Dr. Whitney Bowe is letting all of us in on a dirty secret that’s not so little, in her new book, “The Beauty of Dirty Skin (Little, Brown and Company), out this week. The dish? Our skin is crawling with millions of microorganisms that are crucial to a glowing complexion—and just as important to our gut and brain health. In fact, she describes the brain as the clasp linking our skin and gut microbiomes, and shows how dietary changes can improve our health inside and out.

Dr. Bowe also has an opinion about our obsession with that squeaky-clean feeling. We asked for her insights into dirty skin—and her perspective on the overwhelming and sometimes contradictory amount of information available on diet and skincare.


24Life: Let’s start with one burning question: How should we clean up our post-workout regimen?

Dr. Bowe: To start, it’s no secret that exercise is good for your entire body and your overall health—but you might be surprised to learn how beneficial exercise is for your skin! When you exercise, you increase the blood flow to your skin, nourishing your skin with vital nutrients and oxygen. Not only does exercise improve your skin’s metabolism, it is scientifically proven that you can even begin to reverse the signs of visible aging by working out. Incredibly, this is true even if you don’t start working out until later in life. I share a lot of information about exercise and your skin’s health right here.

Turning to skincare, after a workout, many people want to scrub the sweat and dirt off of their face and achieve that squeaky, clean feeling we are accustomed to equating with “clean” skin. What people don’t realize is that this harsh scrubbing and over-exfoliating is actually disrupting our natural, healthy skin barrier which leads to skin conditions like rosacea and acne. Instead, wash your face after a workout with a gentle, pH balanced cleanser to remove not only the sweat, but the dirt and bacteria you have on your face after you touch gym equipment and then touch your face. You can be more prone to breakouts, rashes and skin irritation in general if you don’t wash these things off of your face before you continue with your day!

Now turning to diet, as I explain in “The Beauty of Dirty Skin,” your diet has a direct impact on the health and radiance of your skin. This is why my 21-day plan to healthy skin takes a 360-degree approach, healing your skin from the inside out and the outside in. In terms of post-workout diet, I recommend that my patients opt for a plant-based protein supplement or bar rather than whey-based options. Why? Because whey has been strongly linked to severe acne. I share easy food swaps for healthy skin throughout my book because these small changes really add up.

24Life: You identify key skincare regimens for people in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s. Where should someone start if they’re coming to this information after their 20s?

Dr. Bowe: Your skin is a window into your overall health and wellness. Put simply, your skin reflects your health. An “integrative” or comprehensive approach to healthy skin that I share in my new book really applies to people of all ages, because the gut-brain-skin connection is at play in every single one of us! So, that is the perfect starting point if you are just starting to think about your skin’s health or if you want a deeper level of understanding and an action plan to “own your healthy glow.” On my blog, I share specific skincare information by decade because as we age, our skin’s structure is changing and our hormones are changing, so you want to target different issues at age 50 than you do at age 20. There are, however, elements of my recommendations that apply across the board, so absolutely, reviewing each of these posts will provide insight and real life, tangible and accessible information that you can start using today!

24Life: Eating can get really complicated! What advice do you have for someone who wants to adopt your recommendations but who’s already following a dietary regimen?

Dr. Bowe: My patients, family, and friends—ranging from hard-working moms to pro athletes—wanted an easy, accessible dietary plan for healthy skin. That’s why I shared my really easy-to-make (I promise) recipes in “The Beauty of Dirty Skin.” Eating should not be complicated—there is just so much noise and information out there that it is incredibly hard to know what is tried and true, what is evidence-based and scientifically studied (and also delicious)! Many of my recommendations can absolutely work for a Paleo or plant-based diet. I often discuss how powerful antioxidants, found in our richest colored fruits and vegetables, are crucial to our skin’s health. For example:

  • Vitamin C, to help synthesize collagen and prevent and treat UV-induced damage: Vitamin C is found in oranges, red peppers, kale, brussels sprouts, broccoli, strawberries, grapefruit, guava;
  • Lycopene, to help stabilize DNA structures in the nuclei of skin cells and promote smoother skin: Mostly found in tomatoes, small amounts in guava, watermelon, and pink grapefruit;
  • Polyphenols, to help repair damaged skin and restore elasticity: These are the flavonoids and catechins (powerful antioxidants) found in green tea, dark chocolate, blackberries, cherries, guava, and apples.

24Life: Your case studies are focused on women; does your advice apply for men?

Dr. Bowe: Many of my patients are men, actually! Men are becoming more and more focused on their skin’s health. As I explain in detail in my book, our gut, brain and skin are able to communicate and what we eat, whether we sleep well, whether we have chronic stress—all of this impacts the health of our skin, irrespective of our gender. Health is health and it cannot and should not be limited to women. This is not purely a beauty book by any stretch. Moreover, many of the women I know have been sharing their new knowledge with their male partners, sons and siblings because they want to share the experience of feeling empowered and healthy and reflecting that health on the outside.

24Life: What’s the biggest misconception people have about a skincare regimen?

Dr. Bowe: There is a misconception that we are dormant during sleep. In sharp contrast, as I discuss in my book, beauty sleep is very real! While you sleep, your skin cells work their hardest—this is the time when skin cells regenerate and revitalize themselves. So, you want to not only wash your face before bedtime, but also, apply your potent skincare products so that they are able to nourish your skin during this optimal period. Washing your face before bed is so important because you literally are washing the “day” off of your skin, including makeup, dirt, debris and pollution.

Want more ideas from Dr. Bowe? Visit https://drwhitneybowe.com to find out her product picks and more.

Photo credit: Noah Buscher, Unsplash; Courtesy of Whitney Bowe