Your skin is not only your largest organ but it is also the one constantly on display, forming an integral part of your healthy outward appearance. Although the appearance of your skin is expected to decline with age, the Paleo lifestyle strives towards maintaining its vibrant status no matter where it may sit chronologically.
Sticking to your Paleo principles will go a long way in maintaining the health and integrity of your skin. These include:
You are probably well aware of how good overall nutrition is vital for maintaining healthy skin. Nutrient-dense foods protect your skin from time-induced degradation by slowing the oxidation process that causes skin (and the rest of your body) to age. Increased vitamin C intake can enhance collagen production and reduces the formation of wrinkles and dryness, the polyphenols in your green tea may protect against sun damage and essential fatty acid consumption along with healthy fat consumption in general reduce skin degeneration. Furthermore, many antioxidants and fish oil can reduce inflammation associated with acne and other skin conditions.
Topical applications of nutrients are often less effective as they do not retain potency in cream or serum form (especially when combined with other ingredients). The nutrient dense nature of the Paleo diet provides nutrition for your skin the most effective way, from the inside out.
The state of your microbiome is central to every aspect of your health, including that of your skin.
There are numerous studies linking skin disorders to gut health and dysbiosis. SIBO, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and celiac disease, have all been linked to negative skin conditions and even acne has been associated with leaky gut.
The Paleo diet removes foods known to be inflammatory to the gut and triggering of intestinal permeability including sugar, gluten, anti-nutrients and conventional dairy that may be undermining your skin health. There is also a focus on fiber-rich foods to feed your microbiome and fermented foods for added support.
We have discussed how alcohol may or may not fit into your Paleo diet. No matter where you may stand on the issue, overconsumptions takes a considerable toll on the skin (amongst many other aspects of health and life). Alcohol abuse is associated with various skin conditions including jaundice, hyper-pigmentation, flushing and psoriasis. Even if you only drink very occasionally, these extreme symptoms indicate that alcohol is not supportive of a healthy glow.
Sleep deprivation has a direct impact on the integrity of the skin, including the production of collagen. This results in ‘deflated,’ dull and more wrinkle-prone skin. Sleep deprivation, even if seemingly minor can accentuate the number or severity of fine lines on your face. Added to this, blood flow is increased to your skin while you sleep. Inadequate sleep leaves your skin pale and lacklustre.
What About Skin Products?
In the paleo community, we look very carefully at the ingredients in the foods we eat. We need to look equally carefully at the products we apply to our skin.
Most products, whether washes or creams, end up stripping the skin’s critical microbiome along with the natural secretions that support it. This is largely due to the brew of parabens, pthalates, fragrances, triclosan, and UV-filtering chemicals. Cosmetic companies love these ingredients. Your skin, and your health in general, do not. Research is continuing to emphasize the importance of the skin microbiome and ensuring its continued good health and protective functioning is vital for optimal health.
The goal (and challenge) is to seek out products that do what you want them to do while minimizing toxin exposure and disruption of your skin’s delicate balance. Products need to cleanse and nurture without stripping the skin of its natural oils or beneficial organisms.
There are two laws that impact the cosmetic industry but neither requires cosmetic products and ingredients, other than color additives, to have FDA approval before they go on the market.
It is left to the companies and individuals who manufacture or market cosmetics to ensure the safety of their products. Neither the law nor FDA regulations require specific tests to demonstrate the safety of individual products or ingredients. The law also does not require cosmetic companies to share their safety information.
The onus falls on the consumer to be aware of what is in the products purchased, regardless pf superficial claims on the package. Thankfully, there are non-profit agencies like the Environmental Working Group (EWG), whose mission is to support health by conducting the research and oversight that regulatory bodies do not. They have created a database called, Skin Deep, where they rate products according to their ingredients and safety levels.
What is Paleo Skincare?
Think of sourcing skin care products the same way you would source food. Look for products that are made from ingredients you recognize and are made from nature. Avoid those that contain synthetic chemicals. Ideally you want to strive for:
- Organic ingredients.
