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The skin – the largest organ in the human body – plays a number of subtle yet critical roles in our health. It’s also among the first of our features seen by the outside world. It comes as no surprise then, that the global skincare industry is huge – $121 Billion huge – and growing. We’re all familiar with the staggering range of skin care products available – most of which contain long, chemical-ridden ingredient lists.

But, are expensive, complex skin products really the key to healthy skin? Let’s take a step back from the overwhelming, modern skin care paradigm, and delve back into the world of natural skin care. We’ll see how a deeper understanding of the body can help us radiate from the inside out.

A friend in detoxification

While skin blemishes can be incredibly frustrating, they may actually indicate that your skin is fulfilling one of its primary roles – detoxification of the body. The skin is intended to assist the kidneys by excreting toxins through sweat. While this process likely worked without a hitch for our predecessors, modern earth-dwellers might not be so lucky. With daily exposure to a plethora of chemicals, it’s likely that our skin is working overtime to keep us free of harm. The result? Imperfect skin.

With this in mind, how can we turn the tables? Can we once again allow our skin to work in our favor? While the answer is a resounding ‘yes’, let’s first take a deeper look at the body’s miraculous handling of toxins. To begin, there are two main toxin categories. The first category is environmental. We consume or absorb these toxins directly through the skin. The second category is metabolic. These toxins are produced by the body as a result of a normal metabolic process like digestion. Without an effective detox system to immediately eliminate either of these, the body does the next best thing – it stores them.

Fatty tissue is the first dumping ground. This tissue easily absorbs most toxins, while also being less critical to immediate survival than other tissues. If overwhelmed however, these other tissues can be impacted too, leading to possible health issues. The body, in it’s brilliance, works in a hierarchical manner to protect our critical functions. When an opportunity arises however (perhaps through exercise or an improvement in diet), the body will again attempt to rid us of these nasty substances. Ironically, the skin may suffer as a result – at least in the short term.

How can we help our bodies clear these toxins and prevent further buildup? How can we ease the pressure on our skin and allow it to ‘breath’ clearly once again? It’s a process that will take us closer to our goal of naturally healthy skin.

Food for thought

Fresh Brazil nuts on a wooden surface.

Brazil nuts – packed with selenium.

Having looked at the skin’s role in detoxification, it makes sense that our skin can tell us much about our general health. Since most of us realize the intimate connection between diet and health, it follows that diet too can impact our skin health. It’s a two-pronged approach: give the body what it needs to mobilize toxins from cells, while improving the skin’s ability to easily eliminate them. Let’s look at a few components of a healthy diet that can help to achieve these feats.

  • Vitamin E

    This antioxidant repairs skin damage (including UV damage) and protects skin cell membranes. It’s probably best known for its ability to elastify the skin.

    Super-skin foods: Almonds, spinach, avocado, flaxseed oil, olive oil.

  • Vitamin C

    Often promoted as an anti-aging vitamin, vitamin C plays a significant role in collagen production. It’s also excellent for reducing inflammation from skin breakouts.

    Super-skin foods: Grapefruit, orange, lemon, kale, tomato.

  • Selenium

    With some properties similar to vitamin E, selenium is also beneficial in fighting skin infections and reducing inflammation. Most diets will provide healthy levels of selenium, though you can provide an extra boost by integrating the following skin-friendly foods.

    Super-skin foods: Brazil nuts, brown rice, eggs.

  • Acid fruits

    Acid fruits are among the most powerful detoxifiers. Not only do these help to dislodge and flush harmful toxins, they also provide a replenishing hit of body-loving nutrients. If you need more convincing, read this motivational post regarding the many benefits of fruit.

    Super-skin foods: Lemon, tomato, red grapefruit, blood orange, orange.

Lifestyle tips

A woman's face, sweating, taking a break after a jog.

Sweating helps in flushing out toxins.

Daily natural skin care doesn’t need to be complicated or overwhelming. In fact, natural skin care is just one more way to connect your body to innate healing abilities of nature. Let’s take a look at a few simple, tried-and-trusted practices to take your skin care to the next level:

  1. Foods

    Try integrating a variety of the above mentioned foods into your daily diet (for even more variety, check out this list of detoxifying foods). One great way to do this is to begin your day with a skin-loving smoothy, like this one (devised by tai chi expert Jake Mace). Simultaneously, begin to eliminate a few known trouble-makers from your diet. Processed sugars, white flour and dairy products are among the more important ‘skin cloggers’ to avoid.

    While coffee can be overly acidic and dehydrating (among the skin’s worst enemies), rest assured other options are available. Matcha tea – a form of green tea that utilizes the entire leaf – may be among the best alternatives. Matcha is packed with nutrients that nourish the body and reduce skin inflammation.

  2. Bentonite clay

    This naturally occurring mineral clay is often used as a simple and effective face mask. It works to detoxify the skin by unclogging pores and drawing out deeply embedded toxins. It also shrinks pores, helping them remain clean and clear. Use bentonite clay twice-weekly to help keep your skin smooth and radiant.

  3. Coconut oil

    In a previous article we discussed the many health benefits of coconut oil. Not least, coconut oil can be hugely beneficial to the skin. Yes, eating coconut oil is great for reducing inflammation and moisturizing the skin. But direct application of coconut oil to the skin can also work to lubricate pores, making it easier for toxins to escape. Use 1-2 times per week as needed. For more information regarding the role oils can play in developing flawless skin, see our earlier article.

  4. Sweat

    A solid sweat is a detox double-punch, both mobilizing and flushing toxins in one step. Physical activity, or even a hot sauna, can break up and remove toxin-ridden fatty tissue. Heavy metals, pesticides and other nasties won’t stand a chance.

  5. Choose simple

    If using skin care products, shampoos or conditioners, choose fragrance-free products with simple, natural ingredients. If there were one ingredient to avoid, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate might be it. This harsh detergent is known to cause skin irritation and dryness. A little care will go a long way to prevent ingesting and storing these taxing toxins.

Although we live in a world where it’s difficult to isolate ourselves from toxic chemicals in our air, food and water, there is still much we can do to keep ourselves healthy and strong. Natural skincare is just one more way we can simplify our lives, while tuning into our bodies. With a clear understanding of the skin and our body’s detox processes, we can begin to give our bodies what they need. Let’s help our bodies to help us, and enjoy the naturally beautiful skin that results.

About Author

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Mike is a holistic health writer specializing in healthy lifestyle and chronic illness. By combining his aerospace background with the study of mindfulness and meditation, he explores the intersection of conventional and alternative.