Detox your skin for summer with these great tips
As a mirror to your inner state of health or lack thereof, your body’s largest organ — the skin — constantly works hard to eliminate toxins resulting from daily living. It’s often the dumping ground for hazardous beauty product ingredients, environmental toxins from air, water and food and, in some cases, the telltale canvas of your emotional state.
Contrary to popular belief, the key to ultimate skin health during summer isn’t completely staying out of the sun or applying sunscreens, say a growing number of health, nutrition and skincare experts, who are teaching their clients a balanced, holistic approach to skincare that includes internal and external cleansing, wholefood nutrition, self-care knowledge and mindfulness. Such recommendations are also having far-reaching health benefits for many, who are learning to nourish themselves, and their skin, in tune with nature.
Spending on skin cures is enormous, with skin rash complaints listed in the top 10 reasons for visiting general practitioners. With preventive care less costly and generally more accessible, there’s good reason to take time out to understand and implement good skincare practices, says compounding pharmacist and skincare expert Shirley Be, who lists eating wholefoods with adequate water intake as one of the most important daily habits to adopt.
Over past decades, the incidence of skin cancer has risen in Australia: from 1982 to 2007, melanoma diagnoses increased by around 50 per cent.
“Food with high water content and plenty of colourful fruits and vegetables will help boost the water and antioxidant content in our bodies, protecting the skin cells and keeping them plump and hydrated,” she says. “This is particularly important during the summer months when the skin becomes dehydrated more quickly.”
Using the seasons as markers for healthy skin habits and rituals is a regular and natural reminder to look after one of the body’s most hard-working organs. However, it’s important to look beyond media and sponsored experts who offer health and beauty advice according to advertising dollars.
The fact is, the how-to of glowing summer skin goes way beyond fascination with fake tan and high-SPF sunscreen applications, particularly if it’s a naturally a healthy exterior you’re hoping to achieve.
While the step away from the “always wear sunscreen when outside” message may make traditional skincare proponents uncomfortable, there is research to show that whole body health, including the skin, requires adequate sunshine without sunscreen.
Vitamin D plays a crucial role in skin health and has been found to help ward of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and even tooth cavities and depression. When we block the sun through excessive sunscreen use, we also shield our intake of this important nutrient.
According to a 10-year study conducted by the German Cancer Research Center, people aged between 50 and 74 with low vitamin D levels were 71 per cent more likely to die early. Meanwhile, a recent study published in the Biology of Reproduction found vitamin D effectively reduces the size of uterine fibroids and may prevent them from forming.
This is not to say that going unprotected in the sun for long periods is a good idea. However, 15 minutes a day in the sunlight outside of the worst hours for exposure (not between 10am and 2–3pm) without “protection” may be a good thing.
Sunscreen & understanding toxicity
Sunscreen toxins are gaining attention for their negative health impacts on the skin and entire system. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is just one independent organisation that regularly warns the public about the importance of knowing what it is they are buying and applying. Sun protection products containing harmful ingredients, such as octyl methoxycinnamate, a common additive that has been found to disrupt brain and thyroid function, are found on most shelves in Australia and New Zealand.
Have a fantastic skincare routine at home and have regular professional facials.
Another chemical, oxybenzone, the most commonly used sunscreen ingredient thanks to its ability to block UVA and UVB rays, has also been found to have real health implications, including biochemical and cellular level changes, endocrine disruption and organ system toxicity (Source: EWG).
“One of the biggest concerns is that it has been found in urine samples, which means it enters the body through the skin; a study done by the Centre of Disease Control and Prevention in 2003 and 2004 found oxybenzone in urine,” says holistic skincare advocate and entrepreneur Aaron Breckell, who regularly holds presentations for cancer and diabetic support groups to spread awareness about the issue.
Of additional concern to in-the-know consumers are mineral sunscreens developed using nanotechnology. These are creams made from tiny particles, made by science (not nature), that are believed by some experts to enter through the dermis and into the bloodstream. Such lotions are said to offer greater UVA protection while allowing clear application compared to the white residue of traditional creams. However, research has yet to deem these products safe without question, so choose and use with discretion.
