This week’s guest, neuroscientist, and mind-body expert Dr. Claudia Aguirre shares her unique insight on the intricate brain-skin connection. She talks about how the skin communicates to us about what’s going on inside, the impact of stress on our skin, and how to resiliently deal with it to live healthfully and glow from within.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre is a neuroscientist and mind-body expert. She travels the world lecturing on a broad range of topics from neuroscience to skincare, and everything under the wellness umbrella. Dr. Aguirre earned her doctorate degree in Neuroscience from the University of Southern California. She is also a TED-Ed educator and has presented on the brain-skin connection at TED x UCLA. Dr. Claudia consults as a professional speaker, writer, and spokesperson in the health & wellness industry including Netflix, Vogue, The Guardian & more.
Maria Marlowe: [00:00:33] You guys know I’m always talking about the importance of being a body detective, of listening to the little whispers that our body gives us in the form of acne and other skin breakouts, digestive issues, hair falling out, nails breaking, mood, and memory problems and everything in between. Today’s guest is here to shed her very unique insight and perspective on the little whispers that our skin is giving us. And she has quite a unique perspective because she is a neuroscientist who also studies the skin. So she’s going to share what some of our common skin complaints and skin issues are actually telling us about what’s going on inside. And, of course, as you can imagine, we’re definitely going to talk about the impact stress has on our skin.
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Maria Marlowe: [00:02:26] Dr. Claudia, thanks for joining us.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:02:29] Pleasure to be here. Happy to talk.
Maria Marlowe: [00:02:32] I’m so excited to talk to you because I think you bring a really interesting and unique perspective. You are a neuroscientist, but you love talking about skincare and wellness. At first glance, skin and neuroscience don’t seem to go together but they do. So can you share a little bit? What is this, the brain-skin connection?
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:02:58] Of course. Yeah. That question, you know, what do they have to do with each other? It’s something that I’ve been asked since the moment I started working in the skincare world and in wellness. So the way I kind of answer that is let’s talk about our origins in terms of all our tissues. So at one point, the skin and the brain were the same tissue. There was no difference. It’s called the ectoderm. The ectoderm in the embryo, so in our very early stages… And the embryo has three layers. One of the layers is called the ectoderm. That gives rise to the skin cells, the brain cells, and also melanin cells. So anything that’s pigment-producing. So that already kind of answers a lot, I think, because it says that skin and brains share that origin. It shares the machinery needed to make the different kinds of cells and all the interesting things that go within these organs.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:03:52] So very, very early on, they were kind of the same. Now, there’s so much to it that I’ve spent my entire career on this particular connection because I’ve learned there’s as much neuroscience in looking at skin and understanding the skin as there is in the brain in that sense, because of the things that we’re learning about the skin from a neuroscience perspective, but more from just the novelty of things. So different receptors that are being discovered in the skin and even the hair, which is the hair follicles that potentially shouldn’t be there, things that sense light are found in our skin. Things that used to you know, that are more particular for smells and odors are found in our hair. And so, why can our hair smell? Why can our skin see? This just drives my curiosity and interest. And in the working world, I kind of make the connection so that we can be more aware of how connected our system is to our cell, but also to each other and to the greater planet.
Maria Marlowe: [00:04:53] Well, it’s interesting what you just said. I’ve never even heard that our hair could smell or has receptors and things to smell or our skin can sense light. I guess that part makes sense. But I wonder if women, in particular, seem to have a great sense of intuition. All people have it. But I feel women in particular seem to be more intuitive. And sometimes you walk into a room and you can feel the energy or you just know something’s not right. So I wonder if that, there’s some connection there, with our bodies sensing these things?
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:05:29] Yeah, that is a fascinating question. There really isn’t an answer to that yet. I think that would be falling into an area called phenomenology or neuro phenomenology. So things that are phenomena that we just can’t seem to pinpoint and explain. I believe also and I think we’ve all felt that you walk into a room and you can sense energy. So in terms of energy, I think we exude it with our mood, with our actions. And so maybe if you’re feeling very energetic and very adventurous or anything like that, then your body chose it, right? You’re moving a little bit more. You’re gesticulating. You guys can’t see it but I am wildly moving my arms.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:06:11] And if you’re feeling a little bit down, again, the body also shows that. Your shoulders might be hunched a bit, your neck might be a little bit lower, your voice is lowered. So I think all of that changes the molecules in the air around us. And so potentially our skin has the ability to sense this. That’s sort of the future of skin neuroscience because we don’t know it yet. There might be some sensors that are more akin to these changes in whether it’s electricity, static electricity, or something that we just haven’t really pinpointed. Because I do think that and whether it’s more women or men, just people that are more intuitive, I think that you could sense someone’s energy when they’re just not, when they’re angry or these moods that happen in the mind that are sort of reflected through the body.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:07:05] And what’s interesting is that you, as another person, another being, can sense that. You can sense when someone is feeling, you know, not there. If you’re their friend or family member, you know, when someone’s just not themselves and they don’t have to tell you. So it’s all of this nonverbal communication that our brain constantly picks up. It could be in eye movements. It could be in our tone of voice. It could be in a lot of different things and of course, our body motions as well. So I think that’s an interesting area of brain skin that I don’t particularly focus on, but it is a rather interesting one.
