One of the biggest concerns for women today is skin. Breakouts, dry skin, oily skin, dehydrated skin, flaky skin, blemishes, eczema, redness – you name it, someone’s asking about it. So I chatted with Emily Bathgate, a qualified naturopath, holistic skin and beauty expert who is passionate about helping women reclaim their radiance, and achieve healthy skin and even healthier self-esteem! Let’s see what she had to say to some of my Moonbox subscriber’s most asked questions.
What are the best ways to keep skin hydrated to avoid dryness?
Okay, so here’s a handy little hint: there’s a difference between a dehydrated skin and dry skin!
Dry skin is a skin type – it’s the type of skin we’re born with, and it’s the result of a lack of sebum (our skin’s natural oil, or wax) in the skin. Sebum is really important in maintaining the health of our skin as our protective organ, but we want neither too little nor too much of it (hence why everyone’s always talking about ‘balancing’ our production!). Balancing sebum production – that is, encouraging healthy sebum production – is something that will need to be a constant focus for dry skin types.
To help manage dry skin, I’d recommend plenty of oily goodness – one of my favourite oils is jojoba, as its scientific makeup very closely resembles that of sebum, making it both easily absorbed and balancing. Other lovely oils for dry skins include: sweet almond, which is deeply nourishing; squalane, of which sebum is partially made up of; and, carrot seed extract, which is wonderfully therapeutic for dry skin.
On the other hand, dehydrated skin lacks moisture: our skin cells are dehydrated. Either we’re losing too much moisture (by washing our face with hot water or cleansing too intensely), we’re dehydrating ourselves with too much coffee or alcohol (both diuretics), or we’re just plain old not hydrating our skin cells adequately (aka not drinking at least 2L of pure, filtered water each and every day). Dehydrated skin is something we can very easily change and shouldn’t be a permanent issue (if we’re hydrating well and not doing any naughty hydrating-robbing things) – it’s not a skin type, but instead a condition of the skin.
What are the best ways to look after your skin in summer and what is the best brand of natural SPF you recommend? (Especially for acne prone skin)
It’s important to look after our skin all-year round! Many skins can struggle with the transitions between seasons, but also with the increased environmental exposure that summer usually brings – swimming in chlorinated pools, sitting under air-conditioning all day, and probably more sun exposure.
Make sure that your skincare routine changes with the needs of your skin, as required, and that you continue with your good skin habits, like eating well and staying hydrated (despite the many temptations over the summer holiday season!).
When it comes to sunscreen, finding a truly natural product can be quite tricky. My favourite is Eco Tan’s, which is suitable for both face and body (and, for acneic skins, contains Green Tea, an ingredient studies are finding to have a great impact on reducing acne symptoms and severity, and Jojoba Oil, which can play a very balancing role in managing sebum production and quality – just make sure you cleanse thoroughly when removing product at the end of the day).
Many ‘natural’ sunscreens make some slightly misleading claims, so just be sure that you’re picking a broad-spectrum (aka protective against both UVA and UVB rays), reef-friendly, and physical product (physical sunscreens usually contain zinc oxide, which is fine – just ensure that the zinc particles are not suspended or coated in silicone, which is not fine or natural! And some companies don’t disclose this info unless you actually ask!!).
Is there such thing as an "acne-diet"? What would you say the best and worst foods for skin are?
Yes and no!
Some of my naturopathic clients have a food intolerance – histamine intolerance is a really common one, especially for acne, but so is gluten intolerance, especially for psoriasis and eczema – but, for most, the food they’re eating is more of a trigger than causative. When I’m working with them to get to the bottom of their skin woes, I ask them to completely eliminate any dietary triggers.
These include dairy, gluten, and sugar.
I’ll be honest with you: the odds of having acne + breakouts are scientifically higher if you eat dairy. Conventional dairy products can cause an increase in the hormone insulin-like growth factor 1 (or IGF1 for short) which plays a role in our sebum production, resulting in blemishes and acne once insulin levels are thrown out of balance – like if you’re eating a fair bit of dairy, or opting for non-organic products, for example. In fact, that increase? We’re talking a 10-20% rise in hormones – a direct flow-on effect of the antibiotics and hormones (which can also wreak havoc with your body’s own hormone levels on their own, by the way) added to non-organic, conventional dairy products.
Oh, and our ability to absorb and process the comedogenic (aka breakout causing) components of dairy actually seem to increase when skimmed.
Gluten makes up a group of proteins found in various cereal grains, including wheat, barley and rye. Gluten sensitivities and allergies – which can be quite tricky to diagnose – can cause digestive damage (impairing our ability to absorb skin-loving nutrients), inflammation (aggravating already-upset skin, and speeding up the ageing process), and compromised immunity (allowing the allergic response to take hold and present itself as a skin complaint, and increasing breakout healing time).
Gluten sensitivities have been linked to advanced ageing and skin redness, and there is also a strong link between coeliac disease and psoriasis (which is a tricky skin condition that a gluten-free diet might just help work wonders for).
Whether it’s breakouts you’re battling, or age spots, or wrinkles, or cellulite, or just generally…dull skin – yep, you can thank sugar for that. That delicious, dangerous, addictive white stuff creates the perfect skin-storm in our bodies: it works to break down collagen whilst creating acidity and inflammation in the body. And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, it also robs once-healthy skin of vital nutrients and of hydration, preventing anti-ageing hormones from doing their thang.
