Looking our best can come with a high price tag in today’s society, we have tons of choices; from topical care infused with gold and diamonds, to medical treatments and surgery, holistic treatments and any one of thousands of facials, for some these are the Holy Grail of anti-aging skincare and looking great, but for others treatments fall short time and time again. I see this in my clinic in San Rafael, some patients respond very well to their Cosmetic Facial Acupuncture treatments whereas some might not see results or the results are too little. Some patients come in complaining that anything and everything they've tried hasn't worked, so helping my patients gauge whether the treatment will work for them is part of my intake process, so that I can help decode what might be going on that could hinder the results, it's why holistic skincare is so important!
The skin is the largest organ in our body, and as many are aware by now: what goes in and what’s going on in our body becomes our body, and this includes the skin. Anything from stress to digestion can have an effect on the appearance of our skin, and this also plays a role in why and how our skincare routines work, or don’t. Here are 5 common reasons your skincare isn’t producing a satisfying result, and what you can do to solve it!
#1 - Your Stress Management Strategies Aren’t Working So Well
A stressed out system is consistently engaged in the sympathetic nervous system - what we commonly call ‘fight or flight,’ the thing is, this system can be triggered by something as seemingly benign as a phone call or an email, so it’s no wonder we are a society of over-stressed individuals. When we’re living in the sympathetic nervous system, we don’t have time to fully engage the parasympathetic nervous system, and this is where our body has the chance to repair and regenerate itself. The parasympathetic nervous system is also associated with alpha and theta brainwave states and when we don’t get to experience these brainwave states, our body can’t repair itself at the same rate at which it’s being used. If we’re consistently in that fight or flight mode and beta brainwave patterns, not only are we taxing our entire system, but it’s slowly becoming impossible for the body to repair itself which makes any skincare regimen almost obsolete. Experiencing longer periods of parasympathetic nervous system engagement means that our body can naturally repair itself and this means the skin too!
How can we solve this? The answer is unique to every individual, however it’s also quite simple: remove stressful triggers or yourself from stressful situations as much as possible and learn how to manage stress more efficiently. The former part of this solution can be very difficult, we can’t just quit our stressful job, move or just check out when the kids are getting unruly. The latter piece is something we have a lot more control over: learning how to manage stress better. This takes patience, perseverance and practice as the techniques to increase our capacity to deal with stress and manage the stress we do experience with more ease require consistent attention. Meditation, some types of therapy, acupuncture, exercise and mindfulness practices are all good places to start our path to less stress, but more importantly a greater ability to process stress. All of these treatments help us access our parasympathetic nervous system, alpha and theta brainwave states and ultimately improve the appearance of our skin!
#2 - You Are Dehydrated
Simple right? Dehydration, of course! Hydrated skin looks healthy, plump and full of energy, when we are dehydrated these qualities start to fade. Think of a grape vs a raisin, it’s obvious how dehydration can contribute to wrinkles and a dull appearance. If you’ve been on a camping trip to the desert you may have experienced what dehydration can do in a very obvious way, but chronic low grade dehydration we are usually completely unaware of.
While 8 glasses of water a day is recommended, it’s actually not ideal, instead let’s think of that as a bare minimum. The ideal amount of water we can calculate with a common formula: ½ your body weight (lbs) in ounces / day. That’s right, not 64 ounces (8 glasses), but ½ your body weight in ounces, meaning if you weigh 200 lbs that’s 100 ounces of water, almost twice the common recommend amount. Yes, fizzy water counts toward this goal, but caffeinated beverages do not - caffeine is a diuretic, which means it actually makes you less hydrated when you have it. When we improve our daily hydration the skin will literally bounce back, and this can enhance the ability of our external treatments to be effective. Moisturizers only keep moisture in, they don’t ass moisture, so when our skin is hydrated from the inside out, anything we use topically and any treatments we get will be more likely to produce desired results.