Maria Marlowe: [00:07:41] Okay, well, knowing that there is this connection between brain and skin, what are the secrets to glowing, radiant skin in your perspective as a neuroscientist?
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:07:53] So I think first it’s important to understand that connection. So in a very brief example of the connection, when you have something like psychological stress, psychological stress happens in the brain and it is a result of a lot of things know. It used to be part of the fight or flight response, which we need as animals to run away from danger because back in the day when we were all running around in the savanna or something when an animal came to chase us, we had to run. And what that fight or flight response means is that your brain sends signals, your hypothalamus in the brain sends signals to your pituitary gland, which also is a master hormone controller, sending signals down to your adrenals to create more cortisol. And that just jumpstarted you into running faster. Your heart beats faster. Your muscles need more blood so that they can be more efficient. Your lungs also need more oxygen so that you start breathing faster.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:08:51] But that becomes a problem when we’re sitting and we’re having an argument with somebody or you’re sitting in a very anxious environment. And so your heart races and you might start sweating and all of these things when you’re not running away. And that becomes a problem for the body because our body isn’t meant to cope with that kind of stress. So we have to learn how to deal with that in a more resilient manner. And so when you understand that connection, you might think to yourself, oh, you know, when I get stressed, my neck flares and I get all these red patches or when I get stressed, I start sweating a lot, or when I get stressed or anxious, my stomach just gets tied up in knots.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:09:32] And so all of this really is that mind-body connection. It is the effects of psychological stress releasing the very real hormones, the stress hormones through different pathways. There’s the stress axis, but there are also different pathways to get to this level. And the key is understanding that if you can get stressed, you can also get de-stressed. And so you have the ability to de-stress yourself just as much as you do, stressing yourself out. And so there are different ways to lower heart rate, to reduce rapid breathing, and to kind of get your muscle and your parasympathetic system going.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:10:11] And for me, it starts with something very simple, like breathing. There’s diaphragmatic breathing, there’s something called box breathing. And so at the end of the day, when you learn to de-stress, you can also alleviate some of the conditions that you might see on the surface of your body, like on your skin that were triggered by stress. And there’s a whole medical field of this called psychodermatology, meaning that you need to see somebody that is a board-certified psychiatrist and a dermatologist. Because there’s not a lot of people that can do both.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:10:45] And so when you have something like cystic acne or psoriasis, eczema, rosacea, these are inflammatory skin conditions that when they’re flared up by psychological stress, you need to treat that from the inside and out. So both with topicals but also with mind techniques to reduce the stress. And at the end, that’s when you will have your healthiest, most glowy skin is when you understand that connection and when you treat your skin from the inside and out.
Maria Marlowe: [00:11:18] So it sounds like the first step is really acknowledging the connection between, oh, my goodness, my skin is breaking out. Well, what just happened? Oh, I got in a fight with my partner or I had this big presentation at work. And you realize that the stress, that the flare-up seemed to come in waves with the stress as well. So I feel that’s definitely step one. And step two is doing something about it. And I’m a huge proponent, of course, of beauty from the inside out, health from the inside out. Because skin, traditionally we are really taught just put things on top of your skin. That’s all you have to do. Just put topicals on. And so this idea of treating skin from within is relatively new. Maybe for us, maybe in the ancient or older days, that’s what they did.
Maria Marlowe: [00:12:04] So you mentioned a few things. You mentioned the box breathing and different breathing techniques, which I’m also a huge proponent of. I’ve had some breathwork instructors on the podcast, so definitely check out those episodes. But what are some other techniques or modalities that have been really helpful for you or other people and in your studies, in your work, that can help people deal with stress? And maybe dividing it into what they can do in the moment when they notice they’re in a stressful situation versus what is something that they can do, add to their daily practice to kind of bring that stress level down a notch or two?
