers (epidermis, dermis and subcutaneous tissue), and to create any real or lasting change; you need to be consistent. The deeper layers of the dermis take around 4 to 6 weeks to surface to the exterior epidermal layer.
This means any dietary or supplementation change you make takes at least that long to show signs of healing. Healing a skin condition requires around 3 to 6 months of consistent skin-specific eating and supplementation.
So Can You "detox" Your Skin?
"When people talk about 'detoxing the skin,' it's more about what you can do to the surface to protect your skin from the outside environment more so than clearing out what's on the inside.
Why? Because toxins can't exit the body via the skin.
You can cleanse your skin as much as you want or leave it alone for extended periods. This "detoxing" won't remove any toxins. Instead, it's the organs above — primarily the kidneys and liver — that hold that responsibility.
Your skin, however, may need you to stop certain products that aren't working for you. One example, she says, is a condition called tachyphylaxis where the skin "becomes used to" things like steroid creams, and they stop working. In this instance, skin detoxing makes sense. A doctor may need to switch to an alternative steroid for it to work and then later switch you back.
What Causes Acne Blemishes
Acne is not caused by toxins trying to force their way through the skin. The immune system's over-reaction causes acne to bacteria that usually live on the skin.
The human skin is a complex ecosystem. Billions of skin cells are hosts to trillions of microorganisms, most of which belong to the skin and improve the skin's health. Acne bacteria usually live in pores. They help the pore push excess oil out of the skin by consuming the fatty acids in sebum.
Fat like the fat in sebum is not soluble in water and cannot be rinsed off the skin with moisture.
Acne bacteria, however, convert waxy, oily sebum into some of the same kinds of fatty acids you can find in flaxseed oil and fish oil and make propanoic acid as a byproduct. (The making of propanoic acid, also known as "propionic acid," gives acne bacteria their scientific name, Propionibacterium acnes.)
Thanks to acne bacteria, the thick and heavy sebum the skin makes to lubricate itself is transformed into smaller fatty acids and mild propanoic acid, which are water-soluble. For uncounted centuries before the invention of skin cleansers, bacteria made keeping the skin clean possible.
Acne breaks out when acne bacteria get trapped in the bottom of a pore. Every skin pore also provides a passage to the surface of the skin for dead skin cells. Sometimes these skin cells clump together. When they get stuck in the pore, the acne bacteria beneath them run out of food and go dormant. As they start to go dormant, they release chemicals that the immune system uses as a homing signal to release inflammatory chemicals.
These chemicals destroy some of the bacteria but also sensitize the skin cells around them to immune destruction. Enough healthy skin dies that the pore opens up after it has become red and inflamed.
You could "detox" your skin and get rid of acne bacteria, but the immune system can cause pimples to form even when there are no bacteria at all on the skin. You know this is true if you have ever eaten something that made you break out or put some cleanser or chemical on your skin that made you break out.
Efforts to kill all the bacteria on the skin usually cause more harm than good. Chemicals like alcohol can kill bacteria if they are applied in a sufficiently strong concentration. For drink, it takes a 46% (92-proof) solution to kill bacteria on contact. Much lower concentrations of alcohol, however, can kill skin cells.
These dead skin cells can clog pores. The immune system has to release inflammation to eliminate dead skin, and clogged pores become pimples. An acne detox of the skin is never a good idea. But what about detoxing the colon?
Colon Health and Acne Detox
The human colon is another organ that is an ecosystem. Trillions of bacteria, usually about 1/3 of the content of the intestines, live in a healthy body. Without these bacteria, the stool is hard, and bowel movement is complex.
A few of these bacteria cause disease, but trillions more compete with harmful bacteria for food, water, and space on the colon's lining, so we seldom experience infections of the colon. When we do, the colon usually finds ways to empty itself, so the harmful bacteria are flushed away.
Some symbiotic, or helpful, bacteria make vitamins. Some symbiotic bacteria produce essential fatty acids, especially propanoic acid, which fights colon cancer. And some symbiotic bacteria, a group of bacteria we also know as probiotic bacteria, both fight disease-causing bacteria and train the immune system.
How Bacteria Train the Immune System Not to Cause Acne
The lining of the intestine is covered with villi. The bloodstream sends billions of white blood cells to the villi to make sure no disease-causing bacteria enter the bloodstream. (It's not unusual for some pathogenic bacteria to enter circulation, but usually not in numbers that make us sick.)
