What diet enhances great skin? As an avid reader of your books, you always go back to inflammation being the cause of many diseases as well as accelerating the ageing process.
Yes. I had discovered in medical school that when you look under the microscope at a cancer cell, for example, there is inflammation around it. Whenever there are problems in the heart or the arteries or the brain or kidneys, wherever there is illness, inflammation is present. And when you look at samples of young skin under the microscope, it looks fine, but healthy skin in an older person shows signs of inflammation. So, I came to the conclusion that inflammation is like a slow fire that results in diseases as well as the ageing process.
So, what can we do?
What we’re eating causes inflammation so that became a big focus for me and I developed what I call “the anti-inflammatory diet”. It consists of eating salmon and salad with lots of different colours in it, and then of course staying away from carbohydrates because they tend to be inflammatory. I also like mixed berries a lot. So I came up with this diet and started putting patients on it, not just for the purposes of beauty, but to help them with health problems. I noticed that when people ate this diet on a regular basis, in the first three or four days you saw a really radical change in their skin, the pore size looked smaller and the dark circles under their eyes tended to dissipate and the skin seemed to have more tone to it. The cheekbones look higher and the jaw line firmer. And so I really felt that this was absolute proof.
I remember reading The Wrinkle Cure when it came out and I ate salmon nonstop.
(Laughs) Yes, when my book came out, it exploded. It was on the New York Times bestseller list for about 22 weeks. And you couldn’t find a piece of salmon in Manhattan or the entire country as a matter of fact, everybody was doing it. So that’s the story of my research: inflammation is at the basis of ageing and age-related diseases.
Dr. Perricone Hydrogen Water is sold through Amazon (but in Australia you can only currently buy the Dr. Perricone Hydrogen Water Tablets). What does it do?
It’s a natural anti-inflammatory, and throws certain molecular switches in the body that mimic exercise and fasting. We know if people change their diets and decrease inflammation in their bodies, it will decrease risks of disease. And I think definitely there’s proof and evidence that you can slow the ageing process down. We can’t stop it but we can slow it down, it just gives us more years of healthy living and happiness. When you drink hydrogen water, it throws the same metabolic switches in the body that you grow when you are fasting or when you are exercising. And also it’s an anti-inflammatory, it gives lots of energy. And after two or three days of drinking hydrogen water, the skin looks very radiant, because once again, if there’s a drop of inflammation in the body, systemically it shows up in the skin because the skin is a perfect barometer for what is going on inside of you.
In Australia and New Zealand, we have huge issues with damaging sunlight. What do you recommend?
Of course, I would recommend wear long sleeves and wear hats. If you have to be in the sun you can put on some sunscreen although I am not a huge fan of sunscreens.
If you don’t use sun screen and you go out in the sun and you have a light complexion, within five to fifteen minutes you are turning pink. That’s your body saying, ‘I am being overwhelmed by this ultra violet energy from the sun’, and the body is reacting. And you can get these sun screens and put them on and stay out there for hours without showing any signs of redness. But the energy has to be going somewhere. And I think what happens is that it also suppresses the immune system being in the sun that long, because we are basically taking that red flag warning and turning it off.
Being against sunscreen wouldn’t be popular with other dermatologists?
Of course it goes against what my colleagues say, they basically counsel sunscreen every day for everybody. Another issue with that too is when you have sunscreen on, you can’t convert the natural oils in your skin to Vitamin D. And Vitamin D is extremely important for many, many reasons, not just our bone health but our psychological health, it decreases our risks of internal cancers, it increases our immune systems and gives more resistance to flu and colds etc. People should get some natural sunlight, but you should not be out there long enough that you get a sunburn. I go against the grain with my colleagues on a lot of these issues. There’s pretty good evidence that if we had completely blocked out any form of sunlight, the increase in internal cancers would be quite traumatic.
I know you’re not a fan of Botox…
Let’s talk about Botox. I want to explain why I am not a fan of Botox. When I was at Yale, one of my colleagues, a young woman, not just a dermatologist but an artist, explained to me that a youthful look is in the convexities in the face. The cheekbones, they come out, the jaw is convex and the pout, forehead, temples, it all comes out in an arc. As we get older, that arc turns flat. And then as we really get older, it turns to concave, so it actually goes in. There was a young woman, 25 years old and of very light complexion, and she had a lot of premature wrinkles around her eyes. And although she had more lines around her eyes than she should have, when I asked patients how old they thought she was, they all said that she was around 25. People automatically start to access the convexities on a subconscious level and then you get a pretty accurate assessment of someone’s age. And so when you inject a neurotoxin, such as Botox, you paralyse those muscles so you lose muscle mass there too, and you’re going to lose your convexities. That’s a bad strategy. And also, I am still not completely happy with the safety. I know it’s been out there a number of years now, but what if 15 or 20 years down the road it starts migrating to the central nervous system? I have given this statement to 50 major magazines and only a very small percentage include it in their magazine because they’re getting a lot of advertising from the big companies selling it. And so I tried to get the word out. I wouldn’t use it on my patients but a lot of people do and I think they seem to be happy with it. But again, it’s counter-intuitive to me.
In terms of ageing well, how much is reliant upon good genes versus taking care of yourself?
I think that’s an important question and the best I can field is that after 30 years of studying the issue, genes make up about 40 percent of what you can do and that leaves 60 percent of your efforts to capitalise on things like the anti-inflammatory diet, and moderate exercise and meditation. All those elements come together. Most of my patients say, ‘Oh well, isn’t it just genetics?’ They are really looking for an excuse to say, ‘Well, we can’t do anything about it, anyway’. But it’s not that way at all. Taking care of yourself makes a huge difference to your longevity and also your physical beauty and health. Sixty percent is a big number when we’re talking about what you can do for yourself.