As summer reaches its zenith and the temperature rises there is a natural inclination for many of us to spend time outside unencumbered by layers of clothing and to get some sun on our skin. But while it is important for all of us to be mindful of the potential damage from excessive sun exposure, there are some people who must balance their desire to feel the sun on their body with aesthetic concerns about the appearance of their skin whether their issue is acne, eczema, psoriasis, scarring, or other lesions. If the eyes are the window to the soul, as Shakespeare so beautifully said, then the skin can be seen as a window into the inner health of the body (although it’s a far less eloquent expression!).
From a purely survival-based perspective the skin, along with the hair and nails, is of lower importance than other parts of the body. Incoming nutrients are prioritized to the organs first, the muscles, bones, blood and other connective tissues next, and finally, whatever is left will be delivered to the outer layer of the body. So changes in skin health may be simply an expression of nutritional status particularly with regards to vitamins A, C, E and the B family, essential fatty acids, and a range of minerals.
But the skin also serves a role in body cleansing. The primary methods of removing toxins from the body are via the major emunctories (organs of detoxification and elimination) which include the bowels, the liver, kidneys, lungs and lymph, but should any of those pathways become impaired or congested, or if there is an increase in toxic materials (from an illness or infection, the environment, foods, medications/drugs, or internal factors such as excess hormone levels), the body may use the skin and mucous membranes as a plan B to remove them from the system.
Acne, for example, is rarely (if ever) a question of personal hygiene although the desire to scrub or choose different cleansers to treat the problem runs deep. For many people acne starts in puberty or may be associated with other hormonal changes such as pregnancy, excess testosterone, PMS, or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Both short and long term results can only be achieved by addressing the underlying imbalance.
Inflammatory skin conditions including eczema may be the result of allergens or irritants from foods, medications, and/or the environment. Identifying and removing the causative agents, as well as supporting the function of the emunctories helps the body to avoid using the skin as a method of maintaining internal balance.
If you are concerned about the health or appearance of your skin, ask your naturopath for support but don’t be surprised if s/he begins the process by addressing diet, digestion, stress, menstrual cycles or some other system that may be seemingly unrelated! NDs view the skin as an outer expression of internal health and strive to treat the cause of imbalance as well as the whole person.