Food and Your Skin – The Complete Guide
We receive many requests about food and the skin. The food to avoid, the food to include and everything in-between. To help you better understand what you’re putting into your body and how it affects the skin, we have created a comprehensive guide. Within you will find:
- The Most Important Nutrients For The Skin
- The Foods With Highest Nutrient Content
- The Best Fruits To Glow Up Your Skin
- Foods To Avoid
- Is Milk Bad For The Skin?
- Sugar and The Skin
- Most Important to Avoid: Sodium
The Top 5 Nutrients
Healthy skin is often viewed the result of good genes and an effective skin-care routine. However, studies suggest that the old saying “you are what you eat” couldn’t be truer. Just as some foods are associated with skin damage, some foods have a protective effect for the skin. Before we dive into the foods you need to be eating. Lets take a look at the five key nutrients for healthy skin:
1. Vitamin C
You know vitamin C boosts your immune system, but did you know that it also promotes radiant skin? A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that individuals who consume foods rich in vitamin C have fewer wrinkles and age-related dry skin than those who don’t.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that protects your body from harmful molecules called free radicals. Free radicals damage collagen, the fiber responsible for your skin’s elasticity, which leads to wrinkles. Foods that are rich in vitamin C include strawberries, blueberries, oranges, kiwis, papaya and sweet potatoes.
2. Vitamin E
Like vitamin C, vitamin E promotes healthy, youthful skin by protecting your skin against free radical damage. Vitamin E-rich foods include almonds, avocado, hazelnuts, pine nuts, spinach and sunflower seeds.
In addition to protecting your body against skin cancer caused by sun exposure, the mineral selenium also delays aging by protecting your skin’s elasticity. High-selenium foods include Brazil nuts, fish, eggs, tomatoes, broccoli, shrimp, and lamb.
4. Vitamin A
You may have noticed that your favorite anti-wrinkle product contains vitamin A; this is no coincidence. In addition to supporting healthy vision, vitamin A also improves skin health by causing your body to produce more collagen. Increase your vitamin A intake by adding carrots, oranges, cantaloupe, sweet potato, kale and/or squash to your diet.
5. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Also known as the “good fats”, omega-3 fats reduce your body’s production of inflammatory compounds–the natural chemicals involved in the aging process. The result: healthier, younger-looking skin. Walnuts, flaxseed, canola oil, tuna, and salmon are all great sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Top 5 Foods To Eat For Healthy Skin
So, we now know the key nutrients and vitamins to health skin. However, what foods should we actually be eating?
First and foremost, it is worth understanding the importance of antioxidants for our skin. You will also find there is an abundance there within our tea and coffee. However, what other foods are great for our skin and why?
1. Oily/Fatty Fish
We’ve actually touched on the benefits that fish has for our skin in our piece on food to avoid but let’s get into the details here. Firstly, fatty fish constitutes fish such as mackerel, salmon and herring. They are rich sources of omega-3 and that’s the key to maintaining skin health.
Omega-3 Is the Key
Omega-3 will do wonders for your skin due to so many reasons. Firstly it keeps the skin thick, supple and moisturized. As demonstrated in this research, a deficiency in omega 3 can even cause dry skin. Omega-3 doesn’t stop there either; it reduces inflammation and can even reduce the affects of harmful UV rays from the sun.
As mentioned in our antioxidants post, Vitamin E does wonders for the skin and fish is a great source for this wonder vitamin. Lastly is the Zinc content, fatty fish is high in Zinc and this has been shown to be important for the production of new skin cells, without Zinc you are at an increased risk to skin inflammation, lesions and a delay to healing wounds.
Following on from the Omega-3 content in fatty fish, we have the humble Walnut. Rich in essential fatty acids that your body cannot make itself this nut has more omega-3 and omega-6 content than almost all other nuts.
The only warning is to be careful with Omega-6. A diet too high in this omega may lead to inflammation but due to the good ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in Walnuts they have our seal of approval. If you’re still not convinced, walnuts are high in Zinc and contain Vitamin E, C and selenium – all key nutrients for healthy skin.
