Three Things That Might Be Causing Your Skin to Freak Out – And How to Help
We’ve all bemoaned good or bad hair days, but how about good or bad skin days? To me, there’s far more day-to-day variation in one’s skin than one’s hair, plus far less control. I mean, when I am having a bad hair day, the cause is clear (I haven’t brushed and/or washed my hair) and the answer is equally clear (I must wash, then brush, my hair). Yet when I am having a bad skin day, the answer and solution seem inexplicable. What went wrong? How can I fix it?
While I am not trying to propose there are blanket solutions to your skin problems, I have learned through my time at S.W. Basics (and through our founder Adina Grigore’s book Skin Cleanse) that a lot of sneaky, not-so-obvious factors influence the way your skin looks. These lurking culprits might sound kind of intimidating but, really, they should be reassuring as you can control them through simple lifestyle tweaks, not expensive skin treatments.
Let’s dive into three of them.
Don’t go all Kevin McAllister on us…
Exposure to fragrance.
I was once a sucker for potent, aromatic beauty products. Like, I can remember being in middle school and watching the Herbal Essences commercial where the woman basically has an orgasm smelling the stuff in her shower. While I was kind of confused (I wasn’t exactly the most “advanced” 12-year-old), I do remember thinking: Wow, that stuff smells THAT good. In time, however, I’ve realized that the only reaction heavy fragrance gives me is an all-over itchy, headachy feeling. It’s not sexy. And it’s not surprising, either. Fragrance is one of the most irritating substances out there, not to mention one of the most toxic. The EWG notes that fragrance has been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress, and caneven cause cancer.
The thing is, even if you aren’t getting noticeable negative effects from your fragrance, your skin might still be producing a distressed reaction in the form of low-grade redness, inflammation, or increased sensitivity. You might just be thinking: “Oh, that’s just my skin type,” or “Oh, my skin is just having a weird day.” But is it? We recommend ditching fragrance whenever, wherever possible, beginning with a total elimination for at least one day. And by total elimination, I mean everything – laundry detergent, shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, cleaning products, and air freshener. Examine your skin closely after you do so – perhaps you’ll see that your red, sensitive, easily irritated skin “type” is actually a reaction to fragrance.
At the core of S.W. Basics’ philosophy is the idea that your body is a holistic and interconnected system, with diet and lifestyle playing a huge impact. Yet all too often, we tend to forget that what we eat most certainly will manifest itself beyond our pants’ size or the way our stomach feels.
On that point, if something upsets your stomach, surely there’s a chance it can negatively impact other parts of your body, right? Right. I like to use dairy as the example here, mostly because it is a personal one. I have basically been lactose intolerant and/or dairy-sensitive my entire life but have steadfastly tried to avoid that reality. I would eat pizza and feel awful; a cup of ice cream could literally put me on the couch (and in the bathroom!) for a couple of hours. So, when I finally eliminated it from my diet, I not only saw an improvement in the way I felt, I saw a real difference in my skin, too. I had much fewer breakouts, for one, and just generally clearer, less irritated skin. While this makes total sense now, at the time it was like this big fat revelation. Do you have something you eat that makes you feel not so great? How does your skin look after eating it? Have you taken note? Trust me – take note.
Before we move on, though, I also want to emphasize that a diet for good skin isn’t all about eliminating things; it’s about adding things in, too. For instance, antioxidant-loaded leafy greens and colorful, beta-carotene rich vegetables are great for you and for the very same reasons they’ll positively impact your skin, too. The opposite goes for pre-packaged, sugary, processed foods – they offer no nutritional value for your health or for your skin. Just some food for thought the next time you’re scrutinizing your skin: When’s the last time you ate a vegetable?
Hormones: AHHHHH! Even thinking about them gives me flashbacks to braces, bacne (back acne, duh), and Limited Too. So okay, just like you couldn’t make your middle school crush love you, you don’t have total control over your hormones, either. But there are some things you can do to help balance them out and make your skin look better in the process, too.
But wait. Why are hormones are such a chaos-instigator when it comes to your skin, anyway? Here’s the deal: estrogen affects the skin’s thickness, its firmness, its moisture levels, and its anti-inflammatory properties, while testosterone is involved in sebum (aka your skin’s natural oil barrier) production. Fittingly, a drop in estrogen can result in tight, dry, lackluster skin; testosterone over-production can result in… acne. Given your hormones fluctuate during times like your period and during puberty – i.e., when your skin is most distressed – hopefully all of that information makes sense.
Indeed, as Adina notes in Skin Cleanse, hormones are perhaps one of your skin’s biggest “enemies” – if they’re off-balance or disrupted, you’ll probably see that in some form or another in your skin. It is in our skin’s best interest, then, that we keep these hormones in concert and at the appropriate levels for our body. Here’s where things get tricky: the “ideal” hormone balance can differ person-to-person and, furthermore, we all express different reactions from imbalances. You know that girl in high school who always had perfect skin even though you were all raging, hormonal messes? Yeah, she’s just less sensitive to these shifts than you were. Annoying, right? I digress.
As I mentioned, there are ways to help balance our hormones, and diet is very much one of them. Let’s go back to the milk example I walked you through above. One of the reasons why my skin may have reacted positively to my elimination of dairy was because of hormones. Dr. Mark Hyman has written an awesome post about this on his website – citing a lot of great research, too – but the summary is this: Milk is loaded with hormones – even raw, organic, “hormone-free” milk. Those hormones can interfere with our body’s own natural hormones and thus create an artificial imbalance. (This problem, of course, extends into other factory-farmed, hormone-infused products, such as cow’s meat and chicken.) While I am not saying you ditch dairy or chicken, I am saying it is something to be mindful of and can have consequences for your skin.
The good news, here, is eating the right things can actually help out your hormone balance. A big one is healthy fats, as hormones are produced using certain fatty acids; we recommend consuming healthy fats like coconut oil, avocado, wild-harvested cold-water fish, and grass-fed butter. Other stuff that can help with haywire hormones: Avoiding exposure to toxins (which can disrupt the endocrine system and therefore hormone production), getting plenty of sleep, and regularly taking supplements like Maca.
And – oh yeah – don’t stress on all this too much. It’s about doing what makes you feel better, and the first step is remembering that you are HBIC*.
*Head Bitch In Charge, FYI.