Is your skin dry in the winter? Besides the air being full of static and moisture-depleted which can contribute to irritated skin, we can experience dryness because of three major factors – environmental damage, chemicals we put directly on our skin, and the lack of healthy, traditional fats in our diets.
Water and your skin
Although adequate water intake does affect the overall health of your body – including your skin – by itself, it does not have a direct affect on the moisture content in skin. According to Michelle Murphy, a registered dietitian at New York Presbyterian–Weill Cornell Medical Center, “The water we drink that’s processed internally isn’t going to impact the external look or feel of the skin. Instead, it’s the skin’s outer layer that is essential for keeping moisture in”.
In addition, tap water contains the following elements which can alter the skin’s ability to retain moisture: saline or alkaline minerals, contamination and pollutants, bacteria, chemicals such as chlorine and fluoride, softeners, and purifiers. These substances leave behind a residue that is responsible for modifying the osmolarity of the skin and results in dryness. Osmolarity relates to the skin’s ability to absorb moisture. A major factor in the development of dry skin is this residue from municipal water systems.
The real effect personal care products have on skin
Many products sold to eliminate dry skin actually cause the problem to become worse. And then there are other products claiming to be “natural” or chemical free on the label. Reading the ingredient label will likely reveal otherwise. Becoming a careful label reader in the store will reveal just how many toxic ingredients are in most of the lotions, body creams, and other personal care products you buy to combat dry skin.
Most lotions and body cremes contain emulsifiers (mixing agent) to combine the oils and water that are contained within the product. They also contain preservatives (usually a paraben of some type), and other chemicals that cause more problems than they solve. All of these ingredients clog the pores in your skin and actually cause the top layer to dry out more, thus causing the need for more product to be applied. There are a few reputable and fairly healthy brands on the market, but you should always take care and read the labels first.
Beware of GMOs and soy in skincare products
If you are going to purchase a store-bought product, be sure to read labels and avoid anything with genetically-modified ingredients such as soy, corn, or grains. These items are more often than not from a GMO source, and you cannot be certain that it isn’t unless the label reads “no GMOs” or “no genetically-modified ingredients”. From knowing what I do about soy, even organic soy ingredients are probably not safe on your skin.
Remember, your skin is the largest organ of your body and it can absorb at a much higher rate than your digestive tract. Soy is dangerous to consume because of high phytic acid levels in the bean which inhibit nutrients from absorbing into the body. Although I have not seen any scientific evidence stating that soy could inhibit nutrient absorption through the skin, to be on the safe side, the best course of action seems to be not to take any chances and avoid putting soy on the skin.
Look in your cupboard – natural oils for skin care
One of the simplest topical solutions for dry skin can actually be found in your own cupboard. Olive oil and coconut oils work wonders on dry skin and don’t cost a thing extra other than replacing your bottle of oil when you run out.
Besides being a very healthy, wonderful smelling and tasting oil for cooking, coconut oil is a luscious body oil and will cure dry skin almost on contact. Coconut oil has received an undeserved bad reputation for many years, but it is actually one of the most healthy oils you can use in cooking and for skin care. It also has a higher temperature point at which it can be heated and remain stable, thus making it safe for higher temperature cooking.
Nutritionally, coconut oil is comprised of 92 percent saturated fat. Over two-thirds of this fat appears as medium-chain fatty acids, referred to as medium-chain triglycerides. Its shorter chain fatty acid composition allows efficient metabolization and offers protection for cells against the stress of unsaturated fats within the body. It it also rich in lauric acid, known for its powerful antifungal and antimicrobial abilities. Lauric acid is an essential nutrient for immune system boosting, cardiovascular maintenance, weight control, and general health.
Another amazing oil for the skin is apricot kernel oil. It is rich in body and flavor, and feels soothing and warm on the skin. I have a friend that mixes and creates natural body oil combinations, soaps, and body scrubs who added some rose and geranium oils to my apricot kernel oil and it has the most beautiful smell imaginable.
Your diet and its effect on your skin
With that said – as there are many skin care products marketed toward making our skin softer, firmer, and younger-looking – I firmly believe the winning combination for skin health is a healthy diet with plenty of traditional foods including natural fats and pure, natural oils.