3. Sweet Potatoes
Let’s briefly move away from all those omegas to bring the nutrient rich sweet potato to the front. Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of Beta-Carotene – this effectively functions as Provitamin A which means it can be converted to Vitamin A in the body.
Beta-Carotene can be found in other vegetables too such as carrots and spinach.
When consumed, Beta-carotene acts as a natural sunblock to keep your skin healthy and can even give your skin a healthy and warm glow.
Following in similar vain, the Tomato is another great source of beta-carotene as well as many other nutrients such as Vitamin C plus all major carotenoids.
A quick tip with tomatoes is to pair it with a source of fat such as cheese or olive oil. Fat will increase the absorption of carotenoids so it’s a great excuse to add some fat to your tomatoes…
Last but certainly not least is the Avocado, we could have chosen from a plethora of foods but it had to be this one. No doubt you’ve already tried this super fruit that is now more popular than ever. What you may not have known is the vast benefits it can have on our skin.
Avocado is high in healthy fats, which is great for skin flexibility and skin moisture. In fact, a study with over 700 women found that a high intake of total fats from foods like avocado improved the skin, reduced wrinkles and made the skin more supple.
Not only is it high in healthy fats, the avocado also contains many of the important nutrients we have mentioned previously such as Vitamin E and Vitamin C. An added bonus is that avocado has been shown to suppress the inflammatory response caused by UV damage.
A Balanced Diet
Hopefully this list has given you a few ideas and some encouragement that foods great for our skin are not too difficult to find. If you do your best to follow a balanced diet you’ll no doubt incorporate many of these nutrients into your diet anyway. A couple of other foods to aim for would be; sunflower seeds, red peppers, soy, green tea and even a few bonuses such as dark chocolate and red wine can be great for your skin in moderation!
Fruits that Glow Up Your Skin
We have established foods that help your skin but what about fruit? We all know fruit is nutrient rich and you will be pleased to know it is also fantastic for our skin. Not only is fruit full of nutrients but it also helps hydrate the body, another key ingredient to healthy skin.
We’ve taken some of the best fruits for the summer, however you can consume these fruits any time of year to help your skin. From heat rashes to dehydration, fruit plays a key role in the health of our skin. If you’ve noticed dry skin, oily skin, spots and beyond then this is likely to be due to the suns intense rays and dehydration. In the winter it could simply be due to central heating, dry air and wind.
Hydration is the key to healthy skin but if you’re sick of drinking water then not to worry! There are many ways to keep on top of your hydration to keep your skin looking healthy and glowing. Here are our top 5 fruits for glowing skin.
We would argue that nothing is more refreshing than a slice of watermelon. And this is with good reason. Did you know that Watermelon is 92% Water? Now if that isn’t a great way to hydrate then what is?
Alongside these high levels of water, watermelon is a refreshing glow booster for many reasons:
- Vitamin C and Lycopene – natural antioxidants that protect our skin from the damaging effects of free radicals. Free radicals are what cause our skin to age fast.
- Vitamin C also promotes collagen synthesis which is essential to maintain skin elasticity and hydration.
- Lycopene and Beta-carotene (another key nutrient) – help to protect from sunburn, and beta-carotene may also help to prevent psoriasis.
- Vitamin A – repairs and renews the skin making it look healthier and more radiant.
- Citruline – This substance increases the levels of arginine which is a hair growth booster.
Another juicy health booster, Mango is great for our skin due to all of the vitamins and minerals.
- Vitamin C and A – to promote collagen formation
- Potassium and Vitamin E – Great moisturizing benefits for the skin
- Vitamin B6 and Magnesium – Despite the high sugar, mangos actually help to control oily and acne-prone skins due to these two key ingredients. They help to regulate sebum production, and Beta-Carotene that protects the skin from bacteria and toxins.
- Vitamin K – This has healing properties and helps to attenuate stretch marks, this is why you may have noticed some skin care products containing mango extract
The tasty mango is not only magnificent for your skin health but also for your immune system, heart, eyes, digestive system and hair.
A fruit classic for all of us. We all know the phrase ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’ and it comes with good reason. Apples are full of fantastic vitamins and minerals for both our skin and overall health.
