“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t….you are right.”
~ Henry Ford
What if I told you that the key to having clear skin was influenced more by your thoughts and actions than what is found in any cream or a pill?
For 15 years I suffered from what I affectionately call “cockroach acne” (you know, the kind of acne that keeps coming back again and again no matter what you do). For most of that time I told myself that I was just born with “bad skin.”
My mother had debilitating acne well into her 30s and so I had thought of acne as my destiny and in many ways expected it. It didn’t occur to me until much later that one quick look at my baby photos confirmed I was in fact born with beautiful skin so why had I been so quick to accept acne as my fate?
Karma is the belief that what comes to us is based on our thoughts and actions.
Our skin is a manifestation of the relationship we have with ourselves and reflects how we treat our bodies so what we see in our skin is effectively our “skin karma.”
4 Ways to create good “skin karma:”
1. Nourish your shin from within.
There is no doubt in my mind now that what we choose to nourish our bodies with has a profound effect on the health of our skin.
Any practitioner you see about your skin that does not ask your about your diet is not going to get to the root of the problem or, more importantly, help you find a permanent solution.
I say this from the experience of having spent years going to dozens of different professionals who would prescribe pills, medications, creams and potions that would temporarily mask the problem and sometimes provide short-term relief but always with adverse side effects (redness, flaking and sensitivity) and my “cockroach acne” would inevitability return.
None of the professionals I saw asked me about my diet and it wasn’t until my excessive dairy habit was curbed in my 30s that I began to experience a real long-term success with my cystic acne.
Whilst I have known intuitively for some time now that there was a link between my diet and my acne it is only recently that mainstream clinical studies have begun to be released that show a clear diet-acne link.
In his article Do Milk and Sugar Cause Acne (2011), Mark Hyman, M.D. cites a systematic review of 21 observational studies and six clinical trials that found clear links that confirm that dairy products and sugar cause acne.
My own aha moment about diet and its affect on skin health happened when my younger brother left New Zealand and went to live in Japan.
Quite soon after settling into his new environment and a fairly traditional Japanese diet his acne completely disappeared!
I know now that his skin’s transformation was largely due to a number of important differences in his diet whilst living in Japan:
> He was introduced to fermented foods which are detoxifying, increase the amount of good bacteria in the gut and improve digestion.
> His heavy red meat laden diet was replaced with smaller portions of fish which are high in omega 3 fatty acids and improve inflammatory conditions like acne.
> He ate considerably more vegetables which provided the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to prevent acne and made his system considerably more alkaline which fights inflammation.
> Acne-fighting green tea replaced his soda habit.
> He consumed negligible amounts of dairy and high glycemic processed foods like bread and potato chips that have been proven to cause acne.
Our diet is incredibly important. Fact.
One mindset shift you can try today: Focus on what you can have that nourishes your body instead of fixating on what you can’t have.
Sometimes the resistance we feel when we are told we can’t have dairy or we should give up sugar is enough to stop any attempts at making positive changes to our diet.
One actionable step you can take today: Scour your local farmers markets and food stores for new and interesting vegetables and healthy foods that you haven’t experienced and try different recipes and/or different cuisines. Actively seeking to keep our diet varied and interesting will change our mindset from thoughts of deprivation to excitement instead and this alone is more likely to result in more long lasting positive change.
2. Don’t fight your skin.
Our skin will not only respond to how we nourish it through diet but also what we do to support it in our skincare routine.
When our skin clogs up, breaks out or goes red it is trying to tell us something about what is going on internally. Reacting by over-cleansing with harsh detergents, excessive scrubbing or using drying medicated lotions will just create a fight response from our skin. Quite often this fight response will have the exact opposite effect than what we are trying to achieve. Using drying products to strip an oily skin of moisture will only cause the oil glands to fight back and produce even more oil.
With your skincare routine, simplicity is key and the old adage “less is more” holds true.
We can over stimulate our skin by overwhelming it with too many active ingredients or, even worse, toxic ingredients that overwhelm the system. When we over-stimulate our skin, we run the risk of getting the same response as when you over stimulate a toddler—a big fat tantrum!
One proactive mindset shift you can try today: Focus on the fact that your skin is a living, breathing organ and aim to use products that support and work with your skin rather than fight it.
One actionable step you can take today: Do an inventory of your current skincare routine and assess its toxic load (I recommend using the Skin Deep Cosmetic Data Base to help you with this). Seek out natural skincare products with recognizable ingredients that feed and nourish your skin.
3. Take time to nurture yourself.
Chronic stress can result is a number of physical problems like hormonal imbalances, a compromised immune system and inflammation.
Dr. Johnson (founder of Osmosis skin care) highlights stress as one of the main culprits that cause acne because the cortisol we produce whilst under stress stimulates the release of toxins into the bloodstream.
Our skin is an elimination organ that has to filter these toxins and if the load is too much we can experience breakouts. We need to provide our skin with a safe and nurturing environment in which to thrive.
On any given week our hectic schedule, grueling work hours and family commitments will provide countless excuses as to why we should put off doing activities that nurture us.
Regularly making time for nurturing activities that relax us and reduce stress is not only good for our skin—it is a must for our overall health and well being.
One proactive mindset shift you can try today: Remember the flight attendant’s advice about putting on your oxygen mask first so you can help others? When we take time for ourselves and recharge our batteries the people that dependent on us benefit as well. It is okay to put yourself first sometimes.
One actionable step you can take today: Schedule regular “me time.” It may seem counterintuitive to have to “schedule” fun but, in the chaos of adult life, we have to actually remember to nurture ourselves and, most importantly, we need to practice doing this without feeling guilty. It does not have to be costly or extravagant and can be simple things like stepping away from your desk and having lunch in the park or getting off the train a few stops early and enjoying some fresh air on the walk home.
4. Have faith in your innate ability to heal.
Our state of mind and the actions we take daily that support these thoughts are powerful. This is a biggie.
When my skin was at it’s worst and my face, chest and back were covered in acne it was very hard for me to believe I could ever have clear skin. More than thatm I spent years fighting my skin and actually expected my skin to breakout.
My expectations manifested into activities that ended up promoting more breakouts e.g. over cleansing, excessive scrubbing and harsh skincare products. It was a vicious cycle of disappointment, aggressive treatments and depression.
One proactive mindset shift you can try today: Believe in the power of your mind and the strength of your actions to heal.
One actionable step you can take today: Start a gratitude journal. Before you go to bed aim to write down five things that happened during the day that you are grateful for. They can be simple things like your train came on time or your favorite song was playing in the store while you waited in line.
By practicing gratitude we are shifting our mindset from fixating on what is wrong to recognizing that on any given day we always have things to be grateful for. This mindset shift will have a profoundly positive effect on your wellbeing, which will in turn fuel your ability to belief in yourself.
The life long struggle I have had with my skin led me on a very important journey to educating myself about my health on a more holistic level. The realization that how I treated myself both physically and emotionally had an impact on the state of my skin was life changing.
Aligning myself with a nurturing philosophy about skincare and doing things that calmed my skin instead of fighting it broke a vicious cycle that had spanned more than 15 years and changed my whole life for the better in the process.
The road to clear skin has been bumpy (pun intended) but I relish in the education I continue to receive on this journey and I hope that sharing some of what I have learnt along the way can help other people who have lost faith in their skin and need some nurturing.
Author: Nichola Weir
Editor: Katarina Tavčar
Photo: Walt Stoneburner/Flickr