Fall is finally here with it’s colored fall leaves, chilly mornings and shorter days. I’d be hard-pressed to find a single New Yorker that does not absolutely LOVE this time of year for it’s endless walking opportunities, farmer’s markets bursting with the fruits of harvest and the cozy warmth of hot drinks on a cool day.
Yet, there is one thing that comes with cold weather that can leave us feeling dried out, dehydrated and congested, and that is the dry heat that is pumped full blast into most New York City apartments, forcing us to crack a window in order to breathe. This is one of the major complaints I hear from clients this time of year, as they begin to experience dry skin from the constant exposure to dry heat. Moisturizer helps but not for long, and for some people, this dryness can cause the skin to scale and crack, making it almost painful.
While external factors definitely play a role in skin health, it is important to look at other, internal factors when navigating great skin care. What we put in our bodies is vital to our overall health and most certainly can determine the quality of our skin, it’s vibrancy and how well we age.
1. Lose Your Fear of Fats!
To put it simply, Completely Fat Free = Accelerated Aging! Whenever I work with a client that goes to great lengths to avoid fats because they are either a) following Weight Watchers point system or b) because of an outdated idea that “fat free” equates to thinness, I also see a person whose skin is dry and aging at an accelerated clip. I also see dry, brittle hair and nails and if I was able to see below the skin’s surface, I’d also see bone density issues. This is because fats are necessary for our overall health, for the management of inflammation, proper hormone balance, management of stress and anxiety as well as proper brain functioning and a happy mood (for more on this, see my previous post 6 Foods your Brain will Thank You For!). A body on a fat free diet is like a rusty bike trying to win the Tour de France. It just doesn’t have what it takes to go the distance. And while it is important to get enough fats in your diet, it is more important to get the right fats.
Obviously, when I say fats, I do not mean French fries or other fried foods. Those kinds of fats can actually accelerate aging because of free-radical damage and can promote inflammation and obesity. Instead, I want you to start thinking about getting the kinds of fats you can readily find in whole foods.
The best fats for skin health and graceful aging are Omega 3 essential fatty acids found in fish oils, flax and walnuts. These fats are powerful anti-inflammatories and help your skin stay hydrated and happy. Ideally, consume high quality fish, such as wild Alaskan salmon or sardines three to four times a week. (With studies showing increasing levels of toxins in farm-raised fish I recommend Vital Choice as a great resource for wild salmon.) If you are a vegan or prefer to get your fats from a plant-based source, then begin including flax to your diet. You should consume one tablespoon of oil per 100 pounds of body weight. You can also up your consumption of flax by adding some ground flax seeds to your morning oatmeal or sprinkled on your cereal. Additionally, snack on walnuts for additional Omega-3 benefits.
Other fats that are beneficial to the skin are the Omega-6’s found in nuts and seeds like almonds, cashews and pumpkin seeds, as well as in avocado’s. You can sprinkle pumpkin seeds in your salad (which are also high in zinc, another great nutrient for skin) and include ¼ avocado to your lunch salad or as a snack mid-afternoon.
2. Detoxify your Skin with Greens!
Whenever I guide a client through a detox, the first compliment they get is about their skin. As your body eliminates inflammatory foods and cleanses the gastrointestinal tract of toxins, the skin quickly begins to show the benefits by looking more hydrated, refreshed, and younger. It is a powerful motivator to continue with the detox when everyone you see is throwing compliments your way that you are looking great!
But you don’t have to engage in a prescriptive detox to get those kinds of benefits every day. Instead, simply make it a point to include dark green leafy vegetables in your diet daily – preferably at every meal.
Dark green leafy vegetables contain chlorophyll, a powerful toxin absorber that can detoxify the gastrointestinal tract, as well as powerful antioxidants that help prevent free-radical damage that then shows up on your skin. Greens also have cancer fighting benefits as well as cardiovascular benefits, so your entire system will benefit by their inclusion. Add a handful of spinach to your eggs in the morning, an extra handful of arugula or chopped kale to your lunch salad and Swiss chard sautéed in olive oil for dinner. Doing so will help your digestion work more efficiently and will help your skin look healthier and more alive.