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:12:43] All really great points here. Acute stress. That’s what you’re talking about, in the moment when you’re just on stage about presents or when you’re hopping on an airplane and there’s a ton of people and you haven’t been outside in a year. So a lot of this causes a lot of stress and anxiety. So in the moment, I see the quickest way, like I said, really getting to understand your breath. So when you notice and again, the first step is noticing, noticing awareness. When you notice your breath is shallower, how can you deepen it? And there are so many different things. Like you said, you’ve got you’ve had guests that are experts. And so ways to deepen the breath, lengthen the box, breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, all of that, just learning breathwork.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:13:25] I think breathwork is also the foundation to more, let’s say, sophisticated techniques like meditation. And I only say sophisticated because everybody can do it. It’s not difficult. But I think in order to get, as you say, good at meditating, you have to do two things, first. You have to know how to be aware of things. You have to and you get that with practice. And so the more you practice, you will be more aware in general but you have to kind of understand how to recognize, how to be aware, and also how to do your basic breathing. Because that is the foundation of when you’re sitting in a meditative position. Really, the breath takes you in and out of that.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:14:03] Next, I think in the moment is a few other little techniques that are borrowed from psychology and psychiatry. There’s also something called tapping where you can kind of just tap your body so that you become more in tune with it so that you’re not out of your body experiencing this stress or trauma or whatever it is. You just bring yourself back to your body. That’s the key. Even if it’s not a place that you want to be because it is causing you this distress. Still coming into the body is going to allow you to deal with it from a more realistic perspective. So that could just be kind of like tapping yourself, your chest, and looking to see where you might be feeling the sensations. It might be your skin, it might be your stomach, it might be your feet or your hands. And so just kind of being aware of where this is going in your body.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:14:56] I think once you touch it, then you’re like, I got you. You are happening over here. Let me kind of resolve this. Give yourself a quick massage, for example, in your hands or have a drink of water, because we always get really dehydrated when we’re stressed. And so taking the time for yourself to have a glass of water, to take some breathing deeper into your body and to get into your body, I think that’s the step one for acute. And that will… There’s something called the relaxation response. So we know the stress response. There is a relaxation response. And Dr. Benson from Harvard University really was a big proponent of this, I think, decades ago.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:15:36] But the key is, if you can turn on the stress, you can turn it off. And that is a very useful skill to have because then we get into chronic stress conditions where, you know, let’s talk about being locked in or 2020 being such a hard year for so many people. And so that really just compounded all of the stress of daily life into this giant monster. And so how do you deal with that? I think the easiest way is to take it little by little. Of course, you can go to a therapy session and kind of deal with big things in that way. But for little things, study yourself. A ten-minute break every hour or so or every two hours at least where you can just do a little bit of self-care. And it’s not like let me go do the dishes because it’s not going to help you. It’s just going to add. Yes, dishes need to be done. Everything needs to be done. But maybe it’s five minutes and that means you turn on a candle, light a candle, or you wash your face. I don’t know.
Maria Marlowe: [00:16:41] Do a little facial massage.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:16:43] A little facial massage. Yeah. And if you use a little tool, very simple tools like gua sha or a roller or something like that, just kind of work, maybe your sinus points and around your forehead. And that really kind of releases the tension. But also you are releasing some of the toxins from the lymphatic system and so you are helping your body decongest in that way. And of course, if you have a little bit more time, take a bath, go for a walk. Going for a walk is so key, especially if you have any greenery. Even in the middle of Manhattan, there’s greenery, there are parks. Going for a little stroll in the park. It will reduce stress. Because trees also release chemicals called Phytoncides, and these Phytoncides have been shown to reduce the level of cortisol in our bloodstream and boost our immune cells. They’re called natural killer cells. And so immunity being such a big part of our overall health and wellbeing these days, top of the line, then we want to always boost our immune system, and that is exposing ourselves to nature as much as we can.
Maria Marlowe: [00:17:51] And I’m a proponent of all of those things, I love nature bathing, I love going for a walk and just inhaling the trees. The scent is just so calming. And, yeah, even in Manhattan, sometimes in Manhattan, there’s just sort of uptown, downtown. The cool people think all the cool people live downtown. And I’m like, no, you guys are totally missing out on the park. I would never move downtown because I need to be in close proximity to Central Park. Otherwise, I’d go crazy.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:18:21] And it’s such a huge, beautiful park. You feel like you’re somewhere else. You really let your body go when you’re in these big nature settings and the birds, all these little things that we take for granted sometimes. Maybe after the pandemic… I lived in Venice Beach. We just moved. But I lived in Venice Beach. We actually still have our place there. But when it was so quiet during the early stages of the pandemic, when people paid attention to the lockdown rules, I could hear so many more birds chirping. And it was nice to hear. And there is research showing that just listening to these naturalistic sounds also reduces stress and anxiety in the body and mind.
Maria Marlowe: [00:19:01] I mean, you could feel it. I love when I hear birds chirping in New York City. I just have to stop for a second and bask in it for a little while.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:19:11] Yes. Take it in.
Maria Marlowe: [00:19:14] So stress is obviously a huge component of various chronic skin conditions, inflammatory skin conditions like acne and eczema. And we know it even reignites viral infections. So I’m curious, do these and everybody’s affected differently. So, not everybody. When everyone’s stressed, not everybody gets all of these things. Everyone kind of gets their own little thing. So in that sense, what can our skin tell us about what’s going on in our brain?
