We Don’t Talk Enough About the Relationship Between Good Gut and Great Skin

It holds the secret to beauty, inside-out.

Beauty is not skin deep… We have all heard this saying, but it’s more than just an adage. It turns out that the secret to clear, radiant skin might just be hiding in the depths of your digestive system. While the gut and skin are two organs one doesn’t assume could be connected, the former’s well-being plays a pivotal role in achieving that coveted outer glow.

According to Dr Dimple Jangda, Ayurveda and Gut Health Expert and author of  Heal your Gut, Mind and Emotions, our skin is a visual representation of what’s happening inside our body. “Your gut is the fuel engine for your body, and it provides nutrients to your skin as well. However, if there is an imbalance and our gut is unable to absorb the nutrients from the food, then it preserves the essential nutrients for critical organs like the heart, liver, kidney, and intestines, our skin and hair rank lowest on the gut’s priority list.” 

Different parts of our face signify and correspond to different organs. For instance, the under-eye region is linked to kidney health, the temples and middle of your eyebrows to the liver, the upper part of the cheeks signifies lungs, and stomach-related issues show up on the lower cheek region. 

Eshanka Wahi, culinary nutritionist, holistic wellness coach, and founder of Eat Clean with Eshanka says, “Our skin can be a powerful communicator for our internal well-being. Persistent skin issues, such as redness, acne, or dryness, can be signals of an imbalanced gut. Pay attention to how your skin reacts to different foods and lifestyle factors. It’s like your body’s way of telling you, ‘Hey, let’s take a closer look at what’s going on inside!’.”

The Word. unlocks how a balanced gut can be the key to boosting skin health.

Let’s Understand the Gut-Skin Axis
The gut and skin are intricately connected through what scientists refer to as the ‘gut-skin axis’. This bidirectional communication system involves the constant exchange of information between the gastrointestinal tract and the skin. Extensive research on the subject has unravelled a fascinating dance between the two organs, shedding light on what happens in your digestive tract can influence the state of your complexion.

If there is an imbalance, our body signals it in myriad ways. If you are experiencing bloating, heartburn, constipation, and diarrhea. It could mean that your digestive system is not being able to process food properly. An imbalanced or unhealthy gut can lead to poor sleep or even cause insomnia—that’s because a majority of serotonin, the hormone that affects one’s mood and sleep, is produced in the gut. Extreme cravings, especially for sugar, could also cause our system to go out-of-whack. Consuming excessive amounts of sugar can lead to ‘bad’ bacteria in the gut, which causes inflammation and could put us at risk other diseases.

Dr Renita Rajan, Chief Consultant at RENDER Clinics and Chief Formulator at CHOSEN Store, says, “Poor gut health can also be associated with subtle micronutrient deficiencies, malabsorption, and protein loss–where the skin changes may be not be as dramatic or obvious.” An imbalanced gut, however, can can be controlled through lifestyle and dietary changes. Dr Dimple tells The Word. that “in Ayurveda, we have a series of remedies and solutions that you can practice on an empty stomach to heal the gut. For example, you can go on a fruit fast one day a week, and break the fast with moong dal chila or moong dal dosa at around 6 pm in the evening. The fruits act like a probiotic, contributing good bacteria to replenish your gut flora and, therefore, enhancing your gut health. One can even practice 14 to 16 hours of intermittent fasting, starting from sunset to sunrise.” Dr Dimple advises against consuming a hearty meal late in the night during intermittent as it can prove counter-effective.

The gut-skin connection doesn’t just stop at banishing blemishes. Research from the International Journal of Molecular Sciences suggests that a healthy gut can also contribute to slowing down the ageing process of the skin. The study found that a well-maintained gut microbiome supports the production of collagen, the protein responsible for skin elasticity and firmness.

The Role of Gut Microbiota

The gut is home to trillions of microorganisms, collectively known as the gut microbiota. A delicate balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut is crucial for overall health. These tiny inhabitants not only aid in digestion but also play a crucial role in immune function and inflammation regulation. A study published in the Journal of Dermatological Science revealed that a balanced gut microbiome contributes to overall skin wellness.

