We all want to look our best and have naturally radiant skin shining with health. Beauty starts with healthy skin and the secret to a glowing complexion comes from within, as the skin is the mirror reflecting how well we nourish and nurture ourselves.
Your skin is the largest organ in the body. It protects your insides from infection and radiation, helps control body temperature, aids in waste excretion and allows you to feel sensations such as touch, pressure, pain, heat and cold. The skin is also the organ most exposed to damage from the outside.
Your genetic makeup, living environment, digestion, circulation, stress levels and diet all affect the condition of your skin. For example, cold sores can indicate immune system infections, clogged pores may be caused by air pollution, pigmentation can be induced by exposure to the sun, a rash could be a reaction to something that you’ve eaten, nutritional sensitivity and toxic build-up may result in eczema and rosacea, under-eye circles can indicate sleep deprivation, dullness and dryness may be a body’s response to stress and dehydration, while saggy skin can be a result of a nutrient-deficient diet.
The straightforward, effective and integrative methods that follow will help you improve the condition of your skin, enhance its glow and establish a regular self-care routine — all while boosting your overall health and wellbeing.
Eat your way to glowing skin
Multiple studies show that your nutritional intake and the health of your skin are intimately connected. One study, published in 2012 by researchers at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, revealed: “Increased fruit and vegetable consumption confers measurable and perceptibly beneficial effects on Caucasian skin appearance within six weeks.”
Skin and the digestive tract are closely linked in that both can absorb nutrients and eliminate toxins and body wastes. When the digestive system is stagnant and not functioning properly, the excess waste is excreted through the skin in the form of breakouts, redness, rashes, dermatitis, rosacea or eczema. Skin health improves when the digestive system functions properly.
To keep your skin healthy and glowing, eliminate processed foods, refined sugars, alcohol and foods you are intolerant to and eat a balanced plant-based, fibre-rich diet incorporating the following essential nutrients.
Antioxidants are healing nutrients that support the entire functioning of the body, help slow premature ageing and can neutralise free radicals, thus preventing or decreasing the damage caused by stress, smoking, alcohol, sunlight, pesticides, air pollution and a nutrient-deficient diet. Antioxidants are also recognised for their power to reduce the risk of skin, prostate, breast and liver cancers.
Bountiful amounts of skin-boosting antioxidants are found in green tea, berries, grapes, raw cacao, broccoli, watercress, alfalfa sprouts, spinach, kale, sweet potatoes and pumpkin.
The major antioxidant vitamins are skin-brightening vitamins A, C, E and beta-carotene, minerals such as zinc (which assists in skin healing), copper and selenium as well as phytochemicals including the lycopene found in guavas, watermelons and tomatoes and the anthocyanin present in berries.
One of the antioxidant functions of vitamin A, present in high quantities in sweet potatoes, carrots and leafy greens, is to assist in controlling proper keratin accumulation in the skin, without which the skin can become dry, saggy and rough.
The skin-enhancing purpose of vitamin C, abundant in red capsicums, guavas, strawberries and Brussels sprouts, is to help regenerate collagen. Collagen binds cells together, keeping the skin firm and reducing the appearance of wrinkles.
Vitamin E, found in avocados, Swiss chard (silverbeet), sunflower seeds, walnuts and almonds, protects the skin from sun damage and keeps it young and supple.
Digestive enzymes can be sourced from pineapple and papaya as well as from fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and kimchi (suchferments also contain pH-balancing and immunity-boosting probiotics). They boost skin appearance by assisting in nutrient and mineral absorption, rebuilding cells and enhancing the body’s digestive and cleansing functions.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Flaxseed oil, chia seeds, hemp seeds, salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines and walnuts are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids,which have anti-inflammatory and moisturising properties and keep the cell membranes plump, protecting the skin from dryness and damage.
Hydrate your skin by drinking at least eight glasses of water a day. Water delivers nutrients to skin cells and helps flush out toxins and body wastes, keeping your skin soft and smooth.
Abhyanga, to nurture and nourish
Abhyanga is the term used for Ayurvedic oil massage, which has been practised for centuries in India to maintain health, enhance wellness and increase longevity by keeping the body youthful and full of vitality. Abhyanga involves massaging warm oil onto the skin before bathing.
