So while helping one of my favorite Sabbatical Beauty customers troubleshoot her routine into achieving that cloudless, chok-chok skin every Korean skincare aficionado is after, I realized a fantastic way to explain to you my new skincare research obsession. This obsession of mine is on the microbiome: new developments in microbiology that are radically affecting cutting-edge skin care.
Why is understanding the microbiome critical to getting that kbeauty glass skin? Because microbiome research is causing a seismic shift in dermatology. Meaning: what you’re going to be putting your skin in the next five-ten years will be fundamentally changing because of this shift. Or, in other words-- only through your microbiome will you find the way to achieving the ultimate chok chok almost biteable k-pop idol skin!
Now that I’ve sold you on reading at least this far, you’re probably saying: ok fine. So wtf is the microbiome anyway? The term “microbiome” refers to microorganisms that live in a particular environment. Your gut has a microbiome, and scientists are only starting to understand how critical the gut microbiome is to your overall health. Your skin also has a separate microbiome. And for that matter, so do different parts of your body -- your mouth, nose and even your genitalia! Properly feeding and caring for your microbiome is fundamental not just to good health--but to that glowing skin we all crave!
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the original skin consultation I was having with one of my favorite customers and now friend, Carol Tang.
Treat Your Skin Like The Empress She Truly Is
If you don’t know who Carol is, she’s one of the most beloved members of our tight-knit skincare community. Carol is from tropical, sunny Singapore, is my age (we both just turned forty!), and has been beset by oily skin and large pores since her teens. Although Sabbatical Beauty had achieved the miracle of transforming what she used to call a permanent “oil slick” to more combination skin, she still wondered if she could regulate her facial oil production even more and maybe reduce the appearance of her clogged pores, which still bothered her enough for her to refer to her nose as a “strawberry”.
The Lovely Carol
As I talked to Carol about her skin, we both realized how much mainstream beauty products catering to oily and acne-prone skin had actually made her oily skin even worse.
The reason for this is twofold. First, as most dermatologists recognize, most customers with oily skin overcleanse their skin in an effort to remove excess oil. Overcleansing the skin dehydrates it. And your skin treats dehydration as an attack (in dermatology-speak, an “insult”, which I find hilarious. I always imagine your skin in a pearl-clutching outrage because of some “insult upon her character”, which makes me smile).
Your skin treats this dehydration as an attack -- because if your skin is dried out, it cannot form an effective barrier between your insides and the outside world. So, in an effort to protect your body, your skin produces even more oil to act as a protective barrier. And what do you do in response? You try your best to remove that barrier through cleansing again, because your skin feels too oily! Overcleansing is a vicious cycle that ironically leads to even more prolific oil production.
The second reason is that most of the skincare products marketed to consumers with oily skin is much too harsh, and has the effect of making your skin feel that it is under even greater attack (in dermatological speak, this is called when your skin’s barrier is even more compromised). “Oil-free” cleansers, sold to folks who are worried that putting oil on their face will cause even more oil to freely flow out of their pores, are often harshly alkaline, meaning that they disrupt your skin’s naturally acidic barrier (Your skin’s natural pH is acidic, and is generally between 4.2-5.6). When you put a harshly alkaline cleanser on your face, you disrupt your skin’s acidity, making it more hospitable to bad bacteria that can cause acne. (The good bacteria likes an acidic pH, the bad bacteria likes it more alkaline). The reasons why most brands do this is because customer’s feel that a “soapy” cleanser cleans more deeply than something which isn’t as sudsy. But making cleansers soapy actually makes them more alkaline-- you need low-pH to maintain your skin’s health, and low-pH cleansers are generally not satisfyingly foamy the way the high pH ones are.
Another example of how mainstream skincare products for “oily” skinned folks actually make skin even more oily-- ingredients like alcohol are often near the top of the ingredient list. This is done because alcohol evaporates quickly, which helps to reduce the feeling of being sticky and cloying. But by doing that, alcohol also takes the water that is already in your skin away with it as it evaporates, making your skin even more dehydrated. The net effect of this is that when you put on, say, an alcohol-based toner, your oily skin will feel light and matte at first, but in a few hours you’ll feel even more oily than before you started. Because your toner dehydrated your skin, your skin is producing even more oily to counteract the damage you’ve done to it.
Carol’s routine was already massively improving her skin because of her switch to using Sabbatical Beauty exclusively. Her skin had changed from oily to combination in under a year, and products were absorbing a lot better than they were in the past. And we were trying to further troubleshoot her skin by giving her more moisture in her routine, instead of taking it away, which regulated her oil production even further, because her skin was no longer dehydrated.
I commented to Carol, that her skin was really smart because even though she had been trying to harm it unintentionally, it was resilient enough to defend itself from her dehydrating attacks--by making her even more oily.
Carol then commented that her skin was “so scheming”, because it resisted her best efforts to tame it of oil by producing even more oil, which had us both falling apart laughing. We then compared our skin to the ways the Empress Dowager is represented in Hong Kong and Taiwanese television dramas we both watched as young women in the 1990s. In these dramas, the Empress is a scheming, manipulative powerhouse that you’re encouraged to both dislike yet have a ton of respect for due to her tenacity!
