The holiday season is coming at us in full force. For many, the last few months of the year might mean back-to-back social engagements, gift giving, family gatherings, last-minute work deadlines, and other pressures to be “on”. If these upcoming moments and their accompanying to-do lists are stressing you out, keep reading to see how nature’s pharmacopeia can help maintain our skin as we transition into the winter whirlwind.
Honestly though, how on earth are we supposed to keep our skin radiant with all this tension shaking the walls of our minds and bodies? After all, there are family portraits, work group shots, and holiday cards to show up for! If you’re concerned about putting your best face forward, our herbalists have come together to support you. How you present yourself to the world is a reflection of your inner glow, so let us help you shine with herbal medicine and tips for healthy habits that will lead to better skin health, too.When we feel stressed, the sympathetic nervous system releases stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. What that means for your skin:
- Cortisol (the body’s stress regulator) in excess causes increased oil production in your skin glands, which can lead to clogged pores, free radical damage, and acne.
- Adrenaline in excess causes abnormal spikes in cortisol, which can lead to hyperactivity in the brain, leaking into the bloodstream, and then hitting your organs (the skin included). Often induced by an overload of stress, these surges in adrenaline may also cause acne, dullness, and wrinkles.
Modern science has further confirmed in numerous studies that, as has been documented since ancient times, stress and skin conditions are intricately intertwined. The so-called “Brain-Skin Connection” is not only incredibly strong, it’s also a critical factor in maintaining outer beauty that is rarely discussed when trying to heal and revitalize the skin from the exterior alone. Your skin not only works as an “immediate stress perceiver and as a target of stress responses” (NIH), it’s also the body’s largest organ, protecting against harmful toxins from the outside world and constantly working to maintain homeostasis between the internal tissues it houses and the external environment that surrounds it. Consider that your skin senses heat, cold, pain, and other tensions before any other “sensing organ” in the body—even more reason to protect and care for it!
Signals from the outside get transmitted to the spinal cord, and then to the brain. That primary control center gives a response that can then influence the stress responses in the skin. Neuroinflammatory conditions that can show up in our skin, but are first triggered or aggravated by stress, include: psoriasis, dermatitis, acne, alopecia, itching, and erythema. So, how can we help our hardworking nervous system help our skin?
Let’s take a look at the herbs that soothe the nervous system and help to reduce cortisol levels, restoring and protecting the skin:
Origin: Northern + northeastern China; cultivated in Korea and China
Used for: Lowering inflammation, helping the body cope with stress, hormonal balance, and supporting liver (which helps improve hormonal acne).
Origin: The Middle East + North Africa (naturalized in Europe in the 1500s)
Used for: Calming and soothing the nervous system. Rich in antioxidants, lemon balm helps fight free radicals that cause premature aging.
Origin: Europe, Africa + Asia (also grown in North America today)
Used for: Accelerating cell and tissue renewal. Chamomile calms the nerves and stomach, which helps “calm” the skin (redness, irritation, etc.) and gives it a youthful glow.
Origin: North central India (grows throughout eastern world tropics today)
Used for: Balancing blood sugar and as an adaptogenic herb. Balanced blood sugar helps to keep cortisol levels low, which keeps skin clear and radiant. The linolenic acid in tulsi also has an anti-inflammatory effect to help combat acne.
Origin: The Mediterranean, the Middle East + India
Used for: Calming the mind and the skin, soothing from within your nervous system (the brain) to radiate out through the pores! It’s been said that when things change inside you, things change around you. Have you ever thought of actually calming your skin? Some of our beloved yoga teachers say “breathe through all the pores of your skin” – try it?
Origin: India + Africa
Used for: Softening and hydrating the skin. This antioxidant, adaptogenic herb is also “moistening”, so it keeps the skin supple and prevents excessive dryness.
Origin: Western Siberia
Used for: Reducing inflammation and managing blood sugar levels. This adaptogenic mushroom contains betulonic acid, which is partly responsible for skin growth. Restorative and regenerative for skin cells, some say chaga can give us back our youthful look. Most importantly, chaga stimulates collagen production, which is beneficial for all skin types.