- Phenolic Acid – Shown to contribute in preventing UVA and UVB sun damage
- High Fiber – Great for helping us eliminate all those toxins from a summers night…
- Antioxidants – The key to healthy skin and most of the antioxidants are found in the apples skin so be sure to go for organic. Red apples are the best for those skin glow antioxidants we all crave
Well we had to throw one curveball in here. Papaya is amazing for your skin due to many reasons. It has exfoliating and lightening properties due to an enzyme called Papain. When applied topically (as a cream or ointment) this enzyme can dissolve dead skin cells and help to even your skin tone. Alongside this it also contains:
- Vitamins C, A, E, K – Great for skin moisture, elasticity and firmness
- Beta-Carotene – To protect the skin and can even prevent psoriasis
- High in Fiber, High In Hydration
Another classic for all of us and easy to squeeze in throughout the day. Berries are rich in nutrients and are great for the skin.
- High Concentration of Antioxidants – Key to anti-aging, berries are super rich in antioxidants and even contain flavanoids which are great at neutralizing those free radicals
- Vitamin C – Berries contain more Vitamin C than any other fruit. Great for anti-aging and a huge boost for your collagen levels. Strawberries are arguably the best for this
- Vitamin A, B, E and K – These vitamins promote a bright and even complexion. Cranberries for example include a huge amount of Vitamin E and K.
Berries are the ultimate tasty superfood. If you don’t already have them in your diet then we suggest you start adding them. Give it time and watch your skin glow-up!
<h3id=”avoid”>Foods To Avoid
I think by this point you should have an idea on what foods are great for our skin. I’m sure there are no surprises in there! When it comes to food to avoid, not all food has been created equal. Some you might be able to get away with, others you should avoid at all costs.
As we have established, If the food is good for you, healthy and green it’s always good for the skin. On the flip side, bad foods, fast foods and alcohol are not so good for your skin. It’s a pretty good rule of thumb to work from but there could be a few surprise foods that are affecting your skin in ways you didn’t know.
High Glycemic Carbs
We’ll start with what feels like an obvious one. We already know these foods are not great for our general health. However, high glycemic carbohydrates also negatively affect our skin. These foods can be anything from White Rice and White Bread to pure sugar. There are several reasons we want to avoid these foods, for reasons that affect both our skin and general health.
Firstly, these foods trigger sebum production. Sebum is an oil we want to avoid if we’re suffering from acne. This oil blocks up our pores, which can go on to cause spots and even cysts. Further to this, High GI foods stimulate androgen synthesis (male hormones). This hormone advances the development of acne so try to avoid where possible. Take particular care if you are suffering from acne already, as these foods can exacerbate the problem.
Blood Sugar Levels
A third and final reason you should look to avoid high GI foods is in the risk of increasing your blood sugar levels. An increase in the sugar in the blood can cause various problems. As an example, any sugar that isn’t picked up by the liver can get into your collagen supplies, which as we know, is the key protein to healthy skin. When the sugar infiltrates your collagen, your body identifies these cells and considers them damaged. Your body will then work to break down these ‘damaged’ cells, at the detriment to your skin. In all, it’s important to protect our collagen levels as much as possible so bear this in mind!
We promised you some foods you wouldn’t have thought of, so here’s a clear one for you, although we admit it’s actually a drink!.. Believe it or not, bottled water comes with its risks. The BPA in water bottles is known to be what is called a ‘steroid analogue’. This effectively means it could act like hormones in your body. The jury is still out on how much this affects your skin but we recommend using a more sustainable solution for bottled water. This way you’ll avoid any negative effects.
This one, you may have known already. However, the studies may not be as clear as you think. Research has shown a correlation between dairy and acne but no clear causation. It’s hard for dermatologists to make a clear call on dairy since most of the time our yoghurts, cakes and general dairy also contains a lot of sugar. Therefore making judgement a little more challenging. We recommend consuming dairy that does not contain sugar and opt for cows that have not been treated with hormones – these are no good for your skin!
If you love spiced foods then we’re sorry to say this might be affecting your skin negatively. Spicy foods can trigger inflammation and flushing so if you suffer from rosacea then its best to avoid where you can.
