In this episode, I am speaking with Jennifer Fugo–a clinical nutritionist, empowering women who have been failed by conventional medicine to beat chronic skin and unending gut challenges–about the skin microbiome, common mistakes of skin care, how to get better skin naturally, and more.
In this podcast, Jennifer will cover:
- The secret hidden root causes of skin rashes
- Do food sensitivities cause skin rashes? (The answer will shock you!)
- The most common mistakes of skin care
- The best oil for your skin (It isn’t what you think)
- Is my gut health affecting my skin? (The link between gut and skin microbiome)
- How to get better skin naturally from the inside out
- The emotional impact having a skin condition may have on people (And how you can support friends and family who struggles with it)
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Ari Whitten: Everyone, welcome back to the Energy Blueprint Podcast. I am your host Ari Whitten and today I have with me Jennifer Fugo who is a clinical nutritionist empowering women who have been failed by conventional medicine to beat chronic skin and unending gut challenges. Because she has overcome a long history of gut issues and eczema, Jennifer has empathy and insight to help her clients discover missing pieces and create doable, integrative plans. Simply put Jennifer believes you deserve better. That is why she has launched Skinterrupt to interrupt the failed conversation about chronic skin problems with helpful alternatives that you aren’t being told about. She has got a master’s degree in Human Nutrition from the University of Bridgeport and is a Certified Nutrition Specialist. Her work has been featured on Dr. Oz, Reuters, Yahoo!, CNN, and many podcasts and summits. Jennifer is an Amazon bestselling author and the host of the Healthy Skin Show. So welcome Jennifer, such a pleasure to have you.
Jennifer Fugo: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. It’s actually a big honor.
Ari Whitten: Thank you. I appreciate that. So, as your bio here says you have a long history of gut issues and eczema. I think a good entry point into this whole discussion is just if you could talk a bit about your background and your experiences with chronic skin conditions.
Jennifer Fugo: Absolutely. Well, my foray into chronic skin issues started when I was in grad school, so a period of very high stress. And, you know, I had some skin issues earlier in life when I got to a point where my gut problems were horrendous, and I had really bad diarrhea. That was sort of my background. So, I’m like kind of a full disclosure person. So, anything you want to know about my health is on the table. And that was pretty much, I come from this diarrhea, food sensitivity, lots of gut problems, gut issues, had it for a long time. But then all of a sudden, I get to grad school, I’m in a period of extremely high stress and I begin to develop these little clear pustules, little bubbles under my skin on my middle finger, which, you know, I kind of have a sense of humor about my health. And I’m sort of like, was that my body’s way…? Like being like, “Hey Jen, you know, you didn’t take care of yourself,” a little bit of like, you know, punchy humor. And it just got worse and worse and worse. And I was in the middle of the summer and what happened was those little beads, so to speak, started to burst and they became incredibly itchy and would ooze. And then my dad, who is a doctor, gave me steroid cream and advised me, “Use it very sparingly.” The problem was that I would use the steroid cream, they would go away and then about two weeks later it would start all over again. I would become incredibly itchy. The area would become red, oozing. Oh, it was awful. And it would spread. And so, it started in one little small spot. And then spread up the webbing of my fingers on one hand and then it began going onto the palm of my hand and up the top of the fingers and it got to the point where I could not bear to touch anything.
I couldn’t even put my hands under water because the water burned so badly. So, it wasn’t even like I couldn’t wash my hands with soap, I couldn’t touch water. So, I was wearing these, we were doing these renovations at the time and happened to be at Home Depot and found these like blue gloves that weren’t like super tight. And so, I started wearing those because I didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t go to the gym anymore because, you know, your hands get dirty. I couldn’t handle my cats. I couldn’t cook food without these gloves on. And it got to the point where I was in so much pain and I was so tired because I would wake up in the middle of the night and I had been scratching and I didn’t know and sometimes I was like bleeding. And it got to the point where people would make faces when they would go to shake my hand. Because they would do this sort of like double-take thing of like, “Do I want to touch her? Is she infected? What’s going on?” And they are trying to like figure out how to bail. You could see it on their face. And I just, so I’ve been there. I almost threw in the towel, like thinking maybe I don’t know enough, and I shouldn’t become a clinical nutritionist. Like how can I talk to anybody? I had to stop teaching cooking classes that I was teaching at the time because who the heck wants to eat food from somebody whose hands are all messed up. And my husband, thank God for him, was like, “What happens if it was a client that came to you and said, like, ‘I’m having these problems.’ What would you do?” You know, I should have known that, but that’s okay. He reminded me of that, and I started to think about all the other pieces that could potentially be involved.
And I began working on a plan and it took time. Like everybody wants to think like they are just going to drink some magic potion or put some magic cream on their skin and poof, it’s going to be better. It took six months or so for my skin to stop flaring and it took a year for the dry, scaly areas to go away. It took a year and a half for my nails to grow back out correctly. It took a lot of time and persistence, but I’ve pretty much gotten myself to the point where I don’t really have flares anymore. I won’t say I’m 100% in remission, but I’m like 95% there. And it’s very freeing to get that piece of your life back, when you start to say, “Hey, what’s going on under the surface?” And addressing it from there.
The emotional impact of skin issues
Ari Whitten: Yeah. I have a lot of questions on the science here and that is typically my forte and what I like doing on this Podcast. But you just touched on something there that I want to briefly get into which is the emotional side of skin issues because obviously skin is our surface organ. It is not like having a liver problem or a heart problem where it is all on the inside. It is presented to the world. And when you have psoriasis or eczema or rashes or pustules or whatever, or acne or something like that, you know, these things, there is a lot of shame and insecurity and lack of confidence that goes with these things. I had acne as a teenager, you know, it was brutal. My brother had really severe acne, my older brother. And, I mean it takes a huge toll on people’s I think experience of life to have chronic skin problems. Like you don’t have the confidence, you know, in my case or my brother’s case to like approach girls and ask a girl out on a date because like you are ashamed of, you know, the pimples on your face. And there is so much psychological and emotional suffering that goes along with these skin conditions. I’m just wondering if you could kind of touch on that side of things.
