How to have beautiful skin

Hello!  I have been a primary care provider in Juneau Alaska for 30+ years, as well as a health writer, yoga enthusiast/instructor, musician and lover of the great outdoors.  My professional focus is on wellness; I particularly enjoy helping patients achieve good health, with minimal or no medication if possible.  “Anything that can be healed by judicious diet and lifestyle should not be treated any other way” is a wise maxim attributed to Hippocrates (460-370 BC, Greek).

I started writing a series of columns for Senior Voice Alaska in 2022 which will present an introduction to the principles of naturopathic medicine, which predates pharmaceutical approaches to healthcare by several centuries.  As little as 100 years ago pretty much everyone on the (much more  sparsely populated) planet ate local and organic.  That’s all there was!  While it certainly is great fun, even mind-blowing, to visit other cultures and sample other cuisines, getting food shipped all around the world has led to great waste and the need for preservatives.  As the demand for food has grown, the pressure on our arable soils have diminished their own health and nutrient value.  Alaska is not the easiest place to eat locally and organic, but it’s certainly more feasible than 30 years ago.  Look for your local farmer’s markets; even folks who grow greens year-around hydroponically.  Or try out your own green thumb — even if only for leafy herbs and cherry tomatoes.

This column will introduce basic techniques for skin care.  The skin is the largest organ in the body and provides a highly effective barrier between the outside environment and internal structures such as the subcutaneous fat, blood vessels and nerves, and the organs and glands.  Skin is by nature lipophilic, which means it loves fat, needs fat, is “water proof” and is constantly renewing itself.  Most of the house dust in your home is from the shedding of the uppermost surface of the skin, the epidermis.  That’s great!  We are constantly renewing our skin and that’s why it can last a lifetime!  But it gets thinner and more vulnerable as we age.  Since my purpose as I, and my patient population, inevitably ages, to promote graceful longevity.  Here are the two wellness tips for today:

1) Dry skin brushing.  This is absolutely the finest bath for your skin.  Soap is actually fairly irritating.  The natural chemical in soaps (saponins) work by being a bit abrasive.   Minimize your use of soap.  Just the hairy parts, a few times a week should suffice.  Unless you really stepped into a mud puddle or spend the afternoon working on a greasy engine without wearing gloves (not advised!).  It’s a little weirder for men, because of having more body hair, but starting your day with brushing your skin, dry, with a long-handled brush is the top reason I look younger than my age today.  It feels great!  I start naked in the bathroom with circular strokes on my abdomen.  Looking down, it’s a clockwise (to the right from just above pubic bone) motion, mimicking the direction of the large intestine.  Next, sweeping up under the breasts (women: this is a good time to do a quick check in with breast tissue as well) and from the sides of the breasts.  Next up each arm, including the hands (gentle on the very sensitive dorsal side — which is the opposite of the palmar side) and then use the long handle to gently scrub down the back from the tops of the shoulders, then up the back from the buttocks to shoulder blades.  Next the legs.  I lift one foot to scrub the sole, or be seated on the edge of the tub for this part if it feel more secure.  Up the legs, 4-5 strokes to cover around the front and back, and maybe a little extra on the butt to get it a little pink.  This whole routine should take about 5-7 minutes.

2) Contrast hydrotherapy.  This is a fundamental part of naturopathic medicine and involves stimulating the circulatory and lymphatic systems with alternating hot and cold water.  Always end with cold.  If you don’t have time in the morning to take an ankle-deep cold foot bath, you can chase your shower with 30 seconds of cold at the end.  This closes the pores, which helps protect your immune system in your skin, as well as provides a bracing “wake up” feeling that will stay with you for hours!  I enjoy running a shallow cold bath while skin brushing every morning, then walking in place in the cold water for 60 seconds while using a smaller finer-bristled brush to brush my face: up under the chin and upward strokes along jaw and cheeks, and out from the center of the brow as though smoothing out the central furrow lines.  Once you have adapted this habit and want more — sit down in the cold tub for a brief “sitz bath” that will really get you going!