This post is the first in a six-part series of blog posts on lifestyle factors (other than diet) that affect the skin. This series covers breathing, hydration, mindset, environmental toxin consumption like water quality, air quality, pesticides, and herbicides, sleeping, and alcohol consumption.
I decided to kick this series off with the foundation of life, breath. Breathing is something we often take for granted because it's something we do all day, every day. It is both non-voluntary but can also be voluntary. It's the one thing that we can't go for more than just a few minutes without doing! But, as most of us have started to see over the last few years, breath is so much more than what we previously thought it was. Controlled breathing indirectly stimulates the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve that connects our brain to almost every organ in our body. Breathwork has many scientifically-backed benefits, including reducing anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and more! Studies show that breathwork reduces the stress hormone cortisol levels; it can lower blood pressure, improve brain focus, and support pain management! Breathwork is also a great practice to take up if you want to support your skin's health. Check out any professional breathwork facilitator on google, and you will notice they all have freakishly good skin.
My journey with breathwork related to the skin began with a breathwork workshop I went here in Denver. Immediately after, my skin felt ALIVE. It felt so healthy and looked glowy. I have had eczema on and off throughout most of my life. At this time, I was having a severe bout of it. The next day, my skin looked better, and I saw a massive decrease in the inflammation. Since then, I have incorporated some controlled breathing almost every day in my meditation practice because I truly believe it makes me feel and look my best.
Breathing helps you release trauma and pent-up emotions. Here's where I am going to get more woo-woo. Based on my decade and a half of working directly with folks as they try to wrangle their skin issues, emotions manifest in many ways physically. One of these ways is on the skin. One of the many reasons I dealt with eczema was that fear is a driving emotion for me. Long story short, after doing some intense inner work (including breathing exercises), I started addressing the underlying fear, which helped heal my eczema.
Breathing increases blood flow to the neck and the face. Breathing improves digestion. It also helps support improved lymphatic flow. Of course, as previously discussed, deep breathing reduces cortisol (an increase in cortisol can negatively impact acne). Through all of these benefits, we see a significant glow-up for the skin!
It is essential to note that there are two types of breathing; chest breathing and abdomen breathing. Abdominal or diaphragm breathing is the type of breathing we want to strive for. Belly breathing starts in the nose, moves to the abdomen as the belly rises, then falls as the breath exits the nose or the mouth. This type of breathing is where we receive the benefits. Shallow chest breathing is restrictive and can increase the stress response. So aim for that deep belly breathing.
Some of my favorite breathing exercises include:
Begin each breathing technique by finding a comfortable spot to sit with an alert but relaxed posture. Begin by noticing the breath where it is—inhaling through the nose, exhaling through the mouth. Start to deepen the breath, feeling the rise and fall of the belly. Bedding with a deep exhale through the mouth.
Equal breathing: Inhale 1,2,3. Exhale 1,2,3. Repeat three times.
Triangle Breathing: Inhale 1,2,3. Suspend your breath 1,2,3. Exhale 1,2,3 Repeat 3 times.
Box Breathing: Inhale 1,2,3,4. Suspend your breath 1,2,3,4. Exhale 1,2,3,4. Repeat four times.
4-7-8 Breathing: Inhale 1,2,3,4. Suspend your breath 1,2,3,4,5,6,7. Exhale 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8. Repeat 4 times.
Alternate Nostril Breathing or Nadi Shodhana: Place the middle finger of the right hand between the brows. Exhale 1,2,3. Use your right thumb to close your right nostril. Inhale through the left nostril 1,2,3. Close your left nostril with your right-hand ring or pinky finger. Open your right nostril and exhale 1,2,3. Close the right nostril. Open the left nostril inhale through the left 1,2,3. Repeat five times or more.
Lion's breath (also helpful because this releases tension in the chest, neck, and face):
*Note: Be cautious practicing controlled breathing if you have any respiratory issues such as asthma or emphysema. Before starting a new breathwork practice, consult your trusted medical professional to make sure it is right for you. One should not substitute the previous information in this post for medical advice or care as it is presented for educational purposes only.
Winter can feel cold, dark, and lonely, or it can be an invitation to align with the season and appreciate the beauty of it. Find the warmth and experience this time of year with ease by going within and doing work to soothe your mind and body in nurturing ways with a hobby or a project or connecting with loved ones. Permitting yourself to move slower is essential to re-emerge in the spring, rested and rejuvenated. During this time of year, our skin can feel dry. Humidity in the air outdoors drops with the temperature. We get a second punch as artificial heat in the house also creates a more dry climate. Below you will find my top tips to love on your skin and to enjoy the season!
