An Italian in New York by Professor Bop on flickr

New York Blows, Whistler Glows

Friday, 15 February 2013 | Tags: , , , , ,

Do you have ugly cities? Places you go where all of a sudden your skin or hair looks less than its best? Or the reverse, the moment you arrive, you've mysteriously got your glow on? My two extremes are New York and Whistler.

For me, New York makes my hair simultaneously flat and frizzy, and my skin looks dull, like I’ve been stuck in an office with a pack of smokes for six months. But when I’m in Whistler? I never seem to get a zit, and that cowlick in my bangs vanishes. Even after a day on the slopes!

Before you read any further, remember that the information below is general advice and one should ALWAYS check with one’s own doctor before taking vitamin supplements or making changes to diet.

But I wanted to know if it was all in my head – do some places make me look better or worse? I asked Dr. Lauren Donaldson (BSc, MD and MA), who specializes in anti-aging medicine at Project Skin. She confirmed that there are a number of environmental and nutritional factors that affect your appearance and health. 

It’s not just my imagination!

It is indeed true that one can wake up in a new destination with more wrinkles, more puffiness, drier skin, lower mood, less pep, bad hair, and tighter clothes. Why? Beauty from the inside out is a dynamic, minute-to-minute milieu of hormone, vitamin, nutrient, anti-oxidant, estrogen and obesogen levels. These changes occur day to day, season to season, and yes, destination to destination.


One of the biggest predictors of how we look and feel is how well our thyroid functions. The good news about your thyroid is it speaks to you more than any other gland in the body. It shows lots of symptoms! It drives everything from metabolism and body temperature to firmness of skin, eye bags, whether your hair is shiny with good volume or flat and brittle, and whether we’re carrying an extra 3 lbs of fluid, or experiencing dryness of skin.

The minute we step off an airplane into a new environment and take a breath, the thyroid gland will function differently depending on pollution levels, sunlight levels and what we eat and drink. And if you’ll be staying in that new location for a prolonged period of time (as in a few years), soil quality and whether or not the water supply is fluoridated (fluoride competes with iodine and negatively impacts thyroid function) will also play a role. This dynamic state of flux will determine “pretty places” and “ugly places”.

D is for Delight

New research suggests there MAY be a connection between your thyroid and vitamin D3 (and there’s already a lot of research showing vitamin D prevents certain types of cancers), but regardless, it definitely plays a significant role in how we look. If you’re deficient in vitamin D3, you can look pale, and dark circles under the eyes can look worse. This is exacerbated by being indoors, prolonged air travel, travel to northern latitudes, certain sunscreens, and even sunglasses.

When the situation is reversed and we have high levels of vitamin D3, we look a lot better and healthier. This is most noticeable in our skin tone and colour. High vitamin D3 levels gives a permanent “tan” and healthy, rosy colour, which then helps protect from sunburn and makes us look good and vibrant. Paleness and pallor happen when the body is hoping to absorb more sunlight to make vitamin D3 in the skin.

Chemical Intolerance

And then there are obesogens (also known as endocrine disruptors). They are natural and manmade chemicals that tamper with the body’s regulatory system, affecting the thyroid. They can block insulin production and trick the body into thinking it’s still hungry. They are bad and they can be found everywhere, no just in food (corn syrup), but also in some plastic bottles, pizza boxes, a shower curtain, fabric softener used in hotel sheets, even body lotion.

The connection between obesogens and obesity is still a new concept, but one thing’s for sure, a sudden change in your surroundings and having to sleep on pillows that have been cleaned with harsh cleansers and using products you’re not used to can play a role in your appearance.

Combat Ugly City Syndrome!

If you’re moving to a new city or are constantly on the move from one urban centre to another, over time poor levels of certain minerals in the soil can also affect your thyroid function. (The most important minerals are zinc, selenium and iodine.)

Follow these guidelines if you want to look your best, even in those “ugly” cities!

1. Make sure you have good thyroid function at all times.

The ugly symptoms you experience when traveling may indicate that while your thyroid function gets by in your hometown, it doesn’t do as well when you’re traveling. Good thyroid function is primarily done through your diet and ensuring you have enough iodine in your system (the body doesn’t produce it on its own). Foods that will help are low fat cheese, eggs, saltwater fish, seaweed and soy sauce.

Some foods to eat less often (i.e., only every few days) if you’re concerned about your thyroid are almonds, canola oil, peanuts and spinach. Oysters are a great source of zinc, and Brazil nuts are very high in selenium. For many people part of the answer might include a good multivitamin every day. And of course, exercise. Even a little bit will help.

2. Take an anti-aging dose of vitamin D3.

Unless one spends at least 20 minutes per day with at least 70% of skin exposed to the sun and a very low factor sunscreen at a good latitude between noon and 2 pm, it is highly doubtful that vitamin D levels are anywhere near adequate. How much to take is something to discuss with your doctor, but most health professionals seem to agree that at least 2000iu per day is recommended. Some say that to reap the benefits of ideal hormone balance, cancer prevention, good metabolism and possibly thyroid function, take 5000iu of vitamin D3 daily as a supplement with food.

3. Choose products wisely. 

Avoid fabric softener, forego the dry cleaner if possible, and use zinc-based sunscreens such as Skinceuticals, rather than those loaded with hormone-disruptive chemicals.

4. Apply daily anti-oxidant serums.

Those containing vitamin C, B5 and other anti-oxidants help stave off aging topically. And if possible, pack your own trusted brands of lotions and shampoos when traveling. If you have sensitive skin, it might even be wise to pack your own pillow case!





Top photo credit:
An Italian in New York
Professor Bop/Flickr

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