Cold, dry winter months can wreak havoc on skin health. The dry air can cause everyone to double-down on the lotion, but those living with a thyroid condition often see especially flaky, red, cracked, or irritated skin, which is an all-too-common hypothyroidism symptom. The itching, scratching, and slathering of the lotion can take place any time of year, but winter can make things exceptionally uncomfortable.
But fear not—there are plenty of solutions that help to improve dry skin. As a bonus, they can also help with “thyroid hair”—dry, brittle hair that again, can plague those with hypothyroidism, winter or not!
First, consider your diet, which plays a significant role in the hydration (or dehydration) of skin tissue. The appearance and feel of the skin can change pretty quickly based on what you are or aren’t eating. By making some strategic changes, you can begin to ease the itch and at the same time, ensure you’re getting some essential nutrients.
Fats in the form of cholesterol and essential fatty acids are critical for maintaining the integrity of cell membranes. That is, fats help prevent our cells from becoming rigid and also help them stay hydrated.
Cholesterol is a healthful fat found solely in animal foods, such as eggs, dairy products, fish, and meats. Eating eggs for breakfast, choosing non-lean cuts of meat such as chicken thighs vs. skinless chicken breasts, and cooking with ghee are great ways to add additional cholesterol to the diet.
Essential fatty acids such as Omega-3s are powerful anti-inflammatories that also help to hydrate the skin—they’re called “essential” because the body cannot make them on its own. Rich sources of Omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, sardines, grass-fed beef and dairy, flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and high-quality molecularly distilled fish oil.
Sometimes, though, due to digestive dysfunction or gallbladder congestion, it can be difficult to absorb all of these healthful fats. While it’s best to work with a qualified nutrition coach to get to the root of such issues, there are a few simple ways to help maximize absorption:
- Consider a quality digestive enzyme that includes either lipase and/or ox bile, which will help to break down fats and absorb them better.
- Some benefit from drinking something acidic right before or with meals because it can stimulate bile production that aides in the breakdown of fats, making them more bio-available: apple cider vinegar, fresh squeezed lemon juice, fermented sauerkraut juice, or kombucha.
- Eat beets, which help to thin and mobilize bile and also metabolize fats. Beets have even been shown to relieve the symptoms of a gallbladder attack.
- Consider dandelion root, which not only helps to clear gallbladder congestion, but also offers detoxes the liver.
- Consider a gallbladder flush; work with a qualified practitioner who can help walk you through this.
This one won’t be surprising: basic hydration. Many people simply aren’t drinking enough water, which is equally as important for preventing dry skin as getting essential nutrients from the diet.
That said, it’s possible to be drinking loads of water but, like with our fats, not absorbing it. In order to absorb water, we need minerals (which are also critical for healthy thyroid function) and many are chronically mineral deficient due to stress and also that unfortunately, our soils aren’t nearly as mineral-rich as decades past.
Organic fruits and vegetables are rich sources of minerals and low-glycemic, fresh-pressed juices such as cucumber and celery are especially concentrated sources of hydration.
Homemade bone broth is another incredible source of naturally occurring minerals. I suggest drinking it daily to not only maintain hydration, but also to get that youth-giving collagen and elastin that promotes smooth, dewy appearance of the skin.
You can also choose to supplement in order to get the necessary electrolyte minerals to help keep your skin hydrated. A good electrolyte supplement will contain magnesium, potassium, calcium, and sodium. If you’re prone to dehydration, you may want to choose an electrolyte supplement that’s sodium-free.
Next, choose your skincare carefully. Because the skin is the largest organ of the body, anything that gets put onto it will be absorbed through the pores and will enter the bloodstream where it can become a hormone and immune disruptor that will, in the long run, ultimately perpetuate the cycle of dry skin.
Choose lotions and creams that closely match the highly saturated membranes of the skin. In other words, thick, rich skin cream is the better option when trying to replenish dry skin because it’s closer in composition to your skin than thin, water-based lotions. Shea butter, coconut butter, and even tallow-based creams (tallow being beef fat) all closely match the skin’s highly saturated makeup. A little goes a long way with these but you should notice they do a better job at maintaining skin hydration than thin lotions.
Finally, proper blood flow to the skin is necessary to prevent dryness. Where blood flows, nutrients go so dry skin can sometimes indicate the tissues are not receiving adequate blood flow and nutrients.
There are some simple techniques you can use at home to encourage blood flow, including dry skin brushing and foam rollers. A dry, natural bristled brush can be gently swept across the skin in circular motions, starting near the neck and moving downwards towards the bladder, and then starting at the feet and moving upwards towards the bladder.
To use a foam roller, gently press it against the muscles, again working always towards the bladder, in order to “flush” the tissues.
Dry skin can be a pain (literally) but as with other common thyroid disease symptoms, there’s so much that can be done to improve or remedy it. Ultimately, if your dry skin is thyroid-related, you’ll want to target your hormones, immune system (in the case of autoimmunity/Hashimoto’s), and digestive health in order to get to the root of it.
With the simple strategies of getting essential skin-healthy nutrients from your diet, staying hydrated with water and minerals, choosing appropriate skin care, and encouraging blood flow to any problem areas, I’ve seen “problem skin” resolve in a matter of a few days.
And thankfully, spring is coming!