3. Limit Alcohol which Accelerates Aging
While a modest glass of red wine can help protect your heart and have antioxidant benefits for your entire system, too much alcohol can have a very detrimental effect on your health, your digestion and ultimately, your skin.
As I am sure you are aware, alcohol puts a tremendous burden on your liver, which in turn can have deleterious effects on your digestion, especially your digestion of fats. We’ve already seen how important proper fat consumption and utilization is to your body and skin, so making sure the liver is healthy is important. Additionally, alcohol is a diuretic, meaning that it makes your body eliminate more water, increasing the likelihood of dehydration, which translates into dry skin. Keep alcohol consumption to a minimum and when you do imbibe, make sure you are rehydrating by drinking plenty of water. One of my favorite beverages for rehydrating? Coconut water, so consider drinking one of those the morning after.
4. Keep your Showers and Baths Temperate
It is a natural tendency to want to take super hot showers or baths as the weather gets colder in order to warm our bones for the chill in the air. But hot water can be harsh on our skin, promoting free-radical damage and dehydration, which in turn can lead to inflammation. In fact, you might notice that after a shower your skin begins to look a little red and perhaps a little itchy. This is dehydration beginning to take hold. Instead, try to keep the water temperate and perhaps experiment with the Asian water technique of alternating hot water with super cold water. The fluctuation of temeratures is great for improving circulation to the skin’s surface and eliminating toxins through the skin.
5. Mediation and Stress Management
Stress is a common, every day scourge in the life of the average human being living in the Unites States in the 21st century. There is no way to escape the endless tasks that confront us every day of our lives. While we can’t step off the merry-go-round of life and check out without creating a backlog of things to do, further heightening our stress, we can take measures every day to help us navigate the stressors of life with grace and balance.
One of the very best tools to help quiet our minds and the endless chatter that can be heard therein is to engage in a daily meditation practice.
Meditation has been shown to reduce heart rate, alleviate depression, ward off disease, and slow aging. If it came in a pill, I am sure everyone would be taking it. Unfortunately, with meditation, as with any practice, it is something that you have to engage. While it is a mellow practice, it is definitely not passive. But it doesn’t have to be looked at as daunting either.
Most people see meditation as an all or nothing, 20 minutes twice a day endeavor and if they can’t commit to it in that way, they won’t do it at all. While that sort of schedule may be ideal to get the very most of what meditation has to offer, you can also get a lot out of a 5 minute, at-your-desk meditation in the midst of a hectic day. Just sitting for five minutes with your eyes closed, breathing deeply, can have a profound effect on your mind, your blood pressure and anxiety levels, helping manage the rest of your day with greater clarity. This all translates, over time, to healthier, younger looking skin. Stress shows up as deep lines and furrows, etched permanently into the landscape of our faces. The more we experience stress, the deeper and more ingrained those lines become. Additionally, poor stress management can lead to poor eating habits which in turn can affect skin health by creating toxicity and inflammation.
Shoot for five minutes every day and notice how you feel. Once you begin experiencing the calming effects of five-minute breaks to just breathe and relax, you may find yourself carving out other bits of time throughout your day to help you stay steady. In time, those lines will soften and you will begin to see a happier, more open you.
6. Exercise for Vibrant Skin!
Exercise is another practice whose benefits go well beyond the moment and extend into every aspect of our lives, from the way we look, to the way we feel, our happiness, our beauty and our inspiration. Regular exercise helps to manage our moods and our stress levels. In fact, multiple research studies have proven that regular exercise is more effective than antidepressants in managing depression! Think about that! You can be happier right now by going for a run or a walk, letting your mind take in the beauty of a fall day!
Additionally, exercise helps our circulation and lymphatic system, helping us to sweat out and eliminate toxins that can burden our bodies, our health and the quality of our skin. By bringing more blood flow to the skin’s surface, it also promotes healing of skin cells and the sloughing off of old cells.
Find something you enjoy and begin practicing it today. Like I said, the fall is a perfect time for a long walk in Central Park, so get to it.
Enjoy your fall! Stay beautiful ~