Nutrition For The Skin
You most likely will have heard of the phrase ‘you are what you eat’? Well, there is a significant amount of evidence showing that, in regard to your skin, what you eat can have a profound effect on your complexion. Its not just about what you put on your skin topically, but also how you're feeding it from the inside. Looking at the skin is like taking the scenic route; visible to the naked eye, the skin naturally reflects any imbalances or internal inflammation. Although you may not feel like this is a good thing if your skin is dry, inflamed or irritated, it gives you an opportunity to address the body as a whole. The skin is an organ, and just like your gut microbiome, you have a skin microbiome which can suffer from dysbiosis (microbial imbalance). Every person’s dysbiosis will be unique to them and will show up in different ways due to different route causes i.e. hormonal imbalance/infection/nutrient deficiencies/gut issues/ stress/sleep, etc.
Is your diet damaging your skin?
Eating a balanced diet is so important in keeping skin healthy and maintaining a balanced skin microbiome. This is because your skin naturally reflects your body's internal needs, including what nutrients it requires. High intake of sugar and other high-GI carbohydrate foods (all white breads, most alcohol apart from red wine, crisps, honey, most cereals) have been shown to increase the levels of insulin in the bloodstream, which can trigger hormonal disturbances such as an increase of testosterone production. The rise in male hormone can then lead to an increase in the production of oil from glands in your skin and drive inflammatory processes. If there is an elevated level of insulin circulating in the body, this can promote inflammation and exacerbates the hormones associated with skin problems. If you include a balance of lean protein with unrefined carbohydrates and good fats, such as grilled chicken breast combined with a baked sweet potato, leafy salad with avocado and tomato, your body is then better equipped to control the release of sugars into the bloodstream after digestion, hence controlling insulin production.
The best foods and nutrients for healthy skin:
The skin loves fats and incorporating healthy fats in your diet will provide vitamin A, D, E & K. Cook with poly and monounsaturated fatty acids such as extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, and nut oils, as well as for dressings on salads. Below are some other examples: 1. Aim to eat fatty fish such as salmon/mackerel/herring 1-2 x week. Fatty fish contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are necessary to help keep skin thick, supple, and moisturised - an omega-3 fatty acid deficiency can cause dry skin. The omega-3 fats in fish help protect your skin against damage from free radicals and reduce inflammation, and is one of the most important antioxidants for your skin.1 Fish also contains zinc - a mineral vital for regulating inflammation, overall skin health and the production of new skin cells.2 Zinc deficiency can lead to skin inflammation, lesions, and delayed wound healing. Eggs and whole grains are good sources of zinc as well as fatty fish.
Avocados also contain healthy fats, which help hydrate the skin. They are also a valuable source of vitamin E, B-complex vitamins and beta-carotene. Interestingly, vitamin E seems to be more effective when combined with vitamin C: so try having tomatoes/broccoli/kale/bell peppers with your avocado!
In general, nuts and seeds are good sources of skin-boosting nutrients. Sunflower seeds are an excellent example. A handful (~28g) of sunflower seeds packs 49% of the DV for vitamin E, 41% of the DV for selenium, 14% of the DV for zinc, and 5.5 grams of protein. Walnuts are richer than most other nuts in omega 3 and 6 (they have a good ratio of these). Walnuts also provide small amounts of vitamin E and selenium, in addition to 4–5 grams of protein per 28 g and about 8% RNI zinc. Walnuts also contain copper, a mineral that promotes collagen production.
There are also other food groups containing certain vitamins and nutrients that you should look to include if you want to improve the health of your skin:
Sweet potato and carrots are great foods to consume as they are high in beta carotene - the orange/red pigment which gets converted into vitamin A in your body. A 100g serving of baked sweet potato contains enough beta carotene to provide more than six times the recommended nutrient intake (RNI) of vitamin A. Evidence shows that when consuming beta-carotene, the antioxidant is incorporated into your skin and helps protect your skin cells from sun exposure. This may help prevent sunburn, cell death, and dry, wrinkled skin.
Like sweet potatoes, red and yellow bell peppers are an excellent source of beta carotene but also vitamin C — both of which are important antioxidants for your skin. Vitamin C is necessary for creating the structural protein collagen, which keeps skin firm and strong. One large red bell pepper contains the equivalent of ~156% of the DV for vitamin A and an impressive 211% of the DV for vitamin C!
Dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa), contains manganese and antioxidants called flavonoids; a subgroup of polyphenols that can protect against sun damage3, improve blood flow to the skin and increase skin density and hydration.45
There are powerful compounds found in green tea are called catechins, which work to improve the health of your skin in several ways: like several other antioxidant- containing foods, green tea can help protect your skin against sun damage.67 One
12-week study involving 60 women found that drinking green tea daily could reduce redness from sun exposure by up to 25%. Green tea also improved the moisture, roughness, thickness, and elasticity of their skin.8 However, avoid drinking your tea with milk, as there’s evidence that milk could reduce the effect of green tea’s antioxidants.9 The bottom line is to not overcomplicate it; there’s no ‘oily skin diet’ or ‘eczema diet’, or other quick-fixes unfortunately, instead begin to dig deep into the root cause of the symptoms you’re having. Include a balance of lean protein with unrefined carbohydrates and good fats, and make sure you’re getting enough essential nutrients through fruits and vegetables to protect your skin. The foods on this list are great options to keep your skin healthy, strong, and attractive. If you do however, suffer from skin conditions such as acne, rosacea, psoriasis, or eczema, it is advisable to speak to a dermatologist alongside working on your diet.
By Abigail Attenborough, a Nutritionist and Personal Trainer with first class degree in MSc Nutrition and undergraduate degree in Biology with an earnest passion for brain nutrition and weight regulation research. You can find Abby on Instagram @abbyfit_
1. Pilkington S.M., Rhodes L.E. (2010) Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Skin. In: Krutmann J., Humbert P. (eds) Nutrition for Healthy Skin. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg
2. De Mel D, Suphioglu C. Fishy business: effect of omega-3 fatty acids on zinc transporters and free zinc availability in human neuronal cells. Nutrients. 2014;6(8):3245-3258. Published 2014 Aug 15. doi:10.3390/nu6083245
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4. Heinrich U, Neukam K, Tronnier H, Sies H, Stahl W. Long-term ingestion of high flavanol cocoa provides photoprotection against UV-induced erythema and improves skin condition in women. J Nutr. 2006;136(6):1565-1569. doi:10.1093/jn/136.6.1565
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