In Australia, despite widespread sunscreen use, the Cancer Council of Australia estimates almost 125,000 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed this year, with that number to rise to 150,000 by 2020. It also confirms that from 1982 through to 2007, melanoma diagnoses increased by 50 per cent, while non-melanoma skin cancer increased by 14 per cent, with 950,000 Australians expected to visit a general practitioner this year seeking skin cancer diagnoses and treatment.
Melanoma rates in New Zealand, along with Australia, are among the highest in the world. In 2010, the year for which most recent figures are available, melanoma was the fourth most common cancer, with 2341 registered cases. It was also the sixth most common cause of death from cancer that year. There are also an about 67,000 new non-melanoma skin cancer cases in New Zealand each year.
Over past decades, the incidence of skin cancer has risen in Australia: from 1982 to 2007, melanoma diagnoses increased by around 50 per cent. From 1998 to 2007, GP consultations to treat non-melanoma skin cancers increased by 14 per cent, reaching 950,000 visits each year.
However, Sue Heward, Cancer Council of Victoria manager, says evidence shows that the SunSmart Program has been effective in reducing skin cancer rates in Australia … “especially in the under-40 age group who have grown up with SunSmart”.
“While melanoma incidence rates continue to rise in Australia overall, a breakdown of age shows that rates over the past decade are now falling in men and women aged under 44 years, and the rate of increase is starting to slow in older age groups,” she says.
“These figures suggest that sun protection messages may be having an effect on incidence rates; the younger age groups include those who grew up with SunSmart while older Australians are still experiencing incidence rates relating to pre-SunSmart sun behaviours in their early lives.”
Internal cleansing & skin health
If the statistics are anything to go by, what we’ve been doing may need rethinking, with some of Australia’s holistic practitioners suggesting new approaches to skincare are needed and overdue. Many, including naturopath and health coach Jules Galloway, also agree that toxins in sunscreen and vitamin D deficiency aren’t the only culprits in manifesting unhealthy skin and skin-related disorders.
“Detoxing the liver is imperative for clear skin,” Galloway says. “If the liver isn’t functioning well, it’s the skin’s job to pick up the slack and eliminate toxins. Flare-ups of acne, psoriasis and eczema have all been linked to poor liver function.
Regularly hydrating with water also helps the body to flush away toxins and waste, allowing organs, including the skin, to function more efficiently.
“Good kidney function also helps to create clear skin. The kidneys’ job is to regulate fluid balance and excrete waste products from the body — both essential functions for clear, healthy skin. Avoiding alcohol and caffeine during a detox, plus drinking two litres of water a day, can give your kidneys a chance to rest and recover.”
Naturopath and former nurse Julie Dargan says everyone should consider undertaking “some form of detox”, especially in the lead-up to summer. “Doing regular detoxes can assist with symptoms such as acne, skin losing its youthful glow, bloating, irritable bowel syndrome, eczema, hayfever, arthritis … the list is endless, really,” she says. “Doing a detox does not have to be extreme. A simple practice of juicing one day a week could be a great start, or even replacing one meal a week with a juice.”
Holistic health coach Jasmine Matthews adds, “The health of the liver, the body’s primary detox organ, has a direct influence on the health of our skin. The skin is another detox pathway, with the lymph pushing toxins out through it. When the liver has been overworked and is struggling to keep up with the load of toxins being thrown at it, many of the toxins that would otherwise be eliminated through the urinary or GI tract are pushed out through the skin, creating skin conditions such as acne, eczema, boils and cysts.
“By cleansing the liver, you are giving it a chance to catch up with the load already within the system, as well as reducing the incoming toxins. Balancing out this load, creating ‘less in and more out’, results in skin that is going to be much more likely to be blemish-free and able to remain healthy throughout summer.”
While the body excretes some of these chemicals, some stay on the skin surface and can cause greater incidence of summer sunburn. Assisting the body in this natural cleansing process makes good health and beauty sense, say experts and cleanse converts who’ve achieved healthy skin and more energy as a result.
Springtime, long considered the time of renewal, is the perfect season to prepare your body and skin for summer, but it’s crucial to see an expert before undertaking any detoxification program. Depending on when you are reading this, it may be too late to prepare for this summer, but putting some planning into your annual skincare routine is a good idea.