And just like our gut, the skin, too, have a thriving microbiome colony that protects it. Dr Barbara Sturm, celebrity dermatologist and Founder of Dr. Barbara Sturm skincare and supplement brand, explains on her website: “Skin microbiome can become compromised by two factors; what you put on your skin and what you put in your body. Our skin microbiome prefers a pH of about 5 to thrive—soap and other aggressive skincare ingredients have a pH of about 10, which can damage our microflora and encourage various skin dysfunctions. And research has shown that anything that damages your gut microbiome has the possibility to also influence what’s happening to your skin. [By studying the] ‘gut-skin axis,’ researchers found that gut microbes were able to communicate with the skin either directly or indirectly, influencing the degree of inflammatory skin conditions such as acne vulgaris and psoriasis, and that with dietary changes, these conditions were improved.

Skin Science and Its Impact

Dr Renita Rajan, Chief Consultant at RENDER Clinics and Chief Formulator at CHOSEN Store, says, “There is a lot of communication between skin microbes, skin molecular signals, and gut microbes. We have always known that what goes into our gut impacts the skin, but the new revolutionary knowledge is that what we apply on the skin, impacts our gut too!” According to Dr Renita, the apart from common skin and lifestyle conditions, new research suggests that it impacts pigmentary conditions like melasma, too, where gut microbes can influence melasma by acting through estrogen pathways!

Dr Barbara also mentions that “just as our gut microbiome can become imbalanced by a poor diet, antibiotics, infection, stress and illness, the skin microbiome can also become compromised—and an unbalanced skin microbiome (also known as skin dysbiosis), is associated with many skin conditions, including psoriasis, rosacea, premature skin ageing, eczema, acne and poor wound healing.”

Dr Chytra Anand, Cosmetic Dermatologist and Founder of Kosmoderma Clinics and SkinQ, says that the relationship between gut health and skin conditions is an area of increasing interest in dermatology. “Some of the common skin issues or conditions linked to poor gut health include acne, often caused by imbalances in gut microbiota; eczema flare-ups may be associated with gut dysbiosis; and rosacea is potentially linked with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).” Another study published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology showed that an unbalanced microbiome can cause an inflammatory response that leads to the development of rosacea.

The Right Kind of Foods for Gut Health and Good Skin
Achieving a radiant complexion isn’t just about slathering on the latest skincare products; it starts from within. Your diet can significantly influence the composition of your gut microbiota and, consequently, your skin. Eshanka says that in order to maintain gut health, one must “focus on foods that support digestion and nourish your gut microbiome. Include fibre-rich foods like oats, legumes, and berries. Probiotic-rich options like yoghurt, kefir, and sauerkraut are also excellent.” She stresses that prebiotics are essential, too—foods like garlic, onions, and bananas fuel the growth of good bacteria. “Limit processed foods and excessive sugar, as they can disrupt the balance in your gut. Also, staying hydrated and managing stress are crucial for a happy gut,” Eshanka adds.

A groundbreaking study published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science suggests that incorporating probiotics and prebiotics into your diet can positively impact skin health. Probiotics, often found in fermented foods, introduce live beneficial bacteria into the gut, while prebiotics, found in foods like garlic, onions, and bananas, provide the necessary nourishment for these bacteria to thrive.

Dr Renita also says that Vitamin D is a crucial part of the puzzle. “It is important to Vitamin D levels and correct any deficiency for healthy skin and gut health. Research also states that collagen supplements support gut health by reducing inflammation in colitis, thereby lowering the chances of leaky gut issues. Also, if you opt for marine collagen powders, look for a mercury-free options.”

Topical Ingredients to Calm Inflamed Skin
Dr Chytra says that while we work on restoring the balance in our gut, certain skincare ingredients with soothing properties can come in handy to control inflammation. “Hyaluronic acid is a wonderful hydrating agent. Niacinamide and omega fatty acid -rich products help reduce inflammation, while ceramide-baded creams help repair the skin barrier, thereby reducing sensitivity,” shares Dr Chytra.
Dr Renita has certain ingredients she favours, too. “My favourite skin-soothing ingredients are methylsulfonylmethane and tranexamic acid, both of which boost hydration, and reduce skin inflammation, redness, skin sensitivity. As a supplement, collagen intake has been known to support good gut health. Pycnogenol, a superantioxidant, has multiple benefits for the skin and the gut, as acts as an anti-inflammatory agent for both these organ systems,” she tells The Word.

The journey to radiant skin goes beyond topical treatments and skincare regimens. By nurturing our gut health, we lay the foundation for a vibrant complexion.