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To our health,
Have you noticed that your skin is thinner than it used to be? Maybe you’ve also done a double-take in the mirror and wondered why your face looks pale, and where all of those fine lines and wrinkles are suddenly coming from? If so, you’re not alone—it is so rampant in our culture that instead of the Got Milk? Campaign we want to start the “Got Thin Skin?” campaign!
Symptoms such as dull, dry and pale skin can be signs of skin malnourishment. Today, we want to talk to you about how your skin reaches this state, and how to get back to the radiating, glowing and youthful skin you desire and deserve.
What causes thin skin? Before diving into how to nourish malnourished skin and make a quick recovery from thinning skin, it’s important to understand how your skin got to this point in the first place. We like to fit factors that age skin into two main categories: inevitable agers and accelerated agers. If you’ve read the New York Times bestseller, Glow15, you are already familiar with both.
Inevitable agers are factors that you can’t really control and are due to natural wear and tear that comes with age. The exciting part is that, while these agers themselves can’t necessarily be avoided, you do have powerful tools at your disposal to intervene.
Accelerated agers, on the other hand, are outside forces that damage your cells (especially skin cells) and speed up both visible and invisible signs of aging. Exactly the opposite of inevitable agers, accelerated agers are largely within your control to avoid. Learning how to do so is foundational in nourishing your skin and you are going to love how simple it is to slow down the clock.
The most common accelerated agers include foods with added sugar, environmental toxins like excess UV exposure, cigarette smoke and pollution, a sedentary lifestyle and lack of sleep. All of these factors directly cause and lead to tired, dull and thinning skin.
Please, don’t worry! There is a solution, and it comes in the form of mouth-watering, satiating and hands-down delicious fats. You heard us right: you can eat your way to plump, pillowy and lusciously soft skin with a diet rich in a healthy variety of good fats.
While a diet rich in healthy fats is important to your health for about a million reasons, skin health definitely tops the list. The surface of your skin that the world sees is only the tip of the iceberg, and the inner layers of your skin (the dermis) are deeply affected by what you eat. Every skin cell is surrounded by layers of fat that make up the cell walls, known as the phospholipid bilayer. Without adequate healthy fats in the diet, this bilayer is not able to give your skin that plump, firm, rosy appearance that it should.
This is where it gets exciting! In the world of fats, there are some skin superstars, but balance and variety are also important, not to mention knowing which fats to avoid like the plague. Let’s take a closer look at each, and their specific role in plumping and firming malnourished skin.
Omega 3 fatty acids are often the most well known, especially for their incredible anti-inflammatory properties. They are known as “essential fatty acids” because your body can’t make these polyunsaturated fats on its own. The word “polyunsaturated” refers to its specific chemical structure, as “poly” means many and “unsaturated” refers to double bonds.
Glowing skin depends on these fats, as they literally form part of its structure. Their ability to lower inflammation also plays a big role in skin health and beauty. As if that wasn’t enough, these all-star fatty acids regulate oil production that both keeps your skin hydrated and helps to prevent acne.
Sadly the Standard American Diet is shockingly deficient in omega 3s and far too high in omega 6s, which is why the Glow15 program puts so much emphasis on skin-revitalizing sources such as wild salmon, alongside supplementation with BioAlaskan fish oil. Other excellent food sources include mackerel, sardines, anchovies, chia seeds, walnuts, and flaxseeds.
Omega 6 fatty acids are also polyunsaturated, however, the last double bond contains six carbons. These fats are also essential, meaning you must get them from foods. Unfortunately, omega 6 fats have gotten a pretty bad wrap due to their potential to be pro-inflammatory, but in reality, they are extremely important to many aspects of health, and definitely to beautiful skin. Linoleic acid is the most common type of omega 6 and it can be converted into others such as arachidonic acid (ARA). ARA is essential to the functioning of the prostaglandin system which regulates the female reproductive system.
Both the omega 3 fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid (known as EPA) and ARA are used to produce eicosanoids. These are thought of as “local hormones” that have various effects in the body. But those produced by ARA are more prone to cause inflammation. The reason this can be problematic is because of that ratio we mentioned earlier: the Western diet often contains far more omega 6 fats than it should and not enough omega 3s. Believe it or not, while the recommended ratio is 4:1 or 2:1, many western diets are as high as 50:1 or even 200:1!
The key takeaway when you think about omega 6 fatty acids is that it all comes down to ratios and quality. The unhealthy omega 6 fats that we’ll discuss in a moment directly lead to the dreaded thin skin, while the nourishing, natural ones from sources like evening primrose and borage oil, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseeds and their oils, raw sunflower seeds, pine nuts and pistachios lead to skin that looks vital and feels smooth and velvety.
