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How can I get clear skin?

September 6th 2015 / Anna Hunter / 2 comments

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Wrinkles aside, clear skin is the dermatological holy grail. We put your question to the experts…

Ever had a burning beauty or health question and needed top notch expert intelligence? Our Little Book of Experts is here to serve you at all times, but sometimes you really need to get to the nitty gritty of a specific problem before taking action, and that’s exactly what our Question Time slot is for. Simply send in your beauty or health dilemmas to us via Twitter, Facebook or Instagram using the hashtag #GTGQT and we will select a reader question each month and ask our distinguished experts to give a straight answer. From frizz to fitness to fungal infections, our experts are on call to offer monthly counselling. This month, we take on the topic of clear skin, or more specifically, how to get it...

Dr Stefanie Williams, Dermatologist and Medical Director at European Dermatology London

The well-known lifestyle habits that have a negative influence on skin are smoking, urban pollution and excessive sun exposure. However, two greatly underestimated lifestyle aspects with influence on skin are what we eat and how stressed we feel. Not enough women realise that lifestyle factors such as taking time out to relax and eating plenty of healthy, good fats (often avoided for the wrong reasons) will have a positive impact on the long-term appearance of their skin.

Green and white tea are my absolute favourite super-drinks – I have several cups of them (unsweetened) every day myself. They are full of antioxidant polyphenols and also have anti-inflammatory and even anti-cancer properties. My tip – stop drinking fruit juice (which is essentially just sugar-water) and start drinking unsweetened green and white tea. I would also rate olive oil and coconut oil as skin superfoods. Olive oil is full of beneficial monounsaturated fats and polyphenolic antioxidants. Coconut oil contains medium chain saturated fat.

With regard to a skincare regime, I would recommend visiting a dermatologist, the most expert person to deal with skin and get them to put together a tailored skincare regime for you. This should be based on evidence based ingredients with clinical studies behind them. Then stick to it and use it regularly! Don’t get tempted to change to the newest fad every other week. Skincare is a long-term investment into your skin’s future. My strategy is to cherry-pick the best products from different brands and combine them into a tailored skincare regime. Many brands have their star products, while other products in their range might not be as great.

Dr Terry Loong, Integrative Cosmetic and Skin Doctor, author of The Hormonal Acne Solution

I coined a term a few years back called Skin Energy™. Skin Energy™ is the total sum of what makes us live our life to its peak potential, in full vitality, health and beauty. You may call it ‘mojo’, ‘juice’, ‘soul’, ‘life force’ or just the ‘edge’! Skin Energy™ is what is expressed on the skin from the inside of your body, mind and soul.

It’s a combination of Eastern philosophy and Western science where the practitioners from the East have always looked at the source of the problem and focused on lifestyle changes, mindfulness and the use of food as medicine. Western science has extrapolated this philosophy to supplements, prescriptions and active ingredients.

To control problems that could occur in the skin, such as acne, excess oil production, dryness, redness, sensitivity or fine lines and wrinkles, we can look to find the underlying cause of the problem, so treating the condition from a holistic angle.

Here are the elements of Skin Energy™ that I have found to be important to have clear skin.

1. Nurture your emotional well-being

Our emotional state is also played out in our skin. If we are stressed, unhappy, anxious or conversely if we are happy, relaxed and joyous, we can recognise these emotions in the state of our skin. We have all seen people who literally radiate happiness – their skin is glowing, fresh, dewy and they appear to be ‘well’. When we see people who are sad or unhappy, we can also see this in their skin.

Every day and every week, find your best way to decompress to help manage your stress and nurture your emotional well-being e.g. 10 minutes of meditation, a full body massage, a hot bath, a yoga class, walking in nature, laughing over a healthy lunch with your favourite girlfriends or go on a weekend retreat once a month where you can have a proper digital detox (no emails, no phones, no laptops or TVs).

There’s a saying that goes “respect yourself enough to walk away from anything that no longer serves you, grows you or makes you happy.

2. If you look after your gut, your gut will look after you.

What we eat affects our skin a lot. What we fuel our bodies with has a massive impact on the balance within our bodies. A poor diet affects our hormones, our immune system and a myriad of other systems, in turn affecting what shows on the outside. Any good skincare regime must include a healthy, nutritious and balanced diet to optimise any treatment outcome.

A big observation I see with my patients in the clinic is that most of my clients have food sensitivity or gut dysbiosis (microbial imbalance within the gut). The gut contributes to 70% of the body’s immune system so if it’s inflamed or unhappy, the skin will show it.

To check for inflammation, I carry out a food sensitivity test and a GI health test (both from Invivo Clinical). Depending on their results, I am able to give advice on food plans and prescribe them specialised supplements and herbs if they are found to have an overgrowth of microbes. I also start them on anti-inflammatory medical foods to repair and heal the gut. Most patients have clearer and brighter skin once their gut health has improved.

With a healthier gut system, nutrients can be better absorbed and used to repair, heal and maintain beautiful skin. I recommend my patients to focus on clean eating, go green as much as possible, choose alkaline over acidic foods and limit (or cut out completely) sugars, caffeine, alcohol and gluten. These foods are inflammatory and can cause dehydration, dark circles under the eyes and premature lines and wrinkles. A diet rich in healthy fats, like omega-3s found in salmon, avocados, olives and nuts, will also help nourish skin from the inside.

The basic supplements that I recommend my patients to take are:

A multivitamin and multimineral complex. This supplements the basic nutrients the skin needs.

