If you want to improve your skin, you can start by looking at your gut, since digestive health directly impacts your complexion. (Just look at what happened when I quit dairy.) But did you know the liver also has a hand in tons of epidermal issues?
That’s right, the organ that’s best known for breaking down alcohol is also intimately connected to skin function.
“A distressed liver can lead to dry, itchy redness, acne, and dull and sagging skin.”
“In traditional Chinese medicine, the belief is that if your liver is in harmony, the rest of your body will be in harmony,” explains Corina Crysler, clinical nutritionist and co-founder of beauty supplement brand Glisodin Skin Nutrients. “A distressed liver can lead to dryness, itchy redness, acne, and dull and sagging skin. Everything [we consume] is processed through the liver, so it’s important to keep it as healthy as possible.”
While dialing back on booze is a good start, there are lots of other ways to help your liver thrive—and, potentially, knock out some chronic skin woes in the process.
Keep reading to find out how to optimize your liver function for better skin.
The inside-out beauty link
Just as an imbalanced gut can lead to breakouts, a buildup of toxins in the liver can also manifest as skin imperfections.
“The liver is one of our main pathways for the elimination of toxins,” says naturopath Edward Group, founder of supplement brand Global Healing Center. “Consider [what] you drink, eat, and even the air you breathe—all of [the toxins in these things] get filtered through the liver. And your skin is a direct reflection of what is going on inside of your body.”
“Your skin is a direct reflection of what is going on inside of your body.”
That means an overload of sketchy substances—whether they’re environmental pollutants, inflammatory foods, or alcohol—may show up on your face. “When the liver is congested and unable to break down toxins, your body makes every effort to purge these toxins through other ways, such as your pores,” says Group. (When you think about the acne flare-ups that often occur during a cleanse, this concept makes sense.)
The fat factor
The liver isn’t just about eliminating toxins—it’s also responsible for breaking down fat. When the organ isn’t bringing its A-game, oil-producing glands in the skin tend to pick up the slack, says Guido Masé, chief herbalist at Urban Moonshine, a line of organic herbs and apothecary-style tonics.
“The liver packages triglycerides and cholesterol into protein ‘boats,’ which is how fat gets sent to tissue for storage,” he explains. “If that’s not going well, [fat] can just circulate in the bloodstream, and it ends up getting used by the sebaceous glands instead.”
When this happens, he says, it can be stressful for your complexion—and can disrupt the oil on your skin (AKA sebum). “If the raw material that your body is using to produce sebum [from the bloodstream] has fat-soluble material that’s inflammatory or full of toxins, a lot can end up in the sebum,” says Masé. (Yikes.)
And then, it’s congestion city—especially if you’re eating fats that are not-so-healthy. “The quality and amount of the fats in your bloodstream have an impact on how thick that sebum is,” adds Masé. “The thicker it is, the more likely it is to clog a pore.”
How to nurture your liver
If a happy liver equals happy skin, how exactly can you help both organs function at their best? According to Group, it all comes back to clean eating.
“The majority of your diet should consist of fresh, organic fruits, vegetables, and raw nuts and seeds,” he says. “If you eat meat, purchase organic and free-range kinds when possible.” Eating healthy fats and avoiding inflammatory foods—including anything processed or fried—will also help your liver de-stress.
And what about supplements? “Bitter herbs, like milk thistle, activate the liver’s metabolic processes and help to clear unsoluble fat material through bile,” says Masé. “Burdock root and Oregon grape root are also good for that, and are commonly used by herbalists to help with chronic skin issues.”
And getting your sweat on isn’t a bad idea, either—Group notes that workouts “stimulate your body and help facilitate the removal of toxins,” and even a meditation practice can help. “Emotions can be a good way to know if your liver is in harmony,” says Crysler. “Stress, tension, resentment, and anger show a disruption.”
So now you have one more organ to pay attention to in your quest for a clear complexion—but hey, anything for that #nofilter life, right?