Maybe you woke up one morning looking in the mirror noticing there was something different.
It was difficult to spot the difference because you look at your face every morning. You stumble upon an old picture from college or even just five years ago. “My skin used to be so smooth and firm!” “Where did that saggy, extra skin come from underneath my chin?”
Skin issues can be emotionally difficult to deal with. We feel self-conscious when there is a giant, red pimple on our nose or when there are more dark spots and less firmness in our skin. It is the first thing people see and generally, we cannot hide it.
As a teenager, I struggled with acne and later in my twenties, I remember waking up one morning with dry, scaly patches on the bridge of my nose and on my neck. Seemingly overnight, I found myself dealing with moderately severe eczema.
People would ask, “What’s wrong with your neck? Did you get a really bad sunburn.” As much as I tried to convince myself that I was not self-conscious about my skin, these innocent comments from friends and family started to wear down on me.
I would hesitate to wear t-shirts because they exposed my neck, and I did not want to deal with the “innocent” comments or have to explain that I was not contagious. I tried different eczema creams and lotions but this was more than just dry skin.
As much as I disliked going to the doctor, my mom, who is a pharmacist, convinced me to make an appointment with my family physician. My doctor examined my skin and came back after 5 minutes with two tubes of medication—two different forms of topical steroid creams. He said, “Just apply these until the patches go away.”
“How long will I have to use these?”
“Probably off and on for the rest of your life.”
That just did not make any sense to me. This was one of those turning points in my life that started me down the path of looking for answers about what these symptoms mean and how to get to the root cause of the issue rather than just covering up the issue with medications.
Little did I realize, or did my family physician, that my form of eczema (also commonly called atopic dermatitis) was not primarily a skin disease, but rather a sign that my body’s internal environment was out of balance.
My mom was always the one encouraging myself and her customers at the pharmacy to use as few medications as possible. She promoted healthy lifestyle and nutrition because she understood that medications were not the answer to all health problems. You might see why I was inspired to look to a different approach to medicine. My holistic medical education at Bastyr University, an accredited naturopathic medical school, taught me to look at symptoms in the context of whole-body health.
Even if you do not have a skin condition, taking care of your internal environment will keep your skin healthy, radiant, and smooth.
Let me explain.
1. Skin Is The Largest Organ In The Body
When you think of an organ, you may think of the liver, brain, or kidneys, but maybe you did not realize that skin is the largest organ of the body. Skin makes up approximately 12-15% of your body weight.
It serves many important functions.
• The skin is a barrier to the outside world and potentially harmful microbes.
• It is a sensing organ that helps us feel pain, touch, heat, and pressure that allows us to gather information about our environment.
• It is one of the major routes of elimination of toxins that releases toxic metals like lead and mercury via sweat.
• It can also be a route for absorption for medications and potentially harmful chemicals.
Our skin is a complex network of cells, connective tissue, blood vessels, nerve endings, and glands. Skin even has its own microbiome that is an ecosystem of good and potentially harmful bacteria that are part of a healthy first line defense to the environment.
When the internal and external environment are healthy, your skin will reflect that health.
2. Your Skin Tells A Story About Your Health
Doctors can tell a lot from looking at your skin.
In my practice, I do a lot of hands-on therapy working with the organs and tissues. I use my hands to assess the quality of skin and the tissues and organs beneath the skin. Over time, I have developed a sense for tissues that feel healthy and those that are likely dysfunctional.
It all makes sense when a patient comes in dealing with long term health conditions like chronic digestive dysfunction or inflammation, I can feel the difference with my hands.
Acne tells me that the body is trying to eliminate excessive toxins or a result of a hormonal imbalance.
Dry, inelastic, and stiff skin tells me that someone may not be eating enough healthy fats, hydrating sufficiently or there could be an imbalance in thyroid function.
Early signs of aging like dark spots, excessive wrinkles, or saggy skin could be signs of oxidative stress overload, inflammation, sun exposure, or poor healing from dietary excesses, nutrient deficiencies, insufficient rest and recovery, chronic health conditions, or too much stress.
Slow-to-heal cuts or wounds may indicate a deficiency of the required building blocks needed to build healthy tissues like vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and amino acids.
Skin provides clues about how well the internal environment is functioning.
3. Keeping Your Internal Environment and Skin Healthy
Imagine your kitchen after cooking a feast for your family and friends. There are used pots and pans, dishes piled sky high in the sink, and a mess to be wiped up on the counter. In order to be able to use the kitchen again, you need to clean up after yourself. There is a cycle of using the kitchen and cleaning up. It is the only way for the kitchen to stay functional.
Your body is the same. Throughout the day, your body uses up resources and creates waste. In order to function optimally, and for your skin to look great, proper maintenance needs to happen regularly.
I would like to share with you, the six principles I live by to keep my internal body working well.
6 Principles to Achieve A Healthy Internal Environment
1. Healthy elimination - The body removes waste and toxins through a number of routes of elimination:
• Lungs in the form of carbon dioxide
• Skin via sweat
• Gastrointestinal tract via feces
• Kidneys via urine
• Nervous system via self expression and quiet time.
2. Sleep - This is when your body detoxifies, repairs, and rebuilds. From youth-promoting growth hormone, skin repair, to memory consolidation, consistent sleep patterns will keep you looking younger longer. We call it beauty sleep for a reason.
3. Clean water - Skin contains 64% water. Staying properly hydrated will keep your skin baby-soft.Water is necessary, to allow cells to grow, reproduce, and survive. I personally use a Berkey water filter that filters toxins, chlorine, and fluoride. I have also created the habit of starting my day with a cup of water and have another before bed and carry a Klean Kanteen throughout the day with filtered water.
4. Take time to de-stress - Everyone experiences stress in their daily lives. This could range from sitting in traffic everyday, working overtime for too many days in a row, or dealing with a difficult relationship. Chronic stress creates a very oxidative internal environment and shows up as visible signs of aging.
5. Move everyday - Our bodies were built to move. Movement improves circulation, stimulates secretion of growth hormone and endorphins, helps reduce stress, and activates the body’s innate antioxidant systems.
6. Eat the rainbow - When it comes to nutrition, how do you know what to eat? Regardless of what diet you follow, you cannot go wrong eating a range of colorful fruits and vegetables. The different colors correspond to the different vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
These principles are some of the most important things I keep in mind every day. If I go too many days without checking the box next to any of these, I make sure to get back on track.
The goal is not to be perfect, but rather to be more aware of the important things create a healthy internal environment so your skin will radiate health and vitality.
Dr. Aron Choi - I believe in building health from the ground up. My private practice is in Seattle, WA, and I specialize in working with patients who are dealing with chronic digestive disorders, inflammatory conditions, and immune dysfunction utilizing a combination of botanical medicine and nutrition, lifestyle therapy, and visceral manipulation. After becoming dissatisfied from working in Silicon Valley and after my mom, a retail pharmacist, introduced me to holistic medicine, I decided to pursue a doctorate in naturopathic medicine at Bastyr University. When not pondering the many wonders of the human body and mind, I train for marathons, read books by people smarter than me, and train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Look and Feel Years Younger