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Naturopathic Approaches to Healing your Skin

Don’t let poor skin health keep you holed up inside. Find out how to approach skin health in a holistic way.

What is the function of skin?

  1. Protection: from mechanical trauma, chemical trauma, or UV radiation
  2. Regulation: water and heat regulation through the skin.
  3. Sensation: skin contains sensory receptors for pressure, temperature, pain etc.

 What factors affect skin?

1.Environment: Sometimes the most obvious place to start is looking at what we are exposing our skin cells.

a) External:

  • ultraviolet (UV) radiation
  • Pollution
  • chemical irritation      
  • trauma

    b) Internal:     

  • dryness, fine wrinkling and paleness
  • genetic mutations
  • increased inflammatory signals
  • decreased lipid production and decreased hormone levels.

2. Digestive function and Hydration status: Overworked or under-active digestive systems can cause skin issues and decreased skin health as these two systems are closely connected. The digestive system absorbs nutrients and water from food, and eliminates toxins, hormones and waste products. Like external toxins appearing in the skin internal toxins will also wreak havoc.

a) Absorption: good  bacteria in the large intestine also help to optimize function. Any unbalance in the composition of this gut flora will result in “dysbiosis” which will can lead to infections, candida overgrowths, and toxin accumulation, and malabsorption of key nutrients for skin health.

b) Hydration: The elasticity, firmness and correct functioning of the stratum corneum depends on its moisture content. Natural moisturising factors (NMFs) in the skin help it retain water which can then affect the skin’s barrier properties. While overhydration stops NMF production, dehydration results in skin cells not shedding and skin becoming rough, flaky and cracked.

c) Elimination: If digestion is sluggish or impaired toxins can accumulate in the blood and manifest in the skin. Further, sluggish bowels may result in hormones staying in the system when they should have been excreted- prolonging their effects and altering tightly controlled feedback systems.

3. Immune health: It is important to find the optimal balance in immune function as under function leads to infection and over function leads to autoimmunity and hyper- responsiveness.

a) Inflammation: In the skin, inflammation is termed dermatitis

  • Acute inflammation is the body’s response to infection or trauma. Inflamed skin occurs in a number of conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and impetigo.
  • Chronic inflammation occurs after prolonged periods of inflammation it is usually the result of the immune system being unable to destroy an invading organism. Chronically inflamed skin may also be the result of autoimmunity.

4. Hormone balance: Hormones are chemical messengers that are produced in organs such as the ovaries, adrenal glands and thyroid glands. Sex steroid hormones, thyroid and growth hormones are involved in many different functions such as growth, immune, reproductive and metabolic functions, and even hunger and stress.

  • Estrogen: affect skin thickness ( through collagen production), wrinkle formation and skin moisture.
  • Testosterone: Increased levels of this androgen can lead to coarser and thicker hair, and oilier skin (involved in skin sebum production).
  • Thyroid: Too much of the key thyroid hormones T3 and T4 can cause skin to become warm, sweaty and flushed. Too little, and skin becomes dry, coarse, thick and even sweating is decreased.
  • Cortisol: The stress hormone can affect gut function, immunity, and skin in chronic conditions.

Naturopathic Treatments

Treatment goals are aimed at addressing the root cause of any dysfunction. Other therapeutic targets may include:

Woman blowing on dandelion.
  • improve elimination     
  • address imbalances
  • reduce pain, itchiness, scarring
  • prevent recurrence

1. Lifestyle:

  • Improve elimination
  • Improve hygiene
  • Reduce exposure to toxins

2. Nutrition:

Anti-inflammatory diets: Inflammation disrupts absorption and elimination. Thus, you should see benefits when you reduce inflammation by avoiding trigger foods.

Probiotics: It is important to establish healthy gut bacteria to ensure there is no overgrowth of harmful bacteria that can cause absorption issues, increase toxins, and disturb immune function.

Fish oils provide essential fatty acids (good oils) which lubricate the bowel and decrease inflammation.  Fish such as tuna, salmon, sardines, anchovies and mullet are good sources of omega 3’s. Flax and algae oils are viable  vegetarian alternative.

Immune boosting foods:  Zinc is an important mineral involved in immune function, capable of direct antimicrobial action and crucial in healing wounds and tissues. In controlled studies, lower zinc levels have been associated with more severe acne. Supplementation has been shown  to  not only decrease the total acne lesion count but also the lesion severity after only eight to 12 weeks.

Fibre: helps cleanse the bowel removing excess toxins. Steel cut oats and lots of leafy green vegetables are the easiest ways to increase fibre!

3. Botanical Medicine:

Botanicals can be prescribed orally or topically for skin conditions. Orally taking botanicals can have a systemic effect, often recommended for detoxification. Botanicals that help regulate the liver will have an effect on the skin- for example certain botanicals may act to enhance the function and metabolism of pathways mediated by the liver. Topically applying botanicals helps to relieve aggravating symptoms of a skin condition (i..e. itching, burning, redness, swelling, dryness etc…)

Remember symptoms don’t just appear, there is always a root cause. Sustainable management of health concerns requires a holistic approach to treatment.

*Please note the above is not intended for the diagnosis, treatment, or cure of any skin condition or skin health. Individuals should see a qualified healthcare practitioner regarding their individual needs and treatment goals.

Dr. Navnirat Nibber

About The Author

Dr. NavNirat Nibber, ND is a graduate of the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine and a registered Naturopathic Doctor. She is a Co-Owner at Crescent Health Clinic, as well as a Senior Medical Advisor at Advanced Orthomolecular Research.

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