Try this natural regimen for healthy skin
January 1, 2022 | View PDF
Hello! I have been a primary care provider in Juneau Alaska for nearly 30 years, as well as a health writer, yoga enthusiast and instructor, musician, and lover of the great outdoors. My professional focus is on wellness. I particularly enjoy helping patients achieve good health, with minimal or no medication if possible. “Anything that can be healed by judicious diet and lifestyle should not be treated any other way” is a wise maxim attributed to Hippocrates (460-370 BC, Greek).
This new column will serve as an introduction to the principles of naturopathic medicine, which predate pharmaceutical approaches to healthcare by several centuries.
This month’s topic introduces some basic techniques for skin care. The skin is the largest organ of the body and provides a highly effective barrier between the outside environment and internal structures such as the subcutaneous fat, blood vessels and nerves, and the digestive organs and glands. Skin is by nature lipophilic, which means it loves fat, making it “water proof.”
Luckily, skin is constantly renewing itself. Most of the house dust in your home is from the shedding of the uppermost surface of the skin, the epidermis. That’s great — we are constantly growing new skin and that’s why it can last a lifetime. But skin gets thinner and more vulnerable as we age.
My purpose as I, and my patient population, inevitably ages, is to promote graceful longevity. Here are the two wellness tips for today.
Dry skin brushing
This is absolutely the finest bath for your skin. Soap is actually fairly irritating — the natural chemicals in soaps (saponins) work by being a bit abrasive.
Minimize your use of soap. Just the hairy parts, a few times a week, should suffice. Unless you stepped into a mud puddle or spent the afternoon working on a greasy engine without wearing gloves (not advised), soap is generally not needed other than for frequent hand washing. Skin brushing is a little less intuitive for men, because of having more body hair, but you can all start your day with brushing your skin, dry, with a long-handled brush. This is one reason I look younger than my age today. Plus, it feels great.
I start naked in the bathroom with circular strokes on my abdomen. Looking down, it’s a clockwise motion (to the right from just above pubic bone), mimicking the direction of the large intestine. Next, sweeping up under the breasts and from the sides of the breasts forward. Women, this is a good time to do a quick check in with breast tissue: symmetrical lumpiness is almost always normal. Next, brush up each arm, including the hands (gentle on the very sensitive dorsal side, which is the opposite of the palmar side) and then use the long handle to gently scrub down the back from the tops of the shoulders, then up the back from the buttocks to shoulder blades. Next the legs. I lift one foot to scrub the sole, or be seated on the edge of the tub for this part if it feels more secure. Up the legs, four to five strokes to cover around the front and back, and maybe a little extra on the butt to get it a bit pink. This whole routine should take about five to seven minutes.
This is a fundamental part of naturopathic medicine and involves stimulating the circulatory and lymphatic systems with alternating hot and cold water. Always end with cold. If you don’t have time in the morning to take an ankle-deep cold foot bath, you can chase your shower with 30 seconds of cold at the end, every time. This closes the pores, which helps protect the immune system in your skin, as well as providing a bracing “wake up” feeling that will stay with you for hours.
I enjoy running a shallow cold bath while skin brushing every morning, then walking in place in the cold water for 60 seconds while using a smaller finer-bristled brush to brush my face: Up under the chin and upward strokes along jaw and cheeks, and out from the center of the brow as though smoothing out the central furrow lines.
If you feel unsteady about standing in the tub either use a grab bar or sit on the edge of the tub with your feet in the cold water. Once you have adopted this habit and want more, sit down in the cold tub for a brief “sitz bath” that will really get you going.
Emily Kane is a naturopath doctor based in Juneau. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.