Are you aware that, living in New Zealand, it is postulated that you cannot make vitamin D from sunlight for six months out of the year? From March through until October, research shows that many people in southern latitudes are deficient in Vitamin D, because there is insufficient sunlight during the winter months to stimulate the production of vitamin D in skin. Although it is termed a vitamin, Vitamin D is actually an essential hormone that helps regulate many processes within the body, along with its synergystic twin, Vitamin A.
A deficiency of Vitamin D has been linked to a lowering of the immune system. But what actually is the immune system? The immune system is a collection of different systems designed to protect the body. We are born with our innate immune system, the cells and mechanisms that defend us from infection in a non-specific manner. There are the physical barriers to prevent infection, such as the skin, tears, eyes, respiratory system and the stomach and digestive system; along with the different types of white cells or leukocytes in our blood which fight infection. We also have an acquired immunity which is made up of antibodies produced when the body first comes into contact with a toxin or infection. The next time it meets that infection it has the antibodies to prevent the disease becoming established. We build up most of our acquired immunity in our childhood – which is why we don’t get chicken pox time and time again. As skin therapists, we are particularly interested in the immune system of the skin and so need to look for ingredients that support and strengthen the cells involved in the immune process, such as the Langerhans cells. This is especially important when Vitamin D levels naturally decrease over the winter months as we need to support and maximise the benefits of Vitamin D within our clients’ skin.
How do we do this?
Eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables will ensure we have plenty of the key immune boosting vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A, C, E and the minerals zinc and selenium to help support the Vitamin D in the system. I encourage clients to boost the effect of a healthy diet by adding a topical application of vitamins and antioxidants. This will help ensure the skin’s immune system stays strong and resilient throughout winter.
Look for a skin care range that supplies these essential nutrients to the skin, preferably in a dosed, step up system, in order to minimise reactions and achieve optimal results in a weather compromised skin. Vitamin A in particular is needed to support the Langerhans cells and encourage the healthiest skin defense possible. Vitamin C is also important for collagen production and capillary health. Moving from warm indoor environments to the chilly outdoors causes the skin’s capillaries to dilate and contract. The capillary walls eventually lose elasticity and trigger increased redness and sensitivity. This is especially true for clients whose immune systems are already compromised and who present with rosacea, excema or dermatitis type symptoms. Normally, the outer layers of skin form a natural, protective barrier. Studies have shown that those with rosacea, excema and dermatitis have a disrupted barrier that can become even more disrupted when exposed to external aggressors, leading to redness, itching, and increased sensitivity. Look for adaptogens in your products to calm and support.
Winter may also be the time to add some extra comfort products to your skincare routine, but make sure that these also deliver nutrients to help the skin.
There’s no doubt about it, the number of compromised, problematic skins we are seeing is on the increase. Our clients’ lifestyle, diet, work/home environments and stress levels are damaging many skins, making skin disorders more common than ever before.
The secret is that tackling problem skins begins from the inside. The skin is created, supported and nourished from within so if it is showing signs of dysfunction, you need to look to the internal cause not just treat the symptoms topically.
Cystic acne is an example of a condition created entirely from within and therefore only able to be healed from the inside. Absolutely nothing can be done topically to treat this distressing condition.
These photos demonstrate the dramatic results you can achieve with cystic acne if you address the cause not just the symptoms.
So what sort of internal factors can be contributing to your skin's problem? Firstly, nutritional deficiencies play a major part and unfortunately, if your dry skin or acne is the result of a lack of certain vitamins or minerals, you will not be able to address this without first correcting the deficit. No amount of topical application of skin care products alone will be able to heal the problem.
A good example of that is acne. Studies have shown that acne sufferers are much more likely than non-acne sufferers to be deficient in the following vitamins and minerals:
So it is easy to see why we are doomed to failure if we do not address these nutritional deficiencies. Unfortunately it is becoming more and more likely you will be suffering from a lack of one or more of the important skin nutrients.
Some key skin nutrients, like beta-carotene and vitamin C, can easily be obtained through the diet by increasing your client’s intake of fresh fruit and vegetables. Other nutrients like zinc, B complex and EFA’s (Essential Fatty Acids) are best supplemented to ensure there is an adequate intake for healing skin.
There are also many things in our modern diets that can contribute to the problems our clients’ experience. Being aware of these problem foods can go a long way to helping correct the issues. Some of these problem foods are obvious like alcohol. You just need observe what happens to someone with fine, fair, sensitive skin who drinks alcohol to know that it is one of the most inflammatory things they can do and it definitely makes skin redder.
There are lots of other ‘hidden’ foods that could be ‘stoking the fire’ and contributing to the problems you may be experiencing. Heating and congesting foods and drinks become an issue for those of our clients who are genetically sensitive to them.
On the positive side, more and more of our commonly eaten foods are managing to find their way onto the growing list of foods that contain phyto-chemicals that heal and rebalance the skin.
It is also important to take a holistic view of the skin. What other influencing factors could be contributing to the problem?
Examples of irritants are chlorinated pools, hot spa pools, air conditioning, certain chemicals, soaps and shampoos to name just a few. Rosacea is an example of a condition that is greatly affected by external factors and these need to be considered in the treatment of this disorder.
In the Beauty Industry it has become common for us to look at the skin as an isolated part of the body rather than considering the big picture. The best way it was ever explained to me, is the skin is the best refection of your internal health.
This is so true of skin conditions as they are seldom due to only one factor. For example, the development of dermatitis can be a combination of a skin weakened by nutritional deficiencies being exposed to irritating chemicals and fuelled by inflammatory foods.
We also need to consider all the factors that could be undermining the health of the skin. The work/home environment, exercise, sleep, stress, diet, product application, overheating, and the list goes on.
Thanks to Janine Tait, for the inspiration for this post.