“There are different types of cleansing programs available over the counter, as well as lots of information on the internet, but one should be aware that during a proper cleanse program, your body is undergoing a multitude of processes on a cellular level and this can quite often bring up symptoms that may need to be managed well,” says skincare expert and paramedical aesthetician, Rosalina Soto.
“See your health and wellness coach or naturopath and get them to help you choose a cleanse program to help you with detox. Cleansing is more effective when managed. Most people will want to do this on their own, but the fact is that in most cases they can be doing themselves more harm than good. If you are under medical supervision for an existing health condition, you ought to seek approval from your healthcare professional.”
Soto has the following tips for detoxing your skin for summer:
- Speak with your friends and do it as a group. It helps when you can talk to each other while on the detox and this also makes you accountable.
- Clean out your pantry. Take out all the foods that are high in sugar, sodium and fat and throw them out where they belong: in the bin. If you want to be healthy and age well, you need to take responsibility for your body.
- Keep your activity levels low while on a detox as you are not fuelling your body enough for heavy activity.
- Feed your body with good-quality nutrients during your detox period or choose a program that includes nourishment as part of the detox.
- Drink lots of water to flush out the toxins while you are cleansing. This is crucial to your success with cleansing.
- Try to get an extra hour or two of sleep each night; this really helps your body repair and rejuvenate during your detox.
- Feed the soul. Get some good meditation tracks to listen to when you have quiet time. Affirmations are great when you are finding the detox a little challenging. A vision board is great also to help through the tough times if you need to lose some weight.
- Book into a yoga class. This will help to normalise and balance the body, mind and spirit. It’s the perfect companion for a cleansing program.
- Write down an action plan to use after the detox to maintain your cleansed body. I suggest gentle cleansing on a daily basis, changing your choice of foods and making a few lifestyle changes. Maintaining a clean body requires a little bit of effort but the rewards come in bucketloads. A healthier body Deals with infection and diseases far better than a body that is full of toxins.
- Invest in a good hat, quality sunglasses, a great swimsuit and natural sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30+ — and go out and enjoy summer!
Ancient skincare, modern habits
In traditional Chinese medicine, ensuring skin health is a year-round pursuit and has, for thousands of years, been treated from the inside out. It teaches the health of the lungs controls the skin, with the wellbeing of liver, kidneys and intestine also directly impacted.
When these organs don’t function optimally, they will have a significant impact on the condition of the skin, and skin issues can result. According to Chinese medicine practitioner, Dr Shuquan Liu, people who suffer from asthma may have eczema and dermatitis as well. Meanwhile, psoriasis, acne and hernia are often related to liver and kidney heat.
“The fundamental premise is that healthy insides result in healthy outsides, with a radiant skin being one of the effects of this improved functioning,” he says.
Chinese medicine specialist at the Mi:Skn clinic in Perth, Francesca Perino, says emotions can also affect skin conditions, or exacerbate them, regardless of the season.
“From a Chinese medicine perspective, we see things very differently,” she says. “We believe that each organ in our body relates to an emotional state; for example, the liver’s emotion is anger, the kidney is fear, the lungs are grief etc … When those emotions become overwhelming it causes energetic imbalance and disease in the related organ, which in turn can lead to poor skin health.”
Perino says long-term feelings of anger and frustration can damage the liver, which can lead to poor detoxification and excess body heat, which can cause acne. Also, she says, “Grief can have an energetic impact on the lungs. In Chinese medicine the lungs help to moisten the skin and keep it resistant to external pathogens, so weakened lungs through prolonged grief could cause dry skin and eczema.”
Skin reveals emotions
In traditional Chinese medicine face-reading, the following skin conditions reflect particular emotional states:
- Dark or light freckling or pigment on the lower part of the cheeks: prolonged sadness and grief.
- Dry skin all over the body: lack of attention to self.
- Proneness to oily skin: a tendency to hide behind oneself.
- Darkness under or beside the eyes: prolonged fearfulness.
- Multiple forehead lines: overthinking and worrying too much.
- Frown lines: anger and frustration.
Essential foods and their vitamins & minerals
While borrowing from ancient remedies can reap big benefits, it’s also important to look at which modern habits are causing greater skin damage, particularly in the summer months.