Jennifer Fugo: Yeah, it is a big problem. And I was actually reading in a Facebook group just yesterday about how there is this frustration that doctors don’t ever ask you, like when you go, you know, you are going to your appointment to be like, “Hey, do you have another cream that will help me?” That they don’t ever ask you how you are coping with this. And you know, it gets to the point where you feel so disgusting and to some degree dirty and then ashamed because you don’t want people to stare at you, that it is a vicious cycle. Like why bother go out, you know? Like I said, I was teaching cooking classes at the time, had to stop doing that. So, it was a loss of revenue for my business, but it also was a real hit to my confidence because nobody wanted to eat the food that I had made with these hands.
And, you know, fortunately, I have a good support system, but not everyone does. I’ve had clients who have had family members make comments that they are damned, and they have done something to deserve this. And for a long while, I also thought that someone had like put the Maloika on me. You know, I had the evil eye and I was like, “What did I do to deserve this? This is awful.” It is literally like living in hell. And my experience isn’t, I know it is not unique at all because what is incredibly surprising when you look at research is that a lot of these skin conditions, and I think for the most part eczema has been the one that has been most studied although psoriasis is sort of next behind it as far as quality of life, and it takes a huge hit.
Eczema specifically, it takes a huge hit to your life as does psoriasis. And we are looking at a financial loss, of relationship loss, of serious depression that you don’t even want to go out. You don’t want to partake in, you know, birthday parties. You don’t want to go to anything. You don’t want to be seen. And it is just so sad to the point where we see this really significant increase in suicide risk that nobody talks about. So it was, let’s see, it was January of 2018 where there was a study that had been published stating something to the effect like 34 to 36% of people who had, or excuse me, that there was a 34 to 36% increased risk of suicide in people who have eczema. It is 20% risk in psoriasis, but it also, the risk is greater the younger that you are in psoriasis.
So, it is a little bit different. But a lot of these chronic skin conditions all come along with them this increased risk of not just thinking about suicide, but also attempting suicide. So, I do think that this is something where I know that people want to help. And if you know somebody who is really going through this, you are like, “Let me give you this cream. Let me try and help you.” A lot of times you just want somebody to be there to support you, to listen to you, not necessarily to fix it. But when you find resources, you know, that might be helpful, share them with that person. But don’t judge them, don’t force them. They just, they really need to know that you care and love them. That is so important, and I am so blessed to have had a family that was supportive of me that I never went to a dark place like that. But it can really mess up your life.
Why Jennifer’s approach is the best one for getting healthy skin
Ari Whitten: Yeah, absolutely. I want to transition into the science now and I was watching some of your videos to prep for this Podcast to get a sense of everything you do. And I always kind of do that with everybody I interview. I kind of like to already be having a little bit of a conversation with them for like a couple of hours prior to actually having a conversation with them. It just kind of makes things flow a little smoother. And one of the things you said that I really liked is the difference between the direct route and the scenic route as far as treating skin conditions. And you touched on this a bit in your personal story, right? Your dad was a doctor and the conventional answer for skin conditions is like, “Oh, you have a skin problem, let’s rub some kind of cream on it that either kills bacteria or is an anti-inflammatory or is a corticosteroid” or something to that effect in most cases.
And this is kind of like, that is the thinking they are locked into. It is a skin issue, let’s treat it topically for the most part. Or then you have sometimes like acne and Accutane, which my older brother was put on, which has all these horrible side effects. And the approach that you take is radically different from the conventional approach to skin health. And I would say a conventional doctor would look at what you are doing, like let’s say you are like talking about treating a chronic skin issue by affecting gut health, by working on the gut or somebody’s liver health or something to that effect. And they are like, “Oh, that’s a bunch of nonsense and quackery and pseudoscience.” Why are they wrong and why are you right?
Jennifer Fugo: Oh, I like that question. That is a good question. I wouldn’t say that they are wrong. I think the problem has been with conventional dermatology that there is a lot of money in it from the pharmaceutical realm. The pharmaceutical realm has its fingers in it quite a bit. And so, let’s start with that first. When you look at some very interesting information, if you were, I think if we go back to like 2014/2015ish, there were something like 30 some million dollars being handed out by the pharmaceutical industry to dermatologists. So, there is that. Then on top of it, they have these blockbuster drugs, some of which are…
Ari Whitten: How can we get you in on some of that action? I want some [crosstalk] from pharmaceutical companies too.
Jennifer Fugo: Seriously. But here is the thing, like you look at some of these drugs, and by the way, they are doing heavy-duty ad rotations on these drugs now on TV. Especially for Dupixent which I see all the time. But maybe I see it all the time because I’m in this world, but it has shown up at the gym on the TV and whatnot. So, they are putting this on the TV and considering it to be one of the next blockbuster drugs for eczema. And that drug costs $35,000 a year. You have to be on it for life to maintain, assuming it works, you have to be on it for life. So, think about that for a second and do the math. If you were on Humira, that’s $50,000 a year. So, what is the impetus to actually cure these issues?
There is none. They just want to manage the symptoms and find something to suppress some pathway that generates inflammation that is causing these issues. And these medications, by the way, are not foolproof. And look, if that is the way that you choose to go, that is your choice. I’m not judging you. I chose to use topical steroids when I was on my journey because I had to sleep. I had to get back to real life and I used it sparingly and responsibly, but that was my choice. So, whatever you choose to do is up to you. But you should just go into it with your eyes wide open. Because the reality of it is, a lot of us are trained from going to the doctors to want the fix. What is going to fix me now or in a few days? How am I going to feel better immediately? And that is this like super highway route that we are so used to.
