Have you ever experienced skin or health symptoms that you just can’t shake? Symptoms like breakouts, skin rashes, bloating, fatigue, mood swings have become so common that many people have settled on the idea that it’s just normal for them. While symptoms like this are common, it’s important to understand that they are not normal, and it is possible to improve them. The first thing you need to do is identify what foods or substances might be causing your body distress. Across various holistic health modalities, the elimination diet is considered the gold standard for helping people identify food sensitivities, intolerances, and triggers.
What is an elimination diet?
Quite simply, the elimination diet consists of removing foods from the diet for a set timeframe that are most commonly associated with food sensitivities, or that you suspect your body doesn’t tolerate well. These include sugar, gluten, dairy (AKA the “Skin Trigger Trifecta” in my book, Love Your Skin, Love Yourself), nuts, seeds, legumes, yeast, alcohol, coffee, high-sugar fruits, processed foods, and even certain meats and fats. Yikes! Depending on symptoms, the elimination period can last from 4 weeks to 3 months before reintroducing the foods one at a time to identify which ones are reactive.
During this elimination period, people may experience a healing crisis in the beginning, as the body begins to heal and detoxify, but that passes, and then they start to feel better.
Sometimes people don’t feel any different during the elimination period, but then when they try and re-introduce a food, they experience symptoms such as headaches, digestive issues, rashes or breakouts, fatigue or mood swings. Those are clear signs that that particular food is a no-no for that particular person, at least for a longer period of time.
Did you know that your skin benefits from a facial elimination diet?
The skin is a very important organ that’s responsible for and connected to many functions including immunity, sensation, excretion, respiration, and temperature regulation. However, as pointed out by Ayurvedic skincare expert, Melanie Sachs, in the Herbal Skincare Summit, the skin is also an organ of digestion. It absorbs a great deal of what’s applied to it topically. Even though healthy skin cells are primarily built below the surface, the integrity and function of the cells as they rise up the various levels of the epidermis certainly are affected by the nutrients–or toxicants–that are applied topically.
Many conventional–and even some natural–cosmetics contain ingredients that lead to congestion, irritation, inflammation, and other adverse effects which hinder the skin’s ability to perform its functions. You might think I’m referring to ingredients like parabens and other “trendy” toxic ingredients (the ones that have gained notoriety over the past several years); and partly, I am. However, I’m also referring to certain common ingredients that might not necessarily be associated with endocrine disrupting or neurotoxic actions, but still may cause an irritant or inflammatory reaction.
Certain forms of Vitamins A, C, and E; mineral oils, silicones, certain colorants, and even natural plant oils like coconut oil might lead to clogging, congestion due to asphyxiation, and inflammation due to the wrong pH or oxidation on the surface. Even other plant oils that might be too saturated for your unique skin may oxidize on the surface and lead to problems. Sometimes skincare formulations–again, even natural ones–that have huge “laundry lists” of ingredients cause an inflammatory response because they overstimulate the skin.
Something else I’ve seen that “professional” skin care companies do is use inappropriately high concentrations of active ingredients and essential oils, which may overwhelm the skin’s receptors and cause an adverse reaction.
All of these examples are explanations as to why certain people live with constantly sensitive skin, breakouts, hyperpigmentation, and congested skin even though they think they are doing everything right with their diet. If this describes you, then maybe your skin needs an elimination diet! And just from the foods you eat, but the “foods” you apply topically too.
Using overly complicated products, or the wrong products for your skin is the equivalent of constantly eating foods your body can’t digest.
Fortunately a facial elimination diet is far less traumatic than a dietary elimination diet. In a nutshell, you stop using any skincare products that contain lengthy, complex ingredient lists, or commonly known irritants. Set aside products that contain synthetic fragrances, coal tar dyes, essential oils, heavy emollients and occlusives, and “active” or performance ingredients such as peptides, ceramides, patented antioxidants, retinols, and other isolated nutrients.
You’ll also want to avoid using herbs from the asteraceae family, as they are common allergens; and also any water-containing product that also has clays or starches (they are likely to grow mold without the presence of a very strong preservative).
Whenever possible, avoid wearing makeup during your facial elimination diet as well–even if it’s from my all time favorite clean cosmetics store, Credo Beauty.
During this facial elimination diet period, take frequent “facial fasting” days where you literally put nothing on your skin. Nothing at all. Just splash it with water. That’s it.
On the other days, choose a single oil that you know you do not react to. Jojoba is one of the most universally tolerated ones. You can use this as both an oil cleanser, and a moisturizer. You might also choose a single hydrosol that you know you tolerate, such as rose, to use as a toner and to hydrate before moisturizing. If you’d rather not oil cleanse, you may cleanse with raw honey (not manuka, in this case).
Do this for 4 weeks minimum. Then start reintroducing your former products one at a time. Use each one for 2 or 3 days before adding another one. If you notice any itching, redness, hives, rashes, breakouts, hair loss, or any other symptoms you didn’t have before reintroduction, eliminate that product for good. If you notice no adverse reaction at all, repeat with the next product, and so on.
What happens if your skin reacts to everything in your regimen after a facial elimination diet?
This is your skin strongly telling you that it’s time to simplify your regimen. Instead of using complex formulations containing isolated extracts, actives, and vitamins, try whole foods based formulations with fewer ingredients on the list. If your reaction was severe, it might be best to start from scratch with your own customized oil blend, or the honey/rosewater/jojoba combo you used during the elimination diet period.
Whatever your skin tells you, listen to it. It will not steer you wrong, and if your skin reacted strongly to a product reintroduction, there’s a good chance that that product was affecting other organs and systems of your body too.
Are you a licensed aesthetician, health coach, or skincare business owner?
You might consider adding facial elimination diets to your menu of services! Do you already offer this in your skincare business? What’s been your clients’ experiences? Please share in the comments below.
*Watermelon and peach photo by Roman Davayposmotrim on Unsplash. Eczema photo credit: kthrn pimples all around eczema via photopin(license). Chamomile photo credit: blumenbiene Echte Kamille (Matricaria chamomilla) via photopin(license).
**This article was sponsored by Wikibuy.