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Combating Harmful Lifestyle Effects on the Skin
By: Terri Wojak
Posted: January 31, 2013, from the February 2013 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
It’s no secret that a healthy lifestyle is essential to feeling and looking good. Diet, exercise and stress management are essential considerations for whole-body wellness. Unfortunately, in a fast-paced culture that consists of multitasking at lightning speed, people often neglect their health by making poor lifestyle choices. The skin is the largest organ of the body and yet often the most neglected. Everyone wants beautiful skin, but those who suffer from imperfections often focus solely on quick fixes before considering the internal and external factors, and long-term commitments to improve the skin’s appearance. The role of skin care professionals is not only to help improve the skin’s appearance, but also to educate clients about environmental factors, such as lifestyle choices, that detrimentally impact healthy skin.
The American diet is full of simple sugars, carbohydrates and “bad fats,” including saturated and trans fats. Saturated fats are found in whole milk, cheese, red meats, poultry skin and even in some plant foods, such as palm and coconut oils. Trans fats are man-made, created to allow liquid fat to solidify and last longer before spoiling to increase the stability and shelf life of snack foods. They are most commonly seen in processed foods, listed on labels as hydrogenated oils. Most fried foods and processed meats, chips and margarine contain high levels of these trans fats and are associated with triggering inflammation. Inflammation is a major culprit in cancer, aging, poor skin health and disease.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), saturated fats should be reduced to less than 10% of daily calories. Alternatives to these harmful fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These are considered “good fats” because they are known to lower internal cholesterol levels. Monounsaturated fats are found in olives, olive oil, peanuts and avocados. Polyunsaturated fats are found in corn, soybeans and fish. Fish, in particular, contains high amounts of the polyunsaturated fat omega-3, which has natural anti-inflammatory benefits. Oral supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids is quite common. These supplements not only have internal health benefits, but also have been shown to increase moisture levels in the skin. Other nutritional supplements such as lycopene, found in tomatoes; coenzyme Q10; minerals such as zinc; and botanicals such as green tea all may be beneficial to the skin’s appearance by reducing inflammation—however, clinical trials supporting these claims are lacking.
The intake of sugar and simple carbohydrates also should be limited in order to avoid negative effects on the skin’s appearance. Soda, white bread and candy raise blood sugar levels rapidly, which leads to inflammation and, eventually, cellular injury. Excess sugar consumption is speculated to cause glycation, which is the result of sugars attacking the body’s cells and attaching to proteins. Glycation may result in sallow, dull and eventually sagging skin. Collagen and elastin are proteins responsible for keeping the skin plump and youthful.
Keeping the body hydrated also is important to maintain a youthful appearance. Those with diets high in salt, alcohol and caffeine may experience a lack of hydration that can be visible on the skin. For this reason, cutting back on these dehydrating substances and increasing water intake is vital for healthy skin. It is recommended that a person drink 8–10 glasses of water a day, as well as an additional two glasses for every glass of alcohol or caffeine. For clients with poor nutritional habits, provide and encourage the use of treatments and products specifically to put them on the path toward better skin health.