Your Skin Knows What You Eat

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

We all know by now that what we put on our plates affects our health and our mood. After all, we’re taught “you are what you eat” for a reason. While what we choose to put into our bodies has a direct impact on all of our organs, our biggest organ – our skin – is often the last thing we consider when we’re understanding the importance of good nutrition.

As part of our quest to discover more about the impact of nutrition on our skin, we talked to Jana Papajova, a Nutritional Therapist, for her advice on nutrition and skin health.

The Link Between Nutrition and Skin

In previous blog posts, we’ve discussed how your skin type is largely influenced by genetics. However, as with every aspect of health, what you put into your body will always affect your skin. Smoking, for example, is well known for increasing the rate at which your skin develops wrinkles, and alcohol is known to dehydrate your skin.

Multiple studies have shown that a nutrient-rich diet can both increase the health, vibrancy, and barrier function of our skin, as well as reduce the rate at which our skin ages.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the proven effects of vitamins on our skin:

 

VITAMIN A

Including derivatives like β-carotene, astaxanthin, and retinol, have been shown to reduce the harmful effects of UVA rays on the skin.

 

What to eat?

Orange and yellow fruits & vegetables, spinach, broccoli, kale and most dark green, leafy vegetables.

VITAMIN C

A powerful antioxidant. Vitamin C deficiency doesn’t just cause scurvy, but it can also lead to an impairment of collagen synthesis that affects hair follicles, as it’s vital for the stabilisation of the structure of collagen.

 

What to eat?

Citrus fruits, peppers, strawberries, blackcurrants, broccoli, brussels sprouts
potatoes.

VITAMIN D

Essential for protecting cells against UV-induced cell death and for building a healthy immune system that works to prevent opportunistic skin infections.

 

What to eat?

Our bodies creates vitamin D from direct sunlight on the skin when outdoors. In the UK, between October and early March we might struggle to make enough vitamin D from sunlight and it’s difficult to get enough vitamin D from food alone so the NHS advises taking a daily supplement.

VITAMIN E

A fat-soluble molecule, and the absence of this vitamin has been linked to dryness and depigmentation in a study on premature infants. In addition, it has a positive effect on UVB-damaged skin.

 

What to eat?

Nuts, seeds and plant oils.

You’ve also probably heard that you need to be drinking 2 litres of water each day to hydrate your skin from the inside. This isn’t only backed up by science, but Jana also swears by the benefit of proper hydration on your skin:

“My number one tip for keeping your skin hydrated and elastic is simple; drink plenty of fluids and eat foods with high water content (fruits and vegetables), to keep your skin hydrated from the inside.

Drinking eight glasses of water a day will do wonders for your skin. Even mild dehydration will cause your skin to look tired, dry and slightly grey.

For added bonus, replace 1 glass of water with coconut water, which is rich in electrolytes. Look for one with no added sugar.”

 

Don’t forget that herbal teas count towards your daily water intake too. Some of my favourites include rooibos (antioxidant, anti-inflammatory), hibiscus (high in vitamin C), chamomile (calming, detoxifying), dandelion (detoxifier) and the star of the show: green tea (antioxidant).”

Your Skin and Your Gut

It’s also understandable that any food that affects your gut microbiome will have a knock-on effect on your skin. Fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut have become trendy recently as the effects of probiotics on gut health have become more widely understood, but studies also show that the fermented cultures in these foods can help to protect against UVB damage in the skin – this doesn’t mean you need to stop applying sunscreen!

One of the reasons why fermented foods can directly benefit the skin is because fermentation changes the molecules in food, turning larger molecules into smaller ones that are easier for the gut to absorb. Studies have shown that fermented soy milk extract had a greater impact on the production of hyaluronic acid (HA) both in vitro and in vivo when compared to its non-fermented counterpart. In this case, fermentation helped to release more active ingredients, namely genistein, which was key for stimulating the production of HA.

However, that’s not to say that fermented foods are automatically more beneficial for your skin. Take, for example, wine, which is produced through fermenting grapes to produce an alcoholic beverage. Alcohol is well known to have a negative impact on your skin, so it’s important to understand that just because something’s fermented doesn’t mean it’s beneficial.

Skincare and Your Diet

It’s all well and good understanding that nutrition plays an important role in any sustainable skincare routine, but how can you make sure your diet contains enough of these vital nutrients?

