You may not realise it, but your body is essentially one big toxic waste dump. In fact, according to a consortium of health professionals including the Environmental Protection Agency, it’s estimated that each year the average human inhales around two grams of solid air pollution, eats 14lbs of food additives and absorbs up to a gallon of other chemical nasties like pesticides
Add to that the calorie-packed pints, deep-fried cheese boards and sugar-laden sweets you’ve spent the last month pumping yourself full of and chances are your face is looking like a week-old turkey with dry skin and blotches.
“The skin itself is an organ of elimination, so the body will transport excess wastes there to be removed through the lymphatic system and sweating,” explains Candice Gardner from The International Dermal Institute. “This can lead to a dull and puffy appearance.”
If all that has you searching for a five- (or in this case, nine-) step programme to reverse the effects of a year-end pickling, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s what you need to know.
No, not of beer, but the clean, alcohol-free stuff that springs up from mountain wells. Whether you plan to go dry for January or not, now is the ideal time to hike your H2O.
“The most important starting point to assist the body and skin in eliminating toxins is to increase water intake,” says Gardner. “Drinking this in place of other fluids such as caffeine and alcohol will assist in rapidly flushing the toxins from the system.”
As a general rule, you should aim to knock back two litres a day but you can gradually build this up with a few extra glasses at regular intervals, and there are plenty of apps to help you keep track.
Hit The Gym
There’s a fair chance the muscle hut has been on hiatus for the last month and the only pumping you’ve been doing is your face full of food and booze.
If you are to stand any chance of appearing healthier on the outside (and lose some of that festive lard), it’s time to dig out the trainers and re-join the gym.
“Keeping your muscles active helps to move stagnant fluid in the body’s tissue and increase the pumping of lymphatic fluid,” says Gardner. “This is important because your lymphatic system is responsible for the removal of toxins within the deeper layers of the skin, which can have a positive impact on the appearance of the skin.”
Mask Your Problems
Face masks are one of the simplest and most effective ways to rid skin of the impurities that sit on its surface and can clog its pores, leading to breakouts.
When it comes to detoxification, look for products that contain absorbent clays. Or for sensitive skin, opt for a gentle mask that uses natural ingredients or plant-based amino acids to purify the skin instead.
Use these once or twice per week after exfoliating. “This improves the mask’s performance by removing any dead skin cells that would otherwise act as a sponge for the mask,” says Gardner.
Swerve The Sweet Stuff
We hate to be the ones to break it to you, but sugar isn’t just bad for your waistline. Along with sun damage and smoking, it’s also your skin’s worst enemy.
“Sugar is bad for the skin because it attaches itself to proteins in collagen by a process known as glycation,” says dermatologist and founder of the Perricone skincare brand Dr Nicholas Perricone. “This causes the collagen in the skin to become stiff and inflexible, leading to wrinkling.”
Cutting back on the sweet stuff will help, but upping your vitamin C intake is also a good idea since it’s thought to help protect against the glycation process. Don’t rely on sugar-laden fruit, mind – peppers, broccoli, leafy green veg and (if you aren’t sick of them already) Brussels sprouts are all excellent sources.
Check Out Charcoal
Charcoal-infused grooming products aren’t just a marketing gimmick; they’re man’s best friend when it comes to achieving clear, healthy-looking skin.
As an ingredient it’s the perfect detoxifier because it acts like a magnet, absorbing up to 100 times its own weight in dirt, toxins and other impurities that sit on the skin.
Rather than smearing your mug with ash, the easiest way to incorporate it into your grooming routine is with a daily cleanser, but a mask (used once or twice a week) and scrub are also worth including in your New Year detox armoury.
According to research by Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health, the skin of people who live in polluted towns and cities often sheds dead cells less efficiently, which means it tends to look dull and tired.
Counteracting this problem doesn’t necessarily mean shelling out on a second home in the Scottish Highlands – you just need to exfoliate, using a face scrub twice a week. “Regular exfoliation will do wonders to improve circulation and toxin elimination in your skin,” says Gardner.
Alternatively, invest in an electric cleansing brush, which works to remove more grime than an ordinary splash in the sink while helping shift dead cells.
Give Your Hair A Deep Clean
Since the hair on our heads is porous, it has a nasty habit of absorbing odours, and this is made worse by the scalp’s natural oils and any styling products, which attract pollutants like a magnet.
To remove all traces of them, go for a specially formulated clarifying product which has been designed to dissolve any nasties without damaging the hair or stripping the scalp of moisture.
For added efficacy, rub a small amount of the product into your palms and massage it into dry hair before rinsing off and shampooing again as normal.
When it comes to detoxing, it’s not just what you do to your skin but how you do it that gets results.
Using an eye gel with a rollerball delivery system is the perfect way to stimulate the body’s own drainage system, taking toxins away from the area and making them appear less puffy.
A body brush is another way to kick-start the body’s natural detoxification process by eliminating stagnant toxic fluid from the lymphatic system. “It’s important to always brush in an upwards direction towards the heart, and [don’t forget] the lymphatic nodes found in the back of the knees, groin and under the arms,” says Gardner.
Stub Out The Cigarettes
You don’t need to be a doctor to know about the cancer-causing effects of cigarettes, but smoking also causes serious damage to your skin and hair.
Not only does the physical act create fine lines around the mouth while robbing the skin of oxygen and the essential nutrients it needs to repair, but studies have also shown that smokers have a higher concentration of an enzyme called matrix metalloproteinase 1 in their blood. This effectively destroys the skin’s collagen, leading to signs of ageing like sagging and even more wrinkles.
It doesn’t stop there either. According to a study by Harvard School of Public Health, smoking constricts the tiny blood vessels that supply the scalp, quite literally starving your hair of essential nutrients. Pack the habit in now and it won’t just be your lungs that thank you – your looks will, too.