Leaky Gut, Leaky Skin: Understanding Your Gut-Brain-Skin Axis
And then I realized the perfect way to explain how microbiome research to you guys: because your body works exactly like a kingdom: with different centers of power, all which have their own autonomy and their own power. And your skin, as an Empress, is one of those centers of power.
This is what in microbial dermatology is called the gut-brain-skin-axis, or, simply put, what you eat is linked to your mood, may contribute to brain disorders like epilepsy, Alzheimers and Parkinson's, and even whether you may suffer from skin conditions like acne, eczema and psoriasis.
What I’m calling “centers of power” here are the various nervous systems contained within your body. While you’re probably familiar with your central nervous system, which lives in your brain, you probably did not know that your gut has its own independent nervous system, called the enteric nervous system, and that your skin (along with your joints and muscles) even has its own nervous independent system called the somatic nervous system.
The Gut-Skin-Brain Axis
Microbiology research has shown that these nervous systems do not function just through what your body does alone, but through the very important help that the microbes that live in these environments provide. Everywhere you look, there are microbes: tiny little microscopic bacteria invisible to the human eye, that live in symbosis with the human body. Specifically, your body helps to provide these microbes with the food they need to survive and an environment safe from other predators. In turn, these microbes make important byproducts (known as “metabolites”) from this food, which we humans cannot manufacture on our own, and which we need to function.
Microbiome research is fundamentally changing dermatology because these metabolites actually make up what scientists now say is a language -- a language which allows these microbes to communicate with us, for our gut, brain and skin to communicate with each other, and for us even to communicate with the bodies of other creatures! Looking at things on a microbial level, it looks like your skin actually thinks and talks to your brain. And that it’s a two way street -- your brain also talks to your skin. Correspondingly, what you eat will affect what your skin looks like, because if you have digestion issues, this will translate into your skin being less able to defend itself as your gut and brain are busy trying to heal your gut and brain from the digestion disruption.
You’ve probably heard of leaky gut syndrome. Microbiological studies have repeatedly shown that an overpopulation of undesirable bacteria, and not enough good bacteria in your gut, means that your intestinal barrier may be compromised. This leads, among other things, to potentially painful problems with digestion, and scientists are now conjecturing that it can also lead to brain disorders like epilepsy and Alzheimers because of the language which your gut communicates with your skin.
You can also have leaky skin, which is when your skin’s natural barrier is compromised. I gave some examples above with Carol about how the way most oily skinned-folks treat their skin actually leads to a compromised skin barrier, through the use of harsh alkaline cleansers, excessive cleansing and more. When your skin barrier is compromised, harmful substances can pass through your skin. A compromised skin barrier is at fault when you have rosacea and eczema. What happens is that your skin can’t retain moisture because its barrier has been broken. This allows allergens and irritants from the environment to deeply penetrate your skin and trigger inflammation -- an immune response from your skin that results in redness, sores, dry scaly patches and more.
Moreover, stress hormones like cortisol work as part of that microbial language between microbes and different parts of your body. So if your skin is stressed, your brain will be stressed, and in turn, your gut. And if you eat things which do not provide enough food for your gut microbes, or don’t have enough good gut bacteria, this is going to also show up on your skin.
What all this means is that one of the most effective ways to improve your skin is to eat things that will help to heal your gut microbiome-- meaning, help proliferate the good bacteria in your gut by adding more good bacteria (through fermented foods and probiotics) and by eating things which provide food for that good bacteria to thrive (such as fruits, vegetables and sources of resistant starch, like potatoes).
How I Eat To Get Dat Glass Skin: My Not-Static Principles Of Eating This Way
Since I’ve started on my microbiome research, I’ve fundamentally changed the way that I eat to heal my gut microbiome. Not just has this led to improved skin, it’s also changed my life in other ways. I’ve had the following results which may appeal to you: more energy, improved mood, and better fitting clothes.
I’ve achieved the following results just by eating alongside the principles I outline below:
- Try to cover at least ½ your plate with plant fiber. This means fruit and vegetables. This plant fiber provides your good gut microbes with important food (“prebiotics”) that it needs to produce the metabolites that your body needs.
- Grains and starchy vegetables are okay, but the best ways to consume them is either through fermenting them, or by cooking and cooling them, which increases their resistant starch content. Resistant Starch is ideal good microbe food, and cooked and cooled rice and potatoes are good sources of resistant starch.
- Reduce the use of sugar and most sugar substitutes, except for stevia and sugar alcohols like erythritol. Sugar and the majority of sugar substitutes encourage bad bacteria and suppress good bacteria. Honey, especially natural and unprocessed honey, or maple syrup, are also good substitutes as they are prebiotics -- they provide food for the good microbes.
- Eat animal protein sparingly-- I usually have a palm sized amount or less.
- Eat good sources of fat, which include high quality, grassfed butter, lard and other animal fats, avocados and olives -- but not in large amounts as they can slow digestion.
