What is Fresh?
In all of its forms, it signals a beginning -- whether it's a piece of blossomed fruit, a bright complexion or a new idea. In this three part series, we will explore the ways in which freshness manifests itself in skincare, nutrition and culture and how to achieve it.
That's Fresh: Part 2
As part 2 of the “That's Fresh” series, learn about the role that water plays in maintaining a fresh complexion and how to "feed" the skin using internal and external nutrients to achieve fresh, hydrated and supple skin.
The skin is often referred to as a canvas, even when naked it emotes beauty in its simplicity. While it bears the most wear and tear as our barrier against the outside world, we rarely think about it in terms of internal health. If we are what we eat, then our skin is also the sum of many parts -- a reflection of how we feel physically, emotionally and how we care for it. Having fresh, glowing skin means having clean, hydrated skin, which also means it is stronger, more resilient, and better equipped to fend off irritation. Dehydration may not be immediately felt in the body, but it makes itself known on the skin. The skin is made up of approximately 30% water, which contributes to elasticity, texture and resiliency. While the skin is responsible for retaining water, it also serves as the filter for the body to sweat out moisture. Like all major organs in the body, the skin is designed to regulate itself but there are a number of factors that contribute to hydrated skin that go beyond drinking the typically prescribed 8 glasses of water a day.
The Role of Water
One of the most enduring myths in skin care is how drinking more glasses of water can instantly improve the complexion. Keeping the body and skin hydrated are vital but drinking 8-10 glasses of water a day doesn't instantly plump up the skin.
"Humans aren’t like plants. Our skin doesn’t perk up when we consume water. Water doesn’t go straight to the skin. It goes through the intestines, gets absorbed into your bloodstream, and is filtered by kidneys, then it hydrates cells."
-- Katie Rodan,
Dermatologist and Co-author of
Write Your Skin a Prescription for Change.
While drinking water all day won't necessarily boost the complexion, dehydration can easily wreak havoc on it. Dehydration in the skin weakens its defense and increases sensitivity, irritation, and premature aging. The body uses thirst as a cue to rehydrate, but as we age, we lose our sensitivity to thirst and the ability to maintain a healthy water balance. Just as proper skin care takes precedence as we mature, so does drinking water to keep the body and skin in check. The relationship between water intake and the skin can be a confusing one, but a recent study shows us that sometimes it is the water content that counts. Drinking natural mineral water has been shown to improve skin hydration and enhance the overall texture; this is mostly due to the effect of skin-softening minerals such as magnesium, selenium, calcium and zinc. Timing also plays a part. Keeping a glass of water by the bedside does more than ward off the occasional nightly thirst. The body loses a significant amount of water while sleeping, so hydrating beforehand and drinking a glass first thing in the morning (when the blood is most viscous) both contribute to a healthy balance.
Staying hydrated can even help balance hormones, which affects energy levels and the skin's appearance. Being dehydrated signals the release of stress hormones or coritsol, which in turn increases oil production in the skin -- leading to oily skin, breakouts and other issues. Minerals such as magnesium found in mineral salt and mineral water also help to maintain the vital hormone balance. While mineral salt can specifically benefit the body, a salt-heavy diet can cause the skin to retain too much water -- resulting in a swollen complexion and the dreaded puffy eye effect. Because the skin around the eyes is thin and delicate, it is the first place where water retention makes itself known. Salt is actually responsible for allowing the body to retain enough fluids to hydrate throughout, but like anything in excess, a higher salt intake holds onto the water, making it unavailable to the rest of the body and dehydrating the cells. Thankfully, the body has an innate ability to maintain our internal sodium and water balance; it's up to us where to draw the line.
Internal vs. External Hydration
When it comes to moisturizing the skin, simply drinking more water falls short, but water is not the only emollient that can hydrate the skin and improve its appearance. Our dietary choices play a much larger role than simply inflating or deflating our waistbands. Dermatology has come a long way since perpetuating the old pizza equals pimples equation, but the fact remains, nutrition is essential to the maintenance of fresh, healthy skin. This is evidenced by the way nutritional deficiencies can cause irritation on the skin – further showing the direct relationship between diet and an enviable complexion.
