By Dr. Mercola
Your skin is your largest organ, and far from being just a passive "covering" on your body, your skin is a complex system made up of nerves, glands and cell layers that play an intricate role in your health.
In fact, healthy skin not only serves as a buffer that helps protect your body from extreme temperatures and chemicals, it also produces antibacterial substances to protect you from infection and enables your body to produce vitamin D when exposed to the sun. It is also densely packed with nerve cells that act as messengers to your brain, making your skin a crucial part of your interactions with the world around you.
Obviously, for these reasons taking good care of your skin is of crucial importance, and will also help your skin appearance to stay soft, supple and glowing, rather than prematurely wrinkled or rough.
5 Common Skin Care Myths
Some of the most widely held "truths" about proper skin care are actually myths. Among the most flagrant and egregious examples are:
Myth #1: All Sun Must be Shunned
Getting safe sun exposure every day is actually one of the best actions you can take for your health, as this is how your body produces enough essential vitamin D, which is known to protect against cancer (including melanoma) and support your immune system, cardiovascular system, kidney function, bones and teeth, muscle strength and much more.
While excessive sun exposure, such as getting sunburned, can certainly damage your skin, sensible sun exposure is not only quite healthy, it's a fundamental step in reaching optimal health.
The skin around your eyes and your face is typically much thinner than other areas on your body and is a relatively small surface area so will not contribute much to vitamin D production. So it is strongly recommended that you protect this fragile area of your body, as it is at a much higher risk for cosmetic photo damage and premature wrinkling. You can use a safe sunblock in this area or wear a cap that always keeps your eyes in the shade.
Myth #2: Tanning Must be Avoided
Assuming you use sensible exposure and avoid getting burned, sensible tanning the "old-fashioned" way (i.e. out in the sun) is perfectly acceptable. The first few days, you should limit your exposure to the sun to allow your body's melanocyte cells to rev up the ability to produce protective pigmentation that not only gives you a tan, but also serves to help protect you against overexposure to the sun.
If you are a fairly light-skinned individual that tends to burn, you will want to limit your initial exposure to a few minutes, especially if it is in the middle of summer.
The more tanned your skin will get, and/or the more tanned you want to become, the longer you can stay in the sun. If it is early or late in the season and/or you are a dark-skinned individual, you could likely safely have 30 minutes on your initial exposure. If you are deeply pigmented and your immediate ancestors are from Africa, India or the Middle East, it is possible you may not even have to worry about how long you are exposed.
Always err on the side of caution however, and let it be your primary goal to never get sun burned, while also protecting the sensitive skin around your eyes and face, as noted above.
Myth #3: Sunless Tanning Lotions/Sprays are Safe
Sunless tanners contain a lengthy list of chemical agents — up to 45 in the case of spray tanners. Many of these agents have never been studied for their long-term effects on human health, because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not systematically review the safety of personal care products.
One of the main ingredients in spray tanning solutions is dihydroxyacetone, a color additive that darkens your skin by reacting with amino acids in your skin's surface layer. Dihydroxyacetone is often abbreviated DHA (which should not be confused with docosahexaenoic acid, the healthy omega-3 fat often given the same abbreviation).
Manufacturers of sunless tanning products claim DHA is a simple carbohydrate sugar solution, but some toxicologists disagree. Part of the problem is that the U.S. government's regulations for DHA allow contaminants such as lead, arsenic and mercury. Further, a report by the National Toxicology Program1 suggests the risks of DHA remain unclear, pointing to some evidence that DHA may be a mutagen that could induce breaks in DNA strands, which could contribute to accelerated aging and even skin cancer.
Myth #4: The Higher the SPF of Your Sunscreen, The Better
It's generally unnecessary to purchase sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) greater than 50. The reason for this is because while SPF works by absorbing, reflecting or scattering the sun's rays on your skin, its protective ability is not linear and does not offer a great deal more protection at higher levels.
With regards to SPF, another important factor to remember is that SPF only protects against UVB rays, which are the rays within the ultraviolet spectrum that allows your body to produce vitamin D in your skin. But the most dangerous rays, in terms of causing skin damage and cancer are the UVA rays. This is why you always want to make sure any sunscreen you buy protects against UVA's as well as UVB's … and does NOT contain any common toxic ingredients, such as oxybenzone or retinyl palmitate.
Myth #5: All Skin Care Products on the Market are Safe
This is a Flash-based video and may not be viewable on mobile devices.
It is important to understand that of the 10,500 ingredients used in your personal care products, fewer than 20 percent have been reviewed for safety in the last 30 years, according to an Environmental Working Group (EWG) analysis.2
The reviews that have been done were conducted by a fox in the henhouse—the Cosmetics Ingredients Review, which is run by the cosmetics industry! Not all ingredients need even be mentioned on the label—if they don't want to include one for some reason, they can just leave it off. Therefore, most personal care product formulations are based on nothing more than marketing success, designed to smell good, look good and feel good when you rub them on your skin, regardless of their impact on your health.
