Beauty, skin cancer and the food inbetween

My skin and I have had a difficult relationship, in that I have found it difficult to deal with.

As a teenager and adult I suffered acne, and for the past 13 years, it’s been about skin cancer. And particularly the skin cancer that has sprouted over my face and required treatment, after treatment, after treatment.

I’ve been cut, stitched, creamed and burned in an effort to get rid of the tumours that have surfaced.

Nothing potentially fatal, and that’s a big fat silver lining for sure. But it hasn’t been a fun ride, and it’s taken most of those 13 years to come to terms with the changes and challenges of having my face subjected to invasive procedures and the scars they leave behind.

Vanity is a taboo, but hell, I’ll admit I’m vain enough to not want to look like a pirate with a face criss-crossed by scars.

A few years ago, after hearing the plastic surgeon detail a large round of surgery he was going to perform on my face, I burst into tears and apologised for being vain. Like he would have a problem with that! He was used to vanity far more intense than mine. My wish was to just stay as I was, not for any type of improvement, yet I felt guilty and ashamed for feeling that way.

Fast forward to today, and I’m in recovery from the latest round of treatment. Some PDT this time. PDT, or photodynamic treatment, involves the application of a light-sensitive cream, sitting under an intense light that feels like someone is burning your skin, and then waiting for the resulting burn to fester, crust over and heal.

It has a 70-80 per cent chance of being successful, which I’m confident of. Anything to avoid the scalpel again.

I’ll have to have the PDT again at least once more next month, so I’m in full skin-support mode right now, by eating foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids, zinc and vitamins A, C and E.

The thing about our skin is that it has an incredible ability to heal itself, and it is created from within, literally, so what I eat has a direct and profound impact on how fast and effectively my skin heals, repairs and kills off the cancer cells.

Every 28 days, what we see on the outside has been replaced by cells that were generated in the deeper layers beneath what we see externally. Those cells work their way to the top each month, as the dead cells are removed from the surface. So what you eat now, you’ll see on the outside next month.

Because of this, our skin is the window by which we can tell how our insides are coping – dodgy looking skin signals a dodgy diet or dodgy digestion. The skin might be our largest organ, but it’s also the least important as far as the body is concerned when it comes to survival, so it’s the first organ left to fend for itself when your body is over-loaded with toxins or lacking in nutrients and extra work is needed to keep vital organs functioning.

As women, we’re persuaded through marketing to spend a fortune on creams, sprays and serums, yet the biggest impact we can have on the appearance of our skin is sitting on our plate.

So while I’m concentrating on a particular issue and healing at the moment, everything I’m doing is something I try and do all the time anyway, simply for good health and better-looking skin.


What I’m eating to help my skin repair

For zinc, I’m upping my pumpkin and sesame seed intake. Some extra pasture-fed, organic beef as well. While oysters are far the best source of zinc, I just can’t go there – good for you if you can.

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for skin repair, and largely lacking in most people’s diet. These are mostly found in cold-water fish, like salmon. A dose of fish oil every day has many benefits, not just for skin, including brain function (choose top quality and sustainable if you can), and I’m popping flaxseed oil in my smoothies and on my salads (it’s a great vegetarian/vegan option). Lots of chia seeds are making their way into all of my meals too.

I’ve read about selenium and how it may play an important role in preventing skin cancer, so Brazil nuts, eggs, salmon, and garlic are on the menu for that.

Vitamin C is also purported to be effective at protecting against sun damage and repairing free radical damage. It’s also essential for healing. My intake is from kale, parsley and other herbs, broccoli, cauliflower, kiwi fruit and capsicum. There are obviously lots of other Vit C-rich foods, but these are my choices.

A combination of Vitamins E with A is also mentioned as being useful in preventing skin cancer, and both are essential for healthy skin anyway. My Vit E is from sunflower seeds, avocado, spinach, cabbage, tomatoes and almonds.

It terms of Vit A, it’s all green and orange. Kale, spinach and other leafy greens, and sweet potato, rockmelon and carrot.

I don’t buy into ‘micro-nutritionism’ as a rule – the selective focus of particular nutrients for particular functional purpose. I eat all of these foods on a regular or daily basis anyway. They’re all necessary for general health and wellbeing and concentrating too much on the specifics just complicates eating when I want it to be a natural and easy-going process. That said, I’m mindful of increasing some of these to help my skin along, including making sure I drink plenty of water. Getting plenty of sleep and not stressing is also vital for skin repair and regeneration, as it is for general health (go figure!).

In the past when surgery has been involved, I’ve supplemented with homeopathic remedies but this time I’m just using rosehip oil and coconut oil topically. In the early stages of healing when the treated area was raw and blistered, I applied raw organic honey at night with good results. Manuka honey has the most antibiotic properties, and has been shown to be great for treating wounds. I didn’t have Manuka but used the honey I had anyway, as all raw honey has active components – whereas the standard supermarket varieties have been heat-treated and therefore don’t.

It’s been a week since the treatment, and my face is almost healed already. The skin on your face heals faster than elsewhere, so that’s a bonus. The other bonus has been the Evohe mineral make-up I use, which has been a gentle and effective cover-up.

My mental attitude towards this journey has been far stronger and far more resilient than it has ever been before. I don’t know if that’s age, experience, the health and wellness knowledge I’ve gained, or all the work I’ve done over the past year to shift my mindset to a more positive place, but it beats the mental and emotional torture vanity and worry had created before.


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