But the reality of it is if you really want to fix underlying problems that contribute to any sort of chronic issue, and yes, we are specifically talking about skin issues right now, but this is really in general, it is a scenic route. You have to take a longer way there because oftentimes, and especially with the skin, there are a number of different issues and imbalances going on underneath the surface. Now, to your point about why I am, let’s just put it in quotes, “I am right, ” The research is not getting into the dermatologist’s office. Like I didn’t make this up. One of the really interesting things was when I started digging into this and started interviewing people that were frankly much smarter than me, have spent a lot of time at med school, are doing research, are working with patients at places that, you know, like Northwestern University and really big universities.
There are discovering things that are just basically being ignored. There’s a lot of papers that are starting to come out now about the connection between butyrate, which is a short-chain fatty acid that is produced by our gut microbiome bugs, the bugs that we like in our gut to help communicate to the bugs out on the skin. And that is a really cool finding. But why is nobody talking about that? And so, when I, and this is the important thing, there is no one quick fix for fixing your skin. If you like take something out of your diet and it fixes you, great. I’m happy for you. But for most of us, it is not that. I was already gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free for six years when I developed eczema. So, there is no… It really upsets me when I see people say, “Oh, just go gluten-free. Oh, just take this out. Just go salicylate free, do all these elimination diets.” And I’m like, “That is not really going to fix somebody,” because a lot of times what people have is this combination of root causes underneath the surface that is unique to them. It could be gut issues. It could be nutritional deficiencies that are the result of a bunch of different things going on. It could be fungal infections. It could be liver detoxification challenges, like actual biochemical liver detoxification challenges, trauma, stress, etc. So, we need to look underneath the surface, figure out a bit of a hierarchy of how those root causes that affect somebody’s skin are at fault so to speak, and then develop a plan to be able to help them move forward. And that is why I call it the scenic route because, in reality, it can take sometimes months. It took me a long time. And I just rather somebody’s expectations be managed, especially because we talked about the emotional side, rather than making unrealistic promises that, you know, you get so far and you are just like, “Why am I doing this? I don’t get it.” So…
Ari Whitten: Yeah, I appreciate that. I want to emphasize one thing that you said there, which is that the research exists. You are not making this up and that they are just ignoring it. And this is not at all unique to skin. This is across the board and this is a fundamental… I mean there are people who emphasize more like pharmaceutical corruption and influence and things like that. But I think part of it is honestly just a fundamental flaw in the paradigm that blinds them to a vast expanse of the scientific literature. I mean we have conventional MDs who will talk endlessly about statins and atherogenic lipoproteins and fixate on the biochemical mechanism and this medication that can be potentially used to combat it and ignore the fact that cardiovascular disease is a disease of lifestyle. That we know, from a mountain of science, is related to nutrition and environmental toxin exposure and to circadian rhythm and sleep and to physical fitness and sunlight exposure and many, many other factors.
The same with, you know, Alzheimer’s. It is like we ignore all the research linking it with gut health, with sun exposure, with circadian rhythm and sleep, with nutrition. All of that science, which there is a huge amount of science, is all ignored in favor of fixating on the biochemical mechanisms at play in trying to develop a drug that can interrupt a particular pathway, which by the way has been almost a complete failure in the vast majority of chronic diseases, especially diseases of lifestyle. So, I would argue that what you are calling the scenic route, which is the systemic root instead of just fixating on the skin only, that treating the whole system of the body and all the factors that affect the skin health is actually the only scientific approach to treating skin health.
Jennifer Fugo: And the other piece that is important to this conversation is that skin is the lowest on the totem pole. So that is the additional problem. That is why they are like, “Well, I tried this diet thing and it didn’t work,” or “I tried this one supplement and it didn’t work,” or “Detox, it didn’t work.” And they, it’s like they are throwing ping pong balls at the wall hoping that something will finally like get in a hole. And it is just like, no, that is not how it works. Your skin is, unfortunately, this exterior signaling system, so to speak. I mean it can tell us a lot through all of these symptoms that something is wrong underneath the surface. But then you have to actually look. And before you are oftentimes going to see improvements you actually have to address a lot of those things under the surface. So, if you have, say, for example, low thyroid, a lot of people don’t get checked for low thyroid.
They don’t think of it. But that is one of the first things that I ask. I’m like, “When was the last time your thyroid was checked?” You know, “When was the last time that you took a look at your gut history and your antibiotic use history or your steroid use history or any other medication history that could potentially deplete nutrients out of the system that your skin requires for it to rebuild healthfully?” Because guess what? As much as I would love to think that yes, the body is miraculous. But it doesn’t make everything that it needs in order… We can’t survive off of air. We need a constant supply of certain things coming in order to survive and thrive. And so if we can’t digest our food appropriately, if we can’t absorb it, if we are carrying around mountains of trauma from our past that are present that is also creating a ton of stress, which again, there is a lot of research about that which I was really skeptical about, to be honest with you. But I was proven wrong by my skepticism and looking deeper.
I think then we can start to say, “Hey, you know what? Maybe we do ourselves a disservice by assuming that this is just a quick fix.” And actually, it is an opportunity and invitation to address the body as a whole by saying, “Hey, my skin is not optimal. What could I do underneath the surface that might actually get me closer to a place where it stays healthy as opposed to just like manage, flare, manage, flare, manage…” I mean, that’s insane. It makes me feel insane going back and forth like that and that is how people end up feeling is, is just all over the place, depressed and frustrated.
