They say when life gives you lemons, make a gin and tonic (or something like that). For me, life gave me skin issues.
You name it, I’ve had it. From eczema, hives and psoriasis, to rosacea, dermatitis and acne breakouts, there are few skin conditions I haven’t endured.
In my younger days I was often filled with despair at the state of my skin. That’s why I became a dermatologist — to heal myself.
Now 47 and a mother-of-two, I marvel at how baby-soft my skin looks and feels. I’m amazed at its ability to renew itself, and when I wake up in the morning with beautifully clear, dewy skin, I remind myself how lucky I am.
Over 20 years of clinical practice, I’ve learned the secrets not just to skin problems, but to skin beauty, too.
Leading dermatologist Karen Fischer, 47, has revealed her top secrets to skin beauty, as well as skin problems
Leading dermatologist Karen Fischer, 47, has revealed her top secrets to skin beauty, including the foods to eat to make sure your skin is glowing (stock image)
The fact is we need to treat skin holistically. It’s our largest organ, and it’s not just what we put on it that affects what it looks like. Your skin is a reflection of what is happening inside you.
Gut health is essential for glowing skin. But so, too, is liver health; a good, chemical-free diet; and a relaxed, unstressed state of mind.
Your thoughts and emotions affect your complexion. We create great skin from the inside out.
So what are my top tips for you? I’ve written seven books on skin health and beauty, and in my latest, The Healthy Skin Kitchen, I share much of the expertise I’ve gained over my career. Here’s a selection of my best advice.
Let’s start by discussing not skin heroes, but skin villains…
MAKE ‘SWEETS ON A SUNDAY’ AN UNBREAKABLE RULE
Sugar sabotages your health and beauty goals. It damages your skin through a process called glycation, where excess sugar in the blood produces harmful free radicals that directly affect collagen and elastin, causing fine lines, wrinkles and sagging skin. In short, sugar ages you.
But how to stop those cravings? It turns out it might not be a simple matter of willpower. You might be the victim of some heavy-duty manipulation by your gut.
Scientists have found that gut microbes — all the good bacteria that make up an individual’s internal microbiome — can alter a person’s eating behaviour, sometimes at the expense of your health.
So, no, it’s not your fault you’re a chocaholic. Put simply, some microbes crave chocolate while others crave broccoli and leafy greens. And the ones you feed will grow and suppress their competitors.
Some can induce a state of unease until you eat something that promotes their growth (hello chocolate cravings).
Karen, 47, (pictured) says that gut health is essential for glowing skin because the skin reflects what is happening inside the body
How to silence them? The first thing you can do to kill sugar cravings is to cut off your gut microbiome’s sugar supply. Empty the sugar bowl and stop stocking up on chocolate; you can’t eat it if it’s not handy.
But you don’t have to be over-strict. Like a favourite child you love, give yourself boundaries around eating sweets: such as ‘Sweets on Sunday’ or ‘Treat day is Friday’ or ‘Wine-o-clock is Friday after work’, not every day after work. Alcohol is liquid sugar.
Obviously you can enjoy a treat in normal times when you’re with friends or family, but that’s for special occasions.
SEE HOW THE MIND AND SKIN ARE CONNECTED
It is well established that stress triggers all sorts of skin problems. You might have experienced this first-hand. Who hasn’t had a spot or two around stressful situations such as a job interview or first date?
Researchers have found that psychological stress impairs the skin barrier function, which is often seen in people with eczema and dry skin.
Stress also reduces immune function in the epidermis layer of skin, so it’s important that we address it if we want to achieve that wonderful healthy glow.
We all know about the classic stress-busting techniques — meditation, yoga, deep breathing, massage. But here are a few more ideas to relax you for your best skin ever.
HEALING HEMP SMOOTHIE
Fix dry skin, hair loss and weak nails with the Healing Hemp Smoothie, which is an excellent source of skin-hydrating omega-3 oils and protein.
The dermatologist says a Healing Hemp Smoothie (above) can fix dry skin, hair loss and weak nails
Preparation time 3 minutes. Pre-freeze fruit if desired.
- 1½–2 cups plant-based milk
- ¼ cup hemp protein powder (plain, not flavoured)
- ½ banana or ½ peeled pear (pre-sliced and frozen)
- 4 ice cubes
Place all the ingredients into a blender and blitz the mixture on high until smooth.
Gargle with salt water: It exercises the larynx and stimulates the nervous system, which is good for improving the tone of the vagus nerve, the longest nerve in the body, connecting major organs with the brain. When the vagus nerve is stimulated, a range of soothing neurotransmitters are released and your body relaxes.
Laugh more, bitch less: Laughter triggers a ‘safety signal’ to the rest of your body via the vagus nerve, so when you watch something funny on TV, for example, both brain and body feels good. But the more you complain about life, the more stressed you feel, and that’s not good for your skin. Instead of bitching about the world, watch an episode of Friends.
Get grounded: Earthing is where you spend time in nature and touch the ground with your bare feet or lie on the grass. Studies suggest the electrical charges from the earth can rebalance the nervous system and relax us. Spring is the perfect time for it, so get into the garden and take your shoes and socks off.
Connect with others (in your head): Your brain can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what’s imagined. That’s a big statement but it’s true.
For example, researchers scanned the brains of people as they played the piano and compared them to people who only imagined they were playing the piano — and both scans showed the same results.
Just remembering fun times you’ve had with friends, family or lovers triggers the release of ‘feel-good’ chemicals, strengthens the vagus nerve and lowers the stress response.
