Your Skin and Your Health
Your skin is the largest organ of your body and besides protecting all of your insides from the outside, it also performs several important roles in protecting your health.
Most of us are probably aware of its role in temperature control. When we get too warm, we start to perspire, which provides a rapid means of evaporative cooling. What many of us probably don't realize is that an important detoxification process also happens when we perspire as toxins are released through the skin along with the sweat.
Many traditional tribal cultures have recognized the importance of the skin in protection of health. Indigenous practices have included sweatbaths or heated lodges as part of regular tribal practice. Northern Europeans such as the Scandinavians have also encouraged sweats or saunas as part of their normal health maintenance.
Our skin is permeable, and can absorb toxins directly from the environment. According to Jacqueline Krohn, MD, in The Whole Way to Natural Detoxification: The Complete Guide to Clearing Your Body of Toxins. "Caustic chemicals, such as alkaline solutions, can also penetrate the skin. Once a chemical has penetrated the stratum corneum (the most superficial layer of skin), it moves through the epidermis and into the dermis. Then the rich blood supply of the dermis readily transports the chemical into the bloodstream." (Pg. 28.)
Detoxifying the Skin
The skin is not only an avenue for the absorption or release of toxins, but a detoxifying agent in its own right. Like the liver and lungs, the skin also has the ability to transform toxins from lipid-soluble, or oil-based compounds, into water-soluble forms, which can then be removed by the kidneys.
The skin has the ability to excrete toxins. Certain practices seem to dramatically encourage this process. Regular use of sauna, steambaths, or sweats encourage the discharge of toxins through sweat. In their book the 7-Day Detox Miracle, Drs. Bennett and Barrie state: "The body stores many toxins in fatty tissue. Sweating therapy reduces fat stores quickly, releasing these poisons for excretion through the stimulation of receptors in the fat. Tissue biochemistry and nervous system functioning undergo changes in sauna therapy, activating fat stores and facilitating fat loss. In fact, detoxification is probably one of the healthiest ways to reduce fat and lose weight. The use of a special diet, supplements and sweating therapy provides a fast exit for excess bulk and fat-soluable toxins that are stored in the body." (Page 78.)
In fact, sauna is the best method for detoxifying heavy metals, though if you're suffering from exposure to heavy metals, you must work with a health practitioner trained in this system of detoxification. References in the back of Dr. Krohn's book can direct you to such practitioners. Persons with high blood pressure should check with their doctors before using sauna therapy, and women who are pregnant should not take saunas.
It's also important to take a good supplemental mineral tablet if you're taking more than an occasional sauna, as well as drinking plenty of filtered water. Use of loofahs or dry skin brushes can remove layers of dead skin and aid in unblocking pores. Aerobic exercise simultaneously increases the discharge of toxins through sweat and increases the metabolic rate at which toxins are processed by increasing the amount of oxygen, making the most of the skin's role in protecting health.
It's important to realize that your skin is rather delicate. In her section on "Nonionizing Radiation," Dr. Krohn reports "the proper amount of sunlight can have healing and cleansing effects on the body. Studies have shown that repeated short exposures to the sun lower cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure and blood sugar. Fungal infections of the skin are cured or go into remission after sunlight therapy. While blood cells and antibody levels increase with treatment with ultraviolet light or sunlight in amounts that do not redden skin." She also reports, "Recent studies performed at the University of Miami, by Dr. Richard Taylor and Dr. Wayne Streileim, indicate that too much sunlight can damage the immune system "by decreasing the circulating T-cells, as well as increasing the risk of melanoma, the most common cancer inn the U.S." Dr. Krohn believes that sunscreening agents filter out many of the therapeutic and healing effects of sunlight, so it may be best to wear a hat and try not to get too much sun.