#3 You’re in Pain
Think about the last time you stubbed your toe, and the face you made when it happened: scrunched up and short of breath at the pain of whacking the edge of the coffee table. What if that was going on 24/7? While most people aren’t stubbing their toes 24/7, many people are in pain 24/7, whether it’s frequent migraines, fibromyalgia, unresolved injuries, arthritis or one of countless other conditions that cause chronic pain, pain is pain, and it causes a major stressor to our entire body; including the skin. We may be tense in muscles all over the body aside from just where the pain is located, including the face, which can contribute to some types of wrinkles, but more importantly being in pain means our body is working over time. Pain is a stressor, so as we know from topic #1 - Stress, this plays a big role in how healthy and vibrant our skin appears.
Chronic pain can seem hopeless, it’s not something that changes overnight, and sometimes rarely changes at all. It’s important to remember to do things that make you happy and feel joyful, this alone can change our appearance. If you’re feeling stuck like nothing is working, I encourage you to think way outside the box when it comes to treatments or lifestyle changes. Maybe acupuncture is a good match, chiropractic care, reiki or qi gong, therapy and hypnotherapy, a new activity you haven’t tried before, meditation and mindfulness. Sometimes with chronic pain, the best we can do is change our perspective to pain when we’re finding little relief to the pain itself, this can often be the greatest healing intention: shifting our perspective.
#4 - Your Digestion (and Diet) Aren’t Working for You
What goes in our body becomes our body, and that means our skin too. Poor digestion, whether sluggish bowel movements or digestion that’s too quick can impact our skin negatively. If we aren’t getting the nutrients we need from our food this can cause dull looking skin, skin that doesn’t respond to treatments, congested skin and even discoloration and increased fine lines and wrinkles. Every body is different and requires a different ratio of nutrients and foods to work at its most optimum level. While a vegan diet may work for some, keto is the answer for others and for all it's about a proper BALANCE of nutrition and healthy foods, it’s important to not get hung up on the diet itself and remember that we have to fuel our body with the right fuel for our specific needs in order to get it running in the best way possible.
When we’re in that sweet spot of the right diet and good digestion people will notice a change in the skin as one of the first beneficial side effects of making that shift. Not sure where to start? Consulting with a professional is always a good first step, a nutritionist, dietician, acupuncturist, chiropractor, naturopath and even your MD are all great resources for getting things back on track. Don’t forget lab work as a critical step in this process, sometimes the underlying cause of digestive issues isn’t diet but hormones or auto-immune dysfunctions, it’s important to cover all the bases and treat the root.
#5 - You’re Restraining Your Emotions
Our body is an immaculate design, and emotions are feelings that aren’t just in our heads, they are visceral feelings in the body itself. Enzymes, hormones and neurotransmitters are all responsible for our emotions, so what happens if we don’t express them? When we repress an emotion, or don’t fully express it; like when we’re mad at our boss but can’t actually let out our anger at him, and then don’t let it out at the gym later on, those chemicals in the brain and body responsible for that anger then build up and while some are processed some are stored. If we do this too much, that excess build up will start to affect us physically. And yes, that means the skin too! A sallow complexion, dull eyes and fine lines or congested skin can all be related to emotions, and due to that stuck energy in the body any topical treatment is likely to be underwhelming in terms of efficacy. In Chinese Medicine we refer to the spirit or the soul as the Shen, and it plays a big role in how we appear to others, the brightness of our eyes and the presence of our spirit in our body, when we've had trauma or long term depression, anxiety or mental illness the body can't hold the Shen in the body and it can affect our appearance.
What to do? Again, this is unique to the individual so seek out what feels right for you. Perhaps some emotions are too intense to want to jump into therapy with, in which case exercise may be a great first step, or acupuncture and massage. Get the body moving to break up those blockages. And when you’re ready look into a therapist you vibe with, remember there are lots of types of therapy, so if you don’t like one person try another! Hypnotherapy and meditation can also be very helpful.
Dr. Kim Peirano, DACM, LAc is the Owner and Acupuncturist at Lion's Heart Wellness, the San Francisco Bay Area and Marin's #1 Cosmetic Acupuncturist and #1 Holistic Healer.