In all, there’s a few key foods to avoid but its mostly a case of moderation. Try not to overdo it with the foods listed above and you’ll find your skin in good condition. If you’re noticing a rash or spot then you can of course speak to our board-certified dermatologists or even try our AI skin image searcher for an instant result.
Milk and Dairy – Bad for the Skin?
You may have noticed we included dairy in our foods to avoid. We’re often told milk is good for us, so how can this be? Unfortunately, milk and dairy could trigger acne…
Does Dairy Cause Acne?
Acne, also known as acne vulgaris, is a skin condition that occurs when oil and dead skin cells clog your hair follicles. Symptoms of acne include blackheads, whiteheads and pimples.
Although there’s no definitive link between dairy and acne, recent studies have shown strong associations between the two. A 2008 study discovered that teenage boys who drank milk experienced more frequent and severe acne breakouts than those who didn’t drink milk.
How might dairy and acne be related? Researchers believe the hormones in dairy products ― particularly in cow’s milk ― are the culprit. When you consume cow’s milk, the hormones naturally found in the milk increase your body’s production of sebum, the oily substance that clogs your pores. This often results in acne.
If you need treatment to prevent or stop acne, ask a dermatologist!
What You Can Do
The best way to find out if dairy is negatively affecting your skin is to go dairy-free for a month and note any changes to your skin. If that’s not a sustainable lifestyle for you, there are some ways you can reduce your risk of acne while still consuming dairy:
1. Switch from Skim to Whole Milk
A 2016 study found that the consumption of low-fat/skim milk was positively associated with acne. Researchers in this study, however, didn’t see the same correlation in full-fat milk consumption. This is because skim milk contains enough hormones to have biological effects in consumers. For instance, skim milks often contain proteins like whey and casein to make it taste less watery. These proteins release a hormone called IGF-1, which is known to trigger acne.
2. Try Different Kinds of Dairy
If you notice that cow-based dairy products are causing you to break out, try dairy from different sources. Dairy from other animals, like goats, for example, may have less harmful effects to your skin.
For healthier, clearer skin, reduce your dairy intake and avoid skim milk whenever possible. If you cut dairy from your diet, be sure you still get the recommended 1300 milligrams of calcium a day by adding calcium-rich foods like kale, mustard greens, broccoli, and sardines to your diet. If you think dairy products are destroying your skin, ask a dermatologist!
Sugar and Sodium – The End Of Healthy Skin
Despite the many ideas above on what to add and avoid, there are 2 key ingredients that damage your skin most. Sugar and Salt. We’ll start with sugar and move on to salt. Read on below for more information!
How Sugar Ages your Skin
We all know that sugar is bad for your teeth and waistline, but what about your skin? Recent studies have found that consuming too much sugar can have damaging effects on your skin. Specifically, sugar-heavy diets can accelerate the aging process and cause acne. So if you’re looking for another reason to quit sweets, you’re in for a treat.
Sugar Affects Aging
Sugar increases the effects of aging through a natural process called glycation. Glycation occurs when the sugar molecules in your bloodstream bind to proteins to make harmful molecules called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). And that’s exactly what these molecules do — age your skin. AGEs damage surrounding proteins, and the more sugar you eat the more damage they do. The proteins most vulnerable to AGE harm are collagen and elastin, the two protein fibers that keep your skin firm and elastic. When AGEs damage collagen and elastin, the result is wrinkles and sagging skin.
As if that weren’t enough, AGEs also deactivate your body’s natural antioxidant enzymes, which protect your body from sun damage. This leaves you more susceptible to sun damage — the main cause of skin aging.
How Sugar Causes Acne
Many experts believe that excess sugar consumption may be linked to acne. In a 2007 study, subjects that switched from a high-glycemic diet (foods that cause a spike in blood sugar) to a low-glycemic diet showed a significant decrease in their acne over a twelve-week period, while a control group who maintained a high-glycemic diet did not.
What explains the link between sugar and acne? Eating high-sugar foods spikes your blood sugar, which causes your body to produce more insulin, a hormone that regulates the amount of glucose in the blood. Here’s the rub: as your insulin level increases, it prompts your body to produce more skin oils that may clog your hair follicles and result in acne.