Origin: China (grown today across Asia and southeast Europe)
Used for: Aiding the kidneys and liver. This Chinese medicine staple is known to nourish “yin”, which helps hydrate the skin by preventing water loss. Additional benefits of goji include reducing acne, evening out skin tone, and promoting collagen production.
Octavia Butler wrote: “Forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not.”
Scientists have proven that forming healthy habits can promote a longer life. We’re often told that drinking water, eating well, getting good sleep, and exercising regularly are key to our wellbeing, especially as it pertains to keeping our outer layer—the skin—fresh and clean. But, what are some habits that will actually make a real difference, and fast? These five tips are some dependable go-tos when inspiration fails, the cold weather blues and fatigue sets in. The trick is to start now! Commit to making each one on the list a part of your daily and weekly routines until you’ve repeated it enough times for it to really stick. Try putting up post-its in your bathroom and/or kitchen with little love notes to yourself like: stay warm or time for “me time” or let’s move to remember these skin hacks.
1. EAT WARMING FOODS + SPICES.
In the Ayurvedic system of holistic medicine, the three doshas (Vata, Pitta, Kapha) are considered within each person’s unique constitution. Incorporating warming foods (think: moist, oily, nourishing, smooth) at each meal can help with balancing excess vata. The goal is to lubricate the tissues by opting out of frozen or other cold foods to avoid dryness in the skin. Soups, stews, berries, avocado and coconut are just a few examples of healthy choices this season, but also stock up on turmeric, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and similar spices.
2. KEEP IT WARM, NOT HOT.
The cold versus hot water debate has been around for centuries, with many Eastern medicinal systems (including Traditional Chinese Medicine) and cultures consuming warm or hot beverages with all meals and throughout the day. While drinking warm water can relax your muscles and increase blood flow to rejuvenate and nourish skin cells, bathing in warm water can soothe the mind and body, resulting in calmer and softer skin overall.
Check out our medicinal bath guide or blue moon milk bath to see how your skin can benefit from less stress, more moisture, and better sleep.
3. ESTABLISH A NIGHTTIME “ME TIME” ROUTINE.
If you’re like the numerous respondents in this survey who say that the state of the world’s current events are keeping them up at night, it’s time to unplug with deep intention before you turn out the lights. To get started, read up on some of our favorite winter self-care rituals, and choose at least one to implement this week. Give yourself a deadline for when you’ll turn off all screens (at least 30-60 minutes before bed), and stick to it. Consider a facial and body care routine for your skin that has at least a few steps—wash, exfoliate, moisturize, for example—and take your time lavishing over that vital, often taken for granted organ of yours! To close out the routine, try a body scan or a yoga nidra practice, a sort of shutting off the lights in the rooms of the house that is your one precious vessel.
4. MOVE CONSCIOUSLY, OUTDOORS.
It can get confusing when you think about the vitamin D most of us are deficient in (especially if we live in climates where it gets cold and dark early), but then also the harm the almighty sun can do to us … what’s a person to do? One conscious movement practice you can try when the weather allows is to go for a quiet walk barefoot and outdoors in nature. This sacred combination can be even more beneficial when you add in a walking meditation or just a few rounds of intentional, slow, conscious breathing. Barefoot walking can help to improve sleep, increase antioxidants, and reduce inflammation. The British Journal of Dermatology also found that “people who practice more mindfulness experience less distress and a better quality of life than those who do not,” and stress reduction is key to better skin.
5. GET TO KNOW ADAPTOGENS.
The truth is that if adaptogens had a personal cheer squad, we’d be honored to be a part of it. These remarkable botanical treasures help the body restore balance and adapt to stress. They increase the body’s resistance to multiple stressors—physical, emotional, chemical and environmental, among others—which is why they’re so crucial for regulating the homeostasis our minds and bodies need to function at their peak performance. That includes the skin, which can greatly benefit from the change catalyzing, power balancing properties of adaptogens. Read more about what adaptogens do to our body, mind, and spirit on our blog.