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:19:44] That’s a really interesting question. You’re right. Everybody experiences stress differently. I call it a target organ because some people’s target organ is the skin, some people’s target organ is their gut. And so immediately they’ll feel something in their gut. It could be butterflies, but then it could be an ulcer when it becomes acute stress all the way through to chronic stress. Because you could get an ulcer just because of all this pent-up stress and anxiety. And in others, again, it’s just more brain-related. And so memory and cognition and all that stuff sort of gets put to a halt.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:20:20] And you have to remember also and everybody needs to remember that stress is a hormone. So in this sense, we’re really talking about hormonal health in a sense, because it is stress, but stress being a hormone. Cortisol, for example, is a hormone. ACTH is a hormone. All of these are hormonal changes in our body that have such a specific function and importance in the body. So what can our skin tell us? I think our skin can tell us a lot of things. Sometimes before we are cognitively aware of what’s going on in our bodies our skin will be like, look, here’s a rash and I’m not going to go away until you deal with your mind.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:21:00] And so there are these phenomena like there’s something called wedding ring rash. And wedding ring rash is a rash that happens specifically under the wedding band. You can move your ring to another hand, but that rash will follow. You can wash and you can put some topical steroid creams, whatever, go to the dermatologist. And they’re like oh, it’s a rash. Here take a steroid. And it’s not going to be resolved until the relationship gets resolved. And that could mean a breakup. That could mean a divorce, which is very stressful. But once that relationship is gone, all of that stress and anxiety that your body is telling you to pay attention to goes away and then that rash finally goes away. There’s a lot of case studies like this.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:21:41] There’s a lot of instances where people will get like a wart, for example, at the bottom of the foot. And it’s telling you that you really need to think about… The example I gave in my TED talk is a ballerina. So she’s a dancer and she develops this wart and she’s only eighteen. And so she goes to doctors and they give her sort of this anti-wart creams and it kind of goes away, but it never really goes away until she sits down with a psychiatrist. And I think it was under hypnosis, you know, it’s revealed that she just didn’t know what to do with the rest of her life. She didn’t know if she wanted to be a dancer anymore or not. Because that was kind of eating away at her subconscious her body showed that her skin showed it.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:22:23] So I think there’s a really interesting link between our subconscious mind and our skin because of how connected all of it is. And so, again, when you have a mark on your skin, pay attention to it. Because, of course, it can come from the environment. Of course. But if it doesn’t go away with traditional kinds of treatments and if it’s a very strange and mysterious thing, then there’s a mystery to be solved and oftentimes it comes from the mind.
Maria Marlowe: [00:22:51] That’s so fascinating and it’s fascinating how intelligent the body is. I think, again, in Western medicine, we kind of think that an ailment is something you just throw a pill at. It’s just something you treat and you don’t look at the whole body or the mind-body connection at all in many cases. But like the wedding rash, which I have heard of before.
Maria Marlowe: [00:23:16] I mean your body is so, so smart and I think we become so disconnected from our body because we’re so busy. And I do think we feel we have to go outside of us for advice on what to do to our body. We feel we have to go to the doctor. Anything that we have, they can figure it out. We don’t need to figure it out. But if we take that step back and we really start listening, our body is always trying to whisper something. So it’s so important to really listen to it and sit with it and whether that’s journaling, whether that’s talking with someone, just giving yourself that time and space to figure out why all of a sudden you have this strange rash or mark or whatever it is.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:24:05] Definitely, yes. And then you’re so right. We become disconnected. We become disembodied with a lot of things going on in the world. And unfortunately, if you rely on the medical community, they’re very overburdened and stressed, too. So oftentimes a lot of things get dismissed, especially in women’s health. As you probably have heard or know, women’s health is dismissed. It’s like, oh, the period is painful. All women have pain. No, your period shouldn’t be painful. Or all women have weird rashes and growths during their cycle. No, you know.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:24:38] Yes, you have this breakout, for example, that happens once a month. Well, that means your hormones are talking to you and they’re experiencing an imbalance. And so it’s not a normal everyday thing. You know, it of course can be part of the aging process, perimenopause, et cetera. But again, stress is a hormone. It affects all the different hormones. We’re talking thyroid hormones, sex hormones, for men and women, but in particular for women, because we do have cyclical changes. Very important to pay attention to the body.
Maria Marlowe: [00:25:10] A hundred percent. And what about the role of genetics in skin conditions? What is your research there and how important is it? How much of a role does it have? And especially compared to our diet and lifestyle and stress?
