Natural skincare and why Mother knows best
The search for a radiant, youthful complexion has led us back to the basics of yesteryear when skincare was derived from nature and not mixed in a test tube. Simple natural ingredients are surpassing all the hype and are proving to be the real deal for optimal, long-term skincare.
Conventional skincare products on the shelves today make many promises but, sadly, often fail to deliver. Some reasons for this include the components within the products and the way they act on the skin, but one of the most important factors to take into consideration is lifestyle. If you spend all day in the sun, eat processed foods and are drastically sleep-deprived, it’s not reasonable to expect your topical skincare routine to provide the results you desire. Skin reflects what is going on inside. If you are leading an unhealthy lifestyle it will most likely show up where everyone will see it: on your skin.
“There is no better ingredient for beautiful skin, than good health and wellbeing,” says Dr Clancy Nankervis, who specialises in traditional Chinese medicine. Dr Nankervis believes lifestyle has everything to do with having beautiful skin. “Our society is acknowledging more and more the impact our modern-day lifestyle has had on our health and happiness.”
Beauty from within
Skin is constantly bombarded with impurities such as pollution, toxins, radiation and smoke, all of which provide a breeding ground for free radicals that damage skin cells. The effects of free radical damage can be reduced with healthy doses of their mortal enemy: antioxidants. Antioxidants such as vitamins A, C and E work wonders for the skin and can be found in fresh foods as well as applied topically.
Naturopath and homœopath Lisa Guy (www.artofhealing.com.au) agrees that the best way to keep your skin looking radiant and youthful is to maintain a healthy diet and drink plenty of water. “I believe diet is even more important than what you put on your skin,” says Lisa. Some of the foods suggested by Lisa to promote skin health include oily fish, flaxseed oil and chia seeds, all rich sources of omega-3. Berries and green tea also rate highly due to their abundance of antioxidants, as do red grapes because of their high resveratrol content.
Carla Oates, natural beauty contributor to WellBeing and creator of Inner Beauty Powder, also believes beautiful skin starts on the inside. “Optimising your nutritional health means your skin will triumph,” she says. “I am a big believer that good health and skin begin in your gut. Your gut is where 70 per cent of your immune system lies, where you manufacture nutrients, metabolise hormones and get rid of toxins. It is also where you make neurochemicals (hence the gut being referred to as the second brain), so looking after your gut not only improves skin health but makes you feel better overall, including how you feel about the way you look!”
Carla further explains that nutrition affects collagen production, skin moisture, skin resilience and skin protection. An example of how what we ingest can contribute to our aesthetics is Oates’s Inner Beauty Powder. “It’s a superfood plus a probiotic and it’s all certified organic. I love that by using completely natural biological processes, you can create something very powerful, not created by a man in a white coat in a lab with a host of dubious chemicals.”
Ancient ways for modern days
The desire to turn back the clock and erase unwanted signs of ageing has prompted a definite return to the past with ancient lifestyle and skincare remedies gaining popularity once again. Traditional Chinese medicine, for example, incorporates the idea that lifestyle and health are not separate entities but very much entwined.
“Traditional Chinese medicine views the body, mind and spirit as a whole system, in constant flux and evolution and never separate from each other,” says Dr Nankervis. “An essential part of good health, and therefore beautiful skin, is an effective digestive system. Skin conditions are often related to poor gut function. Simple diet therapy advice includes eating foods that are in season, as nature provides the foods we require for the climate and season we are in.”
“Traditional Chinese medicine considers healthy skin to be a reflection of healthy internal organs,” adds natural skincare practitioner, Zofia Majak (www.microdermicafacelift.com). “Any spots on the face can be analysed and linked to impaired function of internal organs. For example, dark spots under the outside corners of the eyes would indicate gallbladder problems and would be treated with herbs taken internally that could prove more effective than using creams with strong chemicals. The Western world only recently started to come close to the ancient Chinese philosophy, which puts an emphasis on food being our medicine and medicine being our food.”
Supplements for skincare
With a growing awareness that healthy skin can be maintained from the inside through vitamins and minerals, skin supplements are becoming increasingly popular. “The main minerals that are essential for our skin that are not sufficiently supplied in our diets are silica, calcium and zinc. Buckwheat is a good source of silica and we can get zinc from pumpkin seeds,” says Zofia. Lisa Guy also recommends a good fish oil and antioxidant supplement taken daily for healthy skin.
