Finding products that work for you is definitely key when it comes to achieving your skin goals, however skin science isn’t just skin deep. Our bodies are full of different, equally complex and miraculous systems that take care of us, all playing a unique role in our individual ecosystems. These systems are also interdependent, each reliant on the others in order to be able to do their jobs. The skin is no exception; while it does serve as a very cute protective shell for our more delicate organs, it’s an organ itself, and its health relies just as much on the health of the other systems in our body, particularly the gut/skin axis.
What is the Gut/Skin Axis?
You may have been hearing a lot about gut health in the past few years, and new discoveries continue to show that our gut’s State of the Union is crucial to our overall health, from skin to immunity, inflammation, hormonal function, brain health, and mood balance. The gut/skin axis refers to the direct relationship between the two systems, both of which are home to trillions of little microbes- some bad, but mostly good- who interact with each other and with your cells to maintain a balanced microbiome.
Think of your cells as extremely tiny and very talented chefs, making delicious, nutritious meals all day long - these meals being a variety of different molecules needed by our organs- using the different nutrients, information, and electrical signals they intake. These tiny chefs are incredibly capable, however they can’t function properly if they’re not getting the right ingredients, not getting the right information, or are under attack. Because it’s where we take in so many of the nutrients that our tiny chefs use to cook up what we need- an overwhelming amount of critical communication and creation starts in the gut. The gut is constantly chatting with every other system in our body, working to maintain homeostasis throughout. When it’s distressed in some way, it triggers a body-wide alarm bell that results in inflammation.
Acute inflammation is a completely natural and needed response that protects our bodies from harm. Chronic inflammation, however, is the kind we don’t want. It means that your body is always in fight-or-flight mode and never in a resting state, which can lead to a number of autoimmune complications, pain and discomfort, and/or skin trouble. Our skin is the only visible organ, therefore it can serve as a great check-in for how our body is doing on the inside. Acne, sensitivity, rosacea, eczema, psoriasis, melasma, and other skin concerns are often a sign that there’s an imbalance on the inside which is reflected on the outside. For example, studies show that people struggling with rosacea are ten times more likely to have SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth). Dermatitis is closely linked to gluten and Celiac disease. A high glycemic index has been shown to contribute to stubborn cystic acne. Most of us have experienced a stress breakout; this is not due to a direct impact on the skin, but instead is an indirect effect of how destructive stress can be on the hardworking microbiota that line our digestive tract. These are just a few examples, but the list goes on.
Of course, food plays a direct role in our gut, brain, and skin happiness. But food is personal, and there’s no one right diet or way of eating that works for everyone. Plus, because stress causes inflammation and, well, unhappiness, stressing out too much about what to eat or not eat will be much more harmful in the long run. Check in with yourself and with your body; pay attention to what maybe makes you feel not-so-great and what makes you feel energized, joyful, and supported. And pay attention to what tastes delicious, because that’s important, too! Just remember that even if something is good for you on paper, it doesn’t mean your body likes it. If sweet potatoes or kale hurt your stomach or cause some sort of negative reaction, don’t eat them. And be sure to drink plenty of water!
So how do products play a role?
We do need to take care of the cells and microbes on our outsides, too. Harsh products can disrupt them, messing with oil production and our moisture barrier, and can even damage cells. The goal, just like with our inner world, is to balance. Purify and refine pores without stripping the skin of too much natural oil and make sure that you’re moisturized and nourished. Our tiny chefs need protection, and they make magic out of nutrients applied topically, too!
A skincare routine is supportive self-care that works to complement and enhance an overall balanced life, because skin health, like everything else, is connected to every other part of your body and your world, from career to home life, relationships, and pleasure. Maybe what you need one moment is a salad, and the next it could be a slice of pizza and a long, tension-soothing soak in the tub, or maybe what you need is a laugh with a friend over Facetime before you wash your face and get some sleep. Gentle is good.