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Keira Barr
Image by mbg creative / Contributor
October 28, 2020

Here at mindbodygreen, we like to look at skin care from a holistic point of view—slathering on products certainly has a time and place, but skin care doesn't only run skin-deep. After all, skin health touches so many other aspects of well-being—anxiety, gut health1, even immunity2. That said, maintaining a healthy, balanced lifestyle is just as important for your skin as investing in a really good moisturizer.  

It's a notion board-certified dermatologist Keira Barr, M.D., can certainly get behind. As she shares on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast, there are a host of factors that can affect your glow, not all of them sequestered to the bathroom sink. Below, Barr explains three simple ways to upgrade your skin care routine—and you'll see there's not a product in sight: 

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Rather, breathe intentionally. We've discussed at length how your breath affects stress and anxiety—but it's for those exact reasons Barr loves breathwork for skin care. "Your skin can reflect what you're seeing on the inside, and what you're feeling can be reflected on your skin," she says. In other words, your stress can manifest on your skin. You likely know this—stress acne, and all—but Barr urges us to understand that the same practices that calm racing thoughts can also calm inflamed skin. 

In fact, "Aside from being derived from the same embryonic tissue, the skin and brain are intimately connected," says Barr. "The skin has the exact same machinery3 to produce stress hormones, just like the brain." It only makes sense that stimulating the vagus nerve comes with skin-healthy benefits as well. 

It doesn't even have to be a formal sit-down practice: "Incorporate it into your skin routine," Barr says. "When washing face or applying serums, close your eyes and take deep breaths. It's a simple reset for your nervous system." 


Get moving. 

The post-workout glow is very much real. According to Barr, many of the visible signs of aging (i.e., fine lines, discoloration, uneven texture, et al.) are a result of higher mitochondrial oxidative stress. In comes movement: "One benefit of exercise is regulating the skin's mitochondrial function," she explains. "A study in 2015 showed there were chemical messengers produced by exercise, specifically IL-15, that stimulated mitochondrial function and improved the skin health tissue4. In just three months, because of this boost in the energy powerhouses of cells, there was a reduction in wrinkles." 

In terms of which workouts to focus on? Well, just getting up and moving is a win in Barr's book. However, she does cite a study on yoga's impact on the skin specifically (it also has significant effects on the stress response, which relates to our point above). "When there's excess sugar, it creates this process called glycation," Barr notes. "Advanced glycation end (AGE) products bind to collagen and make it more stiff and inelastic, and that shows up as wrinkles and fine lines." Yoga, it turns out, was found to reduce that glycation process5.

Of course, much more research is necessary before we can make a clear connection (although, Barr reveals, "I'd love to write a prescription for yoga"), but consider it a sign to get moving in any way you can. Any movement is better than none, says Barr.

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Eat skin-healthy foods. 

According to Barr, "It's not just about what you put on your skin—it's what you put in your body." Food can affect everything from your mood to your immunity to your stress and anxiety—it's no wonder the right snacks can also help you achieve a coveted glow. 

In terms of which foods to toss into your grocery cart, Barr suggests three nonnegotiables: You'll want foods that are high in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, and low in sugar. Let's start with that first category: "Because we are exposed to environmental stressors, you should fill your cart with foods that are rich in antioxidants," says Barr. Think fruits and veggies with vitamin C and E ("big antioxidants for skin health," Barr notes), like tomatoes, dark leafy greens, sweet potato, and butternut squash (which is chock-full of vitamin E and perfect for autumn!). 

In terms of anti-inflammatory, low-sugar finds, Barr is a big fan of wild-caught salmon—also for its omega-3s—and sardines. Finally, she's partial to nuts for skin health—specifically, Brazil nuts and almonds. Brazil nuts contain selenium, and "We know selenium is important for thyroid and skin repair," Barr says (specifically, the mineral can help regulate thyroid function). "And thyroid plays a significant role in metabolism and skin health6." Almonds, on the other hand, have their fair share of fatty acids and antioxidants, and one small study found that eating almonds on the daily reduced the severity of wrinkles in postmenopausal women. It'll likely be a long while before almonds become the snack for healthy aging, but it does highlight the power of food for skin health.  

The takeaway. 

Skin care isn't just about applying the right products—while topicals are important, other lifestyle factors weigh in as well. Namely, your stress levels, movement habits, and the foods on your plate all have a significant impact on your skin. Prioritize them all, and you'll be glowing inside and out.

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