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Improving the health of your skin

The world’s leading integrative health expert, Dr Andrew Weil, gives the definitive research-backed answer.

by Psychologies

Beauty and good health go hand in hand: both depend significantly on diet and lifestyle practices. Skin problems are the result of chronic inflammation that may otherwise be imperceptible. Inflammation is the cornerstone of the body’s natural healing response, directing immune activity and other resources to areas of the body that have been damaged or are under attack.

Usually, the inflammatory response is limited to a specific location and ends when healing is complete. When inflammation persists or develops inappropriately, however, it can damage otherwise healthy cells and tissues, including the skin. The focus of a good skincare programme should be incorporating dietary and lifestyle measures that help minimise the root cause of degenerative changes to the skin – chronic inflammation.

Follow an anti-inflammatory pattern of eating with a wide variety of antioxidant-rich, brightly coloured fruits and vegetables (preferably organic); wholegrains and other slow-digesting carbohydrates; fatty cold-water fish, for their anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids; vegetable sources of protein, such as beans, lentils and fermented whole soy products, which contain healthier fats and fewer toxins than most animal proteins; and seeds and nuts (see here for more information on Dr Weil).

Avoid foods that promote inflammation, like processed carbohydrates, fried and fast foods. Stay well-hydrated with clean water and green tea. Exercise regularly, get at least seven hours’ sleep, and don’t smoke. Regularly practise stress management, such as meditation and breathwork.

Prevent skin damage by using sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15. Choose creams and lotions carefully, avoiding those with parabens and phthalates. I prefer topical skincare products offering anti-inflammatory activity, such as the lines I helped develop for Origins. (All my after-tax profits from the sale of Origins products go to the Weil Foundation, which promotes integrative medicine.)

Select supplements may also help promote skin health, such as gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Good sources include evening primrose oil (Oenothera biennis) or blackcurrant oil (Ribes nigrum). The typical dose is 500mg twice daily. It often takes six to eight weeks to see the full effects, after which the dose should be halved. I also recommend 2-3g of molecularly distilled fish oil each day, especially if you’re not eating cold-water fish at least twice a week.

Products containing collagen, a protein important to both skin and bone health, are available in forms ranging from skin creams and supplements to beverages. A small amount of research suggests skin health benefits from some oral and topical collagen products, but the overall evidence is weak and they can be expensive.

Find out more at drweil.com and on our #360me channel on Life Labs

Photograph: iStock