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Mark J. Tager
on Secrets to a Glowing Complexion
by Sandra Yeyati

Courtesy of Mark J. Tager

Mark J. Tager, M.D., instructs medical practitioners and consumers in new approaches to wellness, emphasizing the complementary treatment of chronic conditions and the use of personalized nutrition as a cornerstone of optimal health. His synergistic approach to skin health and beauty has been shaped by years working in the integrative, aesthetic and regenerative fields.

Tager received his undergraduate and medical training at Duke University and currently teaches at the school’s Integrative Medicine Center. He has served as founding vice president of marketing for Reliant Technologies, where he helped launch the Fraxel laser for skin rejuvenation, and also served in executive positions with Syneron and Lutronic, two leaders in advanced aesthetic technologies.

The author and co-author of 10 books and hundreds of educational videos recently created the 40-hour continuing education course “Personalized Nutrition for Practitioners” on behalf of the American Nutrition Association. His most recent book is Feed Your Skin Right: Your Personalized Nutrition Plan for Radiant Beauty, which serves as the basic content for the 10-hour online professional training program “Inside Skin Beauty”.

What are the characteristics of healthy skin?
Healthy skin begins with good barrier function. The epidermis—the outermost layer of skin—keeps water and key nutrients in and helps repel harmful agents such as bacteria and chemicals. Healthy skin has a glow that comes from good blood flow, rapid skin turnover, ample collagen and clarity—by this I mean skin that has been protected from harmful UVA/UVB rays to minimize aging spots and premature skin damage. Radiant skin reflects light, so when someone is taking care of their skin, there is literally a glow about them.

What foods do you recommend for healthy skin?
Make plants a central part of your diet. A wide array of colorful plants provides the body with key antioxidants that help ward off the effects of oxidation. Interestingly, many plant ingredients have a mild, skin-protective effect when eaten because their key function in the plant is to protect it from harmful UV rays. While the effect is nowhere near that provided by sunblock, you do gain a “natural SPF” [sun protection factor] of 3 or 4 from some of the yellow-orange carotenoid phytonutrients, as well as the red-purple anthocyanins.

The second benefit of plant-based foods is providing fiber to the body. In addition to promoting healthy bowel movements, fiber is the preferred food of the helpful gut bacteria. They convert fiber into, among other things, short-chain fatty acids which, in the gut, protect the lining, and, when they enter the bloodstream, help to maintain a healthy skin microbiome.

What aesthetic procedures should we consider?
I’m a big fan of fractional rejuvenation, which essentially produces small thermal wounds that heal quickly, leading to skin turnover and bringing heat into the dermis for collagen remodeling. Microneedling creates a similar effect, although it does not have the added benefit of the heat going into the dermis. There are multiple products that combine microneedling with radio-frequency heat, and this provides a dual action.

How do we personalize a plan to optimize skin health?
It starts with a hard look at your diet. There is no way that anyone can out-supplement a crappy diet. If you are working with a professional, they will take a careful, functional-medicine history; look for the medications that deplete key nutrients; get basic bloodwork that can shed light on imbalances; and closely examine the hair, skin and nails for nutrient insufficiency.

There are new tests that can shed light on personalization. One of these is a nutritional genomic test for skin health. This identifies the genetic variants that affect a host of skin-related processes, including the assimilation of vitamins and minerals; the rate at which collagen is broken down in the body; and glycation, the binding of sugar to collagen, making it more brittle and contributing to wrinkles. Then there are more advanced blood, urine, saliva and stool tests that can provide a snapshot of hormones, the microbiome and the metabolites that are produced in the body. Increasingly, these tests are going direct to the consumer, but I highly advocate having a well-trained professional help with the interpretation.

How does gut and skin microbiome testing relate to skin health?
The three to four pounds of bacteria in our gut produce more than 30 neurotransmitters, key vitamins and short-chain fatty acids. The gut communicates with the skin via these chemical messengers, but also through the nervous system, most notably through the vagus nerve, which sends signals to the brain. Ideally, we want to live in harmony with the good bacteria in the gut and support healthy communication.

There are less helpful bacteria in our gut, as well. These bacteria can proliferate and crowd out the good bugs. This is known as dysbiosis. Increasingly we are seeing specific changes in gut microbiome composition associated with conditions such as atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, acne and rosacea. Changes in diet, including the removal of offending agents, as well as the addition of nutrients that repair the skin barrier and probiotics, can help restore this balance. I think we are in an infant stage with our understanding of the skin microbiome. This will change.

Sandra Yeyati is national editor of Natural Awakenings.

  • Issue: July 2024

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