Begin from Within: Dry Skin & How to Combat It
Q: What Causes Dry Skin?
Before you go ahead and start off taking supplements or putting on creams, you should find the root cause of your dry skin. Dry skin can be due to disease processes, such as fungal infections, eczema, or psoriasis. It can also be due to hormonal issues, such a hypothyroidism. But, it could beas simple as not having enough water or skin-hydrating nutrients in your diet or exposure to something you're allergic to. So, find the root cause or else you will get that dryness back! I'll briefly cover some of those processes I listed earlier so that you can have an educated discussion with your doctor.
Some fungal infections can look like dry skin. Have you heard of seborrheic dermatitis? Maybe. It's also called Cradle Cap, and it's basically a fungal infection with a yeast called Malassezia sp. This yeast is a part of the normal flora of your skin, but due to a variety of immunological conditions, the yeast is able to out-complete and lead to symptoms, such as flaking, red patches along the nose, ears, eyebrows, chest, or upper back (By the way, this type of infection is called an opportunistic infection since the yeast takes advantage of the opportunity to grow and thrive).
Conventional treatment for seborrheic dermatitis is an anti-fungal - topical ketoconazole cream applied 1-2 times a day. Other anti-fungals may be prescribed by your doctor depending on the case.
Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis)
Eczema can look a lot like seborrheic dermatitis. Eczema is different from seborrheic dermatitis in that eczema is an allergic process while seborrheic dermatitis is more of an infectious process. The skin is dry, flaky, and red, like in seborrheic dermatitis, but it's also super itchy and can sometimes bleed because of the scratching. When a person has eczema, they usually have other symptoms that involve allergies. There is a thing called the classic triad with eczema, and the symptoms of that triad are: 1) eczema (duh); 2) runny nose; and 3) asthma. You also tend to see eczema in difference locations on the body compared to seborrheic dermatitis. Eczema can be in the found in the elbow creases, behind the knees, and on the face.
Going back to allergies, what's the root cause of this? Studies show that food allergies, gut bacteria, and skin bacteria could be involved. In human and animal models, researchers found that higher amounts of Staphylococcus aureus (a bacteria normally found on the skin) can drive the formation of eczema. Research done with children with eczema also found that food allergies can drive the composition of skin bacteria populations towards having higher amounts of S. aureus on the skin. Another study also showed that when children had both eczema and food allergies, it was the biggest risk factor for the progression of the "allergic march" (the allergic march is when you see eczema progress through life, along with its associated allergic symptoms listed above in the allergic triad). How about gut bacteria? A meta-analysis showed that probiotics could be a natural solution for children and adults with "moderate to severe" eczema. To talk more about probiotics, in a review investigating the impact of probiotic supplementation in mothers, it showed that probiotic supplementation prenatally and postnatally were protective against children getting eczema.
So, in so many words, gut bacteria and food allergies can impact eczema. Food allergies especially do so since it can alter the actual bacterial populations of the skin towards eczema-forming populations.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that leads to dryness of the skin. It can look a lot like eczema, but the areas where psoriasis occurs is different. Also, people who have psoriasis tend to have a family history of the condition and tend to have other autoimmune symptoms, like arthritis. Not going to go too deep into this one since it basically reiterates a lot of what I said for the eczema part above.
What is the root cause of this? Well, since it's autoimmune, it all boils down to the immune system. There are many camps that try to explain what is going on to cause autoimmunity, and my favorite one is the interplay of genes, environment, allergies, and gut bacteria.
Hypothyroidism is becoming more and more prevalent from what I have seen, especially the type that is autoimmune in nature. Hypothyroidism is basically when a person has low thyroid, which can be due to many reasons, and can lead to a variety of symptoms. Dry skin is one of the more common complaints alongside thinning hair, fatigue, constipation, weight gain, and the feeling of getting cold easily. Hypothyroidism is more common amongst females, and lots of doctors miss this diagnosis since many treat symptoms rather than root causes.