The key causes of different skin conditions
Ari Whitten: Yeah, absolutely. Can we talk about like the big picture, a high-level overview of your paradigm and what this scenic route entails? So, like what are the key mechanisms at play on a physiological level of what is actually leading to these different skin conditions?
Jennifer Fugo: Absolutely. So, what I have figured out from interviewing… So, I have interviewed I think close to a hundred people so far. Like doctors, dietitians, nutritionists, researchers, plus doing my own research and working in clinical practice. And what I figured out right now that there are about 16 root causes. And it is important to understand that you don’t have all of them. But what I have found is that typically people have somewhere like three, five or six of them depending on, you know, what you have gone through in your life, what you are pulling from your family, you know, as far as genes are concerned, your environment, both internally and externally. Your mitochondria are those little power plants in every single cell that are so important to creating the very basis for energy in the body, things like that.
And so, we are looking at microbiome dysbiosis is like always the first key. But when I say that, I don’t just mean gut. You can have a microbiome dysbiosis at the skin level as well. And those are typically tied together, the gut and the skin. The gut, at least from my research and from interviewing people, seems to be the one kind of leading the way. So, if you do have an issue… Like, “I used antibiotics and then it came back. And I used antibiotics again and it came back.” Right there it is saying you are having a hard time anchoring the microbiome on the skin. So, let’s take a look underneath the surface to see if there is like signaling that we need to address like butyrate, which I mentioned, or you know gut infections, etc. So gut dysfunction is another one where we can’t properly digest and absorb food. Diet and food reactions are another big one.
But I don’t give them as much weight as some people say you should because not everybody has food sensitivities as the sole reason why they have skin problems. And I found that a lot of times clients will try all these different diets and they don’t get better. So again, that is feedback to start looking elsewhere. Nutritional deficiencies are a big role, play a big role. Liver detoxification challenges, and what I actually mean by that is Phase II liver detoxification. Not like, you know, your liver collects all of these… It is like a sponge or a filter for a fish tank, it’s not like that. There are actual biochemical pathways there that require very specific nutrients to support what is headed the liver’s way. Trauma and unmanaged stress are very, very important. Genetics. So genetic wise we have got filaggrin which is a protein that your body is supposed to make.
So similar to the gut when the gut becomes leaky, the skin also is a barrier and should be sealed. And so filaggrin is this protein that is almost like mortar mix that helps the cells be nice and, you know like pointed like a brick wall so to speak. And the same goes for the gut. And so, when we have, sometimes certain people with eczema will have a SNP in this filaggrin gene. However, both external and internal inflammation will cause that gene to kind of go haywire and not produce the appropriate protein as its end product. So that can also play a role. Thyroid dysfunction, hormone imbalances, autoimmunity, and autoinflammation. We have got drug reactions, which a lot of people overlook, and they don’t realize that sometimes it is the drugs. And it can be over the counter drugs like NSAIDs, or it could be blood pressure medication, or things like Plaquenil which are actually given to people who have lupus, which somewhat has a skin manifestation component. We have got mitochondrial dysfunction for sure, heavy metals, environmental toxins, and of course allergies. We can’t forget about those. So, it can be things in your environment, it can be your food, but it can also be to random things that you wouldn’t even think would cause an issue but that happen to be chemicals that are sprayed on things like paper bags and whatnot. So, I have some clients with some really interesting things going on.
Ari Whitten: My wife is a chef and she had for like a year these like rashes and inflammation on her hands. And like she used to call them, “The itchies.” And maybe it was like psoriasis or something similar to that. And we couldn’t figure out what it was. And we were actually trying to… I mean her health strategies were already so dialed in. And so, we were like, “What could be causing this?” Well, it turns out in her job as a chef she is handling all kinds of like caustic substances. So, things like vinegar and citrus rinds and like, you know, like chemicals that a little bit is okay and no big deal. But when you are doing it for hours every day, they become a big deal. And basically, it was contact dermatitis is what they call it. And as soon as she just started wearing gloves basically and protecting her hands from the exposure to these chemicals, the reaction stopped.
Jennifer Fugo: It is amazing the things that are around us that can cause these types of issues. It could be chemicals that are sprayed on carpeting, it could be chemicals that are in your drywall. And I don’t say this to scare anyone, but we don’t realize the chemicals that are around us that are in our water. Even to some degree, some people can have what is known as a nickel sensitivity. And so, one of the tip-offs is that say you wear really cheap jewelry and you find that you are getting that like contact dermatitis reaction where your ears start to get all crusty for us ladies that wear earrings that are really cheap, cheap jewelry. And for some, they actually can react to nickel that is naturally occurring in food. And so, I actually know someone who was a chef like your wife, and she had to stop being a chef because she was reacting to all of the metals that were in the bowls and spoons and everything like that. So, don’t necessarily rule that out. Metal allergies are a real thing.
Why coconut oil may not be good for your skin
Ari Whitten: Interesting. So, I want to get into some specifics of kind of some random things. So, one is coconut oil topically. I know you are not a fan of it which goes against a lot of the common thinking in, you know, among our peers in the natural health space. Why are you not a fan of coconut oil topically?
Jennifer Fugo: I used to be and then I sat down, and I interviewed a bunch of people who were like, “Listen, the way that coconut oil has been portrayed for skincare has been way overblown.” And there is a number of reasons why. And so, I just want to specify that this is not something I just made up. My eyes were initially opened by Kiran Krishnan who maybe has been on your Podcast.
Ari Whitten: Not as yet but he is on my list.