According to Jana, it’s surprisingly easy. Her favourite snack is a handful of seeds or nuts, and it’s easy to see why.

“Seeds and nuts are not only full of protein, they contain essential vitamins, minerals and natural oils that can be vital for keeping your skin clear, smooth, hydrated and youthful. Some of my favourites include walnuts, almonds, brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.”

If you’re trying to lose weight, then we know that you want to avoid unhealthy snacks, even if it is for the benefit of your skin. Thankfully, nature, as always, provides us with another great way to pack our diet full of the vitamins we need to keep our skin healthy without the extra calories. Jana says:

“Herbs and spices are a brilliant way to inject flavour into your favourite dishes and keep your skin glowing, vibrant and elastic.”

“Herbs and spices are a brilliant way to inject flavour into your favourite dishes and keep your skin glowing, vibrant and elastic. Natural wonders that are packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents: turmeric, cloves, oregano, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, allspice, thyme, rosemary, saffron, fresh parsley, paprika to name a few.”

Plus, if you’re watching your waistline, the great news is that oily fish like salmon and mackerel are packed with omega-3 fatty acids that are great for your skin. So, even if you’re counting calories or following a specialised diet, you can still eat foods with plenty of skin-healthy nutrients.

There’s also good news for those of you who are vegan, vegetarian, or consume soy-based foods. Phytoestrogens, as the name suggests, are plant-based compounds that when consumed, mimic the effects of estrogen. Typically found in soybeans, legumes, garlic, coffee, and a wide variety of other fruits and vegetables, phytoestrogens have been found to improve skin elasticity and reduce inflammation.

Studies also show that phytoestrogens sourced from isoflavones, a compound found in soybeans, stimulates the dermal fibroblasts in the skin to produce more collagen and hyaluronic acid, both of which can reduce the rate at which the skin ages. This same study also found that soy isoflavones can reduce transepidermal water loss (TEWL) and inhibit dermal cell death induced by UVB exposure, meaning soy phytoestrogens are one of the best things you can consume for your skin.

Algae, seaweed, walnuts, hemp seeds, chia seeds and avocados are all good sources of Omega 3 (alpha-linolenic acid) for vegetarians and vegans.

In addition, if you’re cutting dairy out of your diet, this can be a great thing for your skin. Jana says:

“Some people see a dramatic change in their skin after ditching dairy. Dairy can cause inflammation and breakouts, flare-ups in acne, rosacea, and rashes. Some people developed sensitivity to dairy which may show up on their skin. The best way to test your skin’s sensitivity to dairy is by removing it for 3-12 weeks to gauge any improvement to your complexion.

It is worth noting that the research showing a connection between dairy and acne implicates cow’s milk specifically. Some studies have noted a stronger connection with skim milk versus other types of dairy because of its whey protein, sugars, and hormones. Milk is known to increase insulin levels.

Substitute with goat or sheep yoghurt, coconut milk, oat milk or nut milk. For many people milk is the main source of calcium, so if you are taking it out of your diet make sure to include leafy greens, broccoli, and nuts, such as almonds which are also packed full of calcium.”

If you’ve got dry skin, and in particular, struggle with inflammatory skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, or acne, then you might find eating more foods rich in omega-3 and omega-6, like seeds, nuts, or oily fish can help. While scientists are conflicted about the effects of omega oils, there is some evidence that a deficiency of omega oils in the diet can contribute to inflammation in the skin.

With research suggesting that overproduction of growth hormones like Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) is linked to your sebaceous glands producing more sebum, people with oily skin should avoid foods that stimulate the production of growth hormones. Foods that elevate your insulin levels like refined carbs and sugars, are worth eating only in moderation if you have oily skin.

Nutrition and Skincare: In Summary

Given that skin is our biggest organ, it’s no surprise that what we put into our bodies will affect its functioning. Good nutrition isn’t just the key to maintaining strong, healthy skin, but it can even protect against environmental damage. So, while a sustainable, plastic-free skincare regime will help you to keep your skin healthy, we recommend introducing skin-friendly foods into your diet to improve your health.

Thanks again to Jana Papajova for sharing her nutrition expertise for this blog post and helping us to learn more about what to eat (and what to avoid!) for healthy skin.

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