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Before having babies, I took my clear skin for granted. Despite growing up on all the processed food, never using sunscreen (and living in Florida), and using really cheap and toxic makeup, my skin was in decent condition. Sure, I had the occasional pimple and blackhead, but nothing that was problematic or worrisome.
Fast forward to my late twenties with two babies and a growing real food blog. I was trying to be “all things to all people.” I wasn’t sleeping due to motherhood and the desire to work non-stop on my new passion. I also stopped exercising and let stress rule my life.
During this time, I neglected myself. I’m talking about hard-core neglect. The neglect, and probably the years of eating processed food and using toxic skin products, eventually caught up with me via weight gain, acne, dark patches on my face, a hormone imbalance and gut issues (both of which I didn’t know about at the time), and major fatigue. My skin also began showing signs of premature aging. These should have been major red flags for me, but they weren’t. I figured this was just what mom life was all about. My doctor at the time agreed, “You’re just a tired mom. You’ll be fine.”
Right after my daughter turned three, I saw a picture of myself on Facebook. I didn’t recognize myself. I looked tired and my skin and eyes didn’t have the same glow they once radiated. I made a decision that day to start taking better care of myself. No more skipped meals (ever wonder why I’m such an advocate for prepping food) or exercise, letting stress rule my life, using toxic skin products, or staying up until the wee hours to get stuff done.
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Once I started taking care of my body, my skin slowly began to improve as well. I like to think of this as a ripple effect. I’m finally at a place on my journey where I’m happy with my skin. My skin isn’t perfect, but perfection isn’t my goal. I have scars and still get the occasional breakout. My goal is healthy skin. And right now, my skin feels and looks healthy.
It’s been quite the journey to get to this place. A journey I’m still on, because taking care of myself is a daily commitment. In fact, if I’ve learned anything from my skin woes, it’s that I need to actively pursue taking care of my body. Nobody is going to do this for me. This is my job. I only get one body.
I’ve received many messages from reader friends who feel frustrated with their skin. This topic is near to my heart, because I’ve had skin issues and I know my skin issues could easily return. I know what it’s like to wonder, “Why me? How can I be this old and have skin issues like this!” and wonder if my skin will ever improve. I know what it’s like to deal with confidence issues due to acne and scars.
The skin is a complex organ, and every person is different. And it can serve as a reflection of our body’s overall health. There certainly isn’t a one-size-fits-all prescription. Trust me, I’ve learned this the hard way over the years. So while I can’t offer such a plan, I can share what’s helped me–based on my own experimentation and working with professionals (naturopathic and functional medicine doctors and an esthetician). Today’s list is a compilation of the top practices that I believe have played a critical role in improving my skin. This list isn’t meant to diagnose, cure, or treat any condition.
7 Practices That Improve My Skin
Practice 1: Focus on Gut Health
The gut-skin connection is fascinating. If you’re new to this idea, I highly recommend reading the book, The Beauty of Dirty Skin. The author is a dermatologist and her research on the gut-brain-skin connection is easy to understand and practical.
Supporting the microbiome in my gut with probiotic-rich foods and a probiotic supplement (something my esthetician recommends to all her clients) has played a significant role in improving my skin health. Probiotic-rich foods, include: kefir, plain yogurt with active cultures, some soft fermented cheese (real parmesan, cheddar, gouda, etc.), sauerkraut or kimchi, kombucha. My favorite probiotic supplement is from Garden of Life (this one, although I recommend purchasing it from the store since it needs to be refrigerated). This particular supplement is a prebiotic (feeds the microflora already in the gut) and probiotic (adds beneficial microflora to the gut).
Along with focusing on probiotics, I recently took a gut test (stool test from DiagnosTechs)–a request from my functional medicine doctor. (My skin had significantly improved over the last couple of years. Something still seemed a bit “off,” so a functional medicine doctor was my next step.) This test provided an incredibly comprehensive look at my gut (even revealing a few parasites), and also showed that my gut wasn’t responding well to gluten. I removed all gluten for a set time period (3 months) and took a few supplements (Restore, Perm A Vite, Colostrum LD) to aid in healing my gut. I also started taking a digestive enzyme with every meal (something my doctor recommends to all patients).
I’ve slowly started to bring gluten back into my diet, but only ancient grains and sourdough and in limited amounts (a couple of times a week). In the past, my skin would breakout when consuming heavy amounts of gluten, particularly processed gluten (highly-processed grains). I don’t have this same reaction to ancient grains or sourdough breads.
If you’ve tried everything and you still feel like something is “off” when it comes to your skin health, I highly recommend seeing a functional medicine doctor who will take a look at the body as a whole.
