The philosophy I’ve employed my entire life is a simple one: what is good for your health is good for your skin. Making your health a top priority every day will, on average, leads to great results over the long run. If the body is a machine, then any actions taken to promote wellness are the same as those meant to keep the machine running smoothly and efficiently. This translates to fewer blemishes, delayed signs of aging, and fuller-looking skin. Moreover, a reduction in the prevalence of common skin ailments means less reaching for those quick fixes that often lead to the introduction of longer-term problems. Unfortunately, most people ignore or simply aren’t aware of the behaviors consistent with optimal health. I’m not talking about specifically tailored programs to maximize individual health, but rather the things every person can benefit from because they are evolutionarily consistent with our biology. I’ve established principles that I call the five pillars of health. Broadly speaking the five pillars are sleep, nutrition, exercise, mental stress, and environment. Each of these categories, when optimized, have dramatic effects on health and therefore our skin.
As a quick summary:
- Sleep is the essential state in which our body is repaired. Regular short and/or shallow sleep has been demonstrated to negatively affect nearly every process in the body. A study at Stockholm University showed that perceived physical attractiveness is degraded by short sleep. Compared to a control group, short sleepers were unambiguously rated less healthy and attractive. If you are interested in physiological reasons for this, I highly recommend Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep.
- Nutrition is still the most hotly debated subject regarding human health. What isn’t debated is the simple fact that we should strive to get adequate nutrition while staying away from foods that harm the body. For those who are familiar with my lifestyle, you know where I stand. For everyone else, let me just start with a factual premise: The essential macronutrients needed to sustain human life are protein and fat. That’s it. Unlike glucose, which we can create endogenously via gluconeogenesis, fat and protein must be consumed. And what is the most bioavailable sources of these macronutrients, and the micronutrients contained within them? Wild or humanely raised animals. Once my macro- and micro-nutrient needs are satisfied, however, I look to high quality carbohydrate sources which A) replenish excess glycogen lost via exercise, and B) don’t trigger an auto-immune response.
- Exercise needs and the extent to which one benefits are, in my opinion, highly personal. Tons of literature exists on the topic, but those who engage in regular strength and cardiovascular programs have been shown to experience dramatic declines in all-cause mortality accompanied by improved appearance and cognitive ability. One must be careful not to overexercise, as this can cause early aging. The most obvious sign of overexercising is impaired sleep and excessive soreness.
- Mental stress is not only exacerbated by poor sleep, nutrition, and activity, but can also be self-imposed through thought patterns. Constant exposure to elevated cortisol resulting from mental stress has been identified as a contributor to early aging. If you are engaged in thought patterns or have responsibilities that are causing you distress, I highly recommend speaking with a specialist to learn alleviating strategies.
- Environmental impact on health is a subject that has grown in prominence over the last decade. I characterize sunlight, air, and chemical exposure as the primary environmental influences impacting health. Chronically inadequate vitamin D levels have serious ramifications, including reduced immune, mental, and hormonal function. Regarding air quality, respiration of particulate matter in the air is associated with systemic inflammation. I like to keep an eye out every day on air quality as it tends to fluctuate dramatically throughout the day depending on your location. Lastly, exposure to certain industrial chemicals is having profoundly negative impacts on our endocrine health. This is a topic for another post because there is so much to cover, but a good place to start if you are unsure whether the products you use are safe is ewg.org.
Although I could discuss each of the categories above in far greater detail, for the purpose of this series let’s move onto a description of products I use for my skin, where first I’ll describe the tricks of the cosmetics industry to make you think you need more than you do.
Part 3 next…