Having dry skin can have some benefits – acne, for example, is probably not a very serious problem for you. But in general it means you’ll get to enjoy wrinkles a bit earlier, there’s the flaking, the redness and the itching in the winter… you know yourself. For sure you’ve tried and tested various moisturizers and even possibly dermatologists’ ointments and these are great. But the human body is a very efficient machine and should be able to have nice, supple skin without us having to slather it with whatever alchemy every few hours, right? If it’s not achieving that, it could mean it is missing something. So while lotion is a very good help and definitely has their place in our cupboards, we’ll be looking at this problem also from the angle of inside-out to reach the best synergy of the three main approaches:
- Food – what is it that you could be missing?
- Habits – what’s the best behavior to minimize dry skin
Not a usual approach, is it? But food does have a definite impact on the condition of our skin – we have to provide our bodies with the right building materials for the ultimate environmental barrier that is the skin. Most moisturizers don’t really give actual hydration to our skin – they create a film which stops the moisture we have from evaporating. And we are fully capable of building a better protection for ourselves that lasts much longer. So here are some of the things we might need to do that:
We need both macro minerals – minerals we need to get in larger quantities, such as calcium, and trace minerals – minerals our bodies need only in tiny amounts, but which are key to many of its processes. It is a sad truth that a lot of today’s agricultural soil is depleted of minerals. Mass production relies on adding fertilizers, but fertilizers don’t provide the full array of both macro and trace minerals and compounds we need in our food. Long-term comparative studies are showing that amounts of nutrients in fruits and vegetables are dropping over the years. For instance selenium deficiency is a recognized problem throughout Europe and many other areas. Many of us, especially those who don’t grow their own vegies in their gardens, may therefore need to get a little help from supplementation.
Choosing the right supplement and balancing the vitamins and minerals in an optimum mix may be a bit tricky. You can get yourself tested for which vitamins and minerals you specifically are deficient in, the place you choose will most probably also offer some solutions. Or, if you choose to go with likelihood, we recommend a supplement that offers trace minerals or minerals as a whole bunch because they often cooperate and the presence of one may be necessary for the absorption of another. Plant-based/chelated (in a bond with amino-acids) are generally better absorbed, but see what works best for you.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Lack of omega-3 fatty acids is observable – symptoms of omega-3 deficiency include rough scaly skin and dermatitis, chicken skin on the backs of your upper arms and/or legs; problems with attention and concentration (another great reason to give fish oil to kids); mood swings, irritability; fatigue, problems sleeping… sound familiar? Probably – up to 90% adults are deficient.
You have heard advertisements persuading you to buy their product because it is a rich source of valuable omega-3 and -6 fatty acids. We definitely need omega-3, but a typical Western diet is already quite rich in omega-6 and not so much in omega-3 and that’s not very good because these need to be in a balanced ratio. Scientists suggest that consuming too much omega-6 while leaving out omega-3 can lead to cardiovascular diseases, inflammation, autoimmune illnesses and even cancer (source: The Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health, Washington, DC). An average Western diet gives you an omega-6:omega-3 ratio of 15-17:1 which is far too high. Traditionally, we’ve evolved with 1:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, but 4:1 is already beneficial. Generally speaking, the lower the better and 2:1 sounds great.
So what can you do? Try and reduce omega-6 and up your game on omega-3, especially if it isn’t just dry skin that’s bothering you and you have family history of the above mentioned illnesses.
In terms of omega-6, that would mean reducing your consumption of vegetable oils (palm, rapeseed, sunflower, soybean etc.), nuts (except walnuts) or cereals, and start choosing grass-fed meat and dairy rather than meat and dairy from animals raised on industrial feed. In typical factory farms, animal food centers mostly on grains and that tends to make animal products – meat, eggs etc. – higher in omega-6 fatty acids.
As for omega-3 fatty acids, you’re mostly interested in EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Which ultimately means, it’s time for fish. Some foods with the highest content of EPA and DHA are mackerel, salmon, cod liver oil, herring, sardines, oysters or caviar.
