How natural products can help maintain healthy, youthful-looking skin

Our skin goes through a lot of wear and tear on a daily basis. In order to maintain radiant, healthy, glowing skin, it is important to take proper care of it every day.

Avoiding the Three S’s:
Stress, Sun and Smoking

Our skin can be pretty resilient, but lifestyle choices such as stress, tanning and smoking (to name a few) can cause quite a lot of damage to our skin. First, stress can trigger or aggravate skin conditions such as acne, hives, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, warts, cold sores and blisters. And, tanning is notorious for damaging the skin, making it dry and leathery. Exposing the skin to harmful UV rays can lead to an increased risk of skin cancer and cause premature skin aging.

Smoking can damage the skin in numerous ways, such as depleting the body’s stores of vitamin C. In one study, smokers with similar intakes of vitamin C had consistently lower blood vitamin C levels compared with nonsmokers. Vitamin C is involved in the synthesis of collagen, which helps skin maintain a hydrated, plump, youthful appearance (1). Collagen degradation is thought to be a primary factor in the development of fine lines and wrinkles.

Smoking also causes the carbon monoxide levels in the blood to increase. This promotes the formation of age-inducing free radicals. Free radicals are molecules with an unpaired electron that are seeking to strip an electron from another molecule and thus having the capacity to damage vital compounds such as lipids and proteins. It is the over-production of these free radicals that causes damage to our bodies—including the skin. Wrinkling, thinning skin and discoloration are common signs of free radical destruction.

Antioxidant Solutions 

Luckily, there are numerous anti-aging topical products that can help your clientele feel great about their skin. According to a 2001 University of California department of dermatology publication, human studies have demonstrated that topical antioxidants help protect the skin from sun damage whenapplied before sun exposure. The research concluded that regular application of skincare products containing antioxidantsmay be of the utmost benefit in protecting the skin from oxidation. There are several different types of nutrients and antioxidants that keep the skin looking healthy and glowing.

• Skin cells need vitamin A for normal growth and development. Research indicates that acne sufferers may benefit
from this important vitamin A (2).

Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is a powerful antioxidant that is said to “penetrate through oil and water, thus affecting skin cells from both inside and outside of the body. ALA acts as an anti-inflammatory for skin” (3).

Vitamin C is required for tissue growth and repair in all parts of the body. It is necessary to form collagen, an important protein used to make skin, scar tissue, tendons, ligaments and blood vessels. Topical vitamin C may help those who have spent too much time in the sun.

• According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the antioxidants vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium have been proven to decrease the effect of the sun on the skin and actually prevent further damage. The study cited by the American Academy of Dermatology indicated that applying topical vitamin C to human skin 15 to 30 minutes after UV exposure decreased sunburn cells and began repairing the damaged skin. The group also mentioned that topical natural vitamin E was found to reduce the production of sunburn cells, chronic UV-induced damage and cancer-causing cells (4).

French maritime pine bark (Pycnogenol) seems to be a “super antioxidant” because it serves many helpful purposes for our skin. This powerful antioxidant binds to and protects collagen, the protein that keeps the skin tight and smooth. Enzymes and free radicals can no longer break down collagen and elastin fibers, which is what leads to wrinkles. This nutrient also helps to lighten dark spots on the skin resulting from over-pigmentation.

Omega-3 fatty acids, used topically and internally, are absolutely essential for properly hydrated skin. These fatty acids prevent the skin from drying and flaking.

Say Good-Bye to Wrinkles and Age Spots

In our society, the word wrinkle is looked upon with disgust. Americans sink millions of dollars a year into cosmetic surgery or Botox in order to look younger. For those who cannot afford expensive cosmetic procedures to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles or prefer natural methods, nourishing creams are great methods to maintain younger looking skin. Wrinkle creams claim to reduce wrinkles and reverse sun damage and dark age spots to even out skin pigmentation.

Two popular ingredients in creams for mature skin are vitamin A and fruits acids. The latter are exfoliants—substances that remove the upper layer of old, dead skin and stimulate the growth of smooth, evenly pigmented new skin. This ingredient, common in body and face products can help skin look a little bit fresher and more radiant (5).

Studies show that coenzyme Q10 protects against sun damage when applied before sun exposure. Another ingredient found in wrinkle creams is copper peptides, which is said to stimulate production of collagen and may enhance the action of antioxidants. Kinetin is a plant growth factor than may help reduce the appearance of fine lines and even out uneven pigmentation with minimal irritation. It’s unclear how it works, but it may help reduce wrinkles by helping skin retain moisture and by stimulating the production of collagen. It is also a potent antioxidant (2). Tea extracts are also used in wrinkle creams. Green, black and oolong tea contain compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Green tea extracts are the ones most commonly found in wrinkle creams.

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Dull Skin no More

Over time, skin often becomes dull and dry. During the teenage years, skin naturally exfoliates every two weeks. This means that fresh, youthful skin is revealed as the outer layer of dead skin cells is shed, which helps to keep the complexion youthful and glowing. Skin can also become dull when blood flow and oxygenation of skin cells is reduced. This is particularly common in smokers who tend to develop dry, dull skin with fine lines (2). The nicotine found in tobacco constricts blood vessels which decreases blood flow and oxygen and nutrient delivery to the  skin cells.

In addition to kicking the smoking habit, one can reduce the appearance of dull skin by exfoliating every so often. Exfoliating gets rid of old skin, and can be done as part of a beauty routine every few days. Staying hydrated is also very important when it comes to healthy skin. With extra moisture and the removal of waste products, the skin is replenished with moisture, looking young and fresh. Skin is particularly prone to looking dull in the cold, winter months when the sebum barrier is broken down due to the harsh climate. This results in a loss of moisture which gives skin a dull, parched look. To alleviate this problem, avoid using hot water when cleansing your face and switch to a light cleansing cream rather than soap (5). Be sure to apply a layer of moisturizer to replace moisture lost due to the elements. Always apply moisturizer immediately after facial cleansing to allow it to be maximally absorbed.

Maintaining younger, healthier looking skin is not hard. It’s important to remember that topical antioxidants are very helpful when applied to the skin before sun exposure or any other skin-damaging activity. Staying hydrated and quitting bad habits like tanning and smoking will also help immensely to keep a healthy and radiant glow. It’s not too hard to apply some topical antioxidants that are readily accessible in the market. Remember, our skin serves as our outer layer and protects our bodies, so maintaining it is vital to our health and wellness. WF

1. F. Dreher and H. Maibach , “Protective Effects of Topical Antioxidants in Humans Current Problems in Dermatology,”
Curr. Probl. Dermatol. 29, 157–164 (2001).
2. J. Meschino, The Wrinkle-Free Zone (North Bergen, NJ: Basic Health Publications, 2004).
3. J. Gogerman, “Outer Glow: The Hallmark of Great Nutrition,” WholeFoods Magazine 32 (9), 68–70 (2009).
4. American Academy of Dermatology, “Vitamins To Protect Against And Reverse Aging: The Truth vs. The Tall Tales,”
press release distributed February 25, 2002.
5. Mayo Clinic, “Wrinkle Creams: Your Guide to Younger Looking Skin,“ ecreams/SN00010, accessed August 31, 2010.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, October 2010