How did you end up with the skin that you are in?
DNA, hormonal cycles, the environment, lifestyle and life situations can influence our skin. If you experience skin problems, it may seem logical to find an easy fix from lotions and potions, right? However, a topical application will literally only go skin deep. Ironically, the best place to start for great-looking skin is from the inside.
What you put in your body is typically going to prove far more effective than what you put on it.
Take Home Points
- Diet is an important part of skin health and maintenance
- When it comes to best foods for clear and healthy skin, focus on variety, quality, freshness, wholefoods and colour
- Some of the best foods for skin include those that are rich in collagen, antioxidants, vitamins, zinc, beta-carotene, Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) and selenium
- Supplements such as collagen powder can boost skin health but beware of those that contain nasties and additives that could do more harm than good
- Refined sugars and trans fats are not good for your skin, or your general health, and should be very moderated if not entirely eliminated from the diet.
Why does food influence our skin?
Our skin is the body’s largest organ, and, like every other organ, it depends on nutrients, vitamins and minerals to do its job. Typically, those nutrients are provided through food and drink (although not always, as is the case for Vitamin D, which is created by natural sunlight on the skin).
Before we look at the best foods for great skin, however, it’s helpful to consider some overarching principles. Keep these top-of-mind, and soon you’ll be packing your shopping basket full with skin-enhancing goodness!
The best foods for skin - key principles
- Wholefoods - we believe Mother Nature is the ultimate food manufacturer - she’s fine-tuned her produce over millennia, so why stray from natural perfection? Wherever possible, try to source your nutrients from wholefoods rather than synthetic pills and potions.
- Variety - contrary to what marketing companies will have you believe, there is no single silver bullet when it comes to a specific food for healthy skin. The best thing you can do to achieve that wellness glow is to keep things varied and interesting.
- Quality - buy fewer items at higher quality. More often than not, this means opting for organic produce, which minimises the risk of incorporating nasties into the diet that will have adverse health benefits (heavy metals, hormones, carcinogens, etc.). Also, the nutrients in non-organic produce can behave differently in the body to organic foods.
- Colour - aim for the rainbow! A good indication of a fruit or vegetable’s nutritional value can be its colour. Phytonutrients are chemicals made by plants to promote their own health and well-being. A by-product is the various pigmentations that occur across the colour spectrum. As it turns out, humans also benefit from these phytonutrients, hence why you will often be encouraged to “eat the rainbow”. By eating different colours of the rainbow (e.g. green leafy vegetables, red berries, yellow-fleshed fruit, purple cabbage, etc.), you’re giving yourself a richer variety of nutrients. You’re a step closer to finding that pot of gold for your skin.
- Freshness - those daily, outdoor fresh food markets you see throughout Europe, Asia and parts of Latin America have always had the right idea. The moment fresh produce is harvested, it begins to lose its nutritional value. Aim to minimise the time between picking and eating to give your body the most nutritional benefits.
OK, now we have considered things broadly; let’s get down to key food groups that are good for your skin.
Good foods for skin
We now know that variety plays a big part in food for healthy skin. It’s, therefore, no surprise that we need to consider several different food ‘groups’ to maximise skin nutrition. These include:
- Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)
So, specifically, what foods improve your skin? We’ll look at that now in more detail.
Of course, we were never going to miss collagen from this list, and for excellent reason! Collagen is the most abundant protein in our body, and it is the main building block for our skin - it is fundamental to its growth and maintenance. Also referred to as the “protein of youth”, collagen helps give skin its youthful suppleness, glow and healthy elasticity.
Excellent food source for collagen:
To understand antioxidants, we must first consider oxidants, free radicals in the body, often produced by external influences such as UV damage, smoke, pollution and exposure to chemicals. The body also produces its own free radicals when it exercises or breaks down food. However, the addition of these external ‘added-extras’ can disrupt the natural balance, making it difficult for the body to strike that critical happy medium. Left to their own devices, free radicals will damage healthy cells, a process that creates oxidative stress. In terms of skin, this can mean a breakdown of collagen production, resulting in symptoms such as dark spots, uneven skin tone, sagginess, wrinkles and lines.
In contrast, antioxidants help defend the body by neutralising nasty free radicals. It is, therefore, no surprise that foods containing antioxidants, particularly those rich in Vitamin A and C, are some of the best food for skin.
Excellent food sources for antioxidants:
Beta-carotenes are carotenoids, or pigments, that give fruit and vegetables their vivid colour (remember that rainbow!). As it turns out, beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant, but it also offers much, much more. The body can convert beta-carotene into retinol, a type of vitamin A, which helps to protect and moisturise skin. There is also evidence to suggest beta-carotene may act as a natural, albeit weak, basal dermal defence to UV rays. However, that’s not an invitation to drop the sunscreen - it’s not powerful enough on its own!
Excellent food sources for beta-carotenes:
The mineral zinc is an essential micronutrient that is particularly effective for maintaining skin health. Not only is it an excellent antioxidant, but it also helps specifically in healing wounds. A zinc deficiency may present with eczema-like symptoms.
Excellent food sources for zinc:
5. Essential fatty acids
The body breaks down the fats we ingest, turning them into essential fatty acids (EFAs), which can then be absorbed into the bloodstream. Although fats have suffered from bad PR in the past, they are essential to healthy body function. They are the building blocks of our cell membranes, and certain EFAs, such as the omega-3 family, help produce the skin’s natural oil barrier. It’s that oil barrier that helps make skin look plump, moisturised, hydrated and youthful. Skin that is lacklustre, dry and even prone to acne could be suffering from a lack of EFAs in the diet.
Excellent food sources for essential fatty acids:
Selenium serves as the skin’s natural defender, helping to protect it from free radicals, UV damage, inflammation and pigmentation.
Excellent food sources for selenium:
Foods that are damaging to the skin
Our diet can help as much as hinder our quest for great, glowing skin.
So, along with good foods for the skin, there are also really bad foods for it, too! The two key evils are refined sugars (check out this great read on avoiding the dreaded ‘sugar face’) and unhealthy fats.
Refined sugars can be obvious - doughnuts, chocolate bars, sugar cubes in your hot drinks, flavoured fizzy drinks. However, they can also be villains in disguise - fruit juices, breakfast cereals, breads, yoghurts and even sweeteners in health supplements. These food choices often seem healthy at face value, so be sure to check the label for tell-tale suspects such as fructose and glucose.
Unhealthy fats, or trans fats, include fried foods, hard margarines and hydrogenated oils. To better understand good fats versus bad, visit the BHF.