Jennifer Fugo: He is so brilliant. Such a smart man. And he was the one who told me that they had actually done a study using coconut oil, so spreading it on the face of a cell phone, you know, that you press up to your face. And he said that you know, it is considered a very dirty environment. There is sort of a cesspool of bacteria. And what they found, that the coconut oil was able to kill most of the bacteria that were on the phone. And that was the first clue that it may actually be doing, or have essentially too high of an antimicrobial effect, especially on people that are having this issue of microbiome dysbiosis where they can’t establish that healthy microbiome on the skin. And so, he was the first person to tip me off. And then Rachel Pontillo, who is an, she is an expert in skincare. And she said, you know, there is another issue here in the fact that yes, it is too antimicrobial, but it is also so highly saturated that it is very difficult for your skin to absorb that oil.
So saturated just meaning that it is a very large molecule that makes it difficult for the body to absorb. It is also so alkaline. And I know, I know, I know you have got people that are like, “We want to be alkaline. You want to alkalize your body.” That is great. But some areas actually need to be acidic, in the skin and your colon, believe it or not. And isn’t it interesting that where the microbiomes live should be acidic because they help to crowd… That acid environment helps to prevent unwanted bugs from entering and thriving there. And so, your skin should normally be at around a pH of 4.5 and that is really important. But coconut oil is around eight and that might not sound like a big leap, but it actually is. It is quite a large leap in terms of pH. Every increment is pretty significant. And so yes, that is one of the, those are the two really, or three really big reasons why.
The other problem that I have found in my clinical practice is that a lot of people are developing allergies to coconut. Why? I don’t know. It may be because it is in so much, and so many people are trying coconut oil in everything and coconut flour, I have no idea. But I have had an increasing number of people with coconut allergies who didn’t know that. And when they stopped using the coconut oil, they found that the swelling and the itching, which what they thought was eczema was actually a reaction, an allergic reaction to the coconut oil. But, I was surprised by the number of people that came out of the woodwork to acknowledge that they actually found that coconut oil made their skin worse and they were, they have been embarrassed to admit it because everyone talks about it except it doesn’t seem to be the best option for people with skin issues generally. Some people say it works for them, but it isn’t the best for people. That is my opinion.
The best oils for topical use
Ari Whitten: Yeah. I’m curious, I have some other unrelated questions, but just to follow up on this specific topic, are there any oils that you do think are good for topical use?
Jennifer Fugo: Yes. Jojoba is actually one of the closest to the human sebum that our skin produces, so that is a great option. Plus, if you are sensitive to odors, like my husband is really sensitive and he will get a migraine, jojoba is fine because it is not strong. It is very mild. It is very light. So, it is great in the summertime. Avocado oil is also another good option, but not the cooking stuff. Like go to the body care section and get body care versions of some of these. Olive oil is also another excellent one. I know you are going, “Wait, this is like all food-based.” But, you know, you have to think about the fact that plant oils have a lot of benefits to them. And one surprising one that people are kind of like are a little taken aback by is sunflower oil, which is considered a very refined omega-6 oil as far as the diet is concerned.
However, there is a lot of research that shows, at least from using it topically, so again, not the cooking version, the skin care version of the oil, there is a lot of benefits to it. And it can be very soothing. And they have used in trials for eczema and other skin rash issues. So, that. There is also sesame oil. That has a pretty strong odor and I prefer that in the winter, colder months. And then you could try emu or tallow, so emu oil. But both are from animals. And so, if you are not comfortable with that, the other options would probably serve you better.
The most common mistake people in the natural health space makes when it comes to skin health
Ari Whitten: Got It. With this in mind, like the coconut oil issue and the fact that that is so commonly recommended in the natural health space, are there any other mistakes that you feel people in the natural health space are making when it comes to tackling chronic skin issues?
Jennifer Fugo: I do. The one big thing is assuming that this is food sensitivity-based and that elimination diet is going to fix you. Like I said, “Good luck.” If that helps you, great. The first thing I will tell you if you were a client is you should go gluten-free. Not because I think gluten is the devil, but because there is likely a gut issue going on and I want to stop any increase in gut permeability. So right there we know there is clinical research that indicates that any person exposed to gluten will see that increase in permeability in their gut when they are exposed to it. It just depends on your tolerance for whether you can kind of snap back to a better state within the gut. But for most people, if you have been chronically ill for a long time, like let’s try and help ourselves a little.
So, go gluten-free first, try that. You may or may not see results. Don’t… It’s not magic. But then after that, you could try some different things. You could try taking chicken eggs out. Sometimes that is a trigger for people with like eczema, for example. Sometimes dairy is an issue. However, beyond that, you can find a whole slew of options out there for you. There is like low salicylate diet, low nickel diet, the nightshade-free diet. There are all different types of options. What I would say is start looking inside because food sensitivities are not a root cause. I used to think a long time ago that if we were exposed to say eggs too much, you develop a sensitivity to them. But that is not how the gut mechanism works. In actuality, something has to cause inflammation and be irritating to the gut. And that typically is a shift in the microbiome which can be due to infections as well as the inability to absorb nutrients.
Like if you are not absorbing your proteins, if you are not absorbing your fats and specifically proteins, you know what happens? They head downstream to your colon; the bugs eat them, and they ferment them. And that process is called putrification. It is not pleasant. It doesn’t sound pleasant; it is not good. And so that is not a healthy state within the gut. And that happens, unfortunately, more often than people even realize. And one of the biggest culprits is because of low stomach acid. So that is why I say like, you have got to look beyond food. Otherwise, you are going to spin your wheels in doing all these food sensitivity testings and being like, “I don’t know, I don’t seem to react to these foods. I don’t understand why I am doing this and seeing barely no results.” But when you start to look at these other issues, the root causes that I have mentioned, you will absolutely start to see some improvement across the board.
What science says about the skin microbiome
Ari Whitten: Excellent. The skin microbiome, you have mentioned that a couple of times in passing. And, I mean, we know that there is a gut microbiome. There is lots of hype and talk around that, especially in the last few years. The skin microbiome is starting to become more known and more studied now. I’m curious, what do we know about the skin microbiome? What do we know about the key things that harm it? And then maybe you can address that maybe as part one. And then part two would be what are the key things that we can do to keep a healthy skin microbiome? Like, should we go find healthy people and like rub up against them?
