Nutrition Month: Eating for Skin Health
Welcome to Week 3 of National Nutrition Month! In Week 1, we explored the link between nutrition and brain health and in Week 2, nutrition and performance. This week, we’ll be investigating how what we eat influences skin health.
Like all other organs and functions in our bodies, skin is heavily influenced by what we eat and drink. Overall, keeping your body hydrated by drinking plenty of water is one of the most important ways to promote moisturized and healthy skin, but besides water, there are a variety of over beverages and food items that can help keep skin healthy. Join us in examining some of the nutritional factors that affect skin health.
Low Glycemic Index Foods & Dairy
One of the most common skin conditions experienced in every population is acne. Past research about the association between acne and diet has found mixed results, but recent studies have suggested that diet influences acne development. Burris et al. (2013) found that glycemic load and dairy ingestion, specifically milk, lead to changing hormones, binding proteins, and receptors, which influence acne development. Additionally, a random control trial found that a low-glycemic-load diet improved patients with acne over 12 weeks (Katta & Kramer, 2018).
