What It Means and What To Try
I’ve been loving the results of my detoxing effort recently. It’s been a few months of really dedicated effort but I’ve noticed improvements in my hormonal health (no mid-cycle spotting, shorter and less painful periods, regular ovulation), higher energy levels (despite the fact that I’m working long hours in an intensive care unit), and thicker/faster growing hair and nails (less important but if you’ve ever lost hair by the handful, you know it still matters). It’s been especially helpful to do this amazing Love Your Liver Spring Detox that Megan of GingerNewtrition.com put together. (If you don’t know her, you definitely should! She rocks!)
I have, however, had some side effects during this detoxing period and, as is incredibly common for a lot of people, they’ve mostly manifested in the skin department. I developed some new onset acne over my face and back and had the displeasure of acquiring a super itchy rash that sprung up on the back of my neck.
I’ll take some acne and a rash over month-long spotting and periods-from-hell any day…but still, what do these skin manifestations mean? And how can they be dealt with?
These questions–and more–are the topic of today’s post. On we go!
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If you take nothing else away from this post (though I hope that doesn’t happen!), here’s the most important thing to know:
Skin changes during detoxification are the outwardly expression of an internal problem. Therefore, only internal interventions will really alter the external manifestations.
Here’s another way to say this: only a change in your internal environment can get at the root cause of what is happening at the skin level.
This doesn’t mean that we can’t intervene and alter what’s happening at the level of the skin–I’ll give my opinion on how to do that in the second part of the post–but what I do mean is that these measures only band-aid the actual problem. They aren’t DEALING with the root cause. This isn’t bad…but it’s important distinction to make because it provides us many more ways to tackle the issue and gives us a much greater chance of actually seeing good results.
What Skin Issues Mean and How to Deal with Them Internally
Ok, so with that in mind, I want to first address how we can alter our internal environments in order to deal with the skin manifestations of detoxing such as acne and skin rashes.
Skin manifestations–and really any manifestations–you might see during detox really only mean one thing: you’re detoxing at a faster rate than your liver is capable of handling. The body, in its infinite awesome-ness, will then use any and all available venues to detox the overflow of toxins and byproducts. This means you might get brain fog as the toxins get transported in the blood, gastrointestinal upset or urinary problems as your body tries to actively excrete the toxins, extremity swelling as the lymphatics gets loaded with byproducts, and, of note for our discussion, skin issues as the body tries to use its largest organ to help keep problematic compounds from actively wreaking havoc on important cellular structures.
The first, and I believe most effective, way to deal with this problem is an option that most people don’t really want to hear…but here it is: the best option is to ease a little up off your detoxing efforts until your body can catch up a little. The reason people don’t like this option is because they want to feel like they are doing everything and anything to get through the detox as fast as humanly possible…and I totally get that. A part of me sees that rash on the back on my neck and thinks, “Yes! It’s working! Let’s do more of what I’m doing!” But I think this is more of a reflexion of our cultural insta-health approach to seeing results instead of truly committing to respecting our body’s awe inspiring physiology.
I’m not actually suggesting that you do less for your health overall by slowing down your detoxing efforts. In fact, I think this is a signal that there are other things that need working on in the meantime. I believe the reason that so many of us have problems detoxing is that we’ve taken away certain toxin inputs but have failed to adequately replete our important cellular stores to make all our chemical processes work more efficiently. By this, I’m really talking about intaking a truly varied and nutrient dense diet.
Even we when a lot of us eat “clean” for a detox, we’re only really getting a few food types over and over again. That’s why I advocate setting goals and majorly, majorly diversifying the plants, herbs, and spices we get in our diet. This allows our mitochondria and detoxification processes to have adequate stores of nutrients to efficiently run the reactions we need while actively detoxing. (For more on how our mitochondria are often starved on even the more well-intentioned diets and why focusing on nutrient density and variety is so integral to our health, I highly recommend Terry Wahl’s two books called Minding My Mitochondria and the The Wahls Protocol.)
Addressing the Objections
I can hear some objections from some of you. “I’ve eaten Paleo for 3 (or 5 or 8) years!” you say, “Of course I am totally nutrient replete.” With this, I encourage you to consider two important points. Eating “clean” is firstly not synonymous with eating a diet that is sufficiently nutrient varied, diverse, and dense enough to overcome the other 20, 30, 40, etc years your body has been around that you may have eat sub-optimally and made lifestyle choices that taxed the body’s cellular systems. In my opinion, most of us have accrued enough of a deficit that a focused effort is required to overcome this situation. This is especially true if you’re dealing with health problems that have driven you to consider doing a detox in the first place….makes sense that way, right?
