Cleansing isn’t just for the exterior. In many ways, your skin is a reflection of what’s going on inside. For this reason, many skin care professionals are hearing about nutrient-rich, detoxifying diets as a route to better skin health. Properly done, a detoxifying diet can clear digestive pathways and remove irritating toxins, producing a better complexion in the process. The specifics of such diets need to be worked out with a qualified healthcare practitioner, but estheticians can better serve their clients by understanding some basic principles.
Well-known author Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, certified nutrition specialist, believes the first step toward outer beauty is an internal detoxification. She explains that the toxic environment of our modern world forces us to go deeper in order to achieve a better appearance. “Whatever is turning up on the skin may be coming from the inside, not just the toxic environment on the outside,” she says. “Put simply, what you put in your body comes out on your face. Dryness, oiliness, pimples, bumps, dermatitis, black heads, pustules, blotchy skin, large facial pores, brown spots, wrinkles, collagen loss–all of these conditions can be managed, treated, and controlled with diet and proper nutrition.”
Skin Eliminates Toxins
Gittleman explains that the skin is dedicated to protecting the body from foreign elements both inside and out. Studies have shown that up to one third of foreign elements are eliminated through the skin. When digestive organs, such as the liver, colon, and kidneys, are stressed or overwhelmed, they force the skin to act as an additional vehicle for eliminating toxins. Toxins are pushed through the pores to the surface of the skin, where they can be removed from the body. At the skin level, excess toxins can clog pores and cause irritation, leading to breakouts, redness, inflammation, and other conditions.
“What people don’t seem to understand is that the skin is an organ,” Gittleman says. “It’s an eliminating organ, so when an internal organ isn’t working well, the problems can manifest themselves on skin.”
One major goal of a detoxification diet is to tone internal organs so that everything is functioning more smoothly. If the various eliminating organs and digestive systems are functioning properly, toxins are more efficiently flushed from the body. When toxins aren’t building up in the system and all organs are working more fluidly, it shows on the skin.
A skin-oriented detoxification diet typically involves reducing or eliminating trigger foods that can cause problems for the skin. These foods include hydrogenated vegetable oils, trans-fatty acids, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, red meat, excess dairy, processed foods, and refined carbohydrates. Margarine and trans-fatty acids act as metabolic roadblocks to essential fatty acids like omega-3s and -6s, which are critical to skin health. Excess sugar and refined carbohydrates fuel bad bacteria in the gut that can lead to skin irritation. Caffeine and alcohol are both diuretics, meaning they dehydrate the body and cause the skin to lose its dewiness. Processed foods contain very little fiber (essential for digestive cleansing) and are deficient in antioxidizing vitamins and minerals that aid in the filtering of toxins. Red meat and dairy from a healthy source can be beneficial in moderate doses. But, hormone-laden, antibiotic-pumped meat and dairy can add an inflammatory fatty acid that may exacerbate irritated skin.
Increase Nutrient Intake
Detoxifying is not just about subtracting elements from the diet. Along with the elimination of trigger foods, it’s important to increase intake of vital nutrients to help the digestive system handle the heavy lifting and sifting of toxins. Without plenty of antioxidants and other vitamins, toxins aren’t broken down properly and can re-toxify the system. For this reason, it’s important for detoxifiers to not dramatically remove food items from their diets without replacing them with healthier, nutrient-rich alternatives. “Unprepared detoxifying in today’s world can make you really sick,” Gittleman says. “Your liver can be overwhelmed by the process of breaking down and purifying toxins that have been stored for decades. Detoxifying stimulates the release of fatty deposits that can dump toxins into your system. If this happens too quickly and without nutritional support, you can exceed your liver’s capacity for detoxification.”
All that internal sickness shows up on the skin in the form of blotches, inflammation, red spots, and breakouts. To avoid these conditions, dietary experts recommend ramping up the consumption of fruits and vegetables, substituting whole grains for refined carbs, replacing fatty red meat with omega-3-rich fish, cooking with olive or sesame oil instead of hydrogenated vegetable oil, adding nuts and seeds, consuming higher levels of antioxidants, and drinking plenty of fluids, especially purified water. Increasing vitamin and mineral intake is also critical, particularly A, C, E, and zinc.
Many people familiar with detoxifying are also familiar with the term healing crisis. A healing crisis is a temporary barrage of less-than-pleasant side effects that can range from bad breath to headaches. The symptoms vary widely from person to person, but it’s not uncommon for detoxifiers to suffer temporary, skin-related side effects, such as rashes, boils, breakouts, and blotchy skin. These conditions occur when the body starts pushing long-dormant toxins out through the pores. If the pores become clogged with waste and dead skin cells, irritation may occur.
Skin Cleansing Helpful
Because of the potential side effects, you should recommend to your clients that they cleanse their skin regularly during a detoxification. They should routinely exfoliate and brush the skin to remove the dead cells and other detritus from the skin’s surface. They should also take plenty of hot showers, or even spend some time in a sauna or steam room. (Keep in mind heat may negatively affect sensitive skin, rosacea, and telangiectasia, and is contraindicated for certain health conditions.)
The negative side effects of a detoxification diet shouldn’t last more than five to seven days. If they persist longer than that, the detoxer may be dealing with other issues beyond the movement of toxins within the body, and should seek medical assistance.
Ideally, detoxifying is a lifestyle, not a crash diet. The best results come from long-term changes to diet and behavior, not a drastic, temporary overhaul of eating habits. “The problem with a detoxification diet is that some people take it as permission to toxify, as if a detoxification will undo all these lifestyle habits that aren’t conducive to good health,” says Valori Treloar, MD, a board-certified dermatologist who takes an integrative, holistic approach to skin care. “A better approach would be to maintain healthier practices consistently.”
Women who are pregnant or nursing shouldn’t try a detoxification. Also, those who are in a delicate condition due to other health issues may not want to risk the potentially negative symptoms that may accompany the release of dormant toxins. For these clients, a consultation with their healthcare practitioner is the best bet.
By Jeffrey Kent a Denver-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in Alternative Medicine, American PHOTO, Adventure Sports, and many other magazines.
Originally published in ASCP’s Skin Deep, August/September 2007. Copyright 2007. Associated Skin Care Professionals. All rights reserved.
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