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:25:26] Genetics does play a role. I don’t like statistics because every time a statistic comes out in five, ten years, it’s probably either changed or debunked or something. And so I’ve heard so many things in the beauty industry like all of your aging happens because of the sun. Well, not really. They’ll say things like 98 percent of aging is because of the sun so wear sunscreen. Sunscreen is great. Yes, you do need it, but you also start to age the skin because of your diet. There’s glycation from sugar. There are other internal changes that can increase your inflammation that leads to a breakdown of collagen. And so you’ll get more lines and wrinkles because of your diet or your lifestyle.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:26:10] And there’s also a really cool word called the exposome. So we have our genome, which is the DNA that we’re born within our blueprint and the actions of that gene, the genetic blueprint is our genome. The exposome. It’s everything else that we’re exposed to, everything else. Living in a city, Los Angeles, New York, London, wherever, there’s pollution. Actually, there’s pollution all over the world but in a bigger, more congested city, you’re more exposed because you’re walking on the street next to cars and buses and motorcycles. And so you’ve got pollution being a big factor in how the skin ages and how it functions and the inflammatory state of the skin. That’s part of the exposome. And that’s just as important, as genetics.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:26:53] Because sure you could be born with atopic eczema because it’s a very hereditary skin condition. But you can manage it with lifestyle. You can manage it by not having your triggers lead to big flare-ups. So reducing whatever diets might be causing that or nutrition changes. So lowering the inflammatory foods, lowering your exposure to pollution. If you live in a city wear skincare, that protects against that because there are ingredients that protect against UV and pollution, wind, all of that. You can form a better barrier for your skin, especially when your barrier is compromised genetically, like with eczema or psoriasis.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:27:34] So it is important, but I think the exposome is going to be bigger, is going to be maybe a bigger word in our skincare vocabulary, hopefully in the coming years. And so we’ll understand just how important all of our lifestyle and we expose ourselves to, has on our skin and our health.
Maria Marlowe: [00:27:52] And I know that you… One of your main areas of interest is the aging of the skin. And you touched on it a little bit now saying there are a lot of diet and lifestyle factors that can contribute to aging. And again, I think we’re kind of taught or we have this idea in society that you get older, you start getting fine lines and wrinkles. But it’s not necessarily the fact that you’re aging that is contributing to the fine lines and wrinkles as much as it is the diet and lifestyle factors that are speeding up the breakdown of collagen.
Maria Marlowe: [00:28:25] So can you share some of the things, I think a lot of people don’t realize like you mentioned, sugar, for example, and advanced glycation and products, which is a big one. Can you share some of the things that are prematurely breaking down our collagen or prematurely aging our skin? And then some of your top tips to kind of combat that, what you would do instead? Yeah, I’d be curious.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:28:51] So something else that sort of gets depleted, I would say, is our vitamin C. And so in order to make collagen, you need vitamin C, which is why pirates, people in the shipping industry, let’s say in the 1700s, they were getting scurvy because of their lack of vitamin C. And so we know that it is a nutrition deficiency, but part of their scurvy was gingivitis. Part of it was obviously more wrinkles and just changes in their connective tissue. So it is so important to have a balanced and nutritious diet full of whole foods. You don’t necessarily need supplements if you’re having a good, healthy diet.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:29:38] Also, pay attention to the source because the soil is a big part of how a plant grows. And so if the soil is undernourished, then you’re probably not getting the micro and macro minerals that you need – selenium, zinc, all of these things. And so that might be a good time for supplementation. So those are things that lead to a breakdown of collagen and elastin. Obviously, the sun is a big factor. So, yes, the sun does cause damage to the skin. Photodamage. And it breaks down the collagen fibers and elastin. And we’re talking about the dermis here, which is the layer beneath the epidermis, so sometimes you can’t really see it but think of that as the scaffolding of your skin. And so when that is breaking down, you are going to have changes on the surface of your skin as well.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:30:28] So I’d say some tips for that is to have a healthy diet, have vitamin C, internal and external, because externally topical vitamin C has been shown to be great as an antioxidant for skin and because our body doesn’t produce it itself. I read that cats make their own vitamin C, which is really cool, but we don’t. So we need it from our diets. Sugar. Again, this is the glycation, the ages that happen internally. It happens in the heart. It happens on the skin. And so these molecules again are going to break down with the enzymes and everything that contribute to collagen breaking down.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:31:09] So the sun is probably the biggest factor. And then stress. People sort of underestimate the power of stress that we experience. Stress leads to dehydration of the skin, which leads to fine lines. Stress leads to inflammation of the skin, which can also break down the dermal matrix and just contribute to inflammatory skin conditions. The more you have inflammation of the skin, the more, think of it as wear and tear of the skin. So then it’ll break down because with years of eczema or psoriasis or rosacea you’ll start to see thickening of the epidermis because of just this constant inflammation.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:31:47] So if there are people that have these inflammatory skin conditions, I would say try to be minimal about your skincare, because also another thing that leads to accelerated aging is overuse of products or overuse of treatments. And so when you are kind of doing too much, you’re a beauty editor and you’re like, wow, I have to test so many products and my skin is always so sensitive now. It’s because your skin has become sensitized due to way too many products used and too many treatments. And so I found personally that the less I use, the better my skin has looked.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:32:21] Meaning, during pregnancy, I really didn’t use anything, just water. And obviously, the glow was from within. All the hormones kicked in and my skin was perfect. But even after birth, I really was just kept it really minimal and just kind of water. And now I’m kind of reintroducing, 2 years later. Now I’m reintroducing some of my skincare, probably because I now finally have a little bit of me-time. Again it’s very basic things – exfoliation because we do want to help ourselves turn over faster. Retinols, Vitamin A, anything that kind of helps your skin be more resilient. Vitamin A is key. Vitamin C is key. Antioxidants and sunscreen. Those are your main go-to products that every line has.