Tests can be easily done, such as checking Thyroid Stimulating Hormone, Thyroid hormone, Thyroxine, Thyroid Antibodies, Reverse Thyroid hormone, and many others. Since the thyroid is a hormone-producing gland, you may also want to check other hormone-producing organs, such as the adrenals and sex hormones associated with the ovaries or testes. Why? All of these organs talk to each other and help each other out when one of them needs an extra oomph to make you feel better. I have seen a lot of thyroid conditions actually get better when this holistic approach is taken since adrenal fatigue/adrenal dysfunction can suppress the thyroid.
So, the root cause can be autoimmune or many other things with hypothyroidism. But, testing will always give you a better picture as to what is going on.
Heal From Within
Remember to always find the root cause! The following are just natural ways to help alleviate dry skin while you are on your way to finding the root cause of dry skin
What's a phytoceramide? Well, we first gotta talk about what a ceramide is. A ceramide is a fat-based molecule found in the skin that helps to retain hydrationthat is usually made from cholesterol. People who have dry skin may have reduced ceramides in their skin, which leads to water loss (aka dryness). Okay, now what's a phytoceramide? A phytoceramide is a plant-based ceramide that could possibly help with skin hydration. Studies show that phytoceramides can be found in wheat and in beets. In human subjects, studies showed that wheat phytoceramides significantly skin hydration, and the same was found in animal models with beet phytoceramides. Other sources of phytoceramides are from rice bran and konjac.
A study done on animal models showed that dietary milk phospholipids improved "skin carrier function" by modulating ceramides in the skin. What does that mean? Dietary milk phospholipids were able to protect water loss in dry skin by keeping ceramides in the skin. It's a pretty cool think that dietary milk phospholipids (aka milk fats) were able to do this. Another animal study investigating the effect of cow's milk with different amounts of sphingomyelin (a type of fat) on dry animal skin found that when animals were fed diets with progressively higher spingomyelin, the amount of skin ceramides increased.
What is pycnogenol? It is a standardized tract of pine bark extract that is known to have high antioxidant properties. How does it relate to skin dryness? Studies show that it could significantly improve skin hydration. In a study conducted on post-menopausal women, researchers found that 12 weeks of pycnogenol supplementation improved skin hydration and elasticity. How did it do this? Pycnogenol changed DNA expression so that you get more enzymes that form hyaluronic acid (a protein that helps retain water). So cool!
Collagen & Water
If you have been following my blog or Instagram account for a while, you know that I am a fan of collagen. Studies show that collagen is effective at increasing hydration and reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Studies also show that collagen works even better when combined with vitamin C since it is a necessary cofactor in laying down collagen in the body. However, I always tell people to make sure that they drink at least half their body weight in ounces of water since collagen acts like a sponge. The better hydrated you are, the better collagen is at keeping your skin hydrated. There are also other great minerals and nutrients that interplay with collagen, that you can learn about here in one of my past blogs.
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Heal from the Outside-In
Studies show that a variety of factors come into play when talking about dry skin and cleansers. From how basic or acidic a cleanser is to what the cleanser is mainly made of, these factors can determine how dry a person's skin could become after cleansing. Studies show that when cleansers have high pH, it can lead to over-hydration of the skin while cleansing, but after drying, it can lead to excessive evaporation and to the sensation of tightness and dryness. Why? This happens because the soap in the cleanser reduces the ability of the skin to hold on to water.