Beneficial natural skincare ingredients
Active manuka honey extract can heal, restore and rejuvenate the skin. It is collected from the nectar of the manuka bush of New Zealand. It has an antibacterial property that researchers have measured and even named it the Unique Manuka Factor (UMF). Some types of manuka honey are more effective than others; for example, honey that is 10 UMF or more is considered to be “active”.
Aloe vera is widely regarded as the best remedy for the treatment of burns and skin inflammation. “Freshly cut leaves can also be applied directly to the skin to induce remarkable healing properties,” says Zofia.
Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) are derived from various plant sources or from milk. They act as an exfoliant, removing the flaky “dead” layer of skin from the epidermis. By removing this top layer, the skin’s colour and texture can improve and cell renewal is accelerated. With continued use, AHAs may help to smooth fine lines and wrinkles as well as reduce blemish marks. There are several AHAs, such as citric acid, glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid and tartaric acid, but the most effective and well-researched AHAs are glycolic acid and lactic acid.
Avocado oil is particularly beneficial for dry, mature skin. Proven to stimulate collagen production, it’s highly compatible with the skin’s own oils and is also a potent antioxidant with high levels of vitamin E and omega-3.
Calendulais a versatile herb that is widely regarded for its ability to reduce inflammation and scarring and promote healing. It is also effective in repairing broken capillaries and healing burns. “Calendula can be applied topically but drinking tea made from calendula flowers will improve the skin texture even more effectively by working from the inside out, detoxifying the liver and improving blood circulation,” says Zofia.
Ginseng and ginkgo biloba are great for revitalising the skin. Ginseng boosts the skin’s metabolism and replenishes nutrients the skin needs. The active components are ginsenosides, which are responsible for the reactivation of epidermal cells and collagen synthesis. “Ginkgo biloba has revitalising, stimulating and firming qualities. It is a powerful antioxidant and improves blood circulation and protects capillaries,” says Zofia.
Gotu kola is a herb that helps to promote the health of skin tissue. Gotu kola extract has been used to promote the healing of surgical wounds, burns, tissue inflammation and psoriasis. Studies have also shown that gotu kola can increase collagen synthesis as well as strengthen capillaries by repairing damaged connective tissues surrounding them, thereby restoring skin elasticity.
Green tea extract has potent anti-inflammatory properties and is rich in antioxidants. It can help prevent collagen breakdown and, when applied topically, reduces UV damage to skin. Green tea’s most active ingredients are flavanols, polyphenols and EGCG. The EGCG found in green tea is so potent that it’s said to have 25 to 100 times the antioxidant power of vitamins C and A.
Lotus seed extract is one of the oldest plants in the world. Archaeologists have found lotus seeds in Asia that are over 1000 years old and some still carry the ability to germinate. “The seeds contain a special protein-repair enzyme, a factor contributing to their remarkable longevity,” says Zofia. “The process of continuous repair of the seed is similar to what takes place in the human body. Like the lotus seed, the human body has many protein repair enzymes. Insufficient levels of repair enzymes speed up protein degradation, which affects collagen production.” Pearl powder is regarded as being the finest source of calcium available, with clinical studies showing it can be absorbed almost twice as well as regular calcium carbonate with vitamin D. “Pearl powder is a potent antioxidant that enhances the activity of superoxide dismutase (SOD), one of the body’s strongest antioxidant enzymes. It also reduces peroxidation, one of the body’s most destructive ageing processes,” explains Zofia. “The nacre of a pearl contains the same essential amino acids that heal and maintain cells in the human body. Deficiency of any one of these key amino acids can cause skin to look coarse and wrinkled. Pearl powder also contains proteins that renew skin cells and vitamin B complex and polysaccharides, which strengthen the muscles and the metabolism.”
Rosehip oil is rich in vitamin C and essential fatty acids and is known to improve the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines. “Fatty acids are essential building blocks of cellular membranes that allow efficient transportation of nutrients from the extracellular space into the intracellular environment where metabolism takes place,” explains Zofia. Rosehip oil is a common ingredient in many natural skincare products and has been proven effective in treating skin pigmentation disorders, scars and sunburn.