Practice 2: Sleep
It’s fascinating how much of an impact sleep can have on the overall appearance of my skin. To help me sleep, I take magnesium (the Whole Foods brand, or Natural Calm) and shut off all electronics an hour before bed (including social media). Eight hours is my “sweet spot.”
Practice 3: Eat Real Food
This is the premise that Live Simply was built on. It’s the three words that changed my family’s life. We spend a lot of time talking about real food around here, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this practice. If you’re new to real food, or want a refresher, here’s a helpful chart.
Real food is wholesome, nutrient-rich, and simple. A real food lifestyle avoids overly-processed food products. How can you spot an overly-processed food product? Well, the ingredient list usually reads more like an advanced college textbook than a recipe. If you can’t pronounce the ingredients, and you wouldn’t use them in your own kitchen, your body probably won’t recognize them either.
Practice 4: Supplement
I believe that real food should be our main source of nutrients and vitamins and minerals. And while real food is the ideal source for these things, sometimes we may need to use supplements to get what we need. I take a few supplements specifically for supporting my skin: Vitamin D3 (1000mg), Vitamin C (1000mg daily), zinc (10-15 mg daily), and cod liver oil (2 pills). I started routinely taking these supplements after listening to The Beauty of Dirty Skin and getting my blood work results back from my functional medicine doctor. Garden of Life is my favorite supplement brand at the moment. I also take a digestive enzyme and probiotic, as mentioned in the gut health practice. This podcast provides excellent information on the why and what to use for supplementation.
Practice 5: Nourishing, Non-Toxic Skincare
Along with taking care of the gut and eating nourishing foods, it’s important to use products that will nourish the skin versus harm it. You can read about my skincare routine over here.
I’m a firm believer in the importance of daily sun protection. I use a sunscreen oil on face during the day, and during the summer I use a SPF tinted moisturizer from W3LL People. I wrote a whole post on non-toxic sunscreen options over here.
When you have skin issues, like acne, it’s hard to go without makeup, but allowing the skin to breathe at least once a week is important. Go makeup free as often as you can, and remove your makeup at night before settling into bed.
Also, I‘ve been going to the same esthetician for a number of years now. She’s seen me through it all, and she’s been incredibly helpful with her tips and advice. If it’s in your budget, I recommend finding an esthetician that doesn’t push products on you, and one that’s more naturally-minded. In the beginning, I was able to afford a twice a year facial with Yana. Slowly, I was able to increase to quarterly facials. Right now, I visit Yana every two months.
Practice 6: Manage Stress
Stress impacts our skin (premature aging, breakouts, etc.), weight, and gut.
Here’s what I’ve found helps me manage stress: daily movement (I go to a barre class once a week, kickboxing twice a week, and stretch each morning), nightly reading (something I love), meal prepping (this is huge for reducing my weekly stress levels), delegating tasks (I don’t have to do “all the things”), having established routines for essential chores (laundry, kids going to school, meal planning) and waking up each morning before the kids. And one more thing, getting away helps to reduce my stress. Even if this is just an evening at the beach, or a day trip to a local park on the weekend, or maybe a pedicure appointment. There’s something about stepping away from the responsibilities of life (laundry, dishes, the calendar) with my family (or without, if I really need some alone time) that allows me to breathe, refocus, and feel refreshed. Taking time to do this–particularly as a mother- isn’t selfish; it’s essential.
Do you know what else causes stress? Being overly-healthy. Yep, over-exercising, worrying about food, and trying to be perfect (i.e. cooking the perfect meal every night, having a Pinterest-perfect home, etc.). Let those things go. Move your body, but don’t stress yourself out. Eat real food, but don’t be that organic-all-things worrier. And realize that no one is perfect. I’m preaching to myself here, too.
In addition to lifestyle changes, my functional medicine doctor suggested (based on a hormone test from Access which found that my adrenals were “being taxed” and my cortisol levels were “off the charts”) that I take ashwagandha three times a day.
Practice 7: Hydrate
Drink water! It’s that simple. Occasionally, I’ll add a pinch of mineral salt (Real Salt brand) for the trace minerals and/or lemon (for flavor). But most of the time, plain ol’ water is my go-to drink. I keep my reusable water bottle with me at all times, and refill it throughout the day. When I’m not drinking enough water during the day, my skin looks and feels different. To start the day, I drink 1-2 big glasses of water before enjoying coffee.
Are there any practices that impact your skin health? We are all so unique, including what works best for our skin–whether that’s food, supplements, or skincare products. I would love to hear about your essential practices.