In a review, the best cleansers for dry skin were:
Body washes (since it can cleanse and moisturize at the same time)
Cleansing oil (especially great for very dry skin)
Oils & Moisturizers
Sure, you know that oils are effective at helping with dry skin. But, here's what science has to say. A study done on patients with psoriasis and eczema showed that a mixture of honey, beeswax, and olive oil reduced the severity of dryness, itching, and other symptoms in those patient populations. Research also shows that coconut oil is as effective and as safe as mineral oil at increasing skin hydration in those with mild to moderate skin dryness. Another study done with a moisturizer with Ice Plant (Potentilla erecta) root extract showed that it significantly increased skin hydration in children with a predisposition to eczema. Last study on oils and moisturizers: a study investigating raspberry on skin hydration showed that the raspberry plant (Rubus idaeus) has the potential to alleviate skin hydration by coaxing cellular DNA to make proteins that increase hydration. Isn't that so cool?!
We've talked about it before. Yup, you can eat ceramides, and yup, you can apply them too. You can literally treat your skin from the inside-out and outside-in with ceramides. Studies show that topically applying ceramides helped the skin retain hydration better since topical ceramides increase the thickness of the lipid barrier in the skin.
Hyaluronic Acid and PRP
What is hyaluronic acid? It's a protein naturally made in the skin to help increase hydration. It basically acts like a sponge and absorbs water well (much like collagen in the skin). Studies show that hyaluronic acid can help increase skin hydration when applied topically. Research also indicates that when hyaluronic acid was combined with PRP and microneedling, it positively changed skin texture in study subjects.
Several studies show the positive impacts of topical cannabinoids on skin inflammation. Studies looking at the effect of topical cannabinoids on eczema showed that the anti-inflammatory compounds helped reduce the severity of eczema in animal models by increasing the rate of recovery of the epidermis. So, what does that mean? Topical cannabinoids can help reduce skin water loss by helping heal the skin faster in animal models with eczema. Studies also show that topical palmitoylethanolamide, a type of cannabinoid, can help with skin itching, eczema, and allergic itching.
That was a lot right? I mean, there is a lot to talk about when talking about dry skin. But, here are the main points:
Find the root cause first. There are several root causes to dry skin, and I listed some of the more common ones above.
Heal your skin from within with compounds that keep water in, help build collagen and help protect collagen. Phytoceramides help keep water in and collagen acts like a sponge in the skin. So, drink water!
Heal your skin from the outside-in with the right cleanser, the best natural moisturizers, and consider doing hyaluronic acid with PRP and microneedling
Find the root cause of your dry skin with me at Jupiter Naturopathic Wellness. I will identify the root cause with the use of the naturopathic intake, conventional physical exams, bioenergetic muscle testing, and basic and advanced lab work. Naturopathic treatments for dry skin may involve nutritional support, herbal medications, nutraceuticals, IV vitamin therapy, hormone replacement, and/or platelet-rich plasma treatment combined with natural topical treatments forfast, effective, and natural support. Schedule your 90-minute baseline naturopathic consultation with me here. And, if you have any questions, you know you can always contact me right here!
About the Author
Dr. Bryant Esquejo is a California-licensed naturopathic doctor practicing in the Silver Lake neighborhood in Los Angeles, California. You can book an appointment with him here and follow him on social media here.
He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Biology from San Diego State University in 2012 and his naturopathic medical degree from the National University of Natural Medicine in 2016. In his practice, he aims to help patients achieve optimal health and wellness by focusing on hormonal and thyroid health; adrenal dysfunction and stress-related chronic fatigue; gastrointestinal health; anxiety and depression; and nutrigenomics. He uses a variety of integrative modalities to assess and treat patients, such as bioenergetic muscle testing; advanced and basic functional laboratory assessment; therapeutic nutrition; lifestyle medicine; nutraceutical, vitamin, mineral, and herbal supplementation; intravenous micronutrient therapy; and energetic medicines, such as constitutional homeopathy and flower essences.
This article was previously published on Dr. Esquejo’s blog.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. There are no financial ties to any supplement companies, pharmaceutical companies, or to any of the products mentioned in this post. This post is not meant to treat, cure, prevent, or diagnose conditions or diseases and is meant for educational purposes. As always, please consult your doctor before trying any new treatments or supplements.
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