- Non-GMO and 100% gluten-free.
- Handmade in small batches.
- Sustainably sourced and packaged.
- Commitment to transparency and truth in labeling.
Ingredients to Avoid
These are designed to make product scents stronger and last longer. These are rarely are included in labels. Unless a product is unscented or advertised as phthalate-free, assume these are present. Scientific studies link phthalate exposure to reproductive abnormalities in baby boys, altered timing of puberty in girls, and infertility in men.
These chemicals act as preservatives to prevent the product from growing mold and bacteria. Formaldehyde is both an allergen and a carcinogen. These may be labeled as: DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, and quaternium-15.
Another preservative, this chemical can disrupt hormone balance. Parabens have been linked to impaired fertility in women. Some common examples are: propylparaben, isopropylparaben, butylparaben and isobutylparaben.
Triclosan and Triclocarban
Both of these are anti-bacterial products found in toothpastes, liquid hand soaps, body washes, clothing, cutting boards and other household goods. They've been shown to impact thyroid hormone levels and sex hormone signaling. There is also concern that they contribute to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
An ingredient in ‘therapeutic’ shampoos designed to reduce dandruff and scalp psoriasis, as well as in many hair dyes. This is a known human carcinogen and also connected to neurological issues, mood swings, and sleep disturbances.
These ingredients are often advertised as ‘micro fine particles’ or ‘penetration enhancers’ found in sunscreen, to make it transparent instead of white, and in anti-aging products to help them penetrate deeper skin layers. They may also be found in deodorants, toothpastes, shampoos, and makeup. Your body is not designed to interact with particles this small, and since they are a new technology, there been little time to study their impact. Look for the words nano or micronized in the ingredient list.
Shampoo and body wash are smooth and sudsy thanks to these additives. They belong to the category of nitrosamines, which studies have shown can be carcinogenic. These compounds can also produce allergic reactions. Common names are triethanolamine, diethanolamine, TEA, DEA, and MEA.
Another group of chemicals used as preservatives, these contribute to endocrine disruption, organ system toxicity, respiratory irritation, and cancer. Common names on ingredient labels are butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)
Ethoxylation is the process of making chemicals feel less harsh. By-products of this process are the known to be carcinogens ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. This process is used in shampoo, liquid soap, bubble bath, and hair relaxers. Ingredients to watch out for include PPG, PEG, polysorbate and ingredients that end in –eth such as laureth, steareth, ceteareth.
We are told to apply sunscreen thickly over our entire bodies, and to reapply frequently. It may not be surprising to learn that sunscreen ingredients can now be measured in our blood, urine, and breast milk. Chemical sunscreens are linked to hormone disruptions, and mineral sunscreens are often composed of nanoparticles, which have their own concerns (see below). Vitamin A is another common sunscreen ingredient that has been shown to increase skin cancer risk (retinyl palmitate). Regarding the most dangerous ingredients to avoid: oxybenzoate and octinoxate are the top two.
What Do We Recommend?
The problem with many of the more natural skincare lines available is that although they are made with Paleo friendly, non-toxic ingredients, the results are often underwhelming and less impressive than what previously used chemical concoctions appeared to deliver and make-up options are limited.
Beautycounter is one company doing admirable work when it comes to safe, highly effective, contemporary skincare. They are committed to transparency in their ingredient labels, and have created a Never List, comprised of over 1500 ingredients that are shown to be harmful and will never be used in their products. This includes any ingredient banned by the European Union, which has much higher standards for cosmetic safety than the United States.
Their products are a huge improvement over current cosmetic and skincare brands, whilst still providing optimal skincare, protection and beauty products for your Paleo skin in this modern world.
Personal favorites include the volumizing mascara, the sun protection collection and the plumping and balancing facial masks. You can try these out or find your personal favorites to keep your skin looking its best and maintaining its health.