Healthy, helpful bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilus live in the villi. The immune system naturally tries to destroy them with inflammation. But when the immune system "learns" that these bacteria don't have to be routed to lining the colon to stay intact, it makes fewer inflammatory chemicals all over the body. Healthy bacteria in the colon reduce inflammation in the skin and brain. Making sure you have probiotic bacteria in your colon keeps the immune system itself from causing toxic reactions. And the most severe toxic reactions in the body are almost always caused by the immune system itself.
How to Do a Real Acne Detox
Stopping inflammation in your skin, therefore, is not something you do with colon cleansers or antiseptics. The best way to control inflammation in your skin is to be kind to the friendly bacteria in your colon. Eat yogurt every day (either dairy or soy is fine), or take probiotic supplements.
Limit your use of colon cleansers for times you are constipated. You don't want to flush any more helpful bacteria into the toilet than you have to. And limit your use of skin cleansers for times you have visible inflammation of the skin. Remember that what you are doing for your skin is taking away the reason your immune system has to keep your pores inflamed. You are not killing bacteria that are causing the inflammation.
Probiotic support is much more helpful for your skin than any "acne detox." You can get the probiotics you need for your skin from Exposed Skin Care, along with products that keep your skin clean, clear, and vibrant.
TIME YOUR DETOX
Start your detox at least four weeks before a big event. Healthy eating and skincare should be a regular part of your general lifestyle, but we all fall off the horse occasionally and need to get back on the saddle!
If you decide to make a positive change to your food and skincare routine, you should expect a degree of 'purging' during which your skin may break out initially. This is a normal reaction and means the body is responding to change. Stick with the program, and you will see the benefits.
Every individual is unique, so it is difficult to say precisely when the skin will visibly improve. It takes approximately 30 days for a total cell turnover, and I usually notice that my skin will show visible improvement following a complete cell cycle.
PURIFY YOUR SKIN
Masks are a great home or clinical treatment. There are several masks on the market for specific skin concerns. Synergie Skin's Detox anTiox is a purifying detox mask designed to draw impurities from the skin and destroy free radicals.
Skin steaming is also an excellent way to help purge the skin of toxins and unclog the pores. You don't need a professional steamer; just put your face over a bowl of steaming (but not boiling) water for 10 minutes. The skin should feel warm but not uncomfortable. Take note that overheating of the skin can cause damaging inflammation.
AVOID CERTAIN INGREDIENTS
There are several ingredients that I believe should not be consumed or used during a skin detox:
- Highly processed foods
- Refined carbohydrates
- High levels of glucose and fructose
- High levels of animal fats (except marine-derived oils)
- Excessive caffeine
- Artificial colour
- Artificial fragrance
- Paraben preservatives
- Propylene glycol
- Sodium lauryl sulphate
- Benzoyl peroxide
MAINTAIN A HEALTHY DIET
Keep it Unprocessed and Colourful.
It's best to keep processed foods to a minimum and aim for at least five natural colours on your plate at each meal. Omega fatty acids, Zinc, Vitamin A, B, C, E, Selenium, and antioxidants such as green tea and lycopene are particular for skin health treatment.
These essential nutrients help the skin in the following ways:
- Support immune function
- Support liver detoxification pathways,
- Stimulate wound healing
- Promote collagen production
- Promote hormonal balance
- Support healthy mucus membranes in the skin
Vegetables and Fruits Are King
Dark green leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach are fabulous for stimulating liver detoxification, balancing hormones and general skin health. Fruits are also essential but try and avoid excess sugar consumption if you suffer from acne.
Blueberries are a potent source of free radical scavenging antioxidants. Lemons are excellent at reducing acidity in the bloodstream. It is considered the ultimate detox fruit!
Avoid Dairy Products
There are testosterone stimulators in dairy products that can exacerbate acne. It is wise to avoid dairy but still maintain calcium levels with almonds, kale, broccoli, tinned salmon with bones and sesame seeds.
Reduce Sugar and Refined Carbs
Sugar contributes to the appearance of ageing! The glucose molecules from refined sugars can bind to collagen fibres in the skin and cause them to become brittle. This is referred to as Advanced Glycation Ageing (AGE). Highly refined foods with a high sugar content also cause insulin spikes, increasing hormones that cause acne breakouts.