Jennifer Fugo: Actually, you are not too far off. So, what are the things that harm your skin microbiome aside from like stress and using very caustic body care products? And like you said, exposing yourself to chemicals, even some that are naturally occurring that may be very difficult for the skin to withstand over a long period of time when you are exposed to them. Coconut oil may be one of them as well. However, what I would say is that with people who have a disturbance within the microbiome, there usually are bugs that will show up like Staph aureus that shouldn’t be there. Sometimes we can end up with candida on the skin or overgrowths of certain bacteria. But the reality is, and the cool thing is, that your microbiome on your skin varies depending on where you look. So, the little bugs under your armpit are going to be different in a different diversity than what is on, say, the front of your stomach or the bottom of your feet.
So that is one really cool thing. And that can also sometimes help us pinpoint, say for example, is there a potential fungal issue going on? So, if you have rashes that tend to show up in the groin area, the armpits, the inside of the elbow, so where it is like moister. Like, think about it, too, the feet, athlete’s foot. You are looking likely, I’m not saying 100%, but you do have to consider fungal organisms as a partial problem. If you have dandruff, for example, it is actually not necessarily an overgrowth issue on the skin. We have this fungal organism that should be there. It is called Malassezia. It lives on… That is okay. We have mites, we have all sorts of things on our skin. And so, it is natural, it is good. But the immune system gets confused because it gets exposed to candida and other fungal organisms within the gut and it starts looking elsewhere, right?
It is trying to help us, but unfortunately, it will start to attack the Malassezia on the skin. And that is where we start to see dandruff, which can affect the scalp as well as the eyebrows. And for men, like right around this area in the beard and the mustache. Sometimes you will see it on the cheeks. And sometimes I think, you know, I’ve never had a client with it on the chest, but that, from my understanding, you can have it there as well. And so, you know, we want to look at the areas, pay attention to where it shows up. And yeah, you really have got to be careful about what you are putting on your skin. I mean, most people have already changed their detergents and body care products but do it a once over. And don’t, by the way, don’t assume that just because you buy Seventh Generation that it is clean. There is still a lot of chemicals in those. SLS can be a major problem, so sodium lauryl sulfate. And also, for some people fluoride which is in the water, for a lot of places still fluoridate their water, that can be a trigger. And I’ve actually spoken to a few people that have had acne issues or perioral dermatitis as a result of fluoride that they are consuming in the water.
Ari Whitten: Interesting. Very interesting. I was just thinking as you were talking there and with the microbiome being different in different spots, what happens if you have confounding variables? Like somebody has got a foot fetish and they like to like rub another person’s foot all over their face and like lick the toes and stuff. I would imagine the microbiomes getting mixed in a way that can get very confusing.
Jennifer Fugo: Yes. So okay, so go back to the touching other people thing. So, we will take this a little bit more to just a person, we will reign it in for a second. So, one really cool thing that you can do, and you can try, again, this is, I’m not giving you magic tools here, but it is something you can try. If you have an area where there is a rash and you have other areas on your skin that are completely clear that have never been affected by a flare, what you can do, and this comes straight from Kirin, is you can apply some jojoba oil for this example to the area that is rashed. Then take a Q-tip and swab the area that is healthy and then mix the Q-tip over in the area where it is rashed and you can try transplanting the healthier microbiomes from other areas into that skin area. So, you were saying like touching somebody else. That was more or less where I was going with it. But yeah, you can actually… Unfortunately, people who have like eczema, for example, they have higher concentrations of Staph. You really shouldn’t have Staph aureus on your skin. So, it is not that, and I don’t want to give the sense that anyone with skin rashes is contagious. But yes, I guess theoretically you could pass microbiomes back and forth. I mean, I guess that is possible. I don’t know the science on it. So…
Ari Whitten: And, we have also learned that if you have a foot fetish, avoid people with athlete’s foot.
Jennifer Fugo: Yes, well…
Ari Whitten: Well? Do you want to debate me on that point?
Jennifer Fugo: I mean they could be healthy in other areas.
Ari Whitten: Avoid feet with athlete’s foot. Not the people. Let me clarify.
Jennifer Fugo: I would have, right, exactly. Like that, yeah. But here is another cool thing. If you also want to take something like a probiotic. If you have got a rash area, you can also try applying the oil to that rash area and then opening up a probiotic and sprinkling some of the probiotic strain onto that area. So, like don’t dump it on so it is like completely white, but just a light sprinkle. I have done this a number of times with MegaSpore, for example, in my clinical practice. And it, again, may not be full-proof and it may just get you to some level of relief, but that can also be helpful. And you let it sit for like 20, 30 minutes. Do it in the evening when you are like chilling out, not having to worry about going out and looking like, “Why do I have this whitish greasiness going on on my arm?” But that can also be a helpful way to help support the microbiome.
The difference between the skin – and gut microbiome
Ari Whitten: Okay. Actually, that leads me to the next question which is what is the source of the skin microbiome? Like where is it being inoculated from and are there big differences between a person’s gut microbiome and their skin microbiome? Because what you were just talking about there as a practical strategy would suggest that the same thing that is helpful for your gut microbiome is helpful for your skin microbiome potentially. So, are there really huge differences between the gut microbiome and skin microbiome?
Jennifer Fugo: Yes, in that your skin likes fats, it eats, the microbiome eats lipids. Whereas the gut microbiome likes fiber. So yes, they are different. I don’t know if the probiotic strains topically matter. I think that is something that science and research are trying to figure out now. And, as I said, I’ve had good luck with MegaSpore. I can’t speak to other types of probiotics or other strains.