Minimizing Sugar’s Effects on Your Skin
Cutting all sugar from your diet is both unrealistic and unnecessary for achieving healthy skin. What is necessary, though, is an honest effort to minimize your sugar intake. Here are a few practical tips to help:
1. Opt for Complex Carbohydrates
Simple carbohydrates —like white bread, pasta, ice cream, candy and soda — are rapidly converted into glucose and result in insulin spikes, which may lead to acne. Reduce your consumption of these foods and opt for complex carbohydrates, like fruits and vegetables, brown rice, beans, nuts, brown pasta, couscous, basmati rice and legumes. These foods are broken down into glucose at a slower rate, and thus don’t lead to acne-causing insulin spikes.
2. Take at least 1 mg of vitamins B1 and B6 a day.
If you have a sweet tooth and can’t afford to give up those snacks, there’s another option. A 2015 study found that Vitamin B1 and B6 are proven AGE inhibitors. While these vitamins can be found in various foods, taking a multivitamin that includes both guarantees you’re getting your daily value.
3. Eat more antioxidants
Antioxidants help prevent sugar molecules from attaching to proteins. To help prevent the formation of AGEs, eat more antioxidant-rich foods, like strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, pinto beans, cranberries, and blackberries.
The effect sugar has on your skin is anything but sweet. For healthier, younger-looking skin, reduce your sugar intake and opt for complex carbohydrates when possible. If you think sugar is destroying your skin, ask a dermatologist!
Sodium – The effect on our Skin
The average American consumes 3,400 mg of sodium a day, well over the 2,300 mg recommended by the Center of Disease Control and Prevention. Many of us know that consuming too much sodium spikes your blood pressure, which increases your risk of stroke and heart disease. But did you know that high sodium intake affects your skin, too?
A tell-tale sign of a sodium-high diet is puffiness around the face — especially under the eyes. This is because salt causes your body to retain water.
Your body tries to maintain a water/sodium ratio that is approximately the same as seawater. When you consume sodium, your body retains water to maintain that same ratio. Water retention subsequently leads to puffiness around the body, usually affecting the extremities, belly and face. The skin under your eyes is particularly susceptible to swelling as it is very thin.
To learn more about the different causes of puffy eyes, ask a dermatologist.
If you consume high amounts of sodium and don’t drink enough water, you’ll likely experience dehydration. Symptoms of dehydration include dizziness, dry mouth, headache, and of course, dry skin.
Sodium limits the amount of water your internal organs receive. In response, your organs take water from your skin. The result: dry skin.
And unfortunately, dry skin leads to another skin problem–acne. To compensate for this loss of moisture, your skin may overproduce oil. This excessive oil may clog your follicles and result in acne.
If you need treatment to prevent or stop acne, ask a dermatologist!
Counteracting the Effects of Sodium
The best way to prevent salt from negatively affecting your skin is to reduce your intake to 2,300mg a day. If this is not possible, here are some ways to counteract the negative effects of sodium:
1. Drink Plenty of Water
Consuming more water than usual is very important to offset the effects of sodium on your skin. As water flushes out your system, it takes excess sodium with it.
2. Eat Potassium-Rich Foods
Potassium-rich foods help balance your body’s sodium level. While sodium causes your body to retain water, potassium helps your body reduce water retention. High-potassium foods include carrots, raisins, spinach and bananas.
3. Use Alternatives to Salt
Instead of using salt, try seasoning your food with fresh herbs, peppers, lemon juice or balsamic vinegar.
4. Reduce Your Bread Consumption
We’ve mentioned it once already, but consider reducing your consumption of one of the saltiest foods: bread. According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, breads and rolls are the leading sources of sodium intake in the United States. If you must have bread, opt for whole-wheat bread.
Besides increasing your risk of stroke and heart disease, sodium can can also wreak havoc on your appearance. For healthier, younger-looking skin, reduce your sodium intake and remember to drink plenty of water. If you think sodium is destroying your skin, ask a dermatologist today!
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Specialist doctor from the University Hospital in Gothenburg, alumnus UC Berkeley. My doctoral dissertation is about Digital Health and I have published 5 scientific articles in teledermatology and artificial intelligence.