When you think “detox,” you probably think liver—the body’s primary cleansing organ. But to discern whether a cleanse is in order, check your complexion. “Your skin is your body’s largest organ of elimination and detoxification,” says Linda Page, PhD, author of Healthy Healing (Healthy Healing, 2011). As toxins build up in your kidneys, liver, and bloodstream, you may experience external inflammation.
The skin is a backup for the other elimination organs, Page explains. If toxins overload your colon or your liver can’t efficiently filter impurities coming from the digestive tract, your skin tries to compensate by releasing toxins through the surface. “It sweats them out, or throws them off through skin rashes or even abscesses,” says Page.
In addition to skin conditions such as acne, psoriasis, eczema, and rosacea, toxic-overload signs include skin discoloration like dark under-eye circles and brown mottled spots, forehead wrinkles, and lackluster complexion. “Over time, our bodies collect toxins in much the same way a bicycle wheel collects rust. All of that toxicity contributes to weight gain, wrinkles, breakouts, and dull skin, hair, and nails,” says Kimberly Snyder, CN, author of The Beauty Detox Solution (Harlequin, 2011).
Build a cleansing regimen
Just as toxins escape your body via skin, they can also enter your body topically. “Giving up the majority of the toxin-filled, clogging skin care products and makeup that most people use every day is one way to detox your skin,” says Snyder. Eliminate body care products with synthetics like parabens, phthalates, and petroleum byproducts. Then check with an aesthetician to determine if you’re simply using too many products, which can clog pores or irritate your skin.
When choosing detoxifying products for skin, look for plant-based ingredients that work synergistically when applied topically and ingested. Pair facial washes, lotions, or masks with supplements or beverages containing chlorella, neem, seaweed, aloe vera, or green or white tea. These nutrient-rich ingredients increase circulation to eliminate toxins from the skin and other organs. A natural herbal sea salt scrub and a volcanic ash or red clay mask will also draw out impurities and bacteria from the skin’s surface.
Feed your skin
Good nutrition is critical to a healthy complexion, says Snyder, especially when you need to detox. And the right cleansing foods not only reduce toxins but also support collagen, the protein that keeps skin looking youthful. “As you loosen the toxic sludge from your body, your energy will automatically increase because your body is able to perform digestive and other functions efficiently,” Snyder says. Your body can then use that energy to repair the collagen in your skin and grow healthier hair and stronger nails.
Start by ditching sugars, refined carbohydrates, red meat, and overly processed foods—all of which can attack collagen and lead to acne-causing inflammation. Then drink detoxifying green tea and purified water throughout the day (at least eight glasses), along with a greens smoothie daily. Digesting important nutrients in this blended form requires less energy, which means the body can devote more energy to restoring skin cells. And favor beverages between meals rather than during them because liquids dilute digestive enzymes to make digestion slower and more difficult, says Snyder.
During meals, eat detoxifying veggies, like dark leafy greens, daikon radish, and broccoli, which are best raw or lightly steamed to preserve water content. In addition to helping flush waste from the body, vegetables such as these can increase skin’s “intracellular water,” which supports skin-cell health and collagen production, according to Howard Murad, MD, author of The Water Secret (Wiley, 2010).
Snyder also recommends regularly noshing on raw foods for their skin- and digestive-supportive enzymes. “Enzymes perform thousands of functions in the body, including repairing and preventing wrinkles, evening out your skin tone, and contributing to smooth, youthful skin,” says Snyder. Also, loading up on probiotics from foods and supplements promotes good digestion, eliminates bad gastrointestinal bacteria, and increases energy to improve overall skin health. Other key supplements for skin detox include antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E; curcumin; omega-3 fatty acids; coconut oil; fiber; and evening primrose oil.