Maria Marlowe: [00:33:10] And those are all great ideas. And I also am a proponent of gentle skincare. The minimal skin care. You don’t need to do a 10-step process. Wash, maybe a serum, a moisturizer, and you’re good to go. So I watched this interview with Naomi Campbell and she was talking about how she was doing a tour of her home. And there are no air conditioners in her home. And it’s all an outdoor sort of indoor situation with fans. And she said that it’s because the AC ages you. She feels it gives you lines and wrinkles. So I imagine because it’s dehydrating. But I’d love your take on that.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:33:50] Yeah. I mean, she does have great skin.
Maria Marlowe: [00:33:54] She’s flawless.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:33:56] We should definitely listen to her tips. Her skin’s great. Again, probably genetically, is a big component of that. Wonderful skin. AC, indoor heating… Indoor heating is much worse because not only do you use the dry air from outside… So what happens in climate is as we go from summer to winter, we have fall. And during the fall season notice, especially if you’re in the city, that the leaves become brown and crispy. They’re just not that green juicy leafy anymore. Well, the reason is because the air is so dry that the leaf dries and just literally becomes crispy. That could happen to our skin, too.
Maria Marlowe: [00:34:34] Oh no!
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:34:34] Yes. So we don’t want that to happen. We do need to maintain a certain level of moisture and hydration to it. In the winter as you turn on the heating, the indoor heating, you’re pulling in already dry air because winter air is drier than warmer summer air, let’s say. And the reason is because there’s something in the air. The molecules themselves can hold more water when it’s warmer air. When it’s colder air, it kind of shrinks, the molecules and so they can’t hold as much water. And so you’re pulling in that air and then you’re heating it up. And so you’re dehydrating that air even more so.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:35:13] Of course, indoor heating is not great for your skin, but very easy, quick solutions: Sleep with a humidifier or even by a little steamer from anywhere, Amazon. And this is at least going to help you. You can apply a mask, for example, if it’s a Saturday. If you feel extra self-care mode, get a steamer and just steam your face a little bit. Add your mask. Really reintroduce that hydration so that you don’t freeze in the winter, but you’re also not compromising your skin’s hydration.
Maria Marlowe: [00:35:45] And earlier you had mentioned skincare that can help protect us from pollution and from maybe even blue light and all the things that we’re coming into contact on a regular basis. So what ingredients should we be looking for? You mentioned antioxidants like vitamin C, for example. But what should we be looking for in products to protect us from, say, pollution or even digital pollution?
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:36:10] I mean, those are so important these days. Everybody’s on Zoom and everyone’s staring in front of a screen. So blue light is a big, big part of how our brain is functioning in terms of our hormone health. Because the more you expose your eyes to blue light, the more it thinks that it’s early morning, meaning you’re not going to start producing your melatonin, you’re not going to have a restful sleep, which is why it’s so critical to just turn off your devices or you can use blue-blocking glasses, which I have, in the evening to protect your eyes. Because your eyes are going to tell your brain what to do.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:36:48] In terms of the skin. The skin, also like I said, does have these photoreceptors. And so they act a little bit differently than, say, the eye, the retina, but they’re still there. And so they still send messages back up to the central nervous system that there’s a lot of UV. Let’s turn on the antioxidants. If there’s not enough light, let’s do this. So with blue light, in particular, there are ingredients out there like lycopene, which comes from tomatoes. And this tomato has that reddish pigment to it and orangish pigment, which kind of helps to block out the blue wavelengths. So it’s not necessarily stopping it, but it’s kind of reflecting the appropriate color. So the blue wavelength, meaning the high energy, which can cause some damage to our skin.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:37:39] We’ve seen changes in science. I’ve seen some articles looking at how blue light affects aging, for example, and so accelerated aging coming from blue light. Look for ingredients like lycopene or something that has a little bit of an orange hue to it. Sunscreen is going to filter out a lot of the UV, but also potentially the infrared that’s out there that can also cause some damage and pollution. There are actually quite a few ingredients out there. I think in some ways you do have to trust the manufacturers when they say they make their antipollution claims because they’ve probably purchased ingredients from some reputable ingredient manufacturer. And so there are different things. There’s also on top of my head, I’m trying to think of a few. There’s wild indigo that kind of helps your body cope with the stress of the environment. And so in this sense, we’re talking not about internal psychological stress, but environmental stress.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:38:36] So there are different ingredients. A lot of them are botanical ingredients from plants. Algae, for example. So algae in Normandy, in France has just stuck to me for so long. As the tides come in and out, they dry out and so those plants have to be really resilient in this very salty, very kind of turbulent environment. And so a lot of algae extracts are used in skincare because of those properties because it increases the skin’s resilience, but also gives you that nice protective feel without going into the petrochemicals, like silicones, for example.
