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Skin care beyond the surface

Katja Kokko | 8.4.2017

Today I gave a lecture at the Finnish Organic Beauty Fair on the topic of “Skin Care Beyond The Surface”. I have over fifteen years of experience of to talking to people, I´ve been on live tv and radio, but haven´t given too many actual lectures. Through these lectures I have come to face a little thing called stage fright. A completely new and foreign sensation to me.

Today´s anxiety was different from how I´ve experienced it before, it hit me the moment I begun to speak. Usually it´s the other way around: my nerves relax when I begin to speak. I knew beforehand that I might feel nervous since the lecture material was completely different from what my audience is accustomed to hearing from me. I would be talking about matters that I find increasingly more important to me and which I want to bring more to my work as well. Often revealing your true self is a bit nerve racking.

Through teaching yoga I am in close contacts with a variety of people and bodies. I´ve always been quick to read bodies, I´ve been working with faces and bodies a lot but especially through teaching yoga I have grown more sensitive in reading the slightest clues and signs. From a person´s body and demeanor you can see so much of their inner workings, emotional blocks and physical wellbeing. I feel it a natural thing to bring all these aspects together in skin care as well.

Working as a cosmetologist I often come across people looking for solutions to their skin conditions solely from external care with unrealistic hopes of instant fixes which lead to disappointment when the condition is not cured in a month or two. Even though people are aware of a holistic approach to wellbeing the balance of aspects it includes may not be in harmony or in action in one´s life. This is why I wanted to give a lecture on skin care that goes far beyond the surface.

The body and mind cannot strive without each other and hence the skin cannot solely rely on external care either – or yes, it can, but sooner or later a neglected mind or body will inform of itself through burn out, depression or some other form of disease.

After the lecture a participant asked me if I could write a post on the contents of the lecture, so here are the main points in a nut shell.

Skin is a reflection of holistic beauty

Beautiful skin rarely goes unnoticed. Beautiful skin has been coveted through out the ages, the skin and face represent beauty more substantially than any other part or organ in the body. The face reveals a great deal of our inner workings and feelings. The face of a person who is in love, happy or satisfied looks very different of a person´s face who is angry, worried, jealous or sad. And everyone knows what a fake smile looks like.

Some people seem to radiate an undescribable beauty and wisdom, which is not due to their looks or skin, but is something that pours out of their very being. The body language of a person who has negative thoughts and beliefs about themselves is often apologetic or inwardly turned. On the other hand some people seem to have a hard shield around them and even the skin is dry, tight and prone to redness.

Holistic beauty is built on feeling good in our bodies. Through a sense of both physical and mental wellbeing, we have an experience of ourselves as beautiful, we accept ourselves just as we are and trust both ourselves and life in general. We carry ourselves. These are the building blocks of that so called undescribable beauty which has an effect on the people around us, situations and our surroundings as well. Often it seems the life of these people just flows perfectly. Even though the truth is we all experience our own obstacles in life.

The visible condition of the skin is factored by age, genes, gut health, hormonal balance, stress levels, emotional and spiritual wellbeing and external skin care.

Skins ecosystem

To understand the value of external skin care it is good to understand the skins functional unit.

The skins most superficial layer, the epidermis´ most important task is to protect the skin from losing moisture (TEWL Transepidermal Water Loss). The better the epidermis is functioning the better it´s moisture content. The better the skins moisture content the better it looks.

On the top layer of the epidermis, the dermis, is a microscopical layer, the hydrolipidic film, which protects the skin from losing moisture, protects from harmful bacteria and keeps the skin smooth and supple. The hydrolipidic film is like the skins own moisturiser, a combination of water and oils (water, sweat, lipides and sebum). It´s pH is acidic (from 3,5 to 5,5) and due to this it is also called the acid mantle. An acid pH creates a beneficial surface for good bacteria and maintains the skins enzyme process which play an important role in the skins renewal process. If the enzyme process is disturbed the skin dries, becomes flaky and rough. The skin becomes shield like, nothing goes in and nothing comes out.

The main reason for imbalances in the hydrolipidic film and enzyme process is cleaning the face with too heavy washes which contain large amounts of surfactants, detergents. Cleansing gels, foams and soaps fall in this category. When the skins surface dries and becomes shield like it is very intolerant of taking anything in and it becomes increasingly difficult to address skin conditions. The skin must be made receptive. At first it may feel like nothing is absorbed into the skin and when it finally begins to accept the therapeutic ingredients the skin may begin to push out impurities and finding a balance will take a while.

