As the protective barrier between you and the world, your skin is faced with a daily onslaught of insults and injuries. Environmental chemicals, pollution, pore-clogging creams and foundations, even dirt and debris, accumulate on skin and congest pores. And less-than-virtuous lifestyle habits – like too many cookies and cocktails, too little sleep, water and exercise – hamper circulation and spur inflammation. The result is a host of signs that signal your skin’s in need of a serious reboot: breakouts, redness, irritation or a dull, mottled complexion.
Here are six skin detoxing tips you need to know to cleanse your complexion on the deepest level and emerge fresh-faced.
1. Fix your gut
Intestinal health and skin are intimately connected, and itchy, irritated skin or frequent breakouts just might stem from problems in your gut. Digestive issues, constipation, inflammation and imbalances in beneficial intestinal bacteria frequently show up on your face; studies link constipation with a greatly increased risk of eczema, and people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are significantly more likely to have skin disorders.
For clear, radiant skin, focus on nurturing your gut: nourish beneficial bacteria with probiotic-rich fermented foods like organic yogurt or kefir, tempeh, kimchi or naturally fermented sauerkraut. Or, take a high-quality probiotic supplement that includes a variety of strains.
Fiber-rich foods (like beans, lentils, raspberries, broccoli, flax and chia seeds) are also a great choice. They promote regular bowel movements, speed the elimination of toxins and help good bugs flourish. You can boost your body’s natural detox process with an organic fiber supplement, made with acacia, psyllium or chia powder.
2. Sweat more
The skin is the body’s largest organ of elimination, and it plays a vital role in the transformation, detoxification and removal of harmful compounds. Some research has shown measurable levels of heavy metals and bisphenol A (BPA) – an industrial chemical that can disrupt hormones and increase the risk of cancer – in perspiration.
The best way to break a sweat? Vigorous activity. Cycling, dancing, hiking, jogging or anything that gets your heart rate up promotes skin-detoxing perspiration. Plus, exercise boosts circulation and lymph flow to enhance the elimination of impurities. Working out also burns fat, the body’s primary storage unit for toxins.
For a serious sweat that’s easy on your joints, try hot yoga. You can also check out local spas or health clubs for saunas or steam rooms to amplify detox efforts.
3. Cleanse with charcoal
One of the best-known skin detox compounds is activated charcoal. It’s made by processing carbon-rich materials like wood, bamboo or coconut shells at high heat, which results in a fine black powder with a porous texture and sponge-like absorption. Activated charcoal, which is used in emergency rooms to treat poisoning and overdoses, works by attaching to toxins and preventing their absorption.
For a skin detox, the theory is the same: activated charcoal is thought to remove oil, debris, chemicals, bacteria, toxins and other impurities from pores, drawing them to the surface of skin where they can be easily washed away. To banish blemishes, use an activated charcoal soap daily. Need a deeper detox? Look for masks, scrubs or peels made with activated charcoal tone and revitalize your skin.
4. Hydrate efficiently
Water is crucial for a glowing complexion. It promotes the removal of toxins, and research links additional water intake with reduced dryness, increased plumpness and better skin elasticity. But simply doubling your drinking water isn’t the most efficient or effective approach.
Drinking water and absorbing water aren’t the same thing. Your body’s ability to absorb water depends on electrolytes, especially sodium. To maximize your hydration, add a pinch of salt to your water bottle and drink it on an empty stomach. Studies show this speeds its transit into the bloodstream. You can also hydrate with coconut water; it’s rich in electrolytes, including sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium, to enhance absorption.
It’s also a good idea to drink small amounts throughout the day rather than a ton of water all at once. Your intestines can only process so much water at a time, and research shows sipping, not chugging, keeps you more hydrated.
5. Scrub with (and eat) seaweed
You’ll find sea botanicals like bladderwrack, kelp, brown seaweed, blue-green algae and laminaria in many skin detox formulas, from wraps and soaks to scrubs and soaps. Why? Seaweed is high in antioxidants and other bioactive compounds with anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial benefits, and studies suggest various sea botanicals can ease inflammation, heal acne and other skin problems, and protect against premature aging.
But seaweed doesn’t just work externally. You can get a deeper detox by using seaweed in meals too. It’s rich in iodine, chlorophyll and minerals like copper and zinc that play a crucial role in skin health. Studies suggest kelp and other algae bind to heavy metals like lead and calcium, eliminating them from the body.
Just make sure to choose your seaweeds carefully; some may be contaminated with arsenic and other chemicals. Stick to brands that do regular third-party lab testing to ensure they’re free from heavy metals, pesticides, petroleum residues and radiation. No matter what kind of seaweed you like best, there are plenty of uses. Add arame to soups, simmer beans with a strip of kombu or crumble toasted dulse or nori over sauteed vegetables.
6. Toss the toxins
Your usual skincare soaps, scrubs, lotions and masks may be filled with chemicals, irritants and petroleum products. That’s exactly what you don’t need when you’re detoxing your skin.
Common ingredients like phthalates, parabens, triclosan and formaldehyde can disrupt hormones and potentially increase your risk of cancer. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), which is used to create foamy, sudsy lather in soaps and shampoos, is a common skin irritant that’s actually classified as an environmental toxin. And some topical substances, especially lotions and sunscreens formulated with nanoparticles and “penetration enhancers,” can be absorbed through skin and pass into the bloodstream, posing even bigger issues.
Toss all of your toxic soaps, scrubs, masks, creams and lotions, and restock with cleaner choices. Choose natural, plant-based skincare products, ideally ones that are organic. Look for short ingredient lists, free from petrochemicals, and choose fragrance-free versions, or those scented only with pure essential oils.