If your taste buds aren’t exactly on team fish, you can go for milk, meat and eggs from grass-fed animals – these tend to be higher in omega-3. Or you can choose plant sources, such as flax seeds, walnuts, chia seeds or hemp seeds. Ideally, combine all of them – add a helping of flax and chia seeds in your morning porridge, enjoy a salmon here and there…
More often than not, you might also want to supplement. Fish oil in capsules or other form – depending on preference – is readily available. One word of warning – due to their higher content of vitamin A, they are not recommended for pregnant women. When you’re choosing the right one for you, read the label – it should contain at least 450 mg of EPA+DHA, and less than 5000 IU of vitamin A (equivalent to 1500 mcg of retinol or 3000 mcg of beta-carotene – both are versions of vitamin A), and look at the company, too. It should be a reputable one that will make sure the fish oil will not contain lots of contaminants, such as mercury etc., this can also be confirmed by various forms of certification – e.g. compliance with EuroFins or IFOS. You can also look where the fish for the given fish oil are being caught and check if these areas are considered contaminated zones. We have found the Green Pasture or Rosita cod liver oil worked very well for us, but there are many options out there. It’s a good idea to spread your intake throughout the day.
Vitamins – E, K and C
Vitamins A and D are also actively involved in the making of a healthy skin, but if you’re eating fish or fish oil, and in the case of vitamin D spending time out in the sun, you should have enough. As mentioned above, you might even make sure you’re not getting too much as vitamin A is one of the few vitamins you might take too much of.
Vitamin E is a strong antioxidant and reduces inflammation in the skin (as well as in the body) and helps prevent skin cancer as well as aging of the skin. It can also help your stretch marks, lighten scars and dark circles and help your chapped lips and even cold sores when applied directly as oil. Since it has many other important health benefits, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re getting enough through food, too. Great sources are wheat germ oil, sunflower seeds, various nuts (hazelnuts, almonds…), avocado, mango, green leafy vegies, etc.
Vitamin K is actively involved in healthy blood clotting (like vitamin E) and improves circulation. It is therefore a great help in getting rid of bruises, inflammation, spider veins etc. and helps heal scars. You can find more on vitamin K for instance here in our article on dental health (you’ll be surprised). Good sources of vitamin K that our bodies can use best (K2) are grass-fed butter, meat, dairy and natto (fermented soy). K1 is found aplenty in leafy green vegetables, but it’s less easy for the body to absorb it in this form.
Vitamin C is a wonderful antioxidant and plays a role in collagen synthesis. Being an antioxidant, it protects the skin against sun damage and inflammation and it also reduces pigmentation. You should make sure to get enough of it in your diet or through supplementation (but since vitamin C is really a vitamin C complex, choose supplements that are plant-based rather than fully synthetic). Just like vitamins E and K, you can also apply it directly on your skin and enjoy its many benefits from without as well as from within.
And finally, there are external habits that can benefit your skin and lessen the hardships it has to endure daily.
- This might hurt a little – try to minimize wallowing in a hot bath or shower and go instead for shorter time and medium temperature. In fact, try to not overdo it with the washing. Once a day is more than enough. Prefer soap-free products.
- Don’t rub your skin too much – try and avoid shower sponges or bath brushes and go very gently with the towel – pat rather than rub yourself dry.
- Opt for natural fabrics – 100% cotton is your friend (although the natural, but itchy wool is probably a foe). You will see what works best for you, but this is a good general rule.
- Try not to scratch. If you have to, try gently applying moisturizer or petroleum jelly or whatever works for you instead of scratching.
- Wrap up against the cold: Wear gloves, nice thick clothes – frost dries the skin quite a lot, as many proud eczema owners will agree (when not too busy scratching their poor skin off in the winter months). Petroleum jelly or coconut oil and similar products help protect the skin in freezing weather.
- Ideally, choose fragrance-free skin care. Go for minimalistic ingredients list.
- Use gentle laundry detergent – e.g. for babies, or even make your own. Don’t use fabric softeners – you will see yourself they aren’t necessary at all.
- Avoid smoking and alcohol.
And may the moisture be with you.