March 17, 2014 at 12:37 PM ET
Colonics, the celebrity-endorsed practice, is gaining in popularity among a new group of fans: people seeking clearer skin. But flushing your body with colon hydrotherapy can cause risks that are definitely not pretty, experts warn.
Better skin is one of the main reasons clients request a colonic, says Tracy Piper, owner of The Piper Center for Internal Wellness in New York City. Most of her clients do three sessions in a few weeks with two follow-up maintenance sessions.
“Your skin is your outer mirror so it is telling you what is going on from the inside,” Piper says. She claims that hydrotherapy prevents a build up of toxins in the colon from seeping out the skin, adding that if people are constipated, it’s like “pooping through your skin.”
A colonic is an enema-like procedure that uses water to flush out the colon, causing bowel movements.
Several years ago, Tammy “Texi” McLean’s skin erupted with plaque psoriasis and eczema. McClean visited a natural health professional in Pittsburgh to start twice-weekly sessions of colonics, along with a new diet. Soon, she noticed that her skin started to clear.
“Whenever you have a colonic, you feel so amazing and you glow,” says McLean, who worked as a fitness instructor for 24 years.
The owner of Pittsburgh Health Therapies, where McClean had her treatments, says many patients notice less acne and eczema after a colonic. "The colonics help with the skin," says owner Alan Clemence. "It does work really well."
But no matter how convinced people are that their flushed intestines will give them clear skin, doctors say it’s probably a waste of your money.
“Everyone wants to be regular,” but being constipated does not impact skin health,” says Dr. Melissa Piliang, a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic.
Skin and gut health can sometimes be related, Piliang says. People with Celiac disease, for example, get a rash that goes away if they abstain from gluten. But there’s no evidence that the body processes toxins by pushing them through the skin (you can’t sweat the toxins out, either), Piliang says. The liver, kidneys, and colon deal with so-called toxins.
With fluid loss, people may feel lighter or less bloated, but it's a quick short-acting trick. In fact, a Georgetown University study found little evidence supporting benefits from colon flushing, but plenty of pretty unattractive side effects such as cramping, bloating, vomiting and renal failure.
Gastroenterologist Dr. Linda Lee says people shouldn’t worry too much about toxins in their colons, anyway.
“Your colon was designed as a storage facility for toxic waste,” says Lee, director of the Johns Hopkins Integrative Medicine and Digestive Center.
If you're concerned about toxins, eat fewer processed foods, she says.
“The issue here is there isn’t any evidence that [colonics] are beneficial to health in the medical literature,” Lee says. “We don’t know what colonics are doing.”
As for skin care, Piliang believes that lifestyle changes are a better treatment for people with mild skin problems such as acne or dry skin.
“Maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly and controlling and moderating stress all help your skin,” she says.
For more serve rashes, eczema, and psoriasis, see a dermatologist: it could be a sign of an illness, including thyroid disease, allergies, or even cancer.
“If it is a more serous problem I would [see a doctor],” says Piliang. “If there is something else going on, the colonic isn’t going to treat it.”