Rosalina Soto says that internal cleansing and then eliminating junk food in favour of nutrient-rich fare is a must in order to produce healthy skin from a cellular level.
“One of the most important — and usually not mentioned — reasons for this increase [of skin cancer and other summer-related skin disorders] is that we are not eating good-quality nutrients, especially amino acids, the building blocks of life, to help our bodies function properly,” she says.
“Our skin has pigment-producing cells called melanocytes that produce little umbrella-like structures with pigment to protect the underlying skin cells. These structures, called dendrites, require tyrosine and the enzyme tyrosinase for their formation. A lot of us do not feed our bodies with enough good-quality amino acids.”
Many experts agree that a healthy, balanced diet that’s also rich in good fats is essential for fostering vibrant skin. Once the colon is cleansed, the body’s ability to absorb beneficial skin-loving nutrients is greatly enhanced, while the likelihood of skin disorders is reduced.
Emma Hobson, Australasian education manager at the International Dermal Institute supports internal cleansing and nutrition as a vital component to the healthy skin picture and says vitamin B (or biotin) is crucial for skin, hair and nail health.
“The skin acts as a great reflection of one’s internal health … internal disharmony can manifest as skin conditions such as dry, irritated skin or acne,” she says. “Without biotin, we’d have a variety of skin problems, including itchy skin and rashes, psoriasis, dermatitis and skin breakouts. B vitamins also play a key role in the function of the nervous system and affect hormone function.”
Betacarotene, which the body converts to vitamin A, is also a healthy skin essential, adds Hobson. “We need vitamin A for healthy skin and an efficient immune system. It’s also an excellent antioxidant.”
Nutritionist Lola Berry says she “loads up on berries” in the summer months and highly recommends her clients do the same to protect their skin. “These little gems provide you with a truckload of antioxidants, helping to prevent free-radical damage to your skin,” she says. “Blueberries are at the top of the antioxidant list.”
Berry also recommends snacking on wholefoods that boast good fats, such as raw nuts and seeds, as well as coconut and avocados. “(Also), any red fruit or vegetable is a food source of the antioxidant lycopene, which acts as an internal sun block,” she adds. It protects the skin from free-radical damage caused by overexposure to the sun.
Jules Galloway suggests adding “lots of green juices” during detox and in your daily diet, while also taking quality supplements of the “beauty nutrient” silica, which helps the skin to retain moisture, as well as zinc to heal spots, scars and blemishes. Vitamin C, she says, is also needed for building collagen, which helps to plump up fine lines.
“Green juices can help skin to really glow,” she says. “They are full of vitamins and minerals and help to alkalise the body, which results in clear, luminous skin.”
Beauty therapist Rose Wilkie, who treats clients at Sydney’s Alkaline Spa & Clinic, is also an advocate for adding fresh fruit and vegetables to the diet year round to foster better skin health during summer.
“Acidic lifestyles can create dull and lacklustre skin,” she says. “To promote a healthy pH within the body, consume alkaline-forming foods including dark, leafy greens and vegetables, linseed and flaxseed oils, almonds and fruits such as apricots, bananas, lemons and limes. Steer away from excess caffeine, alcohol, saturated fats, sugar and stress.”
Wake up to water
The standard advice of drinking eight glasses of water a day will stand your skin in good stead, particularly in summer, say many nutritionists and skincare experts alike. Fluid loss occurs regularly throughout the day through simply sweating, breathing and going to the bathroom. Such evaporation happens whether we lead an active lifestyle or not, making it essential to replace what’s lost by drinking clean H2O.
Berry agrees, but believes water intake should be based on bodyweight rather than a general measurement for all. “Water is a key player when it comes to having great skin,” she says. “If you’re dehydrated, your skin dries out and loses its smoothness. Aim for one litre of water for every 22kg of bodyweight per day.”
Natural spring water is most beneficial to the body and skin, preferably not consumed from plastic bottles, which leach chemicals, even if BPA-free. Adding a pinch of Celtic sea salt or Himalayan salt can also do wonders, hydrating the body from a cellular level and having an overall positive effect on the skin. Sipping water at regular intervals also has bigger beauty and health benefits than drinking large quantities in one sitting.