On top of the stratum corneum is sebum which is composed of fatty acids (palmitoleic acid and palmitic acid), waxes, lactic acid and salts. The pH of sebum is acidic. Sebum is crucially important to the visible wellbeing of the skin because it prevents the skin from losing moisture and protects it from harmful bacteria. Many seem to have the false notion that sebum should be washed off the skin so that the skin would not appear oily. But just by washing the skin it is not possible to treat impurities or excess oiliness.

The consistency of sebum is determined by genes, age (through ageing the amount of sebum decreases and skin begins to dry), seasonal changes (especially in the northern hemisphere) and diet. Our lifestyle has an effect on the composition of sebum.

Dermis is the connective tissue below the epidermis. Dermis is the layer that gives the skin it´s elasticity and firmness. Among others collagen and elastane are in the dermis. Collagen is like a safety net which prevents the skin from breaking and elastane is like a rubber band that keeps the skin firm. The dermis transfers oxygen and nutrients to the epidermis. It is in charge of skins circulation through lymphatic circulation.

The lymphatic system delivers toxins from cells to the liver which neutralises them and forwards them to the kindneys which then release the toxins from the body. If the system is blocked the toxins will store in the tissue and result in dull and impure skin. The lymphatic system is an independent circulatory system which we can keep in good condition by moving our bodies.

The functioning of our organs, such as the liver, kidneys, gut and hormones have an effect on our skins eco system. Later I will talk about how our mind has an effect on the whole as well. With external skin care we should strive to support and maintain the skins functional unit, as with a diet we support our body´s, gut´s and mind´s wellbeing. It is best done with high quality natural cosmetics chosen especially for you and by regular cosmetologists appointments. From high quality natural cosmetics the skin gets the fatty acids, vitamins, antioxidants and trace elements it needs.

Synthetic cosmetics like mineral oils and silicones disturb the skins natural function and the production of lactic acid, sebum and microbial flora. The overuse of sun screen products should be avoided, even with natural cosmetics. A sun screen is only needed when spending long periods of time in direct and heavy sunlight.

A cosmetologist is your skins therapist

A cosmetologist is a very valuable help and support to your skins wellbeing. With a cosmetologist you can be sure to have the products best suited for your skin care needs. With treatments you can amplify the absorption of products, skins circulatory system (for example by lymphatic massage) release impurities and relax the nervous system.

A cosmetologist cannot solve skin problems though if the customer is not motivated and invested in taking holistic care of themselves. Everyone must take responsibility for themselves. Especially in treating a skin condition one´s attitude plays a huge role in treatments for they take perseverance, regularity and commitment. A curious interest in self exploration is a very helpful attitude to have. It is important to be genuinely receptive to help, to trust the cosmetologist and let them close. We might often go to a cosmetologist with high hopes but be shut off to receive any real help.

Any given cosmetologist may not be right for you so it is important to find the best match for you. The ones I find the best for me may not be a right match for you.

Holistic skin care and frequenting a cosmetologist is important for those with flawless skin as well. Many perceive a flawless skin to be free of visual imperfections. The skin may be uncared for and untimely ageing. The person may be physically healthy but psychologically restricted and experiencing hurt and negative feelings. Skin care should be regenerating and an aid in finding a connection with your inner self.

Gut health´s effect on the skin

According to studies over 66% of people suffering of acne have leaky gut syndrome. People suffering with rosacea and eczema tend to have problems with gut health as well. Gut health problems do not always reflect on the skin,they might be found in the stomach as bloating and digestive issues (I´m an example of this: my skin is pretty perfect but I have to keep a check on my gut health constantly). Issues with the gut can also appear as fatigue, depression and anxiety.

Gut problems can be caused by a diet that is not in balance with your body type, weak nutrient content of your food, nutrients may not be absorbed in your system, sensitivities and allergies, toxins, antibiotics, chronic stress or hormonal imbalances.

The common notion of a gluten, dairy and sugar free diet may not be the solution to your skin and gut issues. It is a common thought as well that a vegan diet will heal your problems. The problem might be in the antinutrients in legumes which are linked to leaky gut syndrome. Many believe green juices, superfoods and raw food to be super healthful. My body constitution´s weakest links are the kidneys, liver and spleen. Cold, moist and raw food does them no good, instead I should eat cooked, boiled and steamed foods.

Not everyone can go by the same diet, we are individuals and it is important to find out what diet is best suited for your constitution. A western medicine doctor is not an expert on nutrition, it would be advised to turn to an experienced professional with these matters. For myself Indian medicine, Ayurveda is a natural choice because it´s strongly linked with yoga. Ayurveda stands for living science and comprises of diet, emotional and spiritual wellbeing and the body´s natural rhythm. Chinese medicine is a great option as well, but I know more of Ayurveda and feel it naturally better for me. If these suggestions seem too hippy, you can turn to a functional medicine nutrition coach.