Sea buckthorn oil is becoming widely known as one of nature’s most medicinal plants. “The ripe berries of sea buckthorn contain more than 190 varieties of bioactive substances,” says Zofia. “They include six different vitamins, 22 fatty acids, 42 kinds of lipids and 36 kinds of flavonoids and phenols. Sea buckthorn berries cannot be matched in the plant kingdom for their content of pro-vitamin A (carotenoids), vitamin E and vitamin K.” Sea buckthorn oil promotes cell tissue regeneration and is very useful in the treatment of burns, skin ulcers, acne and dermatitis.
Super fruits include antioxidant-rich berries such as acai, goji and blueberry as well as pomegranate. They can be applied topically or eaten. “Pomegranate contains one of the most powerful free-radical scavengers, ellagic acid, which strengthens the cell membrane, making it less susceptible to free radical damage, and prevents water loss from cells,” explains Zofia. “Pomegranate has also been found to offer some protection against UV damage,” adds Lisa. Mulberry extract is also one to look out for because of its arbutin content. This extract can have some value in preventing melanin production. Mulberry extract is an all-natural brightener that controls age spots.
Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant. When applied to the skin, it exfoliates the surface layer, speeds cell renewal, promotes collagen production and reduces signs of ageing. “The most important step in maintaining healthy-looking skin is to replenish the natural level of photosensitive vitamins, especially vitamins A and B,” explains Zofia. “Vitamin A (retinyl palmitate) is actually a hormone that sends signals to hundreds of genes responsible for proliferation and differentiation of all major cells in the epidermis and dermis. When vitamin A switches on the fibroblasts to produce collagen the need for vitamin C is increased.”
Vitamin C is a necessary component in the production of collagen, the tissue responsible for skin suppleness. It has been shown to help slow the production of hyperpigmentation, otherwise known as age spots. “Vitamin C is essential in collagen synthesis, wound healing and blood-vessel maintenance,” says Zofia. “Daily replenishment of topical antioxidants provides the skin with the ability to resist the attack and damage created by free radicals.”
Vitamin E reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and helps prevent age spots. By strengthening the skin’s protective barrier, it can also reduce the appearance of stretch marks and scars and can help fight against sun damage. It has also been helpful in treating more serious skin conditions, such as psoriasis and eczema. Always be sure to choose natural vitamin E as the synthetic variety may cost you less but is not as effective.
Don’t put these on your skin
Here are some common conventional skincare ingredients that our natural skincare experts advise are best avoided.
Ethanolamines such as monoethanolamine (MEA), diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine (TEA) are common pH stabilisers that can cause skin irritation and toxicity.
Sodium lauryl sulfate is a detergent that is commonly found in shampoos and cleaning products. If contact with the skin is prolonged it can cause irritation, dryness and other potential damage.
Parabens such as methyl, ethyl, propyl and butyl paraben are used as preservatives. These parabens are considered by some to be potentially toxic chemicals but more research is needed to determine whether they have harmful long-term effects.
Nanoparticles are tiny particles with special properties that continue to raise concern. “They can go straight into our bloodstream and cause damage to general health,” advises Zofia. Nanoparticles such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are commonly used in sunscreens, so it’s always best to check the ingredients before you buy.
Synthetic fragrances are added to skincare products but actually hold no benefit for the skin other than making it smell appealing. Lisa advises to be vigilant when “fragrance” is listed in ingredients as the word may be a general umbrella for different chemicals that may contain neurotoxins. Synthetic colours also have no useful benefits for the skin, so it’s best to find products without them.
Petroleum by-products are not desirable as they can “pass through the brain barrier and have been linked to problems such as attention deficient disorder,” says Lisa. Mineral oil, a petroleum-derived hydrocarbon, can interfere with normal perspiration and various other skin functions. Lisa also recommends avoiding makeup products that contain bismuth oxycloride, a synthetic ingredient that is a by-product of copper and lead refining.
Kate McKee is a freelance writer who enjoys writing for a variety of publications. Passionate about natural health and lifestyle, Kate loves nothing more than to share her interests and discoveries with thoughtful minds.
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