Herbal folk medicines are also known as "the people's medicine." I love herbal medicine because it is a fun way to feel empowered with your health! Be aware that there are contraindications with all plants to explore and decide if an herb is right for you.
Marshmallow is highly anti-inflammatory, demulcent, and emollient, meaning it moisturizes tissue both internally and topically. It is deeply wound healing. Because of this, marshmallow is a fantastic herb for the skin! You could infuse oil for topical use (find my recipe here) or consume it internally in a tea. Unfortunately, the modern marshmallow is not medicine, but today's marshmallows do have herbal "roots." (Pun intended). According to the book Viable Herbal Solutions:
"Nineteenth-century doctors extracted juice from the marshmallow plant's roots and cooked it with egg whites and sugar, then whipped the mixture into a foamy meringue that later hardened, creating a medicinal candy used to soothe children's sore throats. Eventually, advanced manufacturing processes and improved texturing agents eliminated the need for the gooey root juice. Unfortunately, that eliminated the confection's healing properties as a cough suppressant, immune system booster, and wound healer." Today, marshmallows contain corn syrup or sugar, gelatin, gum arabic, and flavoring.
There are three parts of the oat plant with medicinal value; the actual oats, the seed in its early form before it becomes an oat, and the straw. Internally, oat is a star repairing tissue in the nervous system, and oat straw tea has become one of my go-to herbs when I feel anxious or stressed. It is even known to be beneficial for insomnia! Additionally, oat straw is rich in minerals that help to improve hair, skin, and nails. In tea form, steep overnight, and you can mix in other companion herbs to taste!
Burdock is powerfully nourishing to the lymphatic system, a blood cleanser, highly detoxifying, and a potent anti-inflammatory. It is no surprise that skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and acne! It may also relieve dandruff and improve your hair. Fun fact, burdock was the inspiration for the invention of Velcro! Burdock has tiny burrs, seeds with hundreds of small hooks. In 1941 the inventor of Velco was hunting with his dog in the Alps when he noticed these burrs kept getting hooked in his dog's fur. One thing led to another, he became obsessed, and 14 years later, he filed a patent. The root of the burdock plant is the part used medicinally, and you can brew this in a tea or take it in tincture form for the benefits described above! Burdock root is generally safe. However, large doses may stimulate the uterus, and of course, avoid if you have daisy/sunflower family allergies.
Broth is a gut healing, mineral-rich cup of magic.
Whether you incorporate vegetable or bone stock, homemade is going to be best. Vegetable broth feeds the body with essential minerals from organic vegetables and electrolytes, both highly restorative to all organs, including the skin. I like to make a big pot of vegetable broth once a week and portion it into jars so that I always have some on hand to heat up and drink some as a snack at some point each day.
Butternut Squash is high in vitamin A and Vitamin C, two essential vitamins for healthy skin. Vitamin A is responsible for new tissue growth and for keeping the skin moisturized. At the same time, vitamin C is vital to the formation of new collagen! Butternut squash can be cubed and drizzled with a little oil and salt and roasted, or can be easily used to make a filling and delicious fall and wintertime soup or chili!
Pumpkin Seeds are the quintessential snack for this time of year. They are chock-full of nutrients, including essential fatty acids (EFA's). EFA's are beneficial for natural skin lubrication, skin supporting and healing minerals like zinc and magnesium, as well as anti-aging antioxidants! '
Visit my blog for healthy skin recipes, including these foods and more at stratumaesthetics.com!
One of the best ways to support healthy skin hydration is with a humidifier. Our skin has a natural layer of oil, lipids, and sweat on the surface that lubricates acts as a protective barrier, and holds moisture. This layer needs extra love during the colder months when the air outside is dry. We have indoor heating, which can reduce humidity in the air as skin-supporting air in your home becomes too dry. The skin has a more challenging time holding in moisture.
A humidifier adds water moisture to the air. This added moisture supports the skin's barrier layer and improves sleep, reduces dry eyes, lubricates the nasal passages, and much more. Be sure to clean your humidifier regularly to prevent bacteria and other microbes!