Omega 3 (at least 1000 mg/ day). This helps to repair the skin, reduce skin’s sensitivity to the sun by 50% and is a powerful anti-inflammatory.

Vitamin D (5000IU/ day). Almost 80% of the population is vitamin D deficient. Low vitamin D often result in breakouts, dull and tired looking skin. It’s best to check blood levels before starting.

You also want to make sure your diet is balanced without any forced restrictions which may cause stress (not good for wrinkles) and avoid yo-yo diets. This is particularly bad as the rapid fluctuation in weight typically leaves skin lax, loose and old. It’s also not healthy for your hormones.

3. Balance your hormones

Youthful skin has an abundance of collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid. As the years go by, these three components decrease. After age 30, our skin loses about 1% of collagen a year. Unfortunately with modern processed food, the pressures of life, smoking, unmanaged stress and a sedentary, unhealthy lifestyle can all help increase that loss.

Hormones are important in maintaining the skin thickness, firmness, smoothness, oil control and elasticity. Hormones are chemical messengers that allow communication between different parts of our bodies in order to function efficiently and in harmony. There are about 50 hormones in our bodies providing over 300+ functions. However, there are important hormones that are involved in the youth of the skin.

One of these hormones is oestrogen, a group of hormones that give the woman her female features. Oestrogen increases skin thickness, collagen, blood flow, glycosaminoglycans (which holds the skin’s water content). From 30 years onwards, oestrogen levels start to drop and we start noticing the first signs of lines and wrinkles, especially around the eyes.

Another important hormone for the skin is testosterone, a hormone in charge of muscle strength, growth spurts, confidence and basically feeling sexy! Women have much smaller levels compared to men. In our 30s, as oestrogen starts to fall, testosterone levels become relatively higher so we can get adult acne if we don’t balance our hormones through a healthy lifestyle and appropriate stress management.

My patients typically want to know how to optimise their skin and their health. Depending on the history, I may recommend they take a hormone profile test to look at the levels, the ratios and how balanced it is in relation to their symptoms. Depending on what I find, I create a program of rebalancing and optimising their hormones either through lifestyle changes, supplements, herbs or bio-identical hormone replacement therapy.

Stress management, nurturing emotional well-being, eating clean, exercising and getting good quality sleep will help to reduce the stress hormone cortisol, which speeds up the ageing process.

4. Circulation and Movement

Circulation, exercise and motion also influence the skin. Incorporating movement and exercise into our daily lives increases the flow of nutrients, detoxification, lymphatic drainage, blood circulation and renewal, all of which are important in creating healthy skin.

This can be done through breathing exercises (increasing oxygenation to the skin), stretching, moving your body, rebounding (bouncing on a little trampoline), walking, interval training and weights training.

Extreme training can be ageing as it can put stress on your body and increases inflammation. If you are into extreme training such as marathon running, I would recommend you increase your antioxidant and anti-inflammatory foods and supplements and make sure you have plenty of rest days to recover.

5. Effective Skincare

Last but not least, it’s the skincare you choose. There is so much to choose from and you’ll have to experiment to see what works for you as it depends on your budget, your personality, your lifestyle, how much you travel, how much sun you are exposed to and any underlying medical concerns or medication you are on.

However as a basic rule, for clear skin, you want to focus on products that are:

Hydrating e.g containing hyaluronic acid to keep skin cells plump

Calming to reduce redness, breakouts and sensitivity

Preventative e.g. anti-oxidants vitamin C and vitamin E

Protective e.g. sunscreen is a MUST.

Stimulating e.g. retinol or growth factors to stimulate new cell regeneration

For a good healthy skincare routine, I would recommend:

AM

Rinse your face with water (I find cleansing twice a day may too harsh for some skin types).

Apply an anti-oxidant serum

Apply sunscreen which can act as a moisturizer and base for makeup

Don’t forget to apply products on your eyes and neck too

Here’s a video clip of my morning skincare routine.

PM

Remove all makeup with a gentle remover

Cleanse your skin with an appropriate cleanser

Apply a regenerative serum

Apply moisturiser to seal in the products and hydrate the skin over night

Here’s a video clip of my evening skincare routine.

I also recommend on a weekly basis to exfoliate your skin and use a skin mask depending on your skin’s needs. If you live in the city and have a hectic lifestyle, I would also recommend you book yourself in for a facial at least every 4-6 weeks to thoroughly clean, hydrate, brighten and firm your skin from the daily grind.

To find out more about adult acne and how to treat it, visit our SOS info page.

If you’ve got a beauty or health question for our experts, then ask away either in the comments section below, via email or on social media. Until next month…

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  • Anna Hunter
  • September 9th 2015

Hi Gail! Glad the article helped. From a hormone point of view, you may want to check out the below features. I hope they're similarly of interest:
http://www.getthegloss.com/article/how-to-stop-your-hormones-wrecking-your-life-and-waistline

http://www.getthegloss.com/article/what-would-a-dermatologist-do-your-skin-conditions-deconstructed

Do let me know how you get on! Anna

  • gail lees
  • September 6th 2015

This is a great article. I have been eating "cleaner" since the beginning of the year, and with the help of my spiraliser and juicer I look and feel so well. All the tips above are really useful to making lifestyle changes and keeping to them. Just one request : more tips please on how to maintain the impact when your hormones no longer function so well (this is from a post menopausal woman who cannot take HRT)

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