• Elle

Health, Beauty and Life with Fleur Mckenzie

I met Fleur a few years ago and since I've always been awe of her beauty inside and out.

She is passionate and knowledgeable in skin health which made me so excited to share (even had a little tear as I read her reply). I am so honoured to share some of her wisdom on the blog.

Love to know more a little bit about you and your journey? Was it an organic career change from nursing to skin?

It definitely has been a process. When I was younger I thought I would have loved to be a beauty therapist or make-up artist, but I was highly encouraged to go to uni as that seemed to be the idea of success at the time. I grew up in a small country town called Broken Hill and was 17 when I moved out of home. I decided to move 12.5 hours to the east coast to Wollongong where my older sister Esther was. She was the only person I knew there.

After a year of studying a bachelor of medical health sciences, I decided I would switch to study nursing the following year. I was interested in health, I wanted to be able to finish the degree and have a job, and be able to work anywhere, and I knew it was very broad and had lots of options.

I was 22 when I started working as a Registered nurse in Emergency at Wollongong hospital. It was a full on and stressful environment and I remember crying at work A LOT. I was lucky I had my best friend and house mate Sally working in there with me. We would always work overtime – crazy 18 hour shifts. I worked there for a year until I completed my new graduate year in emergency, then I decided to move to Western Australia.

I had lived in Wollongong for 5.5 years. I loved it there, but I didn’t love my job, I had no family there, and I felt like if I stayed that I would just be standing still; that there would be no growth. I didn’t know where to go. I think it’s always hard when you don’t have a certain person/job/interest pulling you in a certain direction or place. My mum was in WA, so I thought I’d move there with her, save some money to travel. I ended up getting this random job to travel around WA and work in rural emergency departments across WA, so I took it.

I was assigned to Albany, Geraldton and Esperance, relocating every 3.5 – 4 months. After my first few weeks in Albany, I was not enjoying myself at all. I remember ringing mum saying I’m going to quit nursing and become a beauty therapist. I was alone in rural WA, away from my friends, away from all the distraction and noise, and it was the first time I really had to sit with myself and what I wanted to do. I had this realization that I never, not once, ever dreamed of being a nurse. Nursing is a great career full of opportunities, but I remember I had a patient asking me one shift if I enjoyed it and I honestly couldn’t even answer her. “You have to love it” she told me, and the truth was, I just didn’t.

After a few short months of being in WA, my skin also broke out in deep cystic acne. This is really what sparked my passion in skin health. I realised that I didn’t need to leave nursing, I could combine my interest of beauty and health together. By the time I moved from Albany to Geraldton I decided to take the plunge and study my Graduate Diploma in Cosmetic Nursing with the Australasian Academy of Cosmetic Dermal Science which would allow me to become not only a Cosmetic Nurse but a Dermal Therapist as well. This gave me something to work towards, I loved learning about everything to do with the skin. I was taking all of the information in, and so I decided to stick out my time in WA.

Following 12 months in WA, I moved to Newcastle where both my sisters now were. I once again found work in Emergency nursing, but was constantly looking for the right cosmetic job to come along. In march 2020 I was offered my dream job at a boutique Medi-Spa called Coco Skin Laser Health, and then COVID happened and everything fell through. I continued to work in Emergency throughout COVID. The pandemic was making a stressful job even more stressful. I began struggling with really bad anxiety inside and outside of work. In November 2020, I gained full time work at a Dermatology clinic which was linked to Coco. I continued to manifest my dream job, journaling about it, writing it down on a new moon like I already had it. Come February 2021, almost a year later, I started working at Coco Skin Laser Health. It has taken me three years to get to where I am now since starting studying my graduate diploma. For the first time ever, I finally feel like this is what I am meant to do. I still remain working casually at the hospital every now and then to keep up my skills. I am grateful for all of the opportunities that nursing has provided to me, but in time, I would like to explore other avenues or do something completely different to nursing alongside my cosmetic role. I truly believe that variety is the spice of life.

I'm so into the gut / skin connection. How important is this connection?

It’s amazing how the gut influences so many parts of our body. It is well known that 70% of our serotonin, our happy hormone, is made in the gut. Working in dermatology we see a lot of patients with skin conditions that can be exacerbated by what they eat. People with eczema or psoriasis will notice that their skin can flare up due to certain foods such as dairy and gluten. These foods can cause the intestinal barrier to become more permeable and create inflammation within the body. Substances that are normally blocked by the intestinal barrier can leak back into systemic circulation and may produce allergies and metabolic and/or vascular changes. One of the most interesting things I learnt during my graduate diploma was the effect of sugar on the skin.

We all know that too much sugar is bad for us. A diet high in sugar increases our risk of diabetes, where our body’s ability to produce sufficient insulin to break down glucose becomes impaired. We therefore get a build-up sugar in our blood vessels and organs. This process is known as glycation. Advanced glycation end products (ironically termed AGEs) are formed when the body is in a prolonged hyperglycemic state. AGEs contribute to the pathophysiology of vascular disease in diabetes. But it doesn’t stop with diabetes.

AGEs modify the extracellular matrix within our cells, the actions of hormones, cytokines and free radicals (creating inflammation within the nerves, blood vessels and the liver), and impact on cell membrane fluidity. The collagen and elastin within our blood vessel walls become rigid and stiff, leading to cardiovascular dysfunction. The same happens to the collagen and elastin within our skin. The most visible effect of AGE formation is skin damage. AGEs contribute to the overall picture of skin ageing via inflammation, immune response, cell proliferation, and gene expression. The way we cook our food also influences AGE formation. Cooking at high temperatures with a low moisture content increases AGE formation, such as frying, barbequing and roasting. Cooking at a lower temperature with a higher moisture content is much better for your body and your skin, such as steaming, boiling, or using a slow cooker.

I am by no means a nutritionist or dietician, but I would definitely love to learn more about the gut-skin connection! Despite having some knowledge of how food and the gut affects our skin and ageing, I am probably one of the worst ones for it. I am such a foodie so I like to enjoy every single food there is to enjoy. I think that’s what life is all about. I do try to make up for it by looking after my skin in other ways.