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.
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. Listen to this podcast about what real food is, what real food is not, and what real food looks like.
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 Skincare Routines
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.
I’m a firm believer in the importance of daily sun protection. I use a SPF tinted moisturizer from W3LL People almost daily. 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.
Want to see my non-toxic, nourishing skincare routine in action? Watch the video below.
My Basic Morning Routine: 1. Wash face with water 2. Marie Veronique Pre and Probiotic Mist (Toner) 3. True Botanicals Pure Radiance Oil (my absolute favorite skincare product) 4. (If wearing makeup that day, I use this primer before applying foundation) Leahlani Aloha Ambrosia Elixir
My Basic Evening Routine: 1. OSEA Face Cleanser 2. Marie Veronique Pre and Probiotic Mist (Toner) 3. Live Botanical Hyarloaunic Acid Serum 4. True Botanicals Pure Radiance Oil (my absolute favorite skincare product)
Extras: 1. True Botanicals Cellular Repair Serum 2. True Botanicals Antioxidant Powder 3. Marie Veronique Intensive Repair Serum
Read about my routine, here.
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. Learn more about managing stress and self-care in this podcast episode.
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. Learn more about naturally treating a hormone imbalance in this podcast episode.
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.
Hi Kristin! I love your blog and have been reading through it, your articles are incredibly helpful. I have a question – I saw that you recommended the True Botanicals Antioxidant Booster for dark spots from pregnancy. I’m currently experiencing that. Unfortunately it seems like True Botanicals discontinued that booster. Is there something else you would recommend using?
Hey Hannah, Thank you for letting me know. I’ll get this updated. I love the Blissoma line of serums. I currently use their Smooth A+ product to keep my pores clear (https://shrsl.com/3vadt). And their Vitamin C serum is amazing for dark spots: https://shrsl.com/3vadl. They’re also very affordable!
Did you find anything that removed the dark patches on your face? I got them from pregnancy and would love to know if your went away with the regime. that you use.
Hey Renee, I had the same issue after pregnancy. Two products that I really love: True Botanicals Antioxidant Booster (http://shrsl.com/1lgo7) and their Pure Radiance Oil (my moisturizer, but what it has done for my skin is amazing): http://shrsl.com/1lgol.
A less expensive option that I’ve enjoyed is the Odacite Hyper-pigmentation Serum: http://shrsl.com/1lgom
I struggle with bad hormonal acne and didn’t want to start a new medication or change my birth control. I’ve been using dermalmd blemish serum for a few weeks now and have seen far better healing from cystic hormonal breakouts than from any other product. I’m hooked!
Im happy you found something to help you! 🙂
I love your blog! Thank you so much for writing this article! It is one of the best I’ve read on naturally taking care of your skin and overall health, all while being so down to earth about it.
One of the biggest helpful things I have personally experienced that helps is vitamins! I was never too committed to taking my daily vitamins, but after getting pregnant I wanted to be sure my baby got everything he needed so I took prenatal vitamins religiously. And let me tell you the difference it made! I swear I can tell if I miss just a single day.
Not only that, but I switched from a mainstream soap (I used for both face and body) to a natural, goats milk based soap and my skin looks and feels so much happier! (helps with stretch marks, too!)
Those two things combined with ensuring I drink water (I make myself a deal that I can only have coffee when I drink at least a glass of water before and after, and throughout the day) and only wearing makeup on special occasions have dramatically improved my skin. I have suffered with extreme acne since I was around 12 years old, and it has taken me until I turned 22 to be serious about changing my diet and lifestyle and see true and lasting improvements. I wish I had been more serious a long time ago.
My skin loved me so much more when I was committed to fresh fruit and veggie smoothies/juices daily, but I’ll be honest…life, pregnancy and moving have made a bit lazy. I am looking forward to beginning a whole/real food journey once again. Not just for my health, but for my family’s.
Thank you, Courtney, I’m so glad you’re enjoying the blog. And thank you so much for sharing your journey. I agree, supplements have really helped my skin, too.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing this information. I also appreciate you reminding us about the stress associated with trying to be perfect. I needed to hear that today! I stumbled on your website while looking for a sweet potato recipe and I’m so glad I did. I have been breaking out since I was a teen (now I’m 47 still with more than occasional breakouts). Everything you have recommended makes complete sense and I’m eager to start following your advice.
Thanks again for all you do to help others to stay well and to prepare real, whole foods! If only more people used their set of skills and talents to make a difference in the lives of others…what a wonderful world it would be!
Hey Lisa, I’m so glad the practices are helpful for you. Thank you for sharing!
Hi Kristin. Only one point that is difficult is to manage stress. Thank you for your sharing.
Thanks for sharing, Issie. That definitely can be hard.
This is really interesting. Thanks for the recommendations! Over the last year or two I’ve started developing darker circles under my eyes and more dry patches in my skin. I just bought a new cleanser and moisturizer derived from hemp. I’m anxious to see how it works. I’ve only had it for 2 days but I’m definitely on the hunt for better skin care treatments with fewer (or no) chemicals.
Hey Ashley, Something that may help with the dark circles is facial massage. Another thing to think about is a possible food or seasonal allergies?