Foods high in refined sugar (and therefore very low in skin-loving nutrients) can also wreak havoc by battering our blood sugar levels: as our insulin levels soar upon the wings of white, refined sugar, our secretion of androgens (male sex hormones) and sebum soar too. And so: hello, breakouts!
I also recommend opting for a low GI – or glycaemic index – diet.
The glycemic index, or GI, ranks carbohydrates according to their effect on blood sugar levels. If a carbohydrate has a low GI (like beans and lentils), it will prompt a slower rise in blood sugar levels than a high GI (think potatoes, white bread, and white rice) food. High GI foods on the other hand lead to elevated insulin levels, which can do two things: stimulate androgen secretion, and increase sebum production. Both? Yeah, they can result in acne by messing with our keratinocytes.
A low glycaemic load diet has been proven by several studies to reduce the intensity and recovery time for acne. And, further, a high glycaemic load diet has been found to actually exacerbate (or worsen) acne.
What do breakouts on different areas of the face/body mean? e.g T-zone, breasts, jaw, chin or back etc (before period vs after period)
Great question! There are a few different ways of looking at the skin and the locations of breakouts, and what that means – they use face mapping in Traditional Chinese Medicine, for example, to analyse both physical and emotional health.
From my experience in clinic, I’ve found the following to be a great guide:
- Breakouts on the forehead indicate to me that my client and I need to get to work on a bit of a dietary overhaul! Ensuring that they are drinking enough pure, filtered water, that they’re getting enough fresh fruit + veg and protein in (I recommend protein – whether it be meat, chicken, oily fish, eggs, or plant proteins like beans, lentils, nuts + seeds – with every meal and snack), and that they’re not overindulging on sugary, glutenous, or dairy-laden foods (ice-cream is a big one for this area!).
- Breakouts between the eyes usually coincide with high stress levels, and even anxiety – so stress management techniques, and building up some stress resilience, are big focus areas for me with these clients. And, let’s be honest, for just about everyone!
- Breakouts on the cheeks and around the mouth scream dietary triggers and intolerances to me. Along with overhauling the diet, I’m usually looking out for food intolerances here. Sometimes my clients and I can work these out alone, and sometimes we’ll use some investigative, functional testing to dig slightly deeper.
- Breakouts on the cheeks can also be the result of poor skin hygiene, or a not-so-great skincare routine. Washing the face immediately after exercise, changing pillow slips every 1-2 days (and washing them at least on a 40°C wash cycle), and not over- or under-cleansing the skin (I recommend an oil cleanser for the first cleanse, and then a cream or gentle foaming/gel cleanser as a second cleanse) are basic tips, but it’s surprising how often they’re overlooked!
- Breakouts on the chin and along the jawline, or on the back or chest, usually point to some haywire hormones. Which hormones and why? Well, it’s always easiest to understand after at least a consult or two – everybody is different. But it usually comes down to four hormones – oestrogen, progesterone, androgens (our male sex hormones, including testosterone), cortisol (our stress hormone) – and how balanced, or imbalanced, they are. I also love utilising DUTCH testing to get to the bottom of hormonal issues.
- Breakouts down the neck will very often correlate to a lymphatic issue in my clients. Along with some herbs and nutrients to improve lymphatic and immune health, I recommend my clients ensure they’re drinking plenty of pure, filtered water, exercising regularly (150 minutes of varied exercise per week is the magic number for health generally!), practising regular self-lymphatic facial massage, and adhering to a nice, clean diet.
"I have cut out dairy, sugar, gluten and use non-toxic products and I still breakout, what am I missing?"
As I mentioned earlier, dietary triggers like dairy, gluten and sugar are sometimes just that: triggers. They’re not always the cause.
Our skin is our largest organ. Whether we’re breaking out, showing signs of advanced ageing, coming up in a rash, or suffering from a condition like eczema or psoriasis, our skin plays the role of messenger for the rest of our body. All of the other less-visible symptoms may or may not have been pushed aside for a while beforehand, but our skin makes sure we really sit up and pay attention once and for all! Something inside our bodies is not working as it should.
From gut health disturbance to haywire hormones, toxicity to immune issues, autoimmune conditions to allergies + intolerances, high stress to anxiety + depression, and more. If something’s wrong on the surface, it’s usually an indicator of something being out of balance beneath.
As a naturopath, I’m a big believer of the concept that beauty begins within. That no skincare product (even the natural range I formulate!) can heal a long-standing, chronic skin condition alone. It’s exactly why I offer one-on-one, tailored, holistic and evidence-based naturopathic consults for a range of skin conditions and complaints, addressing the underlying cause (or causes). Always.
Together, my clients and I dig deep, play the role of private investigators within the body, and lay the foundations for ongoing skin health and wellness.
Emily Bathgate is a qualified naturopath , self-confidence ambassador and former acne sufferer, specialising in natural health solutions and clean beauty alternatives. Owner/formulator of natural skin + lifestyle brand The Purist Collection, Emily is devoted to helping women reclaim their radiance, and achieve healthy skin (and even healthier self-esteem!), naturally.