"Diet can play a role in strengthening your skin’s ability to maintain moisture, too. Foods rich in the essential fatty acids found in walnuts, flaxseed, salmon, and olive oil can help skin cells stay hydrated. A healthy diet with three to five servings a week of fatty acids will suffice for the average person. All are good sources of alpha or gamma linolenic fatty acids."
-- Leslie Baumann,
a professor of dermatology at the
University of Miami.
Hydration through Nutrition: The ABC's of Freshness
The idea of "feeding the skin," is still a relatively new one, though the skin responds to nourishing and detoxifying nutrients in our diets. These nutrients, such as proteins, lipids, vitamins and essential minerals work together to supporting the barrier functions of skin and improve its overall appearance.
C -- Carotenoids: these phytochemicals or plant pigments are able to hydrate the skin, specially beta-cryptoxanthin which the body converts into pro-vitamin A (otherwise known as retinol), that regulates cell production and turnover for a smoother complexion. These are commonly found in richly pigmented food such as papaya, mango, peaches, oranges, tangerines, bell peppers, corn and watermelon. Another potent carotenoid, lutein, is a yellow pigment found in peaches, mango, oranges and prunes that increases skin hydration as well as elasticity.
E -- Electrolytes: these vital minerals hydrate by bringing water into the cells of the body. To improve the skin's moisture, maintaining a proper balance of electrolytes is key. Twenty percent of our water intake comes from food sources, so focus on foods that have a high water density such as watermelon, broccoli and tomatoes, that contain 90 percent or higher, also dense vegetables such as cucumbers, tomatoes, jicama, beets, carrots or celery.
E -- Essential Fatty Acids (EFA's): EFA's are a vital part of skin cells that hold moisture. They make up the lipid layer of the skin that maintains hydration, softness and elasticity as well as providing a protective barrier against harmful bacteria. Both linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid are categorized as "good fats," and are a key component of the lubricating layer that keeps skin moist. These omegas 3,6 and 9 emollients are especially vital for dry, mature skin. Food sources include fish (mackerel, herring and salmon) flax seed oil, avocados, walnuts, grape seed oil, tofu and vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, kale, cabbage and brussels sprouts.
F -- Flavonoids: another type of plant pigment, these active compounds have been shown to increase the skin's hydration as well as slowing down collagen breakdown, to maintain a supple texture. There are an abundant of dietary sources of flavonoids such as citrus fruits, berries, onions, green tea, legumes, parsley, and even chocolate.
M -- Minerals: minerals like magnesium and zinc work internally just as they nourish the skin topically. both assist in the production of hyaluronic acid, which provides unsurpassed skin hydration and can be found in soy, kale, carrots, pumpkin seeds and whole grains.
V -- Vitamins: most vitamins tend to do more for the skin when applied directly, but vitamin B5 fortifies the skin, hydrates and improves moisture retention when ingested. Foods high in Vitamin B complex are tuna, lentils, bananas, wheat bran, potatoes, tempeh, barley and oats.
External Hydration: From the Outside In
The architecture of the skin is unique to any other organ.There are no blood vessels in the top layers to supply the cells with oxygen and nutrients, so the body delivers only a certain percentage of vitamins to the skin; no matter how much is ingested. Certain vitamins and nutrients are able to penetrate deep and be directly absorbed into the skin -- bringing transformative benefits and creating a stronger and healthier protective barrier for the body.
We are all governed by our body's internal chemistry. A carousel of hormones, genetics, and age can lead to dehydration and premature aging; but we can minimize our exposure and counteract the effects of drying and depleting elements like: extreme temperatures due to weather and heating and cooling units, sun exposure, alcohol, and harsh chemicals that strip the skin of its natural oils. While bathing does not directly moisturize the skin it does offers other internal benefits. Heating and cooling the body alleviates chronic skin conditions, as does the addition of mineral-rich bath soaks.
To replenish the skin externally, moisturizers that contain absorbable antioxidants such as vitamins A, C, and E help to promote healthy cell growth. Avoiding dehydration of the skin means practicing a daily cleansing, exfoliating, and protecting ritual that helps the skin to attract and retain moisture and maintains the natural barrier. Focus on natural, moisture replenishing ingredients that are able to deeply penetrate the skin, such as vitamins B5 and E, alpha-hydroxy acids (like lactic acid and glycolic acid), minerals and rich essential oils that will ensure a dewy, hydrated, and fresh complexion.