GET YOURSELF ON A LOW-CHEMICAL DIET
As a curious nutritionist, I have tried and tested many popular diets, from vegan to pescatarian to paleo, and what I’ve discovered is that one size does not fit all.
My diet is skewed to skin health, using relevant aspects of other diets, but not embracing any single one entirely. At its core is a list of foods I know can help beautify your complexion. These miracle workers have helped firm, tone and repair my skin, and they can do the same for yours.
Be warned, there aren’t many trendy ‘superfoods’ among them. There is no kimchi or avocados or turmeric, for example.
That’s because many of those foods are high in chemicals called histamines and salicylates, which nowadays we all consume in quantities I wouldn’t recommend for skin health.
These chemicals aren’t necessarily bad for you, but their over-consumption can trigger problems, including rashes, rosacea and psoriasis.
For clear, dewy skin, you need to follow a low-chemical diet. These are the building blocks:
A LEEK A DAY KEEPS THE DOCTOR AWAY
Forget an apple a day. I think the old saying should be: ‘A leek a day keeps the doctor away.’
Not only do leeks turbo-charge your health, they’re wonderful for your skin. Low in salicylates, they contain quercetin and other potent anti-inflammatory substances.
She recommends eating a leek (pictured) a day rather than an apple because they both turbo-charge your health and are wonderful for your skin
With a good supply of vitamin K, omega-3, carotenes (which convert to vitamin A), calcium, folate, vitamin B6, iron, potassium and manganese, they’re the perfect package to keep skin, eyes and blood healthy.
My caramelised leek sauce makes everything taste great — I sauté the leeks until very soft and drizzle them with real maple syrup and sea salt.
switch bread for Sweet potato toast
I eat sweet potato for breakfast, lunch and dinner: it’s the most versatile vegetable ever. How do you eat it for breakfast? Sweet potato toast! Just whack sweet potato slices into the toaster — it tastes great.
One portion contains 770 per cent of an adult’s recommended daily intake of beta-carotene (which converts to vitamin A — crucial for healthy skin) and 65 per cent of our recommended daily vitamin C intake.
BLACK BEANS TO COMBAT SUN DAMAGE
Superheroes of the bean world, black beans are loaded with skin‑protecting anthocyanins, which fight UV damage and improve levels of collagen.
FLAXSEED TO HYDRATE SKIN
The richest source of plant-based omega-3, flaxseed has potent anti-inflammatory, mood-boosting and skin-hydrating effects.
Sling flaxseeds in your smoothies, salads or use to make healthy flapjacks.
HEMP SEED OIL FOR SOFTNESS
Moisturise your skin from the inside out with hemp seed oil, a rich source of omega-6 and anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.
Just half a teaspoon of hemp seed oil, drunk straight from a spoon, can give you softer skin in less than a week. But I prefer it in a smoothie to hide the flavour!
BOOST COLLAGEN WITH BEETROOT
The dermatologist also said beetroot (pictured) are packed with skin-boosting manganese and folate, and were used by ancient Romans to treat skin problems
Beetroot is known as the doctor’s friend: ancient Romans and Greeks used them to treat skin problems, while the leaves were made into bindings for wounds.
It is packed with skin‑boosting manganese and folate, which boost collagen production.
OPT FOR CAROB OVER CHOCOLATE
A delicious chocolate alternative, carob can be sprinkled on fruit, used in puddings or made into tea.
It soothes your skin as it binds to toxins in the bowel and inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria.
Carob powder, carob protein powder, carob syrup and carob nibs can be found at health food stores.
PEAR TO BANISH CELLULITE
Karen also revealed that you can get rid of cellulite by making cellulite-busting daily smoothie, made up of plant-based milk, hemp protein power, half a pear (above) and ice cubes
Cellulite is triggered by a modern western diet and a sedentary lifestyle.
To get rid of it, you’ll need to avoid these foods: dairy products, sugary foods, wheat, most grains (except oats), fast food, processed breakfast cereals and alcohol.
Instead, eat vegetables, lean meats and fresh fish.
Include healing hemp for a cellulite-busting daily smoothie: blend two cups of any plant-based milk with one quarter of a cup of hemp protein powder such as Naturya Organic Hemp Protein Powder (£10, ocado.com), half a pear and some ice cubes.
Aim for 40-60 minutes of daily exercise, either walking, jogging, yoga or Pilates.
ANTI-AGE SKIN WITH A PAPAYA DRINK
As well as wearing a hat outdoors and apply sunscreen daily.
Drink three litres of water per day, and whizz up a papaya with 1 tsp of flax seed oil, water and ice cubes for a wrinkle-smoothing drink.
Amongst her top foods to improve skin, Karen also suggested smoothing wrinkles by making a papaya drink by whizzing up a papaya (above) with flax seed oil, water and ice cubes
Take a daily 500mg supplement of glutathione.
It’s probably the closest thing to the fountain of youth that we’ll ever find, helping to even out mottled skin pigmentation and reduce — or even remove — the appearance of age spots.
Be aware that levels are depleted by drinking coffee. Go decaf with a plant-based milk.
Adapted from The Healthy Skin Kitchen, by Karen Fischer (£19.99, Exisle), out now. © Karen Fischer 2021.
To order a copy for £17.59 (offer valid to 12/4/21; free UK P&P on orders over £20), visit mailshop.co.uk/books, or call 020 3308 9193.