These lesser-known omega fats are monounsaturated fats (like those from olive oil) and have one double bond. The most common of the omega 9s is oleic acid. Unlike the other omegas, these fats can be made by the body so aren’t considered “essential,” and in fact are quite abundant in most of your cells.
Even though most people aren’t too familiar with omega 9 fatty acids, they offer some incredible health benefits that directly link to beautiful, vibrant skin. The main reason they are closely tied to skin health comes back (yet again) to that buzzword: inflammation. Omega 9s are wonderful for lowering systemic inflammation, which you now know is a major culprit in dull, malnourished skin.
Since the low-fat/no-fat health craze completely overhauled the American diet over the past decades, the average intake of saturated fats had taken a huge dive downwards. Thankfully, the most recent studies show us that good quality, natural saturated fats actually play some key roles in health, and we don’t need to fear them. In fact, your skin is one of the body’s main organs that need saturated fats in the diet to thrive.
It also comes back to that balance: the body requires a beautifully balanced ratio of saturated, monounsaturated and omegas to regenerate skin tissue, and all truly are the skin’s building blocks.
The mind-blowing health benefits of monounsaturated fats have been known by cultures around the world for centuries, and they are found especially in olives and olive oil, almonds, Brazil nuts, avocados, and avocado oil.
Not only are these fats incredibly heart-healthy, but they also play an impressive role in keeping your skin beautiful. Olives and their oil, in particular, are one of the best-kept beauty secrets, as they are rich in vitamins A and E, both essential nutrients for protecting your skin’s surface from free radical damage. As if that weren’t reason enough to stock your shelves with these delicious fats, olives have also been shown to improve skin tone, strengthen connective tissue and protect you from harmful UV radiation.
Extra virgin olive oil is a two-for-one, it nourishes malnourished skin from the inside out, and can be used topically to soothe, regenerate and some people find amazing success using it to improve symptoms of psoriasis, acne, and eczema.
Flooding your diet with healthy fats might feel like a foreign concept given the misinformation that mainstream nutrition has fed us over past decades, but beginning to incorporate these healing fats every day will take your skin health to the next level.
If you’ve been eating a low-fat diet, start small with making sure you have one serving of fat per meal and snack. This is one tablespoon of an oil (coconut, olive, avocado, etc.), one tablespoon of butter or ghee, 1/4 cup of nuts or seeds, 3 to 4 ounces of wild salmon or another fatty fish, ¼ to 1/2 an avocado or 6 to 8 olives. If that feels good, you can increase that to two tablespoons of oil or butter, especially when the bulk of your meal is vegetables with a serving of protein.
Let your hunger be your guide! Learning to tap into your body’s cues and signals is so important, and they will tell you how much fat you need. For example, if you’re hungry shortly after a meal, often not enough good fat is to blame for that and for your post-meal sweet tooth as well. Are you having a serving of chicken with a big salad for dinner? Drizzle that salad with 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil and add in a small handful of walnuts, for example. You can easily add 1/2 an avocado to any meal for a satisfying and mouth-watering addition of fat. And of course, aim to cook with healthy fats that have a higher smoke point, such as grass-fed butter, ghee, avocado, and coconut oils.
This is a great question, and the answer isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Lab tests can look at your genetic factors, such as whether you have the APOE4 genotype. APOE4 carriers have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Avoiding saturated fat and taking in enough polyunsaturated fat can be beneficial.
And an easy first step is to listen to your body. How do you feel after a meal with good fats versus a meal with low or no fat? How do you feel after a meal with junky fats (think commercially fried food or packaged convenience foods and fast food)? How does your skin look? How is your appetite and what do you crave (if you crave?). If you have aches and pains, how does your body differ in its response when you eat good versus junky fats? Get personal to get real about your skin!
Again, hunger will be a very useful tool to guide your fat intake for starters. It’s not easy to overeat fat as your body will naturally let you know with symptoms like a headache or nausea, but typically your satiety (fullness) hormones will kick in before that happens to let you know it’s time to stop eating. While the bulk of the population will thrive on a higher fat, lower carb diet model, a small percentage of people will do better on a slightly higher carb model, and with less saturated fats. It’s never a bad idea to get some baseline lab work done before increasing your fat intake and retest six months later to see how things are going. Some baseline labs include a lipid panel, fasting blood glucose, fasting insulin and A1c. Ideally, you can seek out a local integrative and/or functional nutritionist or doctor to interpret your results.
For a quick recap of key takeaways to nourish your thinning skin and recover from thin skin, you can get started right away with these six steps:
Thinning, dull and dry skin is definitely worrisome but think of it as an opportunity. Your body is telling you that changes need to be made, and a diet rich in good fats is at the top of the list. Examine your diet and see what you can remove (think: sugar) and which fats you might be missing. Begin giving your skin back its glow today.