Why Your Skin Is a Powerful Indicator of Health

by Erica Garza

Skin is a window into our body’s health. When we experience dryness, puffiness and other skin conditions, it may be our body’s way of signaling a deeper health issue. Sometimes, the cause of such conditions may be in our gut. Other times, our hormones have gone haywire. Even more serious, our skin can also warn of disorders such as osteoporosis or even liver disease. To understand the skin’s connection to our overall health, here are some signs to look out for and what can be done to fight back.

How Hormones Affect Our Skin

Our skin changes in response to androgen hormones, such as testosterone, which are released by the adrenal glands, ovaries and testes. While often thought of as a male hormone, testosterone is also produced in female bodies, though in lower amounts. Androgens can stimulate our sebaceous glands to secrete excess oil, which can clog pores and cause acne. Some conditions, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), can lead to excessive testosterone production and cause acne alongside other unfavorable conditions such as weight gain and irregular periods. Other hormonal imbalances, such as hypothyroidism, can cause dry and puffy skin, while excessive sweating may indicate a drop in levels of estrogen progesterone, or the start of menopause.

Another hormone that can affect our skin is cortisol, the “stress hormone.” Not only does excess cortisol suppress our immune system, which can inhibit wound healing, it also increases inflammation and causes fine lines and wrinkles by accelerating aging.

The Skin-Gut Connection

Associated with the skin and gut are a variety of bacteria, fungi and viruses, and emerging research shows us that these play an integral role in our skin health. On the surface level, microbiome imbalance can cause inflammation and a number of related skin conditions, such as atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, acne and rosacea. Going deeper, certain foods and beverages cause disruptions in the gut, acting as “triggers” for rosacea as well as for atopic dermatitis, psoriasis and acne.

Signs of Nutritional Deficiencies and Disease

Cracked lips can signal deficiencies of some B vitamins. Hives, eczema, itching and swelling may indicate a food allergy. Our skin can warn of more serious diseases, too. Facial wrinkles, while commonly seen as an expected side effect of aging, are also linked with lower bone density, a precursor to osteoporosis. Jaundice, or yellowing skin, can be a sign of liver disease, hepatitis or autoimmune disorders. Bruising easily, which is common in older adults, may signal a blood-clotting problem or a blood disease. Recurring rashes or skin growths may indicate various internal diseases or certain types of cancer.

Always talk to a doctor whenever skin changes occur to rule out serious conditions.

Steps to Healthier Skin (and a Healthier You)

Whether you suspect you are dealing with a hormonal or gut biome imbalance, or your skin is simply in need of some TLC, here are some steps you can take to ensure healthier skin and a healthier body.

Drink Plenty of Fluids

Hydration is important for all aspects of our health, not just our skin. But radiant skin is known to be one of the beneficial results of drinking enough fluids. Experts recommend 91 ounces for women and 125 for men, though these numbers may vary by age, exercise levels and lifestyle.

Moisturize

Moisturizing your skin protects against dry patches and flaking, especially if you live in a cold climate. A good moisturizer serves as a barrier to the effects of harsh conditions while giving skin a radiant glow.

Cleanse With Cold Water

Taking a cold shower or bath boosts our circulation, which can tighten pores and decrease redness. Hot water is also notorious for stripping our skin of healthy oils.

Get Beauty Sleep

Beyond helping us feel more clear-headed and positive, good sleep can also do wonders for skin. Research shows that one night of poor sleep can cause paler skin, dark circles under the eyes and wrinkles.

Take Supplements

Probiotic supplements support a healthy microbiome in our gut, which can eradicate inflammation and clear up acne-prone skin. If you suffer from a hormonal balance, hormonal supplements or natural remedies may help restore some balance.

Try CBD

CBD has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which can relieve the redness and puffiness associated with skin conditions such as cystic acne and rosacea. It has also been shown to regulate the oil production of our sebaceous glands, preventing acne before it forms. CBD also interferes with cortisol production, that “stress hormone” known to wreak havoc on our skin and overall health. By pairing topical CBD with oral supplements, we can expect positive effects on our health from the inside out.

Erica Garza is and author and essayist. Her work has appeared in TIME, Health, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Women's Health, The Telegraph and VICE. She lives in Los Angeles.