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How to achieve beautiful winter skin

For healthy, radiant skin and hair in the winter months, it’s important to focus on the wellbeing of the whole body. Skin dryness and chapping are often the result of a colder and windier external climate, but can also be a sign of imbalances within the body’s systems. In both Chinese and Western medicine, the organ most affected and under pressure in winter is the kidney.

Kidneys clean the blood by removing excess fluid, minerals and toxins. They regulate water and electrolytes, make hormones and balance chemicals in your body. They also provide energy and warmth. When the kidneys are not supported, their capacity to eliminate toxins and balance chemicals is impaired. This can create many problems for the skin, including premature ageing, acne and dermatitis.

To lighten the load on your kidneys throughout winter, it helps to cleanse them in late autumn — in advance of the change of season. Herbs used to help remove toxin accumulations from the kidneys and promote blood cleansing include dandelion leaf and root, marshmallow root, parsley root, cleavers and uva ursi. Green foods such as barley grass and spirulina are also helpful and can be used daily. (Seek the advice of a naturopath before taking herbs or supplements.) Naturopath Alison Cassar says, “It’s important to leave the more intense detoxing to the warmer months. In winter, the body needs to be fed and nourished.”

Herbs used to help remove toxin accumulations from the kidneys and promote blood cleansing include dandelion leaf and root, marshmallow root, parsley root, cleavers and uva ursi.

Eating seasonally supports the body’s needs at that time of year. True winter foods assist the kidneys to eliminate as the body becomes more sluggish and requires assistance. Pungent herbs such as ginger, garlic and turmeric gently heat the body and stimulate the circulation, while garlic has the added benefit of fighting both bacterial and viral infections and breaking down mucus.

During the cold, reflective months of winter, it’s important to nurture your kidneys with warm foods — hearty soups and stews, vegetables, celery, (cooked) whole grains such as millet and barley, small dark beans, seaweeds such as arame, hijiki, nori and wakame. Other foods valued for supporting kidney functioning are watercress, endive, asparagus, chicory root, miso, quinoa, rye, amaranth, cabbage, red, purple and black beans (especially adzuki beans), root vegetables, mushrooms, buckwheat, beets, kuzu root, chestnuts, sesame, shellfish, duck, quail, pheasant, tofu and tempeh, berries.

“Wet foods in the form of stews, soups and broths full of mineral-rich vegetables are much better for the kidneys than stodgy foods like breads, cakes and pies,” says Alison. “The wet foods nourish, cleanse and hydrate the body and therefore the skin. Dehydrated skin is one of the main skin afflictions during the colder months. Too many animal products can stagnate the liver, and therefore the skin, so eat them in moderation.”

Omega-3s are also important at this time of year. Eat lots of coldwater fish (salmon and sardines) and flaxseeds, as they moisturise the skin on the inside.

Pre- and probiotics found in fermented foods (lacto-fermented vegetables) or supplements help to support gut health and fight off germs in the colder months. They are essential for immune health. They support the gut and therefore the skin. Many skin conditions clear up with an increase of good flora in the diet.

Drink as much water as you would on a hot summer’s day to assist the liver and kidneys in flushing out toxins and keeping the body and therefore the skin hydrated. Lemon juice with warm water is very cleansing for the kidneys and liver and also gives the body a good dose of protective vitamin C.

Winter is a time to reflect and make positive change. As the kidneys are connected with the adrenal glands, reducing stress levels will help protect the kidneys from imbalance. Keeping your kidneys healthy also helps maintain stress levels, and lowered stress levels are a great complexion enhancer.

Drink as much water as you would on a hot summer’s day to assist the liver and kidneys in flushing out toxins and keeping the body and therefore the skin hydrated.

Topically, cleanse the skin with unrefined vegetable or nut oils to help restore the lipid (fats and oils) balance to the skin, improving both dryness and dehydration. Massage into the complexion and rinse well with a warm, damp flannel. This is excellent for all skin types, including oily (use lighter oils). Regular, but very gentle exfoliation will help stimulate a sluggish complexion, remove toxins and promote cellular renewal. Fine oatmeal with yoghurt or finely ground adzuki beans soaked in yoghurt work well. The lactic acid in the yoghurt assists the mechanical exfoliant in gently removing dead skin cells and toxins from the skin. Pink clay mixed with yoghurt also makes an impressive skin-refining and detoxifying mask.

To nourish, rejuvenate and restore glow to your skin, massage a clean complexion with regenerative ingredients and cold-pressed vegetable oils in the evening. These include rosehip oil, calendula-infused oil and essential oils of myrrh, frankincense, carrot seed, jasmine, patchouli, rosewood, neroli, palmarosa, rose, lavender, everlasting, sandalwood, German and Roman chamomile.

Nourishing and protective (antioxidant-rich) fresh food masks can be made from winter foods such as cooked pumpkin and carrots and hydrating, skin-smoothing masks made with winter fruits that contain alphahydroxy acids, such as pears, oranges and apples. During the day, massage your skin with the following facial moisturiser that is full of vitamins and protective antioxidants. Remember to wear a broad-spectrum sunblock in winter, too.

Nourishing Plant-Enriched Day Cream

Oil phase

  1. 6g plant-derived emulsifying wax
  2. 5ml calendula-infused oil
  3. 5ml carrot-infused oil
  4. 5ml rosehip oil
  5. 4 drops rosemary leaf extract

Water phase

  1. 80ml purified water
  2. 5ml vegetable glycerine
  3. 30 drops green tea extract
  4. 14 drops grapefruit seed extract

Third phase

  1. 10 drops palmarosa essential oil
  2. 10 drops lavender essential oil
  3. 6 drops Bach flower rescue remedy

To make: Mix all the ingredients of the oil phase. Place them in a bain-marie (or a glass Pyrex jug, upright in a pot of water) and heat over a medium temperature. Mix the water phase together in a pot and also heat over a medium temperature. Once both phases have reached 65-70ºC, remove from the heat. Add the water phase to the oil phase, stirring constantly. At 40º, add the third phase essential oils. Mix thoroughly. When it starts to thicken, pour into jars. Seal lids after allowing the cream to cool for 1-2 hours.

Carla Oates

Carla Oates

Carla Oates is the CEO of The Beauty Chef, a natural beauty expert and the author of Feeding Your Skin and The Beauty Chef Cookbook.

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