So you want to look good without dousing your skin in all kinds of chemicals you can’t pronounce? Or maybe you’re just too cheap to pay for expensive skin creams? Most of us don’t want to fork over $20 for a ounce-size bottle of mystery cream that is supposed to fight wrinkles or reverse the signs of aging, but we all want to look our best.
Scientists have spent a lot of time looking at how different foods and their nutritional components affect our skin. It turns out there are some compounds which are really good for our skin that we can add to our diets – and they tend to have other benefits, too, like improving the immune system or fighting cancer. So here are the big ones you should make sure you aren’t lacking in:
Vitamin A, or Retinol, has a lot of biological benefits. It helps regulate growth and differentiation in skin cells, allowing the cell turnover which keeps the skin looking flawless. It’s also important in inhibiting sun damage including skin cancer1, decreasing inflammation, and overall enhancing the immune system. Vitamin A deficiencies can lead to scaly, dry skin and slower wound healing2. Vitamin A also helps those of us with acne and rosacea3. So if you want to improve your looks, Vitamin A is one of the best nutrients to start with. You can find it in abundance in green, leafy veggies, egg yolks, butter, liver and fish oils. Low fat yogurt and other low fat dairies can also be good sources of Vitamin A.
One of the keys to having healthier looking skin is Vitamin C. It helps the supportive proteins of your skin called collagen stay strong and elastic, which stops skin from sagging and creating wrinkles. Research has found that elevated intake of Vitamin C, particularly along with Vitamin E, helps protect wrinkles and damage induced by UV light4. Since our bodies don’t make Vitamin C, we have to include it in our diet more than other Vitamins. Besides, adding some extra oranges to your diet might help you fight off infections as well, as Vitamin C is a key nutrient for the immune system, too, and many other cellular activities. Citrus fruits are a usual source of Vitamin C, but you can find it in a whole variety of foods. Guavas, kiwis, papayas, strawberries and even broccoli actually have more Vitamin C per gram than oranges and lemons.
While most people get enough Vitamin B in their diets, if you notice your skin is itchy and scaly, you might want to think about eating more B-packed foods. That’s because Vitamin B is required for the basis of skin, nail, and hair cells. Even small deficiencies in Vitamin B levels can cause symptoms like dry skin and even hair loss. Like Vitamins A and C, it’s also indicated in reducing the damage done by the sun, even in preventing skin cancer5. It’s found in bananas, eggs, oatmeal and rice, although your body does contribute some on its own. While you may not need to increase your intake much, eating the healthy foods which contain Vitamin B can’t hurt your skin.
Sure, we’ve told you how great Omega-3 Fatty Acids are before. Well, here’s another reason you should be eating more fish. Omega-3s help cells repair themselves and make the enzymes and hormones that keep skin looking youthful. One study found that eating more fish and olive oil, which contains other important fatty acids, reduced sun-induced wrinkling6. Also, many skin conditions like acne are the result of a lack of a your skin’s natural oil barrier, which Omega-3s are a key part of. Without adequate amounts of essential fatty acids like Omega-3s (which our bodies the body cannot make, by the way), our skin instead produces a more irritating form of oil which can result in all sorts of skin problems, from black and whiteheads to dry skin. Mice who were deficient in essential fatty acids showed marked worsening of skin, from scaling to overall losses in elasticity7,8. Fish are nuts are the primary dietary sources for Omega-3s and other essential fatty acids, so swapping the burger for the salmon will help keep your skin healthy and looking younger.
Eating our way to healthy skin
What should be obvious, as you read the past few paragraphs, is that the foods that are healthy for your skin are healthy overall. That’s because our skin is like a window: it shows what’s going on inside our bodies. All skin conditions are manifestations of your body’s nutritional needs, and anything we lack in our diets will literally show on our faces. Eating a nutritious, balanced diet will help no matter what.
And while some compounds might be better than others, if you eat well, you’ll probably getting enough of these anyhow. So the next time you look in the mirror and think you look a bit blotchy or dry, consider what you’ve been eating. Eating poorly will lead to sagging skin, wrinkles and even put you more at risk for skin cancer. It’s likely that adjusting your diet will improve your skin tone, color and even help clear conditions like acne. You’ll feel better and look better, too – it’s a win-win situation!
1. Kraemer, K.H., DiGiovanna, J.J., Moshell, A.N., Tarone, R.E., and G.L. Peck. 1988. Prevention of skin cancer in xeroderma pigmentosum with the use of oral isotretinoin. New England Journal of Medicine: 318 (25), 1633-1637.
2. Hunt, T.K. 1986. Vitamin A and wound healing, Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 15, 817–821.
3. Keller, K. L. and N. A. Fenske. 1998. Uses of vitamins A, C, and E and related compounds in dermatology: A review. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 39(4), 611-625
4. Cho, H.-S. et al. 2007. Anti-wrinkling effects of the mixture of vitamin C, vitamin E, pycnogenol and evening primrose oil, and molecular mechanisms on hairless mouse skin caused by chronic ultraviolet B irradiation. Photodermatology, Photoimmunology & Photomedicine 23(5), 155-162
5. Yiasemides, E. et al. 2009. Oral nicotinamide protects against ultraviolet radiation-induced immunosuppression in humans. Carcinogenesis 30(1), 101-105.
6. Purb, M.B., et al. 2001. Skin Wrinkling: can food make a difference? Journal of the American College of Nutrition 20(1), 71-80
7. Lowe, NJ and R.B. Stoughton. 1977. Essential fatty acid deficient hairless mouse: a model of chronic epidermal hyperproliferation. British Journal of Dermatology 96(2), 155-162.
8. Menton, D. N. 1968. The effects of essential fatty acid deficiency on the skin of the mouse. American Journal of Anatomy 122(2), 337-355.