According to the classical Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita, “The body of one who uses oil massage regularly does not become affected much even if subjected to accidental injuries or strenuous work. By using oil massage daily, a person is endowed with pleasant touch, trimmed body parts and becomes strong, charming and least affected by old age.”
Leading Ayurvedic practitioners Robert Svobodaand Vasant Lad, among others, suggest that abhyanga maintains the beauty and texture of the skin, keeping it soft and smooth; increases blood circulation,enhancing the functions of the internal organs and soothing the nerves;stimulates lymphatic flow; assists in detoxification; tones the muscles and benefits sleep patterns.
Dr Claudia Welch, doctor of oriental medicine and expert on Ayurveda, also strongly believes in using abhyanga to support hormonal balance and prevent hyper vigilance of the nervous system. By calming the body, self-massage reduces the risk of release of the stress hormones that can trigger hormonal imbalance and aggravate skin conditions.
How to perform abhyanga
For abhyanga, select non-refined, non-perfumed and, if possible, organic oil according to the season and your skin type. Use heating oils such as sesame or almond in colder seasons and if your skin is dry select cooling coconut or olive oils in warmer climates and if you have sensitive skin. Then, follow these steps:
- Put about ⅓–½cup of the selected oil in a bottle and warm the oil by placing it in a pan with hot water.
- Pour a small amount of oil into your hands and gently rub into your scalp. If you want to keep your hair dry, massage the scalp without any oil.
- Massage the oil onto your entire body, working to the middle of the body, using long strokes on your arms and legs and circular strokes on your joints and chest.
- Use circular strokes when massaging the abdomen, moving clockwise, following the direction of the large intestine, to stimulate proper digestion and elimination.
- Massage the rest of your body including your fingers and feet, spending 5–15 minutes working the oil into the skin.
- Keep the oil on for 5–15 minutes to allow it to absorb before showering.
- Take a shower to rinse off the oil.
Acupressure for beauty
Acupressure is an ancient holistic healing technique that has been used as an integral part of Chinese traditional medicine for more than 5000 years. As described in Ilza Veith’s translation of The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, the Chinese discovered that pressing certain points on the body’s surface could promote relaxation, enhance wellness, relieve pain and treat certain illnesses, stimulating the abilities of the body to heal itself.
Acupressure uses the same points as acupuncture but, instead of needles, the pressure of the hands and fingers is applied.
Michael Reed Gach, PhD, an international expert and educator on acupressure therapy, explains: “As a point is pressed, the muscle tension yields to the finger pressure, enabling the fibres to elongate and relax, blood to flow freely and toxins to be released and eliminated. Increased circulation also brings more oxygen and other nutrients to affected areas.” Dr Gach also suggests that pressing certain points can improve the condition of the skin and tone the facial muscles.
Together with tension release, nutrient distribution and improved circulation, applying acupressure helps clear the pathways through which the body’s life force flows. That life-sustaining force is referred to as chi or qi in China, ki in Japan and prana in the Indian yoga tradition.
Chi passes throughout the body through a network of energy channels, known as meridians, which flow through all tissues. Dr Hiroshi Motoyama and his student, one of the world’s leading yin yoga teacher trainers Paul Grilley, advise that the connective tissues of the body contain a water-rich energy system that can be positively affected by the way your body is treated. When these energy-conductive channels are blocked, proper functioning of the bodily organs and systems is also disrupted.
Acupressure and acupuncture, together with other disciplines such as yoga, qi gong, reiki and tai chi, are based on encouraging freer flow of chi through the meridians in order to restore wholeness and vitality in body and mind.
Points and exercises to enhance skin condition
The following exercises describe the location and skin-enhancing benefits associated with three facial acupressure points: Four Whites, Facial Beauty and Third Eye.
- The Four Whites point is located one finger-width below the eye socket in an indentation of the cheek inline with the iris of the eye. Pressing this point is employed in acupressure to remedy acne and reduce facial blemishes and eye redness.
- Facial Beauty point is positioned at the bottom of the cheekbone, directly below the pupil of the eye. Applying pressure to this point is used to improve facial blood circulation, firm up the cheeks and relieve poor complexion and blemishes.
- Using your index and middle fingers, press the Four Whites and Facial Beauty points on each side of your face, hold for one minute breathing deeply and pressing the points firmly enough so that you feel slight pressure in your eyes.