If your gut health does not seem to begin to cure it is important to check for any food sensitivities with a professional. Sensitivities work differently than allergies and you might have a sensitivity to foods that you never thought unfit for you. Food sensitivities are usually screened with laboratory testing but an elimination diet is a great way to find out the answers too.

Good supplements for gut health: probiotics which are good for everybody and digestive enzymes which suit most because heating kills the natural enzymes in food. L-glutamine, zink carnosine and silica are great supplements for gut health as well. For cleaning toxins out of the system bentonite clay is a good option.

Aside good gut function the liver plays a role in healthy skin by being in charge of elimination of toxins in our body and thus should not be overly loaded. We are under such a bombarding of toxins from our environment that we cannot even begin to understand it and partially there is nothing we can do about it either. From this view point it is a wise choice to do everything in our power to do all the good for our liver that is possible in our day to day life. Organic food is free of pesticides and according to studies is more nutrient rich than conventionally grown food. Nowadays food is not as nutrient rich as it used to be because of the soil. The waters are constantly flown with toxins. All this has an effect on our health and wellbeing. Choosing natural cosmetics is a given when compared to synthetic cosmetics. It is a good idea to change your house hold cleaning detergents to ecological ones as well.

At the lecture I listed other gut friendly supplements as well, like vitamin D3, B12 for vegetarians, fish oil, or a vegetarian omega oil, zink, magnesium, iodine, turmeric and neem (great for acne skins and for complimenting the liver).

When thinking of your diet be as honest about it as you can. I constantly come across people lying to themselves about their diets, bending the truth to what they would like it to be. Being uptight about your diet is a dead end road just as are long hauled problems. They keep on growing and may bring about serious problems. The most important thing is to make choices from your clear conscience, that way they have a long life span.

The effect of stress on the skin

When we are stressed our bodies release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline and the body runs on overload, in survival mode. The immune defence lowers and circulation slows down. A long period of stress can result in gut imbalances like leaky gut, gut inflammation, imbalances in the gut microbiome, reflux and imbalances in hydrochloric acid. Ongoing high levels of stress can lead to serious illness.

Stress amplifies the formation of free radicals in the body. They are beneficial for the immune system but if there is more than needed, more than the immune system can handle, it results in cell damage and can lead to disease like cancer. Many do not consider the fact that heavy sports also produce free radicals in our body. Thus a healthy diet and sufficient recovery from sports are very important.

Stress can show in many ways on the skin. Typically the skin dries, sebum production is disrupted, there are visible impurities, the skin looks dull and grey due to weakened circulation, the skin begins to sag since the free radicals damage collagen and result in untimely ageing of the skin. Cold sores, redness and sensitivities, bloating under the eyes, and blurry eyes can be signs of stress as well. Typical skin conditions that may be onset by stress are acne, rosacea and POD.

Typically the first things we give up when stressed are exercise, body care, self care and relaxation. We want to “optimise” our time by taking care of work first and then ourselves. I often fall for this as well and every time it has proven to be a grand mistake. Thoughts muddle, power is lost and creativity dies. Every time I have chosen to put my wellbeing first, gone to have a facial, swimming or relaxed in some other way time has seemed to stretch. When you feel hurried it seems there is never enough time. The most important thing when stressed is to calm your nervous system and lazing on the couch is not a real form of doing so.

The other extreme to lazing on the couch (which has it´s time and place) is emptying your head at the gym after work. You do a hard workout, zone out and maybe leave the recovery to solely the physical level. The sympathetic nervous system is kind of left on (it is the activating system which naturally takes the upper hand when we are stressed). It is important to activate the  parasympathetic nervous system, which calms and soothes the mind. A continuous, too heavy exercise regimen can result in hormonal imbalances that may maintain acne or even cause it if there is not a sufficient relaxation on the nervous system level.

A heavy work out (goes for ashtangis as well) would be wise to balance with yin yoga, restorative yoga, meditation or a deep relaxation practice.

It is very typical for a person with a busy life style to take care of exercise, maintain a healthy diet but to forget about sufficient rest. Rest and good sleep are even more important to health than a diet, they do wonders for the skin and strengthen the kindeys.