Maria Marlowe: [00:39:14] And you mentioned infrared earlier. And I feel infrared is very trendy. People are buying infrared saunas for their homes. You can do infrared yoga and whatnot. And as most things, I think there are benefits, there are pros and cons. So in that sense, there are people who are really gone…I love an infrared sauna personally and I love doing infrared yoga. But now you’re telling me this is not good for my skin. So what is the balance? How much is too much and how bad is it actually?
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:39:47] When I first started looking at infrared sun damage, I was working with skincare companies that also have professional skin and spas where you have infrared treatments. So there is a disconnect there, how much to propose to block all infrared. Some infrared is obviously good for health reasons, joints, and things like that. And where is that balance? In science, it’s not known because we haven’t been able to study that. I would say just do things in moderation. If you love an infrared sauna. Great. But do you have to do it weekly? Maybe it’s more of a monthly?
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:40:26] In the winter if you’re doing weekly, maybe you do want to protect your skin. There are ingredients that can protect against infrared as well. I think they were kind of trendy maybe 10 years ago. And then I don’t know what happened. It kind of stopped. Because obviously, you can’t have a spa treatment if you’re making this sun care product that blocks that. You’ll confuse the consumer. So it is a confusing thing. I would say, why not use some sun protection when you’re getting into the spa or in the infrared sauna? There are benefits and as you say, pros and cons. And so finding the balances for yourself. But protect your skin because you don’t need to go into the infrared sauna without…
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:41:10] You could wear sunscreen. You could wear something that protects you. Look into sunscreens that have some sort of infrared claim. They used to make them more, a decade or so ago. They don’t so much anymore. So it might be harder. But, yes, it’s knowing that, of course, there’s damage. The infrared radiation penetrates deeper than UVB and UVA into the skin. So there is certainly a risk there for skin, especially if you have skin cancer or predisposition for that.
Maria Marlowe: [00:41:45] Well, this has made me very sad, but I’m glad that I know. So what are some other myths? Okay, we talked about the 10-step skincare, which was trending for a while, but I think that’s also going out of fashion. So that’s not actually good for your skin. Infrared saunas all day long, all week long, not great for your skin. What are some other skincare trends that are really doing us a disservice and you just wish would go away?
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:42:15] Oh, gosh. Let’s see. I mean, there’s just general. We talked about the indoor heating one, right? I think the main myth around that is that it’s called winter skin. And you might have seen on the magazine’s winter skin, winter skin, but it is not winter skin. It’s actually fall skin, which is why I kind of emphasize that. Because you should be changing your skincare routine. You should be paying more attention to your hydration and all of that in the fall, right at the end of summer when things start to change, because that is when all of the changes happen. And once you’re in winter, it’s done. Your body is already acclimated to that. So that’s another myth. It’s not actually winter skin. It’s autumn skin.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:42:57] Some other myths. Again, from an internal point of view, do you need eight glasses of water? Not necessarily. That hasn’t been shown to be… I don’t know where the eight came from. It’s a cool number, but it’s not scientifically sound. You don’t need eight glasses of water. What you do need is your own hydration levels because you can get it from fruits. And so you could really get the antioxidants of berries if you’re eating a lot of berries, a lot of citrus fruits, especially in the summer, then you’re getting hydration from that. So you can just supplement your water with fruit intake. So that’s another method. You don’t need eight glasses to have healthy, glowing skin.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:43:37] You also do need sleep. Eight hours. So this kind of has gone back and forth. But you do need eight hours of good quality, nighttime sleep to have healthy skin. If you don’t get… What I say is sleep deprivation equals skin deprivation. So when you don’t get those eight hours of quality sleep, then your skin shows it and it looks like aging skin almost. You get those lines and wrinkles because of your dehydration. You get and of course, collagen breakdown. You get the inflammation. You get spots and some of the brown spots, even from the environmental stress, is also going to lead to that. So it’s definitely not a myth that you need to sleep to have good skin. What other myths are there? If you’ve heard any trends, feel free to shoot them my way and I can shoot them down or not.
Maria Marlowe: [00:44:31] Are there any ingredients that are probably not as good as people think?
