Your skin is your report card. Breakouts, blackheads, whiteheads, dryness, oiliness, premature fine lines, wrinkles, pigmentation, irritation, inflammation, redness, among other symptoms, are all a reflection of your internal health. While some of these conditions can be masked by a good product (or multiple), products are not the cure and can sometimes even be the cause of these issues.
The global beauty and skincare industries are worth billions, with immense growth year after year. Yet skincare concerns, both medical and cosmetic, are also on the rise worldwide. In the U.S., acne vulgaris affects 85% of adolescents, 40 to 54% of people 25 years and older, with cases persisting through middle age in 12% of women and 3% of men. Rosacea affects around 18% of the world’s population, although this number is likely a lot higher because of the difficulty in diagnosing this condition in individuals with darker skin types. Eczema impacts 15 to 30% of children and 2 to 10% of adults worldwide. Despite incidences of other cancers declining in the US, melanoma (a type of very dangerous skin cancer) continues to rise by 1.5% annually and it’s estimated that 99,780 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the US this year.
These are some common dermatological disorders the skincare industry seeks to prevent or improve. Other concerns focused on by this industry are more cosmetic in nature with “anti-aging” being a central theme. Innumerable products are introduced into the market annually with the promise of improving age-related concerns like hyperpigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles, loss of collagen and elasticity (in other words, sagging skin), loss of volume, and more.
So as technology advances and this industry grows, why is it that these skin concerns continue to occur and even rise in incidence? The answer is multifaceted but I always come back to one fact: products will not solve your skin issues. At least not on their own.
The skin is the body’s largest organ; it reflects both internal health and our environment. Your skin accounts for approximately 16% of your body weight and covers a surface area of around two square metres. This organ is responsible for interacting with the outside world. It serves as a protective barrier against pathogens and other environmental threats while also helping to eliminate waste and regulate body temperature through perspiration.
This organ is dynamic. Skin health is multifactorial and involves what we put on it, how we treat it, and what we put in our bodies; its health changes based on internal and external factors. Internal factors include diet and digestion, lifestyle (how much we sleep, our stress levels, movement/exercise, alcohol use, smoking, among others), and medications. Examples of external factors include environmental exposure (UV radiation, allergens, chemicals, and pollution), and skincare. These factors along with time and genetics will impact the appearance of the skin and its overall health.
As mentioned, skincare is one of the external factors that can influence your skin health, for better or worse. In many instances, skincare actually plays a role in symptoms. Skincare routines often include multiple steps with multiple products from multiple brands including multiple ingredients, and routines like this can compromise or irritate the skin barrier. Long-term, certain ingredients can leave the skin vulnerable to further damage and pigmentation, dermatitis, breakouts, and premature aging can all be signs of this.
Even when using skincare that is appropriate and supportive for your skin, the skin is a reflection of internal health. From a naturopathic perspective, no organ exists in isolation; all systems are connected and influence one another. When one area is out of balance, the skin may eventually show signs of this imbalance as well. Premature aging, acne, eczema, and other conditions can be caused or exacerbated by issues from within the body and environment which no product can cure.
For example, low levels of stomach acid have been associated with acne. Acne can also be caused by an imbalance in sex hormones, namely elevated androgens in conditions like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Premature aging of the skin is linked to the consumption of processed foods, smoking, alcohol use, and UV radiation, all of which accelerate the loss of collagen and elastin. Dehydration and a lack of healthy dietary fats can also present as more accentuated fine lines and wrinkles. Dermatitis and psoriasis can be caused by an imbalanced immune system. Eczema is typically caused by an imbalanced gut microbiome and common dietary triggers including dairy, wheat, and sugar. All skin issues can be exacerbated by nutritional deficiencies which are a result of poor diet or gut inflammation caused by digestive diseases. As you can see, the state of your skin is much more complex than the skincare industry may lead you to believe.
All of the above cannot be cured or improved by a product without addressing underlying factors and environmental exposures. So before you invest in another skincare product or procedure, take a step back and ask yourself about your diet, lifestyle habits, and your day-to-day environs — is there room for improvement? Perhaps start there instead.
As always, seek the health of a licensed health care provider to assist you in uncovering the root cause of any skin concerns and/or to help prevent skin concerns from arising. It is advised to have regular skin examinations by your medical doctor as per your local healthcare authorities’ recommendation for diagnosis and early detection of serious dermatological disease.