Excerpts from “Healthy, Vibrant Skin: A Naturopathic Approach,” by Jane Semple, MA ND
We have all tried a miracle pill or cream that promised to make us appear significantly younger, but were disappointed when the mirror did not bear out the miracle. That is because there is no one magic bullet in keeping our skin healthy, vibrant and youthful looking.
The skin is a highly complex organ. Skin protects underlying tissues, helps regulate body temperature, excretes minerals and waste, absorbs and synthesizes vitamin D, and detects stimuli such as pressure and pain.
Thick skin is found on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. Thin skin, which will be discussed in this book, covers the rest of the body.
The dermis is the inner skin membrane consisting of a layer of loose connective tissue and a deeper layer of interwoven meshwork of dense connective tissue. Bundles of collagen fibers blend the layers and allow the skin to be elastic; stretching and recoiling during movement. Collagen is made up of protein, which is a string of connected amino acids. Loss of collagen causes the skin to sag, referred to as stretch marks.
The epidermis, which overlies the dermis, is continually exposed to the elements (sun, wind, dust and dirt) and attacked by microorganisms (bacteria and viruses). Friendly bacteria populate the epidermis, keeping unfriendly microbes from taking over and from penetrating into the body. This top-most layer is gradually shed.
Networks of arteries supply the skin, delivering nutrients, removing toxins and giving us a healthy, pink glow. The water content of the skin helps maintain flexibility.
Supplements for healthy skin
Essential Fatty Acids are fatty acids needed for good health, but the body cannot manufacture them. Thus, we need to obtain essential fatty acids from our diet or supplements. Fatty acids are sometimes referred to as vitamin F or polyunsaturates. One of the Omega 6 Fatty Acids, Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA) is especially helpful in supporting the skin, reducing the appearance of facial lines and stretch marks.
Collagen supplements are sold as liquids, powders or in capsules. The supplements include the amino acids arginine, proline, glycine and carnitine. These amino acids provide the building blocks of the protein needed to rebuild collagen in the dermis layer, which in turn supports the epidermis, keeping skin elastic and smooth.
Vitamins for healthy skin
Vitamin A has an affinity for the skin, reducing lines and age spots. It has a long history of use as a blemish treatment. This vitamin is needed for repair and maintenance of skin and mucous membranes. A deficiency can cause dry skin and hair.
Vitamin B is needed to maintain the health of skin, nerves, hair and mouth. The B vitamins assist in protein synthesis and muscle tone. This family of vitamins protects the body from the degenerative effects of aging. B vitamins are not as well absorbed as we age, so supplementing becomes essential.
Vitamin B2, riboflavin, facilitates oxygen uptake by the skin and other tissue. A shortage may cause dermatitis and hair loss.
Vitamin B3, niacin, is needed for circulation to the skin. Skin eruptions are one indication of a niacin deficiency. Flaky or excessively oily skin is an indication of a shortage of vitamin B6. This B-complex vitamin is also helpful for cracks in the skin, lips or mouth. Biotin is required for healthy skin and hair. A dry, scaly scalp indicates a biotin deficiency.
Vitamin C is required for many metabolic functions, including tissue growth and repair. This vitamin is essential for collagen production, which provides elasticity, keeping the skin from sagging.
Vitamin D is the “vitamin de jour” – the vitamin of the day. Vitamin D is produced in the skin in response to exposure to the sun’s rays. This vitamin is fat-soluble with properties of both a vitamin and a hormone. Vitamin D is needed for the proper absorption and utilization of calcium, as well as growth and development of bones, teeth and muscles.
Herbs to consume for healthy skin
Commercial herbal preparations are available in bulk, powders, capsules, teas or tinctures. Herbs may be taken singly or in combinations. Quality can differ greatly depending upon manufacturer. A low-cost supplement is rarely a bargain.
Black Cohosh, Wild Yam, and Soy contain phytosterols (plant hormones), which help maintain tissue integrity and lubrication.
Kelp, Dulse, and Irish Moss are seaweeds that contain natural iodine and other important trace minerals to support thyroid function. Seaweed is also an excellent source of B vitamins.
Horsetail is high in silica and trace minerals to strengthen connective tissue including skin, hair and nails. Silica improves elasticity of collagen, giving skin flexible strength and a healthy glow.
Sage is an herb used for all conditions of aging. Sage supports circulation, memory, and concentration and promotes skin elasticity, encourages hair growth and retention of hair color.
Rosemary may reduce temporary inflammation and help detoxify the liver.
Topical herbs for the skin
You will likely find natural cleansing products for your skin in your local health food store. Or, if you wish to make your own, choose two or three herbs, matched to your skin type (oily or dry) then add a cleansing herb or two.
Make an infusion by pouring boiling water over the herbal combination, then cover and steep for 20 minutes. Start with one teaspoon of the combination per cup of water.
For oily skin: choose astringent herbs to tighten skin and close pores. Astringent herbs include agrimony, horsetail, lady’s mantle, lavender, marigold, mullein, rosemary, yarrow, white willow and witch hazel.
For dry skin: choose emollient herbs to add moisture. Emollient herbs include chamomile, comfrey, elder flowers, Irish moss, marshmallow, slippery elm and sweet violet.
Moisturizing does not have to be expensive. An essential oil combination like the one below can be used as an inexpensive alternative to other moisturizers. Pro tip: Always sweep upwards when applying an oil or moisturizer.
An essential oil combination to combat wrinkles:
- 1 oz of carrier oil (consider aloe vera, almond, apricot kernel, avocado, grapeseed, or whatever you prefer)
- Add 3 drops lavender or geranium oil
- Add 2 drops frankincense or sage oil
Use an anti-wrinkle oil combination in place of a moisturizer two or three times per week. These oils are also great for legs and elbows, especially in the winter. Oil absorbs deep into the skin. If you are prone to blemishes, consider applying lavender or tea tree oil neat (directly on the skin without using carrier oil). Apply essential oils directly only to problem areas, not the entire face, as essential oils may be irritating to the skin.
How to locate a practitioner
Look for a natural healthcare practitioner near you. Check your local phone directory under Neuropaths, Herbs, or Alternative Medicine. You may also find someone by doing an internet search for “naturopath” or herbalist,” including a city or state locator.
Keep in mind…
It’s important to love the skin that you’re in, and it’s essential that you make an effort to take care of it. Considering some of the information and suggestions woven into this article would be a great place to start!