The summer sun and hot weather can take a toll on your skin.
To ensure that you put your best face forward this summer and all year long, it’s important to feed it well.
While some skin care products contain food products – chocolate and mushrooms are some of the ingredients you might find – nutritionists agree that the right diet is important for keeping your skin healthy.
“You skin will be at its healthiest if you are getting the nutrients it needs from the food you eat,” says EvergreenHealth nutritionist Marcy Dorsey. “What you eat plays a major role in how your skin looks, feels and protects you.”
Your diet can either positively or negatively affect the condition of your skin, your body’s largest organ, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Nutritional deficiencies can impair wound healing, while nutrients such as zinc and vitamins A and C may improve healing time.
Some common skin conditions can also be affected by the food you eat:
Acne – A study found that male acne patients who followed a low-glycemic diet had reduced acne as compared to a group that ate a diet rich in carbohydrates.
Chocolate gets a bad rap for causing pimples, when in reality acne might be the result of a high-sugar or high-carb diet.
Rosacea – This condition, with its facial redness and swelling, can be triggered by spicy foods, alcohol or even hot drinks.
Eczema – With eczema, sufferers get dry, itchy, and red patches on the skin. Dermatologists say foods that commonly worsen eczema symptoms include milk, peanuts, eggs, soy and wheat.
Less common triggers include chocolate, alcohol, coffee, and sugar.
According to the Mayo Clinic, foods that are high in antioxidants have a protective effect on the skin, while a diet that is high in processed foods and refined carbohydrates promotes skin aging.
One of the worst foods for your skin is sugar, since it causes inflammation in the body and contributes to the breakdown of collagen, a fibrous protein that keeps skin firm.
Collagen breakdown leads to wrinkles and sagging skin.
A study found that people with higher blood sugar levels were considered older-looking than those with lower blood sugar.
Marcy advises that eating a balanced diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables is the key to overall health, including healthy skin.
She recommends eating a variety of foods, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and nuts, seeds or other healthy fats.
“One of the most beneficial diets for your skin is a Mediterranean diet,” says Marcy. A typical Mediterranean diet includes olive oil, green vegetables, nuts, and fatty fish. “It’s full of antioxidants to help repair skin damage and healthy fats to keep skin elastic.”
As part of a balanced diet, including foods that contain these nutrients may benefit your skin health:
Antioxidants – Antioxidants combat cellular damage in the body, improve circulation and may protect skin from premature aging.
The USDA ranks blueberries number one for antioxidant content, though other dark-colored foods are also good sources, including other berries, beans, pecans and prunes, among others.
Carotenoids – These are the natural pigments that give brightly colored fruits and vegetables their hues. There are many types of carotenoids, and most have antioxidant effects:
Vitamin C – Vitamin C is essential to collagen production, which helps keep your skin smooth and supple, reduces wrinkles, and helps with skin healing. Vitamin C can be found in citrus, though other sources have higher amounts. Half of a red pepper contains an entire day’s recommended daily amount (RDA) of 60-95 mg. Other good sources include papaya, sweet potatoes, strawberries, kiwi and broccoli.
Vitamin D – Vitamin D is vital to many of your body’s functions, including skin cell growth. Inadequate vitamin D may make your skin thinner and more fragile. It may be helpful in treating psoriasis. You can get some of the vitamin D you need from shellfish and egg yolks, but there are few other food sources. Vitamin D can be produced by exposing skin to sunlight. Be sure to get just enough sun – roughly 20 minutes a few times a week – so you don’t increase your risk of skin cancer. In northern climates like ours, it can be hard to produce enough vitamin D in the winter months, so Marcy recommends checking with your doctor to see if you need to take a supplement.
Vitamin E – This vitamin is an antioxidant that protects your skin’s top layers from the sun and slows down the aging of skin cells to keep you looking youthful longer. Sunflower seeds contain the most vitamin E, although almonds and walnuts are also good sources. A handful a day is enough to see the benefits. Vitamin E oils can also be applied topically to combat severely dry skin.
Zinc – Zinc plays a role in the function of your skin’s sebaceous glands, which produce oil. Adequate zinc helps keep your skin soft. Zinc also has healing properties and may help reduce blemishes. Good sources include oysters, beans, fish, chicken and beef.
Selenium – Another antioxidant, selenium helps preserve the protein elastin to keep your skin smooth and firm and may provide some sun damage protection, reducing the risk of age spots and skin cancer. Good sources include Brazil nuts (just four nuts provide your RDA), canned tuna, wheat germ, eggs, salmon and shellfish.
Omega-3s – These healthy fats are anti-inflammatory and moisturize skin to keep it soft and make fine lines less prominent. Healthy fats help your body absorb antioxidants and fat-soluble vitamins to keep skin strong and healthy. Salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel are all good sources, as are non-fish choices such as walnuts and flaxseed. In fact, just half a teaspoon of ground flaxseed contain your RDA of omega-3.
Caffeine – Caffeine helps protect against skin cancer because it blocks a protein that UV-damaged precancerous cells need to divide.
Eating a balanced diet can help keep your skin at its healthiest.
Eat your colors for antioxidants, include some healthy fats and choose a variety of foods to get the nutrients you need to keep your skin glowing in summer and all year long.
Marcy Dorsey, RD, is a registered dietitian at EvergreenHealth in Kirkland, WA.
Visit our Healthiest Best Foods homepage for more great ideas to get you and your family eating healthier.