Regularly hydrating with water also helps the body to flush away toxins and waste, allowing organs, including the skin, to function more efficiently.
One of the best skin support practices anyone can adopt is to drink freshly squeezed lemon juice in a glass of warm water on rising each morning. Lemon is a natural detoxifier and also works to kick-start the metabolism.
Facing the elements
As the sun beats down during summer, it’s the face that takes the brunt of excess sun exposure, which means extra attention is needed on this area, says skincare specialist Shirley Be.
“The face is more exposed to the elements than the body, and the face is constantly naked, therefore the face and head are the first places to show ageing and compromises in the skin,” she says. “The skin there is also more delicate and thinner than on the rest of the body, so it requires more adequate hydration.”
Beauty therapist Rose Wilkie says adopting a summer facial skincare routine is a must if you wish to age gracefully. Her essentials pointers include:
- Use a light moisturiser. Skin needs heavyweight creams in winter because the air is so dry, but once summer comes, the air is much more humid, so a lighter cream is a must.
- Exfoliate regularly. This is key, as sweat and sebum can build up on the skin and lead to clogged pores. Use a gentle scrub with small beads and follow with an oil-absorbing mask twice a week. This absorbs any excess oil and creates a beautiful matte finish to the skin.
- Have a fantastic skincare routine at home and have regular professional facials. Most skin ageing occurs during the summer, so this will prevent fine lines, age spots and pigmentation.
- Consume two to three litres of water every day.
- Use a sunscreen with physical blockers such as zinc oxide and titanium oxide.
[Note to reader: There are concerns that have been raised about the safety of nanoparticles of zinc oxide and titanium oxide in sunscreens and beauty products. In August 2013, the Therapeutic Good Administration of Australia published a report into the issue in which they concluded that “on current evidence, neither TiO2 nor ZnO NPs (nanoparticles) are likely to cause harm when used as ingredients in sunscreens”.]
Cleanse & moisturise
Just as internal cleansing is important to nourish and protect skin during summer, so is external cleansing, using natural products that keep the skin’s delicate acid mantle intact. Sloughing away dead skin cells and environmental toxins with a gentle body scrub or soap is a great way to minimise sunburn while promoting healthy, glowing skin.
Emma Hobson advises cleansing every night to remove the dried sweat, dirt and debris that come with daily living. “Thorough cleansing is really important,” she says. “I’d suggest using a pre-cleansing oil that really works at removing all traces of product, grime and makeup. Since you can experience more congestion and breakouts in summer, use a clay-based cleanser as a mini masque, two to three times per week.”
She also advocates religious moisturiser application, even for those with oily skin. “There is a tendency to think you don’t need a moisturiser in summer if your skin is oily. Not true. A moisturiser is needed all year round to help seal and protect the skin,” Hobson says. “Choose a lightweight, oil-free moisturiser that has a mattifying effect — perhaps even one that is tinted so it will also double as your makeup base.”
Skin types in summer
As the elements change as the each season rolls around, so should your skincare regime to keep skin soft, supple and hydrated. If sunscreen is non-negotiable in your beauty bag, be sure to look for a product that contains the best natural ingredients that remain on top of the skin.
Different skin types require different attention and products in the warmer weather, so updating your favourites to suit the season is a great idea.
Anyone with sensitive skin will know the hurdles of applying too many combinations of chemicals that are often part of everyday skincare products. The best rule of thumb is to keep it simple if you’re prone to breakouts, blemishes and burns, as the summer heat will only cause further irritation. Nix anything with fragrance, as synthetic parfum is literally a toxic combination of hundreds of chemicals that can cause a host of skin (and health) problems. Choose ingredients that soothe and, if possible, ensure they’re from a certified organic source.
It may seem like a daunting task to keep oil at bay in summer, but the job is much easier if you adopt a summer-suitable routine and products to match. With excess oil comes a bigger chance of breakouts, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t moisturise. Choose a light product and apply minimal amounts using your fingertips after cleansing and toning. For those with oily skin, it’s a great idea to use a moisturising toner as it can do wonders to minimise oil while keeping the skin shine-free.
