Conventional wisdom tells women to brace themselves for the aging process: get ready for your body to change, your looks to go downhill and your skin to head south.

Cosmetic companies make billions of dollars from women’s fear of aging skin, with new anti-aging products and topical “miracle” products launched every year. From our experience we find that these products mostly wind up half empty and jammed in the back of the medicine cabinet.

The good news is that beneath all the marketing hype there has been an authentic leap forward in our understanding of what causes skin to age, and it centers around inflammation.

This advance means your skin really can look better than ever — no matter how old you are — once you recognize that what happens on the inside truly does show up on the outside. Aging skin is biological — not chronological — and the process can be delayed or even reversed with a holistic, natural approach that includes optimal diet, lifestyle and product choices.

Inflammation and skin

Dr. Nicholas Perricone, author of The Wrinkle Cure and The Perricone Promise, has pioneered a new way of thinking about skin care that focuses on inflammation. By the time a woman notices visible signs of aging (usually in her late 30’s or early 40’s), it’s highly likely that her body’s been operating with low-grade inflammation for years.

Inflammation is ideally a normal, short-term natural immune response that involves the release of immune cells by your body to counteract infection and heal trauma. At that point, this response is supposed to be turned off. But if it stays activated, immune cells will remain in circulation and can damage healthy cell functions like natural skin rejuvenation and turnover.

Internal causes of inflammation

  • Undiagnosed food sensitivities & leaky gut
  • High-sugar diet
  • Additives, artificial sweeteners, and trans fats
  • Stress
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Toxin or prescription drug overload
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Autoimmune disorders

Eating too much sugar or high-glycemic food ultimately leads to a process in which sugar molecules in the blood bond to proteins and DNA. Over time this process affects collagen proteins, changing their shape, flexibility, elasticity, and function. The result is premature aging and additional inflammation.

External causes of inflammation

  • Sun exposure
  • Weather
  • Yeast, bacteria, parasites and/or other infections
  • Environmental toxins and pollution
  • Smoking
  • Certain chemicals in skincare and other self-care products

These factors can weaken collagen, dilate surface blood capillaries, and clog pores. How these effects manifest in the skin varies between individuals, but for most of us they appear as uneven skin tone, sporadic or chronic outbreaks and, of course, wrinkles and other signs of premature aging.

To significantly improve the tone and texture of your skin, you need to soothe inflammation on two fronts:

1. Neutralize free radicals (unstable oxygen molecules created by the above causes) both inside and out.

2. Boost immune function through good nutrition, supplementation, hormonal balance, detoxification, and topical support.

Neutralizing free radicals — antioxidants to the rescue!

Neutralizing free radicals

Many of the causes listed above create free radicals in the body, which leads to inflammation. Free radicals are highly unstable oxygen molecules missing a single electron in their outermost orbits. Since electrons are driven to travel in pairs, free radicals “steal” electrons from healthy cells which wounds those cells and sets off a complicated inflammatory response.

Antioxidants are molecules that inhibit the oxidation of other molecules. They neutralize free radicals and quench minor inflammation by “sacrificing” one of their electrons without adverse effect. Since free radicals are always present in our bodies, we must have a constant supply of antioxidant nutrients to keep our skin cells healthy. In addition, research shows that antioxidants may actually encourage our cells’ enzymes to repair damage. This is why a high-quality multivitamin with antioxidants like the one we offer in our SHOP is a good idea. Cells have a wonderful ability to heal themselves, but this mechanism becomes less efficient as we grow older.

Some major antioxidants helpful to the skin:

  • Vitamin C (found in plant-based foods)
  • Vitamin E, specifically high-potency tocotrienols (good sources are rice bran oil and palm fruit oil)
  • Coenzyme Q-10 (or ubiquinol, found naturally in our cells but decreases after age 20)
  • Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA, available from both plant and animal sources)
  • Dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE, found in fish)
  • Carotenoids (phytonutrients found in the red, yellow, and orange flesh of plant leaves, flowers and fruits)
  • Bioflavonoids (good sources include green tea, soy isoflavones, red wine, and other plant-derived foods)

Good reasons to go with organic skin products

The average woman uses 5–12 different products on her skin each and every day — basically an untested chemical soup with unpredictable results. If one of my patients has a skin or hair concern, the first thing I tell her is to go home and toss out any products that contain synthetic chemicals (which often means all of them).

Synthetic additives in cosmetics are largely unregulated by the FDA, yet many of these compounds have been proven to disrupt health on several levels. And some chemicals used in mainstream cosmetics and creams can generate free radicals and inflammation, undermining the products’ claims of being youth-enhancing.

When looking for skin (and hair) care products avoid the following harmful ingredients:

  • Propylene glycol
  • Phthalates
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate
  • Parabens

Phthalates in particular have recently been reviewed by an expert panel that found several potential health risks associated with exposure. Unfortunately, phthalates are found nearly everywhere, including cosmetics and lotions, so the best way to reduce your exposure is to go organic.

Luckily, a growing number of reasonably priced natural alternatives have entered the market. Because of an increase in demand, many companies are creating skin care products free of chemicals that are suspected of causing canceror birth defects.

To further research the safety of ingredients of a particular product, visit the The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics website.

Be good to your skin

When you look in the mirror, gaze beyond the minor imperfections and laugh lines to the glowing spirit that lies within. The best way to honor the skin you were born in is by taking the best possible care of yourself. You and your skin both deserve it!

References

1 Echtay, K., et al. 2003. EMBO J., 22 (16), 4103–4110.

  Hampton, T. 2005. Study reveals mitochondrial role in aging. JAMA, 294 (6), 672.

2 Hashiro, M., & M. Okumura. 1998. The relationship between the psychological and immunological state in patients with atopic dermatitis. J. Dermatol. Sci., 16 (3), 231–235.

  Hashiro, M., & M. Okumura. 1997. Anxiety, depression and psychosomatic symptoms in patients with atopic dermatitis: Comparison with normal controls and among groups of different degrees of severity. J. Derm. Sci., 14 (1), 63–67.

3 URL's (accessed 12.30.2005):
http://cerhr.niehs.nih.gov/news/index.html
http://cerhr.niehs.nih.gov/chemicals/dehp/DEHP__Report_final.pdf

Websites

General information:
www.ewg.com
www.safecosmetics.org

On pthalates:
http://cerhr.niehs.nih.gov/chemicals/dehp/DEHP__Report_final.pdf
http://www.safecosmetics.org/about/reports.cfm

On glycation:
www.legendarypharma.com/glycation.html

On skin anatomy:
http://www.nuskin.com/corp/science/skinscience/skin_anatomy.shtml

On acne:
http://www.nuskin.com/corp/science/skinscience/acne.shtml
http://www.dfw.com/mld/dfw/13404526.htm

On rosacea and the mind-body connection:
http://www.drnorthrup.com/womenshealth/healthcenter/
http://www.drnorthrup.com/womenshealth/healthcenter/topic_details.php?topic_id=56

On doshas and body types:
http://www.indiaoz.com.au/health/ayurveda/bodytype.shtml

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