I’ve been working on my nutrition and diet since August of this year, I do enjoy using coconut oil on my Ezekiel toast that I eat in the mornings with Avocado. I tried to eliminate all oils as part of my whole food plant-based diet, but my skin became too dry, so I’ve added it back in sparingly. Any other tips to prevent dry skin via my diet would be appreciated.
When it comes to dry skin, there are many reasons for it that go above and beyond just the diet, including certain lifestyle habits and changes in the climate in which we live. The elimination of oil alone from the diet should not have had an impact on your skin if there were enough fats and other required nutrients in the diet, as well as proper hydration. Many people today have lives that are very busy and continually adapting to new challenges. A multitude of factors is always present and acting upon us in both positive and negative ways. Thus, for the most comprehensive understanding of the root causes of dry skin, the following factors need to be considered to implement the most beneficial, effective, and sustainable solutions.
The first and most important lifestyle factor to consider for healthy skin is our hydration. What do we drink? When do we drink it? How much do we drink? Our skin texture and elasticity can greatly reflect our state of hydration. The most ideal fluid for the human body is water. Even though there is a much greater awareness of drinking water in today’s society, sadly, many people still do not get enough, as other beverages routinely take its place. Drinks with caffeine, sugar, dairy, alcohol, artificial flavors, and colors or similar additives are not beneficial for our health and not adequate for optimal hydration. On the contrary, some of these have a diuretic effect, while others put more strain on our already overwhelmed systems.
Water should be the drink of choice for optimal health of not only the skin, but of our entire system, organs, tissues, and cells. However, it cannot be just any water. Water needs to be clean, free of toxins and microbes, and have adequate mineral content. Water that is devoid of minerals, such as distilled water or reverse osmosis water, may create a fluid imbalance in the cells and interfere with proper hydration. This can commonly be experienced by people who drink a lot of water yet still feel symptoms of thirst and dryness like they always need more. However, this is also dependent on one’s diet and how mineral-rich it is and other health and lifestyle factors. Ultimately, we should seek and invest in the highest quality of water as our primary fluid each day, but also not fall prey to hype about most bottled water and specialty water, like alkaline water or smart water, which are not recommended. With the latter two, again, our diet should be the source of our vitamins, minerals, and alkalizing compounds, which is the most natural and balanced way to ingest them.
As for how much, that all depends on our height and weight, health, lifestyle and activity levels, and the climate in which we find ourselves. Typically, adults should drink a minimum of 1 to 2 liters or about 30 to 60 ounces of water per day. The larger and more active one is, and the hotter or drier the environment is, the more these amounts should be increased. However, it is also important not to overdrink but simply to be conscious of our needs. Here, too, we should depend on our diet and make it rich in fresh fruits and vegetables for a large portion of our water content.
Finally, water should not be chugged in large amounts but spread out throughout the day for the most effective hydration effects. It is beneficial to drink at least 1 to 2 cups (250 to 500mls) of water first thing in the morning upon rising and drink most of our water throughout the first two-thirds of the day. As for the temperature, it is best for our digestive system, energy, hydration, and overall health to drink room-temperature water, not refrigerated or icy water.
The next most crucial lifestyle factor to consider for healthy skin is the diet. While having the right amount of fat in the diet is important for healthy skin, it is just one factor and often does not have as much impact as other dietary and lifestyle habits. But speaking of fat, it is an essential nutrient and something we must have as part of an optimally healthy diet. On a whole food plant-based diet, this fat should come predominantly from raw nuts and seeds, avocados, coconuts, and olives, however, grains and some other plant foods will contribute a small amount of fats as well.
In this regard, it is valuable to emphasize that while fats are essential, oils are not. Oils are processed foods that unnaturally isolate a nutrient - fat, and are not something our body is used to by nature or requires. There is nothing that oils have that their whole plant food counterparts don’t have in a better form. As long as we are eating enough whole plant food fats, there should be no reason to need to fall back on any oils. For more information about this topic, please refer to my help article “Why oils are not part of a whole food plant-based diet?”
Practically speaking, consider these tips:
- Instead of olive oil on a salad or in a meal, add in some whole olives; instead of sunflower oil, add in some sunflower seeds, instead of avocado oil, add in some avocado. Use the same approach for any sesame oil, walnut oil, hemp oil, or flax oil.
- Instead of any oil-based salad dressings, make your own creamy nut or seed sauces.
- Instead of spreading coconut oil on a piece of bread, spread on some coconut butter (a whole food form of the coconut) or any other nut or seed butter. Sesame seed butter (tahini) is especially good for savory sandwiches, wraps, and meals.
- If an avocado is used on bread, in sandwiches or other meals, no other fats, like any oils, nut or seed butter, are needed. Avocado already provides a high amount of some of the best fats for us.
- If you need to increase the amount of saturated fat in your diet for any reason, rely on whole coconut. In its raw form, it makes a great snack all on its own. In its dried form, it can be added to oatmeal bowls, smoothie bowls, smoothies, and salads, and made into all kinds of healthy snacks and treats. Dried coconut with some fresh or dried fruit makes one of the yummiest spreads for toast) and pure dried coconut pieces, which are commonly sold today at health food stores, make a great crunchy and satisfying snack like a chip. Likewise, cacao butter is also high in saturated fat and can be used modestly as part of healthy chocolate.
