According to Dr. Maura, the secret to clear skin starts in the gut. While there are plenty of skincare products that work wonders, the root cause for most skin problems actually comes from within, according to Dr. Maura, a licensed and board-certified naturopathic doctor based both in New York City and Connecticut. We spoke with Dr. Maura about the gut-skin connection and maintaining radiant skin this summer.


photograph by Sioux Nesi

Q: First things First: What is a naturopath?

A: A naturopathic doctor is a physician trained at one of the several naturopathic medical schools in the United States, where they receive a medical education similar to MD’s but with additional clinical training in integrative modalities such as herbal medicine and homeopathy. The biggest difference between MD’s and naturopaths is that naturopaths seek to identify the cause of illness or disease in patients and to bring about healing at that level. Naturopaths consider the whole body when working with an individual.


Q: How did you know you wanted to be a naturopath? Have you always been passionate about this field?

A: My family jokes around that I went gluten-free and organic when I was ten years old in the late 1980’s, long before it was trendy. I had an amazing pediatrician when I was a small child who healed my migraines with dietary changes. From then on, I was entranced by the notion that we could alter our bodies—and feel better—with what we put into them. It became a hobby of mine as a young person to read about all kinds of alternative medicines from Ayurveda to Chinese medicine. I finally heeded the call to go to help heal people in my late 20s after a career as a magazine editor. It was only when I was on the path to conventional medical school that I discovered naturopathic medicine existed. I immediately knew naturopathy was the place for me because it philosophically aligned with what I’d always been about.


Q: What role do natural products play in your practice?

A: I only use natural products: herbs, homeopathy, oils, high quality vitamin/mineral/amino acid supplements, probiotics, the list goes on. Almost everything the body needs to heal chronic imbalance is available to use from natural resources. It’s one reason I feel so strongly about respecting our environment. Without a healthy earth, we do not have the resources we need to keep our bodies healthy.


Q: How is naturopathic dermatology different from the dermatology practices most people are used to? 

A: Naturopaths, again, always ask why so in the case of dermatology, we’re asking why is someone getting acne or eczema or some kind of skin rash. Typically through lab testing and a thorough history and physical exam, we can determine where the imbalance is coming from, whether it’s hormonal, gut-related, a food sensitivity or a problem related to impaired detoxification. There are myriad reasons why people have skin problems, and it’s always internal. So with my dermatology patients, I’m treating from the inside out, not outside in as most people are used to. Topicals help, absolutely, but the deep and lasting fix comes from treating the internal imbalance.


Q: Can you explain how gut health is crucial to achieving glowing skin from the inside out?

A: We call this the gut-skin axis. The relationship between the intestinal microbiome and skin health has been decidedly established in the medical literature. The mechanisms by which this happens is not fully explored but we do know from recent studies that many acne sufferers have intestinal permeability, or leaky gut. We also know that many people with rosacea have something called SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth). The gut microbiome really has a lot to do with controlling immune function, which plays out on the skin. The more inflamed the gut, the more inflamed the skin; the skin really is a mirror of what’s happening in the gut. I can’t tell you how many of my patients with skin issues have cleared them up by healing their guts.


Q: What are some of the most common skincare problems people who come to you have?

A: I see lots of women with hormonal acne, that’s a big one. Some have PCOS but many suffer from the dreaded jawline acne. Eczema is the other really frequent complaint my patients have. The through-line for many of my patients is that they don’t want to keep taking antibiotics, steroids and birth control to manage their skin issues. They’re sick, and even scared, of side effects. And more and more people are realizing that they don’t have to simply get used to having bad skin. Good skin is within anyone’s reach once they first know what’s triggering their skin in the first place, second eliminate the barrier to healing and lastly learn how to support their skin’s balance. Everyone is different, which is why this is tricky. There’s no one-size-fits-all.


Q: What is the most common trigger you see causing blemishes and outbreaks on the face that one can possibly fix themselves through lifestyle changes?

A: Dairy is the number one offender, hands down. Removing dairy completely can go a long way to calming inflammation on the face. Another one is tending to your gut health. Making sure you’re eliminating every day is obviously the job of the gut, so simply taking a probiotic and eating foods that are right for your body is extremely helpful. Loving your liver is essential for great skin too: I always recommend people do green juices daily and avoiding the things your liver hates such as coffee and alcohol.


Q: How can we stay fresh and radiant in hot and humid weather?

A: This is a particularly relevant question for me, as I live in New York City where the summer humidity is seriously challenging! Hydrate hydrate hydrate. Typically you need to drink half your body weight in ounces of water per day but when you’re sweating a lot just being outside you need to drink more. Eating hydrating fruits and veggies helps too: watermelon, cucumber are my favorites. Skip the heavy moisturizers and makeup and opt for a natural zinc oxide sunscreen. If you’re eating well and taking care of your body from the inside out, you’ll have that inner glow even when it’s sweltering out.

Dr. Maura Henninger is a licensed and board-certified Naturopathic Doctor based in New York City. A graduate of Dartmouth College, she worked for several years as a magazine editor before following her passion for holistic healing to University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine. She received additional training at The New England School of Homeopathy. She treats a wide range of chronic illness with patients at every age, specializing in gastrointestinal illness, autoimmune disease and women’s health. She believes in root-cause treatments tailored to the individual, helping her patients to realize their fullest potential. For more information about Dr. Maura, visit

Read Dr. Maura’s e-book, “The Troubled Tummy,” and learn the major keys to a happier, healthier gut and overall wellbeing–inside and out.

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