Foods that keep our skin soft and supple, and free from being dry and cracked, include:
- Healthy organic oils like olive, coconut, palm and palm kernel, pumpkin seed, walnut oil, macadamia nut
- Cod liver oil – Green Pastures carries an excellent fermented cod liver oil/butter oil combination that is highly nutritious and digestible
- Real butter from pastured cows
- Other healthy fats like tallow (from beef), chicken fat, and lard (from pigs)
- Healthy meats from grass-fed and pastured or roaming-on-the-range animals and poultry or birds like beef, pork, chicken, turkey, lamb, game meats, ducks and geese
- Eggs from pastured hens
- Safe-source fish and seafood such as salmon, tuna, oysters, cod, mussels, clams, octopus, or squid
- Whole, raw dairy from pastured cows – cheese, milk, cream, sour cream, yogurt, buttermilk, and kefir
The role essential fatty acids and other nutrients play in skin and general health
Fish oil and other traditional fats like butter, lard, tallow, and meats and eggs from pasture-raised animals and birds are also rich sources of Vitamin D, which has also been reported time and time again as having dramatic effects on diminishing the risk of development of cancer. Traditional fats are essential to protect from bacteria and microbes which can attack the skin and cause irritation or infection.
A proper diet complete with traditional fats including essential fatty acids helps to protect and nourish the skin cell membrane, and maintains adequate levels of tissue hormones known as prostaglandins. Prostaglandins act as chemical messengers in the body, and they are a key factor in regulation of various bodily processes such as pain, swelling, and other forms of inflammation in the body. If levels of these specific prostaglandins become too low for an extended period of time, this can lead to chronic illness and disease.
Because prostaglandins are not stored, you need a continual replenishment from your diet. That’s why essential fatty acids are so important. Many people are familiar with the critical role essential fatty acids play in supporting cardiovascular and brain development and maintenance. Essential fatty acids also maintain skin suppleness and prevent dryness and flaking. When prostaglandins levels fall too low from not enough essential fatty acids, skin problems that result can be dandruff, eczema, redness, dryness, itching, and the appearance of thinning skin. Another sign of low essential fatty acid levels is fingernails that crack or break easily, or hair falling out.
The American diet definitely contains an over-abundance in Omega 6 essential fatty acids. And it’s these imbalances between the Omega 6 and the Omega 3 essential fatty acid ratios which cause a wide variety of health problems – heart disease, skin disorders, obesity, digestive problems, and cancer just to name a few. An overabundance of anachidonic acid from too many Omega 6s becomes leukotriene, a pro-inflammatory chemical which directly contributes to skin problems. The substances known as leukotriene inhibitors, eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA), and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) found in traditional fats inhibits the effects of these inflammatory chemicals on our bodies.
How real fats changed my skin
My personal experience with dry skin is that for probably ten years I had been getting terrible, cracked knuckles in the winter time that would bleed. Each successive year it seemed to only get worse. The entire backs of my hands would also be dry with white, patchy skin that felt an awful lot like sandpaper.
During this period of time when my hands were red and dry, the tops of my knuckles actually had the appearance of the skin being stretched over them really thin like an elderly person (I thought they looked like an 80-year old pair of hands, but my husband said I was overreacting). But I was only in my mid-thirties! I didn’t know what to do, but I had to figure out something to make my 80-year old hands match my thirty-something face.
For some years I put lotion on them from the grocery store, which didn’t help. Later I started buying “natural” lotions and skin creams from the health food store. Some of them still contained chemicals and weren’t really helping, so I stopped buying them. One winter I started trying real oils from my cupboard and they felt great. But by then my body was so depleted of nutrients that I don’t think it mattered that I was using real oil on my skin – I finally realized I needed nutrition in my diet to make a real difference.
Now that it’s been almost five years since I first embarked on my journey to eating real, traditional foods, I can finally say for the first time in probably nearly two decades I have soft, healthy looking hands this winter. A few days this winter, I noticed a bit of dry skin creeping in, so I increased my intake of healthy fats and it disappeared. What a relief!
If you have been suffering for years with dry, red, or flaky skin, maybe it’s time to consider a change in your diet. With careful attention to what you are eating, including plenty of healthy foods with the proper ratios of essential fatty acids, you can have healthy skin and avoid dryness and itching that many people are prone to getting during the winter time months. And, you can save money from buying expensive, toxic products that really won’t help your dry skin problem. Save money on your health over the long haul by eating real food!
Do you have dry skin problems? Eczema, dandruff, or any other skin disorder that you have been able to solve with real food? I’d love to hear your experiences!