Healthy skin, that is blemish free and regularly exhibits a vibrant complexion, is about more than the external application of topical products.

In fact, the health of your body’s biggest organ starts on the inside and is influenced by several factors, including intake of healthy fats, gut health and microbiota status, as well as your external living environment.

Understanding the role each of these plays and how to maximize their positive influence is the key to healthy, glowing skin.

The anatomical make-up of the skin, joining its accessory structures to constitute the body’s integumentary system, is a series of layers, which act as a protective barrier to the internal elements and organs of the body. The dermis layer of the skin contains a series of blood vessels, lymph vessels, hair follicles and sweat glands, many of which act as exit paths or pores from inside the body. The body’s natural methods of detoxification send fluids and waste out through these pores to the external environment to be eliminated.

Keeping the pores and skin functioning optimally is influenced by several factors, and failure to maximize the effectiveness of each of these can lead to acne, breakouts, dry skin and overall poor complexion.

One of the main factors that play a role in healthy skin is diet and nutrition. Many studies have shown the intersection between gut health and healthy skin, examining the influence of probiotics and prebiotics in optimizing skin health via the absence of skin conditions.

Most of the work of prebiotics and probiotics comes from their ability to modulate the immune system, whereby they can produce anti-microbial peptides which fight pathogens. Furthermore, the skin itself is made up of millions of microbes. Consuming adequate microbes in our diet is essential to replenish the skin microbiota and help ensure it remains in an optimal balance.

The argument for diet, however, goes beyond simply consuming gut-healthy foods and also addresses the role of healthy fats and other macro and micronutrients in our diet and how these impact the health of our skin.

A study looking at the intersection of diet and acne found support in improving skin health through the consumption of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Known as the essential fatty acids (EFAs), due to the body’s inability to make them internally, these have strong anti-inflammatory properties, playing a key role in secreting the desirable prostaglandins within the body. Prostaglandins are hormone-like substances that can dictate actions to be taken by specific organs and specific pathways.

When you reduce inflammation in the body, through adequate intake of EFAs, you optimize skin health by increasing the body’s amount of linoleic acid. This nutrient is a pre-cursor to EFA extraction and individuals who suffer from acne have been shown to be deficient in linolenic acid, indicating it is an essential component of the body’s pathway to generating normalized skin cells. In addition, further studies have shown that intervention with dietary lipids in those who are showing signs of skin irritation, can prove to be an effective treatment.

Obtaining adequate EFAs through diet is made very accessible through things such as fish, flaxseed and olive oil. Rich in Omega 6 and Omega 3, olive oil is a great plant-based oil selection to increase your intake of anti-inflammatory promoting fats, especially valuable given that for many people, fish may not be a food they choose to eat regularly.

But if you are consuming lots of olive oil, diligently working to maintain a healthy gut, and still finding yourself facing down unhealthy skin, here is one other factor which may be to blame: your living situation. That’s right, your cohabitants just might be causing your acne.

A recent study showed that household occupancy is associated with changes in the skin microbiota.

The first of its kind, the study investigated the relationship between the microbial environment of the resident, his/her co-habitants and other non-cohabitants, looking at how these physical human interactions or non-interactions could affect skin health. They showed that household occupancy is correlated with certain types of bacteria and the changes in bacterial diversity within the skin, and that can lead to both a positive and negative impact on the resident.

While further research is required to specify how to directly ensure the effect of cohabitants is beneficial, and not the cause of skin outbreaks, the foundation of this research showing that there is an impact on our skin health based on our day to day human interactions is fundamental. It offers a great deal of room for expansion and further research as we seek to understand how to obtain and maintain optimal skin health.

Whether through increased consumption of fat, improved cohabitant relationships or a more dedicated effort towards maximizing prebiotic and probiotic based gut health, being cognizant of your skin condition and environmental factors, as well as your daily dietary profile, is the first step in working to achieve optimal skin health.

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