Secondly, an honest look at most people’s habits reveal that a lot of us have our go-to fruits and vegetables, a handful of favorite spices (even if that is up to 20 different ones), and several teas in our cabinet that we depend on repeatedly. When you consider the mind-boggling variety of plants that we’ve evolved along side over time, it’s evident that most of us have a whole lot of room to improve when it comes to nutrient density and variety.
Why I Don’t “Detox Harder”
I hope this explains why I don’t ever advocate “detoxing harder” in order to get through the detoxing symptoms faster. If the cellular energy is not there and the machinery isn’t properly working, it doesn’t make sense to me to place a higher demand on the structures. The stress this puts on your body at the cellular and basal chemical level is one that I think is counterproductive to the health benefits we’re all looking for. Not to mention, it outright ends up being miserable!
Now, you might be saying to yourself, “Ok, I get all that and I’m prepared to switch up some of the things I’m trying…but I really want to deal with some of these symptoms ASAP!”
So off we go to part 2 of this post!
Dealing with Skin Symptoms Topically
I’ve put together my favorite list of ways to deal with both the rash and the acne that have popped up over the course of my detoxing efforts.
1. Bentonite Clay Masks/Poultices
Bentonite clay is about the closest option we have to actually be pulling toxins out of the skin so I’m definitely a fan of it for my detox related rash. I’ve used bentonite clay masks over the area (which I leave on for 15 minutes and then wash off) and poultices (which means I pack a whole bunch of bentonite clay mud over the area and cover it with a moist wash cloth for several hours). This approach decreases the appearance of the rash and takes care of that crazy annoying itching that usually accompanies the rash. I like buying this bentonite clay for general use (like in this face mask or homemade mineral toothpaste).
2. Witch Hazel
I use a witch hazel tonic to clean and take the itch out of the rash several times a day. It generally last for several hours before I need to reapply again. I like this brand of witch hazel even though it has other additives because the aloe vera in it give me the double wammy of itch relief. I like Mountain Rose Herb’s pure witch hazel for when I want something super clean.
3. Peppermint Leaves
I use a peppermint tea bag or crushed fresh peppermint leaves to soothe itchy rashes. I just apply, leave on for about 15 minutes, and let dry. That’s it!
4. Aloe Vera
If you’ve ever seen the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, pure aloe vera is my equivalent of Windex…I put it on pretty much every skin related problem! Pure aloe vera gel from the plant helps decrease itching and speeds heal any surface level damage you’ve created by itching your rash. If you don’t have the plant, I personally like buying this brand of aloe vera gel.
1. Overnight Zit Zapping Treatment
I like this combination of carrier oil, neem oil, and lemon essential oil for topical acne treatment. I’ve had repeated luck with shrinking big ‘ol honkers with this stuff without making the dermatologic faux pas of picking at them.
2. Skin Exercise
I recently wrote this post on Dry Brushing, Acupuncture Mats, and Skin Exericse. The entire idea is that our skin needs natural movement inputs to keep the skin cells, skin related muscles, blood vessel flow, and lymphatic structures functioning properly. This solution isn’t by any means a quick fix for the problem of acne but it makes sense that keeping the skin healthy allows it to function as a part of the detox equation instead of being a reservoir for toxin deposition.
3. Bentonite Clay
Bentonite made both lists! A bentonite clay pack over the acne prone area works wonders for pulling our debris from pores and absorbing oils. I do treatments for acne and rashes at the same time so it gets both functions done at once.
4. Apple Cider Vinegar Toner
This treatment can actually be sort of harsh so it’s really important to dilute properly to your skin’s needs. I personally have the best luck with diluting in a 1 to 12 ratio (1 tablespoon for 12 tablespoons water) and add witch hazel to the tonic to double up on the skin soothing properties. I find that this prophylactically treats acne before it gets out of hand which ends up being a better approach than waiting for it to rear its ugly head and dealing with it then.
So there it is: a close look at both internal and external ways to deal with the skin manifestation during detoxing. If you have questions or comments about anything in the post, let me know in the comment section below 🙂