Healthy Skin

Liz’s dirty secrets for getting clear skin

Is your skin too clean? Starting from the inside out, with foods that promote a clear complexion, Liz dishes the dirty secrets of how to get smoother, younger-looking skin.

Inside-out: Skin food

The secret to glowing skin is to feed it with the right nutrients on the inside – as well as to apply them topically. For the last 30 years or so I’ve advocated a daily inside-out beauty routine that works on two levels – internal and external.  For skin food, I like to focus on eating beneficial fats, such as olive, flaxseed or rapeseed oil, all packed with skin-strengthening essential fatty acids as well as the age-defying antioxidant vitamin E. My more recent research has also revealed how the probiotics that give us good gut health are also vital for a clear complexion.

I now take a daily probiotic supplement containing at least eight different strains of beneficial bacteria (and start my day with a serving of plain live yoghurt or kefir, too). I do this as much for my ageing skin as I do for my digestive health and wellbeing. These ingredients are also being increasingly used in skincare, with probiotics popping up in all kinds of face creams and serums.

Good bacteria

Our skin is a carefully constructed barrier that’s highly efficient at keeping microscopic bugs, bacteria and viruses from invading our bodies. It’s a complete beauty myth that products applied to the surface of the skin can somehow slip through and enter the bloodstream – the particle sizes used in beauty products are vastly bigger than the microbes our skin is so cleverly designed to keep out. The surface of our skin relies on constant colonies of beneficial bacteria to keep it healthy. Just as we need to look after and bolster the beauty-boosting bacteria inside our gut, so we also need to protect the magnificent microbes that live on our skin.

Is your skin too clean?

Our overzealous modern-day passion for keeping scrupulously clean can lead to stripping away the very microbes that keep our complexions smooth and spot-free. The dirty truth is that over-cleansing our skin strips it of the beneficial microbes needed for faces to feel soft and smooth. For skin to stay strong and healthy, it needs to be mildly acidic – with a pH balance of between 4.2 and 5.6. In this optimum pH environment, the beneficial bacteria that helps protect our skin can flourish.

We’ve seen that the correct pH on the skin also allows dermal microbes to communicate with our immune system via the NICE (neuro-immuno-cutaneous-endocrine) network. This network is increasingly coming under scientific scrutiny for controlling local areas of skin inflammation, with skin bacteria being seen as a two-way interface between the outer body and the brain. Fascinating studies show how stimuli in the skin can influence our immune, endocrine and nervous system, affecting not only the state of our skin, but our overall immunity and state of wellbeing.

There’s no place for foam

I’ve long said that we should never use anything that foams on our faces – such as facial washes, gels and soaps (even the ‘gentle’ kind). Not only do these usually sting the eyes, they can also disrupt the skin’s delicate pH balance, making it more alkaline. This could in turn affect the immune system; if our skin becomes too alkaline, epidermal cells detach more easily, leaving our complexion drier and more at risk of sun damage and wrinkles.

The best way to help prevent this is by cleansing with an oil-based or creamy cleanser, wiped away with a warm, damp cotton cloth or flannel. This has the added advantage of gently exfoliating the skin by lifting away the dead cells that make skin look dull and drab, while preserving the fresher skin cells and their microbial colonies. It’s good to cleanse first thing in the morning to remove traces of overnight sweat and sebum, as well as last thing at night to wipe away the day – as long as you use an oil-based cleanser.

Help for ageing

As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to rely more on two extra additions to my skincare regime – a daily face serum to bolster my moisturiser and help ‘lift’ more mature skin, and an overnight facial oil. The benefits of the oil are two-fold, not only to replenish moisture and feed the skin externally with a potent, natural form of vitamin E, but also the act of massage last thing at night boosts blood supplies to the skin, which helps deliver skin brightening nutrients to the skin’s surface. I bolster this with a daily internal vitamin E supplement of around 400iU, especially during the sunnier months, as this has been shown to help reduce sun-induced skin damage. Last but not least, I make a weekly face mask using genuinely ‘live’ probiotic ingredients to restore a visibly radiant glow.

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Wellbeing Wisdom

  • Olive, flaxseed, and rapeseed oil will strengthen skin with essential fatty acids as well as the age-defying antioxidant vitamin E
  • Never use foaming face washes, as they disrupt the skin’s pH balance
  • Massaging your face last thing at night boosts blood supplies to the skin, which delivers skin brightening nutrients to the skin’s surface