How To Balance Holistic Living With Cosmetic Dermatology

By: Dr. Jennifer Chwalek, re-published from

Over the years, the number one question my patients ask, above all else, is how they can look better naturally. As both a board-certified dermatologist and a certified yoga instructor with deeply rooted Ayurvedic values, the emphasis on “natural” is not lost on me. Probe a little deeper, and I often find that underlying internal dilemma: Is it hypocritical for me to preach self love and have my family follow an organic, plant-based diet when I’m about to get injected with Botox? My answer is no, definitely not. The key in life is balance, and my role is to be a compass for my patients and provide a range of solutions that help them age gracefully and naturally.

Every day I see many medical conditions in life that are not preventable — like stretch marks from weight gain after a pregnancy, normal volume loss and fine lines from aging, and scars from surgery. While they’re not preventable, these skin issues can be improved with professional treatment. There should be no shame in treating what bothers you. However, I also always tell my patients that how they treat their skin outside of the office is just as important as any in-office treatments.

Diet, lifestyle, and even the intentions you set for the day are reflected in your skin. Jennifer Lopez, who doesn’t look a day over 30, recently shared that her biggest skincare secret is repeating positive mantras when she wakes up. This is just one example of a lifestyle factor that can improve your outlook and self image. As someone who personally practices holistic living habits, prioritizing your physical and mental health will only benefit your skin. Balancing a healthy lifestyle outside of your dermatological procedures goes hand-in-hand with a youthful appearance.

Exercise is important for your skin because it improves blood flow and oxygenation to your tissues. It also helps to maintain the strength and tone of underlying muscles, which will translate into skin that appears more firm. The type of exercise does not matter: it can be yoga, walking, or high intensity interval training. As long as you are moving your body on a daily basis, your skin will thank you. Sweat purges the body of toxins that can clog pores. Just be sure to wash your face with something gentle immediately after a sweat session. (One of my favorites is the Pratima Herbal Cleanser.)

It’s important to have a well-balanced diet, and to be aware of the nutritional content of the foods you eat. Ongoing research shows a correlation exists between diet and the presence of acne and premature aging. Avoiding processed foods and sugar will help to prevent glycosylation and loss of collagen. Organic fruit and vegetables, lean meats and fish, and legumes are rich in vitamins and antioxidants, which support healthy and beautiful skin. This does not mean that you have to completely deprive yourself. You can still enjoy the occasional dessert, alcohol, and caffeine as long as it is in moderation.

Topical Skincare (Prevention)
Having an at-home skincare routine outside of the dermatology office is important because it helps to support and maximize the effect of many of our in-office treatments. I work with my patients to put together a routine that is both accessible and effective based on their budget and lifestyle. It’s important to apply SPF 30 or higher daily to protect the skin from skin cancer, photodamage, and pigmentation issues. Also, although I do love organic, plant-based products, I believe you have to balance them with evidence-based skincare. For instance, there is significant research supporting the use of retinoids to improve fine lines, skin texture, and tone (one of my favorite retinols is by Environ). Sometimes I recommend using retinoids with organic or natural products such as facial oils, or moisturizers to help with dryness. Often, many of our science-backed products work by imitating nature. For example, we carry a physician-grade line at Union Square Laser Dermatology called DefenAge that works to “wake up” our own dormant stem cells and aid in rejuvenation. I love the idea that this serum is merely an alarm clock to trigger the own power of our bodies. (Use exclusive code “ML9USLD” for 25% off Defenage products).

No topical serum or cosmetic treatment can provide the glow that comes with inner peace and happiness. This, perhaps more than anything else, can be the most elusive and difficult to consistently achieve for many of us. Having recently traveled to India to study dance (a passion of mine), I’ve found that when you are pursuing your bliss, this joy is reflected in your overall appearance. Inner happiness will result in outer beauty, or your mindset of beauty. In my life, my meditation practice has had a profound effect on my wellbeing. For this reason, I recommend meditation to all of my patients to help combat daily stress, which over time can lead to premature aging and worsening wrinkles.

In-office procedures such as lasers and injectables (when done skillfully) can help to turn back time by creating a natural, rested appearance. Unfortunately, there are too many examples in society of over-treated faces, which often scare patients from seeking treatment. I specialize in minimally invasive procedures for this exact reason. It’s important that you seek treatment with a cosmetically trained, board-certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon.

If you have ever heard of the “triangle dilemma,” it refers to how the natural triangular volume of our face inverts as we age. Injectable fillers combined with skin tightening treatments like Ultherapy or Thermage can help to prevent the sagging appearance of aging. While there is no set age, I usually recommend Botox when you begin to notice fine lines at rest. Some of my other favorite minimally invasive treatment plans to perform are: laser resurfacing to improve photodamage, microneedling to help with striae and scars, platelet rich plasma (PRP) injections for hair loss, and CoolSculpting to get rid of any unwanted fat that fails to respond to diet and exercise.

It’s common for many patients to feel anxious about possible discomfort with these treatments. My training in yoga and meditation has taught me that our minds have a great deal of control over our senses and that through guided breathing techniques and occasionally the use of essential oils, most discomfort can be minimized.

My personal approach and number one priority when it comes to cosmetic procedures is to ensure my patients’ results look natural and that they leave the office pleased with the treatment and feeling more confident. I strive to individualize each patient’s skincare treatment based on their needs and objectives, blending holistic practices with the most advanced cosmetic treatments.

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