But in reality, as the CNN video above describes, many skin care products on the market contain chemicals (including parabens, phthalates, triclosan and others) that have been linked to cancer, hormone disruption, reproductive toxicity and other health problems.
One of the core principles to remember when it comes to skin care is that whatever you slather onto your skin will be absorbed into your body and enter your bloodstream. This is why it's so important to avoid skin care products containing questionable chemicals! Your skin is an excellent drug delivery system, so you should be just as careful with what you put on your skin as you are with what you eat, if not more so, as your gut actually helps protect you against some of the toxins you ingest by filtering them out ... a protection you don't get when a chemical is absorbed through your skin.
Top Dietary Tips for Healthy Skin at Any Age
Ideally, your skin care regimen should include steps to address your skin health from the inside out, as well as from the outside in. The first step should be addressing your diet, as one of the most profoundly effective ways to create the most attractive glow for your skin is by consuming vegetables and fruits that are high in carotenoids. Carotenoids give red, orange and yellow fruits their color, and also occur in green vegetables. Studies have shownthat eating foods with these deeply colored pigments can make your face actually look healthier than being tanned.3
The more red and yellow tones found in your skin, the more attractive the people were found to be. The redder tones are caused when people are flushed with blood, particularly if the blood has lots of oxygen in it. Researchers found that, given the choice between skin color caused by suntan and skin color caused by carotenoids, people preferred the carotenoid skin color, so if you want a healthier and more attractive skin color, you are better off eating a healthy diet.
In order to have clear, healthy skin, you need to make sure your body is relatively free of toxins, so cleansing your body of dangerous substances while putting in the finest nutrients is essential. The organs responsible for providing you with beautiful skin include your liver, kidneys, adrenals, thyroid, and your large and small intestines.
- Your liver and kidneys are the two organs that filter out impurities on an ongoing basis. If your diet is less than ideal, these two organs can easily become overtaxed, which can lead to breakouts and other skin problems.
- Your adrenals make many essential hormones, such as pregnenolone, DHEA, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Hormonal imbalances can also result in problematic skin conditions, so adrenal function is important as well.
- A well-nourished, energetic thyroid also provides hormones and works closely with your adrenals to create energy. Dry, flakey, sluggish skin can be evidence of a weak thyroid.
- Your small- and large intestines provide nutrients to all your organs and remove waste products from your body. When waste meant for elimination remains in your intestines your skin becomes thick, oily and blemished. Pure, flawless skin is typically a reflection of clean intestines.
Eating a healthy diet as described in my nutrition plan, which focuses on whole, bioavailable organic foods, is your number one strategy for helping your body detox naturally while supplying the necessary nutrients your skin needs to thrive. That said, some foods are particularly effective at promoting beautiful, clear skin, including:
- Animal-based omega-3 fats: Omega-3 fats help to normalize skin lipids and prevent dehydration in the cells. This keeps skin cells strong and full of moisture, which can help to decrease the appearance of fine lines. Fatty acid deficiency can manifest in a variety of ways, but skin problems such as eczema, thick patches of skin, and cracked heels are common. Plus, omega-3 fats may have an anti-inflammatory effect that can help to calm irritated skin, giving you a clear, smooth complexion.
- Vegetables: Ideally fresh, organic and locally grown.
- Fermented foods are even better as they can start with the same vegetables but are converted by bacteria to superfoods, which help promote the growth of friendly intestinal bacteria and aid in digestion.
- Avoid Sugars, Fructose and Grains: This is probably the single most important step you can take to improve your skin health. If you eliminate all sugars, fructose and grains from your diet for a few weeks there is a major likelihood you will notice rapid improvement in your complexion.
Bonus Skin Care Tips You Probably Haven't Heard Of...
Without a healthy diet and lifestyle, no amount of creams and potions will alter the look and feel of your skin to any great degree. However, once you've addressed the dietary basics mentioned above, you can go ahead and try these additional skin care tips, which can help to nourish your complexion:
- Astaxanthin—a potent antioxidant—has been found to offer effective protection against sun damage when taken as a daily supplement. Some sunscreens are also starting to use astaxanthin as an ingredient to protect your skin from damage.
- All-natural moisturizers -- Pure emu oil is a great alternative to facial- and body moisturizers and lotions, as is pure coconut oil. It's a fantastic moisturizer and a potent source of the beneficial fat lauric acid.
- All-natural acne fighter -- Rubbing just a drop of oregano oil on a breakout can speed up the healing and prevent unsightly scarring without resorting to harsh commercial acne medication (remember to wash your hands thoroughly afterward).