If you have combination skin, it doesn’t have to mean skincare regimes and product selection is daunting. Get to know your skin and how it reacts under seasonal conditions. Swap heavy winter-weight creams for lighter, hydrating creams (or serums) and choose a cleanser that doesn’t strip the skin of natural oils. Many people with combination skin have an oily T-zone across the forehead, down the nose to the chin. Skip the moisturiser in this area and concentrate on dry patches. Also remember to moisturise the neck and décolletage.
Normal skin can have different requirements, depending on your location. Humidity can cause oiliness, while dry heat can sap moisture. A gentle foaming facewash is a summer-appropriate alternative to heavier winter cream cleansers. Ditch heavy moisturisers in favour of natural hydrating serums to help skin stay hydrated throughout summer without weighing the skin down and blocking pores with a combination of sweat and product.
The goodness of gua sha
An ancient technique used by Asian, Greek and Egyptian civilisations is experiencing a resurgence in popularity, thanks to its ability to open pores to rid the skin of bad bacteria, yeast, fungus, parasites and petrochemicals, which clog the seven layers of dermis and epidermis.
Holistic health coach Tyler Tolman has incorporated gua sha into his life for six years and teaches the simple technique. Gua sha is a traditional Chinese medical treatment in which the skin is scraped to produce light bruising. “The skin is the largest eliminatory organ we have for getting rid of acid and other toxicity from the body and is essentially keeping us cool,” he says.
“The skin should eliminate up to two kilograms of material each day, but this just simply is not the case because our skin gets clogged over time and soap doesn’t have the ability to really clean thoroughly.
“Gua Sha will help you to tan and not burn and will keep you healthy and your skin looking great. I recommend using it every day for one to two weeks, then do it two to three times a week indefinitely.”
How to gua sha
Buy aluminium-free bicarb soda and a cheap brand of triple distilled alcohol such as vodka, as well as a resealable jar with a top big enough to reach your hand in. Add 75 per cent bicarb to the jar then fill and saturate with vodka. Fill about one centimetre above the bicarb soda to make a putty.
While showering, simply rinse your whole body, then step out and add a few tablespoon-sized dollops onto a glove or loofah. Scrub each arm and leg, followed by the mid-section, back and so on.
“I even scrub my face and head with it,” Tyler says, “but be gentle at first — then get back in the shower and completely wash all of the mix off. I personally like to get out in the sun directly after and recommend using coconut oil to nourish the skin. It has a natural SPF of between five and seven.”
Dry body brushing
Just as gua sha helps to eliminate toxins, so too does dry brushing. Use the two together throughout the year to foster healthy, glowing skin — even for those who usually fear showing their extremities come summer.
Aussie supermodel Miranda Kerr is a big promoter of dry body brushing, thanks to its ability to stimulate blood circulation while also ridding the skin’s surface of dead cells.
“Dry body brushing has loads of benefits,” says Emma Hobson. “It increases micro circulation, increases lymph flow — this is a very important benefit as it helps prevent water retention and puffiness — aids in toxin removal and helps [minimise] cellulite. It also has a gentle exfoliating action, keeping the skin soft and smooth.”
Create a dry brush daily ritual before showering each morning. Simply use small, circular motions, beginning at your feet, brushing toward the heart. Work your way up, not forgetting your arms. Start brushing from the fingers, again in circular motions, toward the heart. Some dry-brush fans also recommend light brushing on the face to help stimulate circulation.
Dry-brush advocate Jodie Smith of Bodecare shares these tips:
- Always brush on dry skin and with dry bristles.
- Regularly clean your brush to avoid bacterial infection. A lot of dead skin is sloughed off when dry brushing, so it’s essential to wash your brush once a week with hot, soapy water and leave it in the sun or a well-ventilated area to dry.
- A slight reddening of the skin, known as erythema, is normal. It’s the blood circulation responding to the skin brushing.
Dry brushing precautions
- Never brush over inflamed skin such as open wounds, inflamed sores, varicose veins or sunburnt skin.
- Never brush during an active cancer state or over enlarged lymph nodes.
- Avoid breasts and genital area.
- If pregnant, seek your doctor’s advice before starting skin brushing.
- If an allergic reaction appears, stop brushing.
- It’s recommended not to brush on freshly shaved legs.