Your complexion is one of the first things people notice about you, and the health of your skin says a lot about the way you eat and live your life. The condition of your skin really reflects what you put in your body, and a healthy diet is really an “inside-out” approach to healthy skin. It’s no secret that the healthier you are on the inside, the more it shows on the outside.
Does What You Eat Slow the Signs of Aging?
While you can’t turn back the clock, you may be able to slow it down a bit. Some skin aging can’t be avoided, but the sun’s damaging effects can be lessened with certain vitamins. For instance, Vitamin A and its derivatives play a leading role in skin maintenance. This fat-soluble vitamin helps treat disease and also offers cosmetic benefits.
Retin-A is one popular treatment that minimizes sun damage and reduces fine lines and wrinkles. It can also smooth your skin and improve uneven skin tone, however you need to check in with your dermatologist prior to a Retin-A treatment program, as there are side effects.
Also, diets high in vitamin C and low in fats and carbohydrates are linked with fewer wrinkles and age-related skin dryness, and less skin thinning.
Skin Issues and How to Deal with Them
Diet alone won’t solve your skin problems, but research shows that some conditions can be greatly improved by good nutrition. For instance:
- Acne. Your diet can trigger acne flare-ups. Eliminating processed breads and snacks, as well as sugary drinks, may help. Retin-A has been used to treat acne for decades. Another vitamin A-based medicine, Accutane, is highly effective in treating cystic acne. However, if you have any chance of becoming pregnant, you’ll need to use birth control when using Accutane, because it can cause birth deformities. Pimples and acne are more common in adolescents, largely due to hormonal changes. But adults can suffer from breakouts, too. In the past, it was thought that certain foods cause pimples, especially those favored by adolescents, like chocolate, pizza or French fries. A diet that consistently delivers a high load of refined carbohydrates into your system, day after day, can promote mild, chronic inflammation throughout your body. This chronic inflammation is a kind of slow, simmering fire that has been linked to various health issues, including skin problems like pimples and acne.
- Psoriasis. Vitamin A compounds are helpful in treating psoriasis, a condition that causes thick, scaly patches on the skin. Vitamin D in ointment form is also used to treat psoriasis, as well as specific foods that contain both Vitamin D (dairy, eggs, nuts) and Vitamin A (sweet potatoes, carrots).
- Wound Healing. Taken in normal amounts, vitamin C can help wounds heal much quicker. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that more is better. What your body doesn’t use passes out through urine. Foods that are high in this water-soluble vitamin include mostly citrus fruits, bell peppers, and some of the more green cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, kale, cabbage. Vitamin D and the mineral zinc oxide also speed up wound healing.
- Inflammation. Vitamins D and E can lessen skin inflammation. Vitamin E also prevents skin swelling.
Let’s look at sun damage, fine lines and wrinkles
The texture and elasticity of your skin is determined, in large part, to the proteins, collagen and elastin that lie just under the surface of your skin. Anything that causes damage to these proteins can promote fine lines and wrinkles, which can make you look older than you actually are. One reason it’s so important to protect your skin from sun exposure is because ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun promote the formation of highly reactive molecules called free radicals, which can do some serious damage to collagen and elastin.
You might be surprised to hear that what you eat can help protect you from photoaging (aging due to exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet light). While oral supplements alone won’t provide adequate protection from damaging rays, they can be taken in addition to using sunscreen and wearing protective clothing.
This is where your diet comes in.
Antioxidants—compounds that are abundant in colorful fruits and vegetables—help to fight free radical formation. And there is a clear connection between the levels of antioxidants found in the skin and the texture of the skin itself. People who have low levels of antioxidants in the skin tend to have a rougher skin texture. Those with higher levels of antioxidants in the skin have a smoother textured skin.1
Foods that promote healthy-looking skin
- Fish - This is an excellent source of protein, which your body uses to build collagen and elastin. Fish also contains omega-3 fatty acids, which promote skin health by working to reduce inflammation. These healthy fats are found in abundance in fatty fish like salmon and trout. But all fish contain omega-3s, so aim for several fish meals per week.
- “Good” carbohydrates - Try to clear out the refined ‘white’ carbohydrates and sugars from your diet as much as possible. Replace them with the ‘good’ carbs such as veggies, fruits, beans and whole grains. When you choose these healthy carbohydrates, you’ll be consuming foods with a lower glycemic index, which will reduce the overall carbohydrate load in your diet.
- Colorful fruits and vegetables - Many deeply colored fruits and vegetables get much of their color from compounds called carotenoids. Some of these can be converted into vitamin A, which is needed to help your skin cells reproduce. This is a vitally important function, when you consider that your body sheds 30,000 to 40,000 skin cells every single day. Many fruits and vegetables are also good sources of vitamin C, which your body needs in order to manufacture collagen. Carotenoids and vitamin C also act as antioxidants and help fight the formation of damaging free radicals.
- Nuts and seeds - Tree nuts like almonds and walnuts, and seeds like flax and chia, provide healthy omega-3 fats. And certain nuts (Brazil nuts in particular) are excellent sources of selenium, a mineral that also acts as an antioxidant.
- Drink plenty of fluids - In order for nutrients to move in and waste to move out, your skin cells (and all cells in your body) rely on proper fluid sources. Water is great, and so is green tea since it provides not only fluid but antioxidants. Be sure to stay well hydrated when the weather is hot. When you sweat, your body relies on fluids to help remove waste products from your skin.
Eating with good nutrition in mind is essential to your overall health — and the health of your skin. Talk to your doctor or dermatologist if you have questions about nutrition and how it affects your skin. Your health and wellbeing are exponentially reflected in what you eat, the stress in your life, and how you manage both.