Our body tends to crave more sleep this time of year. Unfortunately, for some, the change in circadian rhythms as the seasons change can increase insomnia. Practicing good sleep hygiene is crucial to healthy glowing skin. Skin can repair and regenerate the best as we are sleeping. Collagen production increases during the evening hours, and damage repair is activated. If we are not sleeping well, our body is using this regenerating energy elsewhere, and our skin suffers.
Oils to incorporate
Oils are sacred and used for centuries to protect and lubricate the skin. Anointing oils in traditional cultures have been considered the dwelling place of the Gods. We have a long history with them because even on the most primal level, we know that coating our hide feels good! This coating feels especially good as the seasons' change. Applying oil helps to hold in moisture. Different skin types benefit from different oil types, and some oils that help one skin type can be problematic for other skin types. As a rule of thumb, oily skin types naturally produce a fatty acid called oleic acid. They can be deficient in a fatty acid called linoleic acid.
In contrast, the opposite is true for dry skin types that are generally deficient in oleic acid. You can look up the oils' fatty acid profile in your skincare to see if an oil is right for you. It is essential to look at the overall formulation. For example, a moisturizer with avocado oil high in oleic acid may also pair with hemp seed oil high in linoleic acid and become a well-balanced formulation that will not affect some with oily skin in a negative way. Still, you know that overall, your oily acne prone skin will respond better to linoleic acid. Adding appropriate oils to your moisturizer, or as a final step to seal or lock in moisture, can make all the difference during the winter.
Eyes and lips
The skin around the eyes and the lips is thinner and more vulnerable this time of year as the air's humidity drops. Protect them with nourishing products like this eye cream and this lip treatment.
It may be tempting to want to remove "lizard skin" during the cold months. Still, I promise that overly exfoliating your skin too often or with harsh scrubs or acids will only make things worse. The skin may become even drier and more flakey; at this point, it's easy to think that you need to exfoliate even more. Our uppermost layer of skin cells is often discussed as a dead layer and seen as unnecessary. This thought isn't quite right, though. In reality, healthy skin sloughs naturally and releases the top cells as necessary. If this were true, the millions who have never exfoliated would be walking around with loads of excess skin on their bodies. (I'm thrilled this is not a thing) These "dead" skin cells that remain on the surface are quite crucial for holding moisture in. Without them, the skin becomes dehydrated more quickly.
Don't forget the body.
Don't forget to moisturize the rest of your body! Just because you're wearing jeans and boots, it doesn't mean your legs should be scaley! I love applying a good body oil right after the shower. You can customize this with your favorite essential oils (vetiver and frankincense is a favorite blend for me)! Check out this yummy body oil!
Move your lymph with massage.
We tend to move less in the winter, which can stagnate our energy and our bodies. Topical skincare is not enough for healthy skin. Moisturizers and serums, and eye creams can be very beneficial, but equally important is taking your beauty routine beyond skin deep. The lymph can is like the waste management system of the body. Lymph is a colorless fluid that similarly flows through the body as the blood flows just below the skin's surface like a river. It intertwines with our immune system and our circulatory system. Unlike blood, lymph doesn't have a pump. We do things like moving, breathing, and self-massage to keep this waste management system flowing, rather than pooling like a mucky, dirty pond. It takes toxins and debris and filters them out of the body. 30% of this system is in our neck and our head that; 's a large portion of our body! When this river isn't flowing, our skin can look dull, flakey, wrinkled, congested, dehydrated, and dry. Moving lymph through 10 minutes of self-massage will bathe the cells in the fresh, clean fluid. Still, it will hydrate the cells and increase blood circulation below the skin, making the skin appear brighter, younger, and more glowy. All you have to do is apply a skin-loving oil and gently massage. The massage should move from the inside of the face to the outside of the face. DO whatever feels right to you, but if you still feel confused, head over to stratumaesthetics.com and check out my video tutorials!
Surfactants are molecules that spontaneously bond with each other to form sealed bubbles. WUT?? These are ingredients in almost every cleanser that are a type of detergent. They break up and break down oil to remove it from the surface and dry them to the skin. If your skin feels sensitive, tight, dry, one option is to skip cleansing and allow the skin to do its natural thang. I am not telling you to go to sleep with your makeup on, DO NOT do that. Instead, skip the cleanse step in the morning and instead swipe with a hydrating tonic or a hydrosol. I LOVE the Apoterra tonics both the neroli and the rose. Another option is to oil cleanse. Oil cleansing is a straight up game changer. Oil attracts oil, so it acts like a magnet to pick up pollution, stale oils, sweat, makeup, anything on the surface of the skin that you want to remove. Additionally, oil cleansers are free of surfactants so rather than breaking down the barrier of the skin, oil cleansers support the integrity of that barrier. You can find my favorite oil cleanser here.