- Eat some kinds of dairy. Fermented dairy is the best (yogurt, kefir, cheese), and high quality, full-fat, non-homogenized raw milk is also okay on this diet. Even though I sometimes have lactose intolerance issues, I do well with raw milk and fermented dairy.
- Yes to all fermented foods and non-alcoholic drinks-- I’m especially addicted to Kombucha, and kimchi tuna stew is one of my favorite happy gut comfort foods.
- Incorporate a probiotic pill daily--look for a pill that contains at least 50 billion colony forming units at the time of manufacture. (Here’s what I take).
- Alcohol is fine, but only in moderation (not more than two servings at a time).
I've included an infographic for you below to remember the rules easily. Scroll past it to get to the Crispy Potato Smashies!
I want to emphasize that these principles are my own and adapted to my individual gut microbiome based on my experiments, and may not work for everyone. I’ve adopted them through the course of my gut research, but they are not comprehensive-- I will continue to revise them as I continue my own research and experimentation.
But one of the best things I’ve found, is that unlike the majority of fad “healthy” diets currently en vogue, that carbohydrates are fine, especially if they come from whole food sources. As long as you cook and cool them to increase their resistant starch content, or ferment them so they are easier for your body to digest, you can have carbs. Just remember that the highest source of plant fiber is resident in green leafy vegetables, so make sure to have a good amount of greens with those carbs!
Which leads me, finally, to why Crispy Potato Smashies will help you to achieve that cloudless, chok-chok BTS-member skin.
My Gut-Healing, Chok Chok Skin Getting, Crispy Potato Smashies Recipe
One of my favorite things to eat are french fries. Crispy Potato Smashies -- which I first learned about from Chrissy Teigen’s new cookbook, Hungry For More are essentially boiled and baked crispy little potatoes. Imagine if a baked potato and a French fry had a baby, and that very tasty baby was very good for your gut microbiome.
That’s my adaptation of Crispy Potato Smashies below.
Why and how this recipe leads to you getting some chok chok skin:
- Potatoes are naturally high in vitamin C (good for your skin), and in resistant starch, which your gut microbes use as food.
- Cooking and cooling the potatoes will increase the amount of resistant starch in them
- Boiling and then baking allows you to use less oil, as excessive amounts of oil are not good for your digestion
- Cooking with fresh herbs increases the amount of antioxidants you’re ingesting, also a great source of skin health.
Also, I trust Chrissy Teigen to come up with deliciousness. First of all her Thai garlic pork congee is epic (the original version), secondly, I love her politics and thirdly, her hilarious twitter account make her one of my favorite celebrities.
SO: this is my version of Chrissy Teigen’s Crispy Potato Smashies, redone to up the flavor AND to increase its goodness for your gut (and skin!) microbiome.
Duck Fat Crispy Potato Smashies With Fresh Rosemary Recipe
Baby potatoes (about ½ pound, or 200g)
Salt (as needed)
Water to boil potatoes (as needed)
Rosemary (2 fresh sprigs. You can use dried in a pinch, but reduce to 2 tsp.)
Duck Fat (2 tbsp)
- Add enough water to cover the unpeeled baby potatoes, and salt the water until it’s as salty as the sea.
- Boil unpeeled baby potatoes until u can stick a fork in one easily, about 15-20 minutes.
- Drain potatoes. Return to pot or mixing bowl. Add 1 tbsp of duck fat and toss until melted, and fresh rosemary leaves. Toss until well distributed.
4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or oil it, so the smashies won’t stick. Then smash the boiled potatoes flat (SMASHIES, geddit) with the back of a spoon or fork. The palm of your hand is good if that's what you have. You want lots of fuzzy sides, the more texture you create, the more than will crisp up in your oven for absolute Maillard-effect deliciousness.
5. Place smashies in fridge for at least 8 hours or until completely cool. (This is how you increase the amount of resistant starch in them.)
6. Spread smashies onto a baking sheet, and cook at 425F/210C until done (about 20 minutes, depending on your oven.) Flip once to get crispy deliciousness on both sides.
7. Taste. Top with more salt as desired and serve.
And now... here's an infographic for the Crispy Potato Smashies recipe!
The Next Step
The next step to achieving that Chok Chok, Cloudless Skin through understanding your microbiome?
Sign up for the Homebrew Revolution - where in Phase 1, or what I am calling the “Carol” semester (yes, the Carol mentioned above!), I will be teaching you how I formulated the Carol Serum just for Carol’s skin concerns -- oil reducing, skin tone evening and anti aging, through my microbiome research!
The Homebrew Revolution starts Wednesday April 10, with the How To Read An Ingredients List Like a Professor FREE webinar series.
Are you in?
Want to read more about the gut-skin-brain axis and the role the microbiome plays in your skin health? I've listed some good references below. It isn't an exhaustive list, however. Note that microbiome science is still in its infancy and many of its conclusions are limited to small human studies or animal models.
Bowe, Whitney. The Beauty of Dirty Skin: The Surprising Science of Looking and Feeling Radiant from the Inside Out.Little, Brown & Company, 2018.