The internet is full of quick fixes, especially when it comes to our skin and what we eat. We ask a dermatologist and a nutritionist what to believe.
A clear complexion used to be attributed to the creams and serums that were absorbed into the skin. Now, there are increasing conversations about how we can improve our skin from the inside out.
Online experts recommend certain foods to improve the appearance of acne and supplements come labeled with promises of reducing fine lines and wrinkles. Only, is it really possible to eat your way to ‘good’ skin?
“Our skin relies on nutrients from the food we eat for it to function properly,” explains Dr Thivi Maruthappu, a consultant dermatologist and nutritionist. That’s because our skin is an organ. In the same way that our muscles, brain and heart benefit from the macro- and micronutrients we eat, our skin requires energy and nutrients from our food to fight bacteria and inflammation and rebuild new cells.
In 2021, the journal Nutrients published a review of the research into the role of diet on skin health. It found that “in the most reliable studies, intervention with a nutrient supplement or general foods was associated with improved measures of skin elasticity, facial wrinkling, roughness and color.”
And, if you frequently rub retinol (vitamin A), vitamin C serums and zinc-based compounds into your skin, you might be missing a trick by ignoring these nutrients in your diet. The paper compared topical and dietary treatments and concluded that “the most effective way to improve the condition of the skin is to supply it with essential nutrients, both externally and—importantly—internally, through a varied diet.”
When it comes to the ‘best’ diet for good skin, Dr Maruthappu says: “In general, a balanced diet that has a variety of different colored fruits and vegetables is important.”
That’s because each color of the rainbow is associated with different nutrients (for instance, orange foods get their color from carotenoids, a type of vitamin A) so eating the rainbow ensures you top up your micronutrient reserves. “These foods also contain polyphenols which are known to fight free radical damage in the skin to prevent the signs of premature aging,” adds Dr Maruthappu.
A diet with a low glycemic index (GI) is also important for managing skin concerns, according to a review published in Healthcare in 2021. The researchers reported that a high glycemic index (GI) diet is associated with higher levels of sebum (oil that is associated with acne) as they spike blood sugar levels, increasing insulin production which is linked to sebum excretion.
Adding more nutrients by way of supplements or salads isn’t always the answer. “Although we need a broad range of nutrients for our skin to function well, there aren’t many situations where having more than recommended amounts is beneficial,” says Dr Maruthappu. Essentially, it is only useful to top up these nutrients if we are deficient in the first place.
For instance, a 2017 paper from Nutrients reported that “it would appear that the extent of the benefits of supplemented vitamin C intake is [...] dependent upon the status of the individual at baseline, with any benefit being less apparent if nutritional intake is already adequate.”
Nutrition definitely isn’t the only way to improve skin, either. “As the skin is our interface between the outside world and our internal world, it is influenced by a huge range of factors including everything from our individual genetics to a change in the weather,” says Dr Maruthappu. Eli Brecher, a Harley Street nutritionist, adds: “Beyond what we eat, our skin can be influenced by various other elements, such as sun exposure, smoking, alcohol intake and stress levels.”
In a Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology paper, stress was linked with short-term but significant changes in the nervous, hormonal and immune systems which lead to changes in the skin barrier. In addition, another paper, from Tokyo University in 2017, found that a lack of sleep had a greater impact on skin conditions than dietary intake and eating behavior.
While it’s clear that your diet isn’t solely responsible for your skin, Brecher says there are benefits to eating well for our complexion: “There are many factors to good skin that of out of our control, like our age and genetics, so taking charge of our diet to ensure that our skin is getting all the nutrients it needs is often a good place to start,” she says. Plus, the benefits of eating the rainbow don’t end with a clearer complexion but improved health overall.
An important thing to remember is that no diet, cream or eight-hour sleep has the ability to create an Instagram-filter complexion. Our skin is meant to have spots, pigmentation and lines, so don’t be frustrated if you eat well and still get the occasional white head; it’s normal.
Nonetheless, if you want to eat for healthy skin that makes you feel confident, what should you prioritize?
“Lacking enough essential fatty acids like omega-3 in your diet can lead to dry, flaky skin,” says Dr Maruthappu. “Try to include Omega 3 healthy fats daily as these are powerful compounds to supple and smooth skin. The best source in the diet is oily fish, but if you’re vegan or vegetarian consider a vegan algae omega-3 supplement as plant-based sources such as walnuts, chia and flaxseed aren’t processed as efficiently by the body.”
“Vitamin C is an antioxidant, which means it can help combat the sun’s harmful free radicals that contribute to wrinkles,” says Brecher. “In addition, vitamin C helps the body to produce collagen, which keeps your skin firm. Good sources of vitamin C in particular include strawberries, red peppers, blackcurrant, broccoli and parsley.”
“Zinc is essential for maintaining soft and supple skin as helps support levels of the skin’s oil-producing sebaceous glands. Zinc also helps the skin to heal after injuries and keeps cell walls stable,” says Brecher. Top up your zinc levels with beans, chickpeas, lentils, cashew nuts, almonds and pumpkin seeds.
You do not need expensive collagen supplements to keep skin firm. Your body can produce its own collagen when it has enough amino acids, the building blocks of protein. So keep eating a variety of tofu, tempeh, beans, grains, nuts and seeds.
A form of vitamin B3, niacin is best known in skincare as topical solution niacinamide. A deficiency in B3 can lead to the painful skin condition pellagra, but for most people topping up on niacin can lead to brighter, smoother skin. It’s found in fortified bread, wholegrains, peanuts, edamame beans and bananas.
You can find all of these nutrients in the Huel range. To find out more about the nutrients in Huel and our formulas click here.
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