Winter Tips for Optimal Skin Health

Skin health is affected as much by nutritional factors as by weather and other exterior factors. Vitamin C, Vitamin D, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, and polyphenols are vital for promoting tissue repair and nurturing healthy skin. (Photo: Cunaplus/Shutterstock)

With a surface area of more than 20 square feet, and a weight comprising roughly 15% of a person’s total mass, the skin is the body’s largest organ. It is the place where the inside meets the outside world, and vice versa.

Because conventional medicine has divided the body into departments or “ologies,” primary care practitioners often do not pay much attention to the skin, assuming that if patients have cutaneous problems, they’ll just go to dermatologists. But the skin can sometimes provide a window into what’s going on inside the body. What you see on the outside reflects what is going on inside.

Dry skin can signal many different things, but in many cases, it means that the person is lacking omega-3 essential fatty acids, or has deficits in magnesium, ascorbate, and vitamin D.

As cold winter weather affects many regions of the country, people will need to give a little extra attention to their skin in order to optimize its resilience.

A Remarkable Organ

First, here are a few interesting facts about human skin that many people don’t know:

  • Skin is Piezoelectric: Piezoelectricity is, by definition, an electrical potential created in response to temperature and/or pressure changes. There is a low resistance electric current flowing along meridians through the collagen fibers in the skin, which are activated when there is movement or compression. This is a foundational aspect on which the science of acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is based.
  • Skin Has its Own Microbiome: The cutaneous microbiome consists of trillions of bugs. Over 1,000 different bacterial species, and more than 80 fungal types, have been identified as commensal organisms on human skin. As with the gut microbiome, a healthy epidermal microbiome will crowd out potentially pathogenic bugs. The microbiome and the skin’s immune system literally talk to each other, and the dermis is where this action takes place.
  • Rich in Sweat Glands: A square inch of skin contains about 300 sweat glands. Sweat, which is intrinsically odorless, interacts with the microbes living in and on the skin; it is these organisms that give a person’s sweat its unique and individual odor.
  • Skin is Constantly Renewing Itself:  We typically shed around 30,000 dead skin cells every minute of every day. The skin is a highly dynamic organ, constantly in flux and perpetually renewing itself.

Dry Skin

Dry skin is one of the most common conditions affecting people, especially during the winter months. It can signal many different things, but in many cases, it means that the person is lacking omega-3 essential fatty acids, or has deficits in magnesium, ascorbate, and vitamin D.  These four nutrients are important for maintaining healthy radiant skin. So is hydration!


Collagen is one of the two essential proteins that provide structure and definition to skin, the other one is elastin. Both are constantly being renewed as long as skin cells are bathed in the necessary nutrients and are not overloaded with toxins and hormones of distress.

There are a dozen different subtypes of collagens in the body, each providing specialized infrastructure for particular tissues and functions. Quick repairs produce scar tissue, which is mostly type 1 collagen and lacks sweat glands. Full tissue repair and remodeling following injury is a long process involving specialized types of collagen, and glycosaminoglycans (heparins and heparans) that insulate piezoelectric collagen fibers.

Without a good diet, and comprehensive nutritional support, no quantity of orally ingested collagen will give people the youthful glowing skin they desire.

Collagen supplementation is a hot trend these days, as people strive to maintain a youthful appearance. But taking collagen by mouth does not renew or rebuild dermal collagen in the body. That’s because collagen and gelatin proteins in these products usually lack the essential amino acids to build collagen in the skin.

Ascorbate (natural, buffered vitamin C), and a full array of vitamins, minerals, and cofactors such as polyphenols enable the body to make and deploy all the collagen it needs. A decline in collagen integrity is often due to repair deficits associated with inadequate ascorbate intake, and/or lack of polyphenolic compounds like quercetin dihydrate, soluble oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs), and ellagic acid.

Without a good diet, and comprehensive nutritional support, no quantity of orally ingested collagen will give people the youthful glowing skin they desire.

