Marion Simms, owner of SkinSense Wellness Spa in Los Angeles, explains the role pH-balancing and probiotics have on healthy skin, and how you can work with clients to ensure that they can take advantage of these benefits before, during and after your services.
When consulting with clients on their visits to your spa, lifestyle should take up a big part of your initial conversation, particularly what clients are eating on a daily basis. It is no secret that consuming a blend of fresh fruits, vegetables and clean proteins, plus drinking the right amount of water, does translate into clear and vibrant skin most of the time. However, two additional recommendations you can make to your clients to keep their skin youthful and healthy are to try and keep their overall food intake as alkaline as possible and to take regular courses of probiotics.
In the skin care business, it is not unusual to talk about the pH of a product. The letters "pH" stand for potential hydrogen, as hydrogen is the element that controls the levels of either alkalinity or acidity in a formulation. Acidic products range from 0–6.9 and are often used to exfoliate or peel the skin; alkaline products range from 7.1–14 and can be used in cleansers or to neutralize acidity and, very often, moisturizers are formulated to be neutral (a pH of 7) to bring the skin back into balance. Too much acidity or alkalinity is irritating for the skin, so the pH should always be carefully calibrated.
More recently, the principle of pH-balancing has been applied to the body. This holistic approach is based on the belief that the foundation of a strong digestion is built on a simple eating system that maintains an ideal acid/alkaline (pH) balance in the body. How is that done? The suggested pH-ratio would be a diet of two-thirds alkaline and one-third acid-forming foods. This takes some adjustment. So, to take a step in the right direction, let’s outline a few alkaline foods that can be incorporated in greater quantities, and some acidic foods that can be eliminated. Raw, green, leafy vegetables, such as chard, kale and spinach are all excellent at maintaining a more alkaline system. So are avocados, celery, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, coconuts, cherries, grapefruits, lemons and watermelons. Obviously, exercise and relaxation are essential and, as already mentioned, drinking the right amount of water. Men need more water than women on a daily basis, but if you eat plenty of the aforementioned vegetables and two or three fresh fruits a day, you can fill half of your required fluid quota. A healthy way to start and end each day, for example, would be with a cup of warm water flavored with half of a fresh lemon.
Foods you can recommend for clients to minimize or avoid are white flour, red meat, processed food, coffee, too much alcohol and artificial sweeteners. These create a lot of acidity in the body. Too much acidity triggers eczema, acne, cysts, rosacea and wrinkles; so all of these conditions may be greatly improved by a diet that contains alkaline-rich foods.
Healthy skin and probiotics
At this point, most have heard the term "probiotic" or have noticed the words "lactobacillus" and "acidophilus" listed on dairy products--particularly yogurt containers. But did you know that about two hundred trillion of these microscopic organisms--bacteria, viruses and fungi--are swarming inside you right now and are part of a vast organism called a microbiome?
A microbiome is, in essence, the sum collection of all the microbes found in or on people. Currently, about 9 million adults in America are taking probiotics in one form or another. It has built up to a billion-dollar industry. Results are as difficult to predict as the actual microbiome is hard to understand and unravel, but some tests have shown dramatic results. In the Intensive Care Nursery at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, the Preemie Microbiome Project has become an important step in understanding how a healthy, balanced microbiome is achieved in the first place. Researchers know that infants acquire about 100 species of microbes in the birth canal and others come from the mother’s skin after birth. Microbes can also be found in the mouth, lungs, between the toes and eyelashes, and even living in and around belly buttons. The nose, mouth and eyes are also obvious entry points for germs. Tears and mucus contain an enzyme (lysozyme) that breaks down the cell wall of many bacteria. Saliva is also antibacterial. Since the nasal passage and lungs are coated in mucus, many germs not killed immediately are trapped in the mucus and soon swallowed. So your body has a regular artillery of defenses that it would seem logical to support as much as possible. Scientists feel that understanding and controlling the diversity of germs could be the key to a range of future medical treatments, as well as maintaining general health; diversity provides resilience in the body as it does in the environment and local communities.
Biologists at Washington University in St. Louis have done studies that suggest that the microbiome may play a significant role in affecting the ability of the body to digest properly, extract energy from food and to deposit it as fat; it has long been thought that the gut is the seat of the immune system. Imbalances in the microbiome in this part of the body might be linked, for example, to allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, Krohn's disease, diabetes, obesity and generally poor digestion. So it is becoming clear that managing the microbiome might be far more preferable to pummeling it with antibiotics. Which of course brings up the issue of the increased use of antibiotics, not only through prescription, but also in the food chain--especially in chicken and cattle feed.
It has been established that continued use of antibiotics will eradicate certain strains of friendly bacteria that never fully repopulate in certain areas of the body. So recommend that your clients buy organic as much as possible. In the fullness of time, it will be understood how genetic makeup, lifestyle, health and disease influence the metabolic composition of the gut, and how this, in turn, influences--and is influenced by--the gut microbiome. And perhaps the next time you feel yourself getting hungry, or are feeling lethargic, you might ask yourself whether it’s really you, or is it the residents of your gut? As scientist Lynn Margulis commented in the April 2011 edition of Discover magazine,”We couldn’t live without bacteria. They maintain our ecological physiology. There are vitamins in bacteria that we cannot live without. The movement of gas and feces would never take place without bacteria. There are hundreds of ways our bodies wouldn’t work without them. Bacteria are our ancestors.”
As any good esthetician knows, the skin is an important part of the body’s immune system and will reflect inner stress and poor lifestyle choices. Topically, the skin produces antimicrobial peptides that keep bacteria in check. But when certain conditions are present, such as psoriasis, acne, atopic dermatitis and rosacea, the skin’s defenses are over-ridden, and bacteria and fungi proliferate. Harsh cleansers, highly acidic formulas and prescription medications, both oral and topical, often exacerbate the problem, so correct analysis and product recommendations at this stage are vital.
Consider taking a two-step approach to skin health and wellness. After counseling clients about diet and lifestyle, suggest a spa routine that is corrective without being too aggressive. Skin that is dehydrated or broken out won’t respond well to immediately aggressive peels or exfoliating treatments, so the skin is balanced with enzymes and aromatherapy before attempting anything more advanced. Meanwhile, the client should use a home-care routine that is also gently re-balancing, including vitamins A, C, and B-5, with plenty of ceramides and hyaluronic acid to calm and hydrate. Consistent and diligent morning and evening routines are always important, but never more so than at this particular stage. It is also interesting to note that probiotics have now started showing up in product formulations for topical use where they can encourage cell renewal, improve barrier function and retain surface moisture. This builds new tissue and gives the skin a glow. Also, consider compiling a list of alkaline foods, perhaps from the book The Acid-Alkaline Food Guide (Square One Publishers, June 2006) by Susan Brown, MD, that many clients find very useful. Also, be able to recommend specific brands of probiotics that are easily purchased locally.
The secret to staying healthy and keeping skin youthful might lie in keeping germs healthy and bodies pH-balanced. This way, inner and outer health can be reflected on a daily basis.