Ari Whitten: Has someone invented a skin probiotic? I mean that would seem like a smart invention if somebody hasn’t done it already.
Jennifer Fugo: Yes. So, there are a number of products now at least… I don’t know how much that has permeated like men’s body care, but for women’s body care there have been a lot of probiotic products that have been released for the skin. I have tried a number of them. There was one interesting one that I was taken back by and I spoke with the owner because she is a biologist and I wanted to understand like what drove her to make this product with probiotics in it. And she had some really great testimonials on her website. So, she sent me a number of tubes. I didn’t have eczema at the time, so I send it off to clients who were like really in bad shape. And I have had from their mouths varying success. But, that said, most people have found some relief with it. It could be like marginal to the point where they are like, “Yeah, I noticed some relief, but it is not, you know, I still have pinkness and whatnot. I’m not as itchy.” However, I have had some people, I had one client where it almost completely cleared up his hands and he was using topical steroids every day and wearing gloves because his skin was peeling off. So, for some people, it has been really helpful. And I am not connected with the company at all. It is skinprobiotics.net, I believe. It is called Indigo Calm Balm. And, you know, it is something that if it gives you relief and it helps you start to wean yourself off of steroid creams and again, obviously check with your doctor because if it was prescribed you always want to check with your doctor on those things. I am not a dermatologist. But it is always a good thing to be able to wean off of it. And there is also, you didn’t ask, but there is also some really interesting research around CBD oil being used as well topically.
The science of topical CBD for skin health
Ari Whitten: Yeah. Speak to that. What are they finding with regards to topical CBD?
Jennifer Fugo: So, there is some really cool research going on. I have had some luck with it in my clinical practice where clients were able to start weaning themselves off of the topical steroids. But you have to use a really good quality CBD. And you want to make sure that it is like hemp oil or maybe the CBD is in sunflower seed oil or just something that is skin-friendly. Not coconut oil, right? So, make sure you look at the ingredients and that it is high quality that you can get certifications and whatnot from the place where it comes from, that it was tested and whatnot. So, with CBD oil, the one thing that you want to make sure of is that you are not applying it to broken skin and you don’t apply it to children. There is not enough research to suggest whether it would be safe, and you always want to be careful with kids.
It is like a totally different ballpark with kids. However, there was a really cool study that I was actually reading the other day. And it was showing us that participants in the study who had used the topical steroids normally as well as like immunosuppressants and/or like Benadryl, for example, some sort of antihistamine when they started using the topical CBD oil, they were able to dramatically reduce the usage of those drugs. And in some instances, stop them entirely. You know, granted they are small studies, and they are in humans so that is a good thing. Because mice study, we can gather some information from a mouse, but we are not mice. We need hardcore human evidence. And so, I think we are still in the infancy stages of what is possible with CBD, but I do think that there is a lot of promise that it is showing. So, I think if you have got a bottle and you want to try it, great. I know that the dermatologist that I interviewed a few days ago was telling me he uses it in his actual medical practice, and he is actually seeing a lot of his patients be able to increase the time between their steroid use. So maybe they went from using it every day to then once a week and then every other week. And that is a big deal.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. I’m curious if you have seen any information on the use of topical marijuana more broadly with THC. Does that have additional benefits or is it mainly the CBD component that has the benefits?
Jennifer Fugo: I have not. That was something that I was asking him about, and he said that there can be some benefits, but we didn’t really dive deep into that. But I would be curious. I don’t know if we fully have research on that yet.
Why most different skin conditions should be treated the same way
Ari Whitten: Got you. Before we started recording on this Podcast, you said something interesting that I want to come back to, which is we were kind of briefly chatting about some of the different chronic skin conditions. And you said to some extent the approach to fixing most of these is, you know, with some nuances, the approach is mostly the same. Now, this is somewhat of a counter-intuitive statement I would say, especially in the current state of thinking within functional medicine and within conventional medicine where things are typically viewed as like every specific problem has its own unique set of causes. And we need to find the specific, you know, within conventional medicine especially, it is we need to find the specific biochemical mechanisms behind this unique thing and then interrupt those specific biochemical mechanisms. So to some extent a statement like the one that you are making here, which I will say that I agree with, you know, where you are saying, “Hey, the approach to fixing a lot of these conditions is mostly the same,” is not going to be very agreeable or not going to be perceived as very scientific by the conventional medical paradigm.
Why is that? How is that fixing so many different skin conditions could have the same basic approach to fixing it?
Jennifer Fugo: Well, I think that one of the big problems is that we think that a skin condition in and of itself is unique. And there are some small differences, at least from a clinical nutrition perspective. Okay. So, I want to be clear, I am not a doctor. However, when I have worked with clients that have had tinea versicolor or rosacea or eczema or psoriasis or dandruff, you know, like that is a pretty large swath of people. They have got different issues, different symptoms, different complaints. But for the most part what I have found is that the way forward is, to some degree, very similar. The first thing is that there always tends to be nutrient depletion in these individuals because there is some underlying gut issue going on. Now, whether it is just they can’t absorb things, or they are not, maybe the diet is really crappy. You know any number of factors there, but we have got to look in the gut.
That said, the gut alone… You had asked me earlier, “Is there one mistake that people and functional practitioners tend to make?” And I said, “It is focusing on food sensitivities.” But it is also focusing just on the gut. Unfortunately, the reason that people don’t get better and will flare if say they do a candida detox, is because their liver is not prepared to handle what is already going on. And then you throw this increased burden on it and you expect it to do what? Just like step up and deal with all these toxic byproducts headed its way because you decided you wanted to eliminate candida in your gut, and it wasn’t set up to handle that. So, we need to support the liver as a whole, especially Phase II detoxification. And there are a number of different pathways that require say glycine, glutathione. There is glucuronidation, sulfation.