Skin & Sunlight

Sun exposure has a bad reputation owing to the possibility of photodamage and increased risk of skin cancers. But the truth is, a regular dose of sunshine is actually good for the skin.

Consider unroasted sesame oil as a natural alternative to sunscreens. It resists 30 percent of UV rays.

While it is important to avoid excessive exposure and sunburn, the truth is that sunlight helps the T- and B-lymphocytes mature, which increases the resilience of the immune system defenses. And then there’s the matter of vitamin D. People regularly exposed to sunlight have an easier time raising their vitamin D levels to the healthy 50-80 ng/ml.

Long-term studies suggest that sunscreens are a mixed blessing. Trapping UV radiation through sunscreen use may actually induce as many skin cancers as it prevents.

Consider unroasted sesame oil as a natural alternative to sunscreens. It resists 30 percent of UV rays. It is also an antioxidant, and will neutralize free radicals which build up under the skin from exposure to sun.

Sweat, Soaks, and Detoxification

It’s good to sweat! It removes toxins from the body. The proportionate contribution of sweat, urine, and stool to toxin removal varies from time to time and from person to person, they are interdependent systems upon which human survival depends.

One of the biggest keys to effective toxin elimination is to stay hydrated. I recommend that people drink at least four liters (1 gallon) of water daily. Mineral-rich water and herbal beverages keep cells alkaline, energetic, and resilient.

Warm baths are excellent not only for skin health, but for overall detoxification. Mix roughly one cup each of epsom salt and baking soda, in a warm tub of water. This will facilitate removal of toxic matter through skin pores. That’s because when skin is immersed in warm alkaline and magnesium-rich water, the tiny piloerector muscles in the pores open, allowing acidic metabolites to leave body, and magnesium to be taken up.

Add a teaspoon of sesame oil in the bath—it is my favorite natural emollient. It has strong antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties and doesn’t clog the pores.

Saunas are also beneficial for the skin. High temperature (above 110º F) dry or wet saunas facilitate excretion of water-soluble metabolites. In contrast, low temperature saunas (105-110º F) and vigorous movement will remove more toxic fat-soluble metabolites like persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs)

Ascorbate and the Skin

Ascorbate is the body’s front line “go-to” antioxidant. Biochemically, the body “sacrifices” ascorbate so that all other water- and fat-soluble antioxidants are protected, regenerated, and synthesized. An individual’s aggregate need for ascorbate is determined by how much total oxidative load he or she experiences – usually a combined effect of the stresses of life.

The way to assess ascorbate needs is via the ‘C Cleanse’ protocol. The process is as follows: take a half-teaspoon (roughly 1.5 grams) buffered ascorbate powder in 2 or more ounces of water, in increments of 15 minutes. Continue until there is a complete evacuation of the bowels. The amount needed to obtain this response identifies the risk of oxidative stress and extent of antioxidant protection, while also removing toxins from the body.  Three-quarters (75%) the total amount needed to induce the flush will provide a sufficient daily ascorbate dose.

Always use 100% l-ascorbate, fully buffered and reduced and repeat the process frequently, since the need for ascorbate changes depending on a person’s overall orthostatic load.

It’s also a good idea to check the first morning urine pH after rest and take in enough magnesium to keep the urine pH in the 6.5-7.5 range. This helps the body maintain its alkaline state and sets the stage for adequate detox mechanisms to kick in when the body needs it.

The skin represents a picture of overall health, both good and ill. Most people want their skin to look good. They need to understand that truly, skin health is an inside job. It’s important to teach them the principles and practices that will improve their detox pathways and provide the skin with the nutrients it needs for self-healing and self-maintenance.


Russell Jaffe received his MD and PhD from Boston University School of Medicine in 1972. He is a founding chairman of the Scientific Committee of the American Holistic Medical Association. Dr. Jaffe developed the lymphocyte response assays (LRA) that enable physicians to rule in/out 491 common allergenic substances based on delayed hypersensitivity by functional LRA by ELISA/ACT. He is also founder of PERQUE, a practitioner-only nutraceuticals company (

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