- The Third Eye point is located between your eyebrows where the bridge of your nose meets the centre of the forehead. Applying pressure to this point has a calming effect and stimulates the pituitary gland, the master endocrine gland, to enhance the skin’s condition and texture throughout the entire body.
- Bring your palms together and use your index fingers to touch the Third Eye point. Concentrate on breathing deeply for two minutes.
Get glowing with this yoga sequence
The following yoga sequence aims to help reduce stress, detoxify your body, rejuvenate your internal organs and revitalise your skin by increasing the blood supply and nutrient absorption throughout the body,and provide you with a radiant glow.
Twisting postures enhance the functions of the liver and kidneys. They help massage the internal organs, flush out toxins and stimulate the digestive fire, improving your digestion and elimination processes.
Inverted poses help stimulate your skin by nourishing the internal organs and increasing the blood circulation within the entire body, especially towards your face and the brain. When you invert the body, the skin hangs in its opposite direction, thus allowing more oxygen, nutrients and blood to flow towards the face, boosting your complexion and creating the effect of a gentle face lift. Those poses (asanas) will also calm your brain and help improve your sleep, which is essential for reducing inflammation and hence the possibility of breakouts.
Sun salutations (surya namaskar)
Perform four to seven rounds of sun salutations to warm your body, increase circulation, enhance the release of toxins and prepare yourself for the yoga practice that follows.
Standing forward fold (uttanasana)
Stand on your mat with your feet hip-width apart and your hands on the hips, inhale there. As you exhale, start to lower your torso, drawing it and lengthening from the groin, lifting the sitting bones up towards the ceiling. Cross your forearms and hold your elbows. Relax your head. You can keep your knees bent if you have tight hamstrings. For a deeper variation of the pose, hold onto the back of your ankles and wrap your forearms on the calves. Remain in the pose for eight to 10 breaths.
To come out, release your hands onto your hips and slowly come up on the in-breath, pressing your tailbone down and maintaining the length of your torso.
Twisted chair pose (parivrtta utkatasana)
Stand with your feet together. Inhale, lift your arms above your head. As you exhale, enter chair pose by bending your knees, shifting your hips back and transferring the weight into the heels. Bring your hands together in front of the heart. Inhale there. On exhalation, twist to the right, hooking your left elbow outside your right thigh as you press your palms together, opening the elbows away from each other and pointing the fingers towards the front of your mat. Remain in the pose for six to eight breaths. To come out of the posture, on the in-breath, bring your hands back to the heart and release on the exhalation. Repeat on the other side.
Dolphin pose (ardha pincha mayurasana)
Begin on your knees and hands. Keep your knees above the hips. Release your forearms shoulder-width apart onto the mat,leaving your hands flat on the floor or interlacing the fingers. Firmly press your forearms onto the floor. As you exhale, curl your toes under and lift your hips up, lengthening the tailbone away from the pelvis, lifting the sitting bones up towards the ceiling and lifting the sternum away from the floor. You can either straighten or bend your knees. Gaze between your hands or at your feet. Stay in the pose for eight to 10 breaths, taking a break halfway through the pose if necessary. To come out, lower your knees onto the floor, push your hips towards the heels and rest in child’s pose with your arms by your sides.
Fish pose (matsyasana) variation
Start by lying on your back with your feet on the floor and your knees bent. Lift your hips, bring your hands under the buttocks, allowing your thumbs to touch, and keep your palms on the floor. Release your buttocks onto the hands, extend the legs and flex your toes. On the in-breath, press into the forearms and elbows, lift your chest up towards the ceiling and release the back or the crown of your head lightly onto the floor. Take six breaths. Come out on the exhalation, lowering your head and torso back onto the floor.
Half lord of the fishes pose (ardha matsyendrasana)
Sit on the floor (or a folded blanket, if you have tighter hips) with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Bring your left foot beside your right buttock. Then step your right foot over the left leg, bringing the right foot on the outside of the left hip. Inhale there,lengthening the spine. Bring your right fingertips behind your right buttock and, as you exhale, either release your left hand onto the right knee or, to go deeper, hook your left elbow over your right thigh. Gaze to the right or over your right shoulder. Remain the pose for eight to 10 breaths. Release on the exhalation and repeat on the other side.
Corpse pose (savasana)
Lie down on the floor and rest in savasana for five minutes.
First published on wellbeing.com.au