Follow a Low Gi-Diet
This includes avoiding white flour-based products such as:
- White/processed bread
- White rice
- Processed pasta
- Biscuits (sweet and crackers)
- Processed breakfast cereals
Fibre improves glycemic control and aids in the elimination of unwanted solid waste and toxins. You can increase your fibre by adding oat bran (an excellent porridge based alternative to rolled oats as it has a lower GI and more fibre) or psyllium husks to your diet.
Eat Good Fats
That era of the 'low-fat diet' is behind us! Opt for fats high in omega fatty acids and in the correct balance of omega 3, 6, and 9. These natural fats are vital for skin lubrication and luminosity. It is essential to eat a much higher proportion of omega-three fatty acids versus omega-six oils to reduce inflammation in the body.
The following foods and oils contain the 'good fats' vital for skin health:
- Chia seeds
- Flax seeds
- Macadamia nuts
- Flaxseed oil (cold-pressed and not for cooking)
- Coconut oil (this is a true 'super oil' with evidence that it also helps stimulate metabolism, not to mention great for cooking, and flavouring sweet and savoury dishes)
- Fish oil/krill oil/calamari oil
It's essential to reduce the 'bad bacteria' on the skin, especially if you suffer from acne, by:
- Eating antimicrobial food such as raw garlic
- Avoiding touching the face and picking at skin blemishes (a significant cause of skin infection which can lead to permanent scarring)
- Washing the face twice daily, in the morning and straight after work or school
- Adding antibacterial agents such as manuka oil and lemongrass to skincare (both present in Blem-X and HydroGel)
Good hydration is essential not only for skin but for general health.
Although my technical expertise is based on skincare formulating, I believe we must address the skin as an organ that needs nurturing from within and outside with clinical grade skincare.
Detoxify and Clear
Omit congesting and heating foods from your diet
Acne is caused by an over-stimulated oil gland that has become infected. What over stimulates the oil glands? And why do they become infected? Excessive oil production can be caused by hormones, adrenal function, liver and digestive function and diet. The skin will only use the oils you eat in your diet. It is essential that you only eat lighter, plant-based fats, so they flow freely through the oil glands and decongest what blocks them.
- Animal fats (especially red meats and pork)
- Dairy products (cheese, yoghurt, butter)
- Commercial sweets (anything baked, bought, with refined sugars, white flours and hidden fats)
When the adrenal glands are stimulated, it creates a stress response in the body. This causes the oil glands to flow excessively and warm up the body temperature, irritating sensitive skin. According to traditional Chinese medicine, any redness, spots, or blemishes suggest a sensitive skin type and a 'hot' condition.
Stimulating foods and substances for the skin:
- Chili, curry, spicy dishes
- Oranges and strawberries
You need to stay away from these foods and substances for at least 95% of the time for as long as it takes for your cells to turn over. This process is lengthy, and you won't see results immediately, but if you are patient, your skin will become more apparent and more straightforward.
Rebuild Skin Cells
Include skin healing foods and supplements
Omitting the congesting and stimulating foods and substances from your diet is detoxifying for your system. It encourages better digestion, elimination and the skin will become more apparent. Now we need to include foods and supplements that are pressing for healing the skin.
Skin healing foods:
You will need to include a daily salad with fresh baby greens and any combination of vegetables with your preferred vegetarian protein source and a skin healing salad dressing*. We need one raw salad a day for the living enzymes to improve digestion, nutrient uptake and elimination. The best vegetarian protein sources are organic free-range eggs, tofu, quinoa, amaranth, chia seeds or lentils.
Essential fatty acids need to be included daily; the best for skin healing is cold-pressed sunflower oil to be made in a salad dressing. Sunflower oil is lighter oil for the skin and will encourage a smoother flow. Essential fatty acids will moisturize the skin from the inside out. This step is a must. Do not swap sunflower oil to olive oil, fish oil or hemp seed oil. Other ideal essential fatty acid sources for skin healing are; raw almonds, walnuts, avocado, sunflower seed, pepitas, sesame seeds, and tahini. Also, aim to use organic wherever possible.
Use the Correct Skin Care Products
Treat your skincare and avoid all harsh soaps, foaming cleanser, peels and scrubs. Choose a natural and light, pH balanced skincare line and avoid moisturizing at night. Just let your skin breathe, stabilize its moisture secretions, and avoid excessive sun baking and swimming in chlorinated water.
Remember, the skin needs consistent care through diet and lifestyle. Commit yourself to a skin-clearing regime like this one for a minimum of 12 weeks, and you will notice acne clear, and blemishes soften, revealing a clearer and healthier complexion.