If you find yourself horizontal on the couch with a nasty cold or flu this season, the last thing you want to worry about is your skin. Unfortunately, when your immune system takes a hit, your skin can too. And while it may be a struggle to just hit the “Yes I’m still watching” button on Netflix, I have 5 ways I recommend you care for your skin when you’re sick.
I am a homebody at heart, but the other week I ventured out on a Thursday night to attend a really awesome film. It was great, the film’s creators were there, plus vendors, and about 650 people all jammed into a tiny lobby before the show began. Somewhere amongst the bodies I must have picked up the flu virus, because within 48 hours my head was throbbing, my body was aching, and I had taken up residence on my couch. That’s where I lived for the next 3 days. I was determined to listen to my body, and recover as quickly as possible, so I’m sharing with you the 5 things I did to help me beat the flu quickly, and also keep my skin happy in the process.
1. Don’t forget your skincare routine
This is something I had to remind myself of on day 2 of my flu. After feeling like I was existing on the edge of human for 24 hours, I realized I had completely forgotten to wash my face once. I can’t begin to express how much better I felt – even if it was just psychologically – for taking 5 minutes to gently wash, tone, and moisturize my face. It wasn’t until I was done, and I felt my skin, that I realized how going a day without doing anything to my skin had left it feeling rough with dry patches.
Even though you may be feeling like you can hardly muster the strength to turn over on the couch, your skin hasn’t stopped turning over its cells. Neglecting your skin for a few days while sick can cause dead skin cells to build up and potentially block your pores, leading to breakouts. At the very least, I encourage you to try and wash your face before going to bed.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! When your body is in full-on attack mode, it needs extra hydration to help you get well. I recommend drinking plenty of healthy fluids like water, herbal tea, and bone broth. If you are fighting off a flu that’s preventing you from keeping anything down, it’s going to be really critical to also try and get in plenty of electrolytes. For this, I recommend reaching for coconut water – nature’s sports drink – as it has a really good balance of minerals and natural occurring sugars that will give you simple to digest calories, and help improve your body’s ability to absorb and hold onto hydration.
Side note: Keeping hydrated at this time of year is super important even when you’re not sick. The transition into fall and winter often finds us indoors with the heat cranked, which can cause our skin to really dry out. Ensuing you’re not only using clean and hydrating topical products, but also getting plenty of fluids in your diet, can help minimize seasonal dryness and reduce cracked skin, which is important for keeping bacteria out and you breakout free!
3. Keep foods super simple and easy to digest
I have memories of being a kid, home from school sick, and my mom feeding me honey toast. Now that I’m older, and have an understanding of nutrition, I understand why this was my mom’s food of choice for her sick kids – it was very easy for the body to break down into simple energy without much effort. When you’re sick, your body and immune system is in hyperdrive trying to get control over the virus or pathogen that’s making you feel ill. For this, your immune system needs energy, but it also requires a ton of energy to break down and digest some foods into fuel that your body can use. When you’re sick, it can be very helpful to keep your meals simple and light, so that your body can expend less energy on digestion and more on fighting off your cold.
In the fall and winter, some of the best foods for this are soups and stews that have been cooked low and slow over a long period of time. The long cooking process can help to tenderize any proteins, making them much easier for your body to digest. Also, consuming carbohydrates like oatmeal, or fruit can help your body get the sugars, or glucose, it needs quickly. Smoothies that contain warming spices like ginger and cinnamon, are also a good option as they are blended up, so the mechanically they are already partially digested.
There’s also a link between your digestion and your skin. Many people don’t realize that compromised digestion can prevent your body from breaking down food into the nutrients that your skin needs to be healthy. So, eating simple, nourishing foods when you’re sick, and also when you’re healthy, can aid your body in getting more nutrients so it can repair and nourish your tissues, including your skin.
Your gut and your immune system are inextricably linked. It’s believed that 70-80% of your immune system actually stems from your digestive system. You have about 5 pounds of bacteria that live in your gut, and ensuring they are happy and in balance is critical to keeping you from falling ill, recovering faster, and also keeping your skin clear. Consistently taking a good quality probiotic, in addition to eating probiotic-rich foods, can help with this.
If your doctor has prescribed you an antibiotic to help with your illness, it can be extremely helpful to take a probiotic alongside to prevent the eradication of all the helpful bacteria in your gut. I know it’s more convenient to take any medications and supplements at the same time, but taking an antibiotic and probiotic together can be redundant – the probiotic won’t cancel out the antibiotic, but the antibiotic could kill off the probiotic. To give your probiotics a fighting chance, I recommend taking your probiotic 2 hours after you take your antibiotic. If you’ve ever experienced a breakout after a course of antibiotics, it may be due to your gut bacteria being thrown out of balance, so again, a good quality probiotic can help with this.
If you’re home from work or school, it can be super tempting to watch The Price is Right, or binge Stranger Things 2 on Netflix, but the best thing you can do for yourself, your skin, and your recovery, is use this time to sleep. Your body does its best work while you’re sleeping, and lack of sleep can depress your immune system in such a way that it may have even led you to getting sick in the first place. Research has shown that sleep keeps the immune system healthy and is vital to the body’s ability to battle all kinds of infections – that’s just sc-sc-sc-science!
Getting enough deep, restorative sleep is also critical for the health of your skin. It’s this kind of sleep that keeps your hormones healthy and in balance. If you know or feel like your acne is due to a hormonal imbalance, then you need to take a hard look at the amount and quality of the sleep you’re getting.
“But Aly, it’s the middle of the day, and I can’t sleep!” If you’re sick and you’re struggling to fall asleep (or even if you occasionally get insomnia when healthy), then I HIGHLY recommend listening to a podcast called Sleep With Me, and listen to a “Lulling, Droning, Boring Bedtime Story to Distract Your Racing Mind”.
The bottom line is that the health of your skin is a reflection of what’s going on inside your body. So it makes perfect sense that taking care to feed and nourish your body while you’re sick, will also keep your skin from breaking out or spiralling out of control.
Whether you have the cold or the flu, being sick totally sucks. If you catch a cold or flu this season, then I hope you find these tips helpful to help you care for your skin when you’re sick. Let me know in the comments below your favourite way to beat the cold and flu, and keep your skin happy at the same time.