Face masks can be a great way to infuse the skin with bursts of concentrated active ingredients. Face masks can be nourishing, moisturizing, detoxifying, or exfoliating. During the winter, I enjoy increasing my skin's health and hydration with a nourishing and hydrating mask. Hydrating masks generally comes in the form of a gel base or cream base. These masks can be beneficial for all skin types, but don't forget ingredients are essential. Check the ingredients to make sure they are right for your skin type. As a rule of thumb, for oily, acne-prone skin, gel-based masks are more appropriate, and for mature or dry skin types, cream-based masks are more suitable. Finally, let's not discount good old reliable, Raw Honey. Honey is the OG of face masks and truly benefits all skin types. Honey gently exfoliates without disrupting the barrier layer, draws healthy hydration, deeply heals impactions, and destroys unwanted bacteria that cause breakouts! My favorite honey mask can be found here.
Baths! Keeping the body warm in cold months
Baths or trips to the sauna increase the body's internal temp, which does wonders for our health and skin, especially when it's cold outside.
Increasing this internal temperature increased blood circulation. Increased temperature helps to support the immune system in our skin, which fights off acne-causing bacteria. Bathing supports the nervous system and reduces stress. Stress signals hormones like cortisol, which can wreak havoc on the skin. Additionally, you can enhance your bath by adding minerals, and oils that support the skin.
Don't let the winter blues get your skin down. All of these suggestions can be easily incorporated an your body will thank you for it. And don't forget, spring is just around the corner!
The tea blend I'm sharing today is right in line for the season of love! This blend is meant to open your heart, but also support the physical heart, the cardiovascular system, the nervous system, and the reproductive system.
Damiana is a yang nourishing plant, a nervine (supports the nervous system), antidepressant, anxiolytic (reduces anxiety), stimulant, balances hormones, a reproductive tonic, and an aphrodisiac. For the skin, ingesting damiana can improve glow as it is rich in vitamin C which is a co-enzyme for collagen product, and a powerful antioxidant that helps reduce and prevent damage from the sun, modern living, stress, poor diet and more.
Rose Hips are the fruit or the seed pod of the rose plant found just below the petals and are a rich source of vitamin C (again this is essential in the production of collagen). Much like marshmallow root, when used in tea rose hips are mucilaginous and coat the mucous membranes with internal moisture and hydration. They are supportive to the cardiovascular system as they tone and enhance the integrity.
Hawthorn Berry also comes from the rose family and is beneficial to treat a broken heart, depression, and anxiety, but are is also know for its cardioprotective properties. It is know to help support the heart and used in cases of high blood pressure , heart attacks, familial history of heart problems.
Oat straw is another powerful nervous system supportive herb filled with vitamins and minerals. This has been added to balance the astringent (tissue tightening) properties of the other herbs, and to nourish the body and spirit. Used over time this gentle herb is helpful for mental health, and to rebuild the nervous system. (This had been a great plant ally to me during tumultuous times)!
Rose petals, cinnamon, and orange peel give this tea a beautiful bright, floral, citrusy, and spicy flavor!
Red Hot Valentine’s Tea Blend
2 parts organic dried damiana
2 parts organic dried rose hips
2 parts organic dried hawthorn berry
1 park organic dried oat straw
1 part organic dried rose petals
½ part organic dried cinnamon chips
½ part organic fresh or dried orange peel (I used fresh diced peel)
½ part organic dried licorice root (for a slight sweetness, if you dislike licorice flavor, omit and add a small amount of honey after steeping)
Mix together. (If you are using fresh orange peel as I did, add this to the next step, do not store with the dried herbs as this will create mold).
Add 2 TBSP to a french press, muslin bag, or tea infuser (giving the tea room to expand).
Add 2 cups of boiling water.
Steep for 15-20 minutes.
*note that damiana is a stimulant and a diuretic so it is best not to drink immediately before sleep.
Emily Davis is the owner of Stratum Aesthetics and has been a licensed esthetician since 2007. She is a holistic esthetician specializing in cannabis skin care.