So, we have to look at all of those and say, “Can the liver, can it deal with what it normally should be dealing with and then can it handle what is coming?” Because, you know, you are going to be doing additional work. So, we have got to support the liver. I am then looking for infections. Sometimes there are, sometimes there are not. I know with a lot of chronic cases that don’t seem to respond well… One of my colleagues, Dr. Stephanie Davis, shared with me that she has found that a lot of times mold infections that are that, you know, you don’t even have mold in your house, but perhaps you were exposed to mold at some other time and you can’t clear it out of your system. That can certainly be a factor. So, looking for those infections. Looking to make sure that you have got appropriate hormonal balance. And then saying, “Okay, where do these things overlap and how can we move forward in helping the body address these areas like buckets, so to speak, that are overflowing? How can we get the buckets to properly pour into one another getting life to rebalance itself?” Because I do truly believe that the body is amazing and that it wants to support good health and good skin. But we also have to realize that in this day and age we spend an awful lot of time saying, “Where is the pill for this symptom?” And we just ask for more pills for symptoms instead of saying, “Maybe my symptoms are telling me that I need to look deeper, that I need to pay attention to me.” And so, it doesn’t matter. I know that somebody wants some fancy like pretty answer here that you need to go on a psoriasis diet or an eczema diet or a dandruff diet or you need to do the anti-candida diet because maybe you have, you know, you have got the rash in the armpits and the groin and whatnot.
The reality of it is, it is not that complicated. There are simple things. Support your liver, look at what’s going on in the gut, make sure that your hormones are balanced. And also, the little nuances of all of this depend on your history. So, getting really clear on that. Gathering up your labs for at least the last two to five years. Conventional labs, as much as we think like, “Oh, they are based off of people who are sick.” You know, they are the ones that tend to go to get labs run. Yeah, but they are still a good starting point. I still want to see them. And there are functional labs out there too that can look at your body from a completely different perspective and together they provide us this incredible trove of information to work off of. But I also think the last piece of it, too, is listening to yourself and believing in the little voice inside of you that might kind of know what some of these pieces are.
Because oftentimes, think about it. When you go to the doctor and the doctor says, “What has been going on?” And you are like, “Well, I really think blah, blah, blah, blah.” And they are like, “Nope, that is not connected. Don’t worry about that. Just….” So, you have, they say, “Okay,” and they write and then they hand you a prescription and they walk out of the room. A lot of times people have a sense of where things went wrong, of where things may have fallen off the wagon. And they need to start looking in those places. So that whomever they work with, whatever practitioner they work with who is really listening is holding the space to collect all of this. Lay the cards out and say, “All right, what do we need to give your body to operate optimally? What do we need to do to support these different systems that really govern how things are metabolized and clears out of the system? How do we make sure that we are absorbing things appropriately? How do we process the emotions that we feel and deal with stress?” And that doesn’t necessarily mean you take a pill for that. Maybe it is breathing exercises or a daily meditation or writing exercise, whatever. But I think we have overblown this into something that is so complicated. And it is, but it also doesn’t necessarily have to be. The food sensitivities are not everything. They are a little tiny piece and the gut is one piece. But you can’t work on the gut with skin clients and assume that is going to fix it because a lot of times they will flare if you just do that only.
Ari Whitten: Interesting. So, I, this has been awesome. I have loved having you on, and so many nuggets of great information here. I would love if you could summarize your maybe like three things that you want to leave people with. Three quick things that you want to leave people with as big takeaways from this Podcast.
Jennifer Fugo: Well, three things that I would suggest is toss out the coconut oil or at least just like put it over to cooking. Leave it there. Also, if you are looking at your body care products, coconut oil should be like at the bottom of bullet ingredients lists or not on there at all if you have rash issues. I would also tell you that you really need to begin paying attention to all of your symptoms, not just the skin symptoms, because everything is connected, even mood, energy, etc. Take gluten out. And last, but not least, slow down. Get outside, out in the sun, and start tuning in to what your body is trying to tell you because there is a lot of information that it can share with you. Those symptoms are clues. They are not meant to be little bombs thrown in your day to ruin your life. It might stink. But when we tune in and we listen, we can start actually working with our body in a partnership. And that is a really great process to start when you are ready to do that.
Ari Whitten: Beautiful. On a final note, I know that you have a gift for everybody listening to this. So, do you want to tell people what that is and where they can get it?
Jennifer Fugo: Yes. So, it is called “The Seven Secrets of Better Skin From the Inside Out.” And it is a great little booklet with a few tips in it that you will be able to start using immediately. And if you want to go download a copy of that, just head on over to skinterrupt.com/betterskin.
Ari Whitten: Beautiful. Well, Jen, this has been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for coming on the show. And, I know I actually had a bunch of stuff on my list that we didn’t have time to get into so maybe I will have to have you on for part two.
Jennifer Fugo: Cool. I would love that.
Ari Whitten: Awesome. Thanks so much and have a wonderful rest of your day.
Jennifer Fugo: You too.
The emotional impact of skin issues (5:54)
Why Jennifer’s approach is the best one for getting healthy skin (10:35)
The key causes of different skin conditions (22:18)
Why coconut oil may not be good for your skin (28:51)
The best oil for topical use (32:34)
The most common mistake people in the natural health space makes when it comes to skin health (34:15)
What science says about the skin microbiome (37:10)
The difference between the skin – and gut microbiome (44.06)
The science of topical CBD for skin health (47:06)
Why most different skin conditions should be treated the same way (49:46)
Get Jenn’s free gift: The Seven Secrets of Better Skin From the Inside Out.
Listen to Ari’s recent podcast with Jennifer on how to improve skin health with red light therapy