The wellbeing of the mind and skin

Janesh Vaidya aptly states in his book on Ayurveda that the mind and body are like a two wheeled wagon that drives our soul. They cannot survive without each other, if we do not take care of them our soul cannot strive and we lose touch with it. The mind and body are in a constant state of flux, there may be imbalances and illness but our soul remains constant.

All of us would love to live without stress, fear, anger and worry. All of us would love to have more authenticity, good and love in our lives. Most of us still fight a battle against negative thoughts and feelings and feel guilty for it. I´m a bad person because I feel envy or such.

A person can be physically healthy with flawless skin but spiritually restricted because the mind is in control. When we are in connection with our soul we take on challenges and difficulties with a more neutral disposition. We do not let our mind stop us from doing the things in life that we truly desire.

Trauma and negative experiences stored in our cell memory throughout our lives (even carried from one generation to another) reflect in our presence, our bodies, beliefs and even on our skin. Often there are emotional blocks behind skin conditions, for example rosacea often is a condition of overly nice and conscientious type A personalities.

It is important to examine yourself truthfully. Notice your emotional response, your thoughts about other people (do you feel others to be a threat to you or do you believe for them to want the best for you) thoughts and beliefs about yourself and your personal boundaries. Are you constantly offering your help to others but neglecting yourself? Do you live your life according to your own will of to somebody elses wishes? Do you do things for what they seem like or because you truly want to? It is important to seek for help when you need it, there is nothing to be ashamed about. Just as when we have the flu, we do not regard it being a natural part of ourselves, the negative thought patterns and beliefs, illness and imbalance are not a natural state of being for us. The mind and body change, the soul remains.

Exploration to the mind and body

Healing negative thought patterns, beliefs and trauma is possible for us all. A person who is ready and willing to face their own negative patterns and fears is rewarded with an undescribable beauty which I talked about in the beginning of the article. Healing doesn´t happen over night and I cannot say when the final reward is received, but this I can promise, there will be numerous rewards on your way that bring you happiness and joy. The negative thoughts and feelings will surely never completely vanish, but you become aware of them and the mind is not controlled by their impulse but stays calm(er). Words that might have once hurt you no longer touch you and you begin to use a kinder language yourself too.

It is a long journey so embark on it with curiosity like on an exploration to the mind and body. And to keep the two wheels running smoothly keep your mind and body healthy by eating a clean diet that suits you best. No need to be uptight and stress about it, just learn how to balance a pizza weekend with a healthy day to day life.

It is essential to keep your energies circulating undisturbed in the body. Cleansing and energising the body with holistic treatments and exercise such as yoga, acupuncture, shiatsu and aromatherapy is vital. 

For myself yoga is the most natural form of exercise and is a great combo with swimming and horseback riding. Yoga is an effective way to open blocks both in the body and mind. It improves concentration, calms, brings serenity and teaches how to accept of oneself just as we are and to see others with more compassion. Yoga eases the constant battle within.

Yoga can be called yoga therapy because it releases truama stored in the cellular level, without the need to talk it through. It is a gentle option when you are not ready to go through trauma with a therapist. And on the other hand yoga is a great addition to  therapy.

Yoga increases strength in both the body and mind, it brings more trust and confidence in one self and life in general. I would not be sitting here writing this if I wouldn´t have years ago embarked on the journey of yoga. I could have not imagined how the practice would transform my life little by little. My minds strength alone has grown immensely.

If you are interested in a yoga it is important to find the right practice for you. For me ashtanga is the natural choice but it may not be the right choice for you. Aside of an energising yoga practice yin yoga, meditation and deep relaxation are great practices. Being in contact with nature should not be underestimated either, if you have access to nature, use it frequently.

Reading

If you´re interested in diving deeper into these matters here are a few books I highly recommend:

Jaakko Halmetoja, Teemu Arina & Olli Sovijärvi: Biohacker´s handbook (an amazing piece of knowledge on holistic wellbeing)

Janesh Vaiyda: Ayurveda for your mind (the best book of ayurveda that I’ve ever read, but unfortunately it’s not available in English at the moment)

Deb Shapiro: Your body speaks your mind (an interesting map on body language and symptoms of the body in relation to the mind)

Magdalena Mecweld: Serenity Yin Yoga (yin yoga is an easy home practice with this fantastic book.)

The e-book version of my book Genuine Beauty Book is on 30% sale until 30th of June 2017 with the code genuinebeautywww.genuinebeautybook.com

At the end of my lecture we did a seven minute relaxation instead of a Q&A. Maybe one day I will do a video of it and you can download it to use on your lunch break for instance.

Photos Kaapo Kamu, from the Genuine Beauty Book 

Translated by Mariko Pajalahti

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