This past week I was asked by three different folks about skin care, so I think this topic is calling for me to blog about it! My motto is: simplify.
Let me back up and tell you a little about my background… I briefly considered going into Dermatology when I was in med school, so I took three times the regular amount of training in Dermatology as a result. I’ve always been fascinated by skin and surgical procedures, so I really enjoyed those rotations, chock full of both.
I also spent four summers throughout college working at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, MD… working with a research team who was investigating oncogenes. I loved cancer research too!
So I feel like I’ve gotten a little extra training in the areas of cancer research and in skin. And my gut feeling says that the more you chronically irritate something, the more likely you are to develop cancer in that organ. As straight forward as that. And for this post, we are focusing on skin.
Most of the over the counter anti-aging crap (um… I mean, *products*) you can buy through drugstores, department stores, and even health food stores, contain ingredients designed to chronically irritate your skin. This is because they’ve found that by chronically irritating it (at low levels… low enough that you don’t see any skin reaction visibly) you are chronically encouraging it to slough off and turn over new cells. This is why low but consistent doses of retinal products and hydroxy acids and other skin acids (even all naturally derived fruit acids) works to give your skin a refreshed surface… chronically forcing new cell turnover.
While this is great in the short term (you get fresher skin within a few weeks) in the long term, chronic irritation and inflammation has been shown to incite cellular damage. Chronic inflammation is turning out to be one of the major factors in all types of disease… from coronary artery disease, to strokes, to cancer.
So, my goal as a physician is to decrease the levels of inflammation and irritation in and on the body as much as possible. It is routine practice now to try and decrease the level of inflammation inside our bodies… for example, decreasing the level of inflammation in our guts by avoiding certain foods (like avoiding gluten if you have celiac disease) or using prescription medications to decrease inflammation (like statin drugs for heart disease.) But it is not generally addressed when it comes to skin care.
Yes, everyone understands that inflaming your skin to the point of sunburn is a serious no-no… that UV exposure can cause skin cancers… but what about the chronic irritation of the toxic chemicals in daily use of chemical sunblock? This is starting to get more recent press and consumers are switching to physical sunblocks over chemical ones, for good reason.
The same goes for your facial care products. Infrequent use may be fine, but daily (and sometimes twice daily, morning and night!) slathering on of anti-wrinkle, anti-aging, anti-this-and-that products intended to stir up your skin and cause enough low levels of irritation that it forces your skin to make new skin faster… 40 years of applying this to your face doesn’t seem right to me.
If you had a chemical irritant would you smear it morning and night on the inside walls of your heart? Or along the surface of your kidney? Why does it seem so much more benign when we slather it onto our skin? I’m not sure why.
I do agree it seems less *invasive*. But skin cancers are no small concern… and with the advent of the newer delivery methods (micronized particles and nanosphere delivery systems) the ingredients do not stay superficial at all anymore, but rather are internally delivered. On top of that, and this is just my gut feeling, I truly believe that the chronic inflammation and irritation of the skin, while creating the immediate effect of quicker skin turnover, in the long term (decades later) this very chronic irritation can cause faster skin aging… as your skin reacts to being chronically irritated with visible signs of stress… uneven pigmentation, broken capillaries, seborrheic keratosis, actinic keratosis, and other age related changes.
Okay. So that is the platform upon which I recommend this very simple skin plan. Do no harm. Allow your body to do what it does best… cover you in sheets of beautiful, healthy skin, replacing it as needed… and support this process with moisture and occasional exfoliation.
For moisturizing, nothing beats coconut oil in my book. I have a huge jar of organic coconut oil in my bathroom, and I use it for everything. I put it in my hair once in a while before I shampoo, as a deep moisturizer. I use it on my face to remove make up, then put it on again after I wash my face as a moisturizer. I put it on after I shower and before I towel dry to give my entire body a moisture barrier. It is extremely well absorbed, smells great, and no irritation. Simple to find at most health food stores and grocery stores (and in my husband’s office, for you local folks! His is the best!) and on-line at Amazon… really everywhere.
So that’s my skin care routine. Nothing but coconut oil for moisture. I’ve been known to grab my bottle of organic olive oil or grapeseed oil from the pantry in a pinch as well, but I tend to prefer coconut oil.
For facial washing, I use Dr. Hauschka’s Milky Cleanser… I know, it’s super expensive… but I will say that one bottle lasts me about 4 or 5 months! Just one little pump of cleanser each night… and I don’t use it at all if I am taking a shower that night. And I have to admit, I don’t wash my face in the mornings. I let the sebum oils on my face stay… I guess that is my morning moisturizer… it is the real reason our skin stays healthy anyway. Even though you may curse your sebum if (like me) you tend to break out… it really is crucial to our skin balance. Without it, our skin would have dried up and cracked off long ago. So I’m not afraid of a little skin oil.
Beyond that, if you feel your skin needs a wake up call every once in a while, exfoliate. As long as the irritation isn’t chronic and daily, I do believe you can rough up the skin occasionally to *wake it up* and it will not be as harmful as the twice daily application of chemicals.
For example, when in clinical practice I routinely gave prescription grade facial peels to patients… as often as once a month. This provides a deep stripping of the top layer of your skin, and yes, for sure this is inflammatory, but then your skin repairs and creates a new fresh layer and you leave it alone (save for some pure coconut oil or other moisturizer) for the rest of the the time. I would much rather recommend to a patient that they get skin peels every few months (I would recommend them every 3 to 4 months for interested patients) instead of using daily and nightly chemical crapoola on their face day in and day out, with their skin getting no chance of a break to repair and their body constantly absorbing it in.
I also am a fan of microdermabrasion… if you don’t want any chemicals touching your skin at all, no matter how infrequent, this is the way to go. This is a gentle scrapping of the top layer of skin with crystals… so no chemicals at all to absorb… just physically removing the top layer of skin one a month or every several months, to encourage new cell turn over and remove old skin cells. If you have acne, I think intermittent microdermabrasion is wonderful. Try getting one treatment every three months and giving up all of your old anti-aging facial creams, and see if your skin is happier.
I also love coconut oil for the hair… as I mentioned, I use it for moisturizing my hair, and I believe it is also great for thinning hair. Putting some coconut oil on your scalp once a week and giving your scalp a gentle scalp massage (circles with the pads of your fingertips, do not use your fingernails!) is a great way to stimulate blood to your scalp, clear away old skin cells, and encourage hair growth… all while moisturizing the thin/brittle hair you do have, and making it more supple and less prone to breakage.
Consider weekly coconut oil scalp massages, then make sure to shampoo it out, and feel the vitality return to your scalp!
Okay, that’s about it in a nutshell… coconut oil for face, coconut oil for body, coconut oil for scalp and hair, Dr. Hauschka for facial cleansing, Lanabella for body cleansing, and then if you feel you need it, consider facial microdermabrasion or peels every 3 – 4 months for skin cell turnover.
So… is my skin perfect? No WAY. But is my skin healthy? Absolutely.
Questions? Comments? Leave them for me below and I’ll respond below! See you Wed for a sneak peek at Valentines Day!!! xoxo