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Nutrition: Keep your skin looking young without going under the knife

Keep your skin looking young without going under the knife

By Lisa Marshall
Scripps Howard News Service
Source: The Marion Star

It happens to all of us.

One day, often sometime after that 30th birthday, we look in the mirror and notice that smooth, supple baby skin of our youth is slipping away, replaced by a looser, dryer, perhaps more wrinkled image.

For those who cringe at the thought of Botox injections or plastic surgery, there is hope, say a growing number of skin care experts -- younger-looking skin can be had fairly quickly without going under the knife or needle.

"It's about feeding and nourishing the skin with internal and lifestyle changes, proper products, and home care," says Susan Melching, an aesthetician who prides herself on her holistic approach to skin care. "It's a full picture. If you take away one piece, it won't work."

Clients visiting Melching's 22-year-old practice in Boulder, Colo., undergo a full health history assessment, looking at their lifestyle, their diet and their skin type, and get a close-up computerized image of the damage done. Then they're offered a treatment program including everything from subtle diet changes to cutting-edge procedures that strip dead cells from the skin surface, stimulate blood circulation and collagen production, and drive in nutrients to build stronger replacement skin cells.

Historically, most skin-care experts have failed to take such a whole-body approach to skin health, says James Meschino, author of the new book "The Wrinkle-Free Zone; Your Guide to Perfect Skin in 30 days," (Basic Health; $14.95). But a more complete approach appears to be catching on.

"We have been led to believe that cleansing, moisturizing, and applying lotions and treatments to the skin are the most important things you can do," Meschino says. "Not to say that external things are not important, but nutrition has been the missing link."

Meschino, a chiropractor and clinical nutritionist from Ontario, Canada, now tours the country speaking at conventions for dermatologists and aestheticians about the value of proper food and supplements for skin health. He says his courses are always packed.

"Skin care professionals often don't have in-depth knowledge about how nutrition affects your skin. They know it is important, but no one ever taught them."

The main culprits of older-looking skin, he says, are: exposure to ultraviolet light, which generates destructive free radicals in the skin; the depletion of skin-softening prostaglandin hormones (which the body makes less of as we age); and declining levels of hyaluronic acid (HA), a naturally occurring substance that pulls water from the bloodstream into the skin cells. It is estimated that the body produces half as much HA by age 50 as it does during childhood, he says.

Meschino recommends a diet high in fatty acids, such as flaxseed and fish oils, which serve as building blocks for prostaglandin hormones. He also stresses the importance of vitamins C, B, beta carotene, selenium and zinc, antioxidants that help skin cells better defend themselves against the free radicals spawned by ultraviolet light exposure.

"Skin cells developing below the surface take up those nutrients in high concentration, and when they move up toward the epidermis, the antioxidant is there to quench those free radicals," he says.

He also recommends lotions containing water-absorbing hyaluronic acid, which he calls the "mortar between the bricks of the skin cells."

Meschino also says that detoxification is a key element in addressing problem skin and devotes an entire chapter to it in his book. "What our bodies eliminate is just as important as what we take in each day in our continuing struggle for healthy skin," he says.

Melching says scientists have learned a lot in recent years about the physiological process through which the body can repair and rejuvenate its own skin and are developing better products and treatments to give that process a jump-start.

"There have been so many scientific breakthroughs in the last five years that have allowed us to do things here that you just cannot find at the grocery store," she says, noting that off-the-shelf products often have far lower concentrations of active ingredients.

Instead of simply sitting on the skin, unable to penetrate its natural barrier, some newer topical products are able to drive nutrients -- such as peptides responsible for rebuilding collagen and promoting cell turnover -- directly into the cell.

And several new in-office treatments open the skin even further to such nutrients, she says.

At Melching's skin care center, one of the most popular treatments is a microdermabrasion treatment followed by a Vitamin C peel.

Microdermabrasion uses mineral crystals to exfoliate the skin, and a vacuum suction to stimulate blood circulation and collagen and elastin production. But it also "opens the door" to the antioxidant-rich products put on later.