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:44:37] Gosh, yes. So many. And again, some of these are just… It’s hard to think of what’s on my head because like I said, I haven’t been using any skincare in so long. But a lot of the things that have hype like n extract. I know a plum oil made it very popular last year and it’s plum. It’s not necessarily better. I mean, for me, another area to pay attention to this is the clean beauty movement, because, in clean beauty, there isn’t a scientific definition, so because something is clean, it doesn’t make everything else dirty. So just because a brand says this is clean, and even Sephora has clean. Sephora and all of that. It doesn’t mean the other brands are dirty and they’re full of toxins. That’s illegal. It’s just not possible to do that and formulators aren’t doing that. And so that’s a big myth kind of going on right now.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:45:40] A lot of the trends here just don’t have a ton of scientific backing. What you should be looking for are brands that are transparent in their communication and their sourcing. Where are they getting these ingredients? That’s clean. That’s good to know. And of course, if it’s not good for the planet, it’s not good for you. That’s great. We need to all do our part. It’s just so important to have this circular economy, circular beauty, circular everything movement because we’re starting to see, well, we know the effects of that quite clearly.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:46:17] But in terms of a myth, I guess some of the things that we’re seeing in terms of the trends, you just take those with a little bit of a grain of salt because some of the things that are tried and true are still tried and true. Your vitamins. You need the vitamins internally and externally. Vitamin A, C, E, D, they’re great for you. They’re also great for your skin.
Maria Marlowe: [00:46:37] And I also don’t like the word clean, even for food. There is this whole clean food movement for a long time. And again, it gives the impression that everything else is dirty, which things are healthy and unhealthy. But I feel like clean is such a judgment thing and it’s just not conducive to a healthy relationship with food. What else? I mean what else do you wish people knew about skincare or what’s something that you just wish people knew about this whole connection? The inner-outer connection?
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:47:14] Well one thing I wish people knew more and really just focus on this is that our skin is such an amazing organ. We really just shouldn’t leave it to the most superficial, last-minute, last thought thing, because it’s just it’s an integral part of our body’s health. It is our largest organ. It is a sensor to our environment. We don’t have any other wearable sensor that is as good at it. Even if you have your Apple Watch, it’s just not as good at telling your brain that there is a change in the air. Like you mentioned, even that energetic change that we haven’t been able to measure in science doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. So it is such a sophisticated organ. It is our largest organ.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:47:59] In fact, there’s some, I guess you can call it a myth that the skin is the size of, I think, it’s like two meters squared or the size of a big blanket. Well, the way that was measured was just the surface of the skin, but the skin, as we know now, it’s got grooves and it’s got follicles and the follicles go deep into the dermis. And so when you do the surface area total of all of that living tissue, it is much, much bigger than two meters squared. So we need to rewrite the literature, books, and science around that. We need to do a lot of rewriting in terms of a lot of things. But that’s a big part of it, because given the size of the skin, we need to give it that much importance.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:48:43] So I wish people knew that the skin made its own hormones, especially for women. We know that the ovaries make hormones like estradiol which a lot of people call estrogen. But in fact, that’s also a myth. It’s not estrogen, it’s estrogens because it is a family of compounds, the main one being estradiol. So outside of the ovaries, the skin is the largest producer of estradiol in postmenopausal women. So when you take a blood test and you get some estrogen in there. Estrogen being estradiol, then that probably came from your skin. Your skin also produces the stress hormone cortisol by itself without your brain. So even if you’re not stressed out, your skin is producing cortisol and it is interacting with its own local system.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:49:27] In fact, the theory goes that the skin developed the HPA axis, which is the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Let’s just call it the stress axis. The skin created this axis first and then the brain borrowed it once we became more socially aware animals. So when we’re little blobs on the beach, at one point we only had that outer layer. It needed a system to understand the stress of the wind, of the sun, of the night fall, of potential danger. And so the skin had to develop very intricate and sophisticated systems that we’re only thinking that are linked to the brain now. But actually, they probably came from the skin first. That’s what I wish people would know, is that how amazing this organ really is?
Maria Marlowe: [00:50:17] It’s incredible. Our body, our skin, there’s just so much we still don’t know as well. As amazing as it is already, I feel like there’s so much more that we have yet to discover and learn about just how intelligent our body and our skin is.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:50:31] As we say, we’re only just beginning to scratch the surface.
Maria Marlowe: [00:50:36] So one last question I like to ask all of my guests – If you can leave our listeners with one piece of advice on how they can live a happier and healthier life. What would that be?
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:50:47] I would say to listen to your skin and listen to your body. Once you become more in tune to it and listen to what it’s trying to tell you, then you can make better decisions for your own health and happiness.
Maria Marlowe: [00:50:59] I love it. Well, for more from Dr. Claudia, you can find her on Instagram and on the Web under Doctor Claudia. And is there anywhere else people should look for you? Also heard Ted talk. Definitely check out her Ted Talks. Amazing. Anywhere else?
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:51:15] Just a lot of my videos and podcasts, audio recordings are on my website doctorclaudia.com. Like you mentioned, on Insta. You can send me a DM with questions on Twitter and all the little social areas. But also I’m on boards of different companies. And so if you’re looking out for education around brain, body, skin, there are loads of companies that I’m working with. So stay tuned and reach out with more questions
Maria Marlowe: [00:51:47] Awesome! Well, thank you so much.
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, PhD: [00:51:48] Thank you!