- Enjoy a variety of savory spreads like hummus and baba ganoush, which both use tahini (sesame seed butter or paste), and when homemade can be made to be even richer and creamier.
Aside from fats, vitamin E is important to consider for healthy and adequately nourished skin, and the best sources of it can be found in many whole grains, nuts, seeds, and leafy greens. We don’t have to do anything special here, like seek out specific foods, and just eat a good variety of whole plant foods regularly. Given that all vitamins and minerals work synergistically, we also need to consider vitamin C, zinc, and copper amounts in the diet, which all work together to keep collagen denser and give us more plump and hydrated-looking skin.
Another important consideration is the amount of antioxidants in our diet and the levels of inflammation in our bodies. The more fruits and vegetables we have in our diet, the more nourishing, hydrating, healing, and protective our diet is for all areas of our health, including our skin. On the flip side, the more animals foods, refined foods, processed foods, and foods with isolated sugars, oils, and salt there are in our diet, the higher our levels of inflammation can be, which have effects both inside our body and on our body, as reflected by our skin. Speaking of salt, diets high in salt or sodium can have a very negative effect on our skin, causing some people’s skin to swell, while drying out the skin of others.
Here are a few other important factors, in addition to diet, that may be part of our lifestyle and which can harm and create dry skin:
- Type of personal care products. ALL conventional, commercial, personal care products are drying. Almost all contain one or more kinds of alcohol, as well as many drying chemicals like SLS. Conventional soaps and body washes are the worst in this regard. When we use such products, we are constantly stripping away the healthy oils and protective barriers on our skin, which is one of the most common reasons for dry skin problems in today’s society. To learn more, please refer to my article “10 Harmful Personal Care Ingredients to Avoid & How To Choose Truly Natural Products”. Instead, to heal your skin and prevent future problems, choose natural products that rely on nourishing ingredients, like shea butter, cacao butter, coconut oil, and almond oil, and avoid harsh, drying, and toxic ingredients. Here it is valuable to note that oils, like coconut oil are great ON our body, as opposed to in our body.
- Smoking. While it may be obvious that smoking should be avoided for good health and longevity, it is valuable to point out that smoking has a very harmful effect on our skin, which leads to premature aging and drying.
- Drugs. Aside from illegal/recreational drugs, which like smoking, have numerous negative effects on our health, here too, we must consider pharmaceutical drugs. Many people who are using certain over-the-counter and prescription medications do not realize that dry skin is a common side effect. For example, many high blood pressure drugs and cholesterol drugs are in this category. This is just another reason why it is so valuable to heal our bodies using the right diet and lifestyle factors so that we can avoid most, if not all, pharmaceutical drugs in our lives.
- Sleep. There is nothing about our body that is not made better or worse by the quality and quantity of our sleep. When we sleep, our body uses this time to detoxify, repair, balance, and heal itself. A chronic lack of sleep begins to compound many problems, and the body will always focus on dealing with or spending time on the most important healing and repair first, namely our vital organs. Skin, hair, and nails are always the last in line, and thus can provide visual clues about our overall health. We don’t see most of what is taking place inside of our body to assess how our health is doing, but these external parts are quickly able to tell us if our body is receiving proper nourishment and healing or not. So be sure to prioritize your sleep, as its vital role in the healing of every part of the body cannot be overemphasized.
4. Weather and Climate
The last factor that must be considered, which influences our hydration and skin health, is the climate in which we live. Both dry hot and dry cold climates can be very harsh on our skin. In such environments, it is necessary to focus on drinking enough, eating a hydrating, nourishing, and protective diet, as mentioned above, and using a natural, nourishing moisturizer, such as any natural oil. Avoid most, if not all, body lotions, as even the natural ones have alcohol ingredients, which lead to the drying of the skin and creating a dependency effect. Only oils, like olive oil and coconut oil, as well as fats like cacao butter and shea butter, can be depended on to truly nourish and protect the skin in such environments without exacerbating the dry skin problem.
One last thing that must be mentioned as part of this discussion is that our overall health and personal constitution must also be considered here, as some people have a much easier time balancing the fluids in their bodies than others. Some people, for example, can do all the “wrong” things and not suffer from any dry skin, while others experience dry skin as part of a seemingly “healthy” diet and lifestyle. In such latter cases, it is important to make an honest inventory of where our lifestyle strengths and weaknesses lie and improve or correct the areas that may be creating or adding to the problem. Stress and how we deal with it, which is outside of the scope of this article, but essential to factor in, too, will significantly influence how we use our life energy and how it impacts all the parts and processes in our body. Therefore, as with all parts of our health, both the problem and the solution are not singular, but multi-factorial and thus must be approached holistically for the most effective and sustainable results.
Keep in mind as well, that any positive diet or lifestyle changes we make will typically have numerous effects on the body that may cause it to get worse before it gets better. This is common to many detoxification reactions and healing reactions. The faster and the more drastic the changes that we make, the more symptoms and changes we are likely to see expressed by our bodies. Therefore, it is imperative to be patient with our bodies during these times of change, observe and monitor any changes or symptoms, but not jump to any conclusions. Whether a person is losing weight or healing inflammation or gaining energy, each of these is going to impact all areas of the body that will require it to re-adjust itself, including how it processes certain nutrients, how it balances its fluids, how it deals with toxins, and so much more. Our bodies are magnificent systems that know how to heal and balance themselves when we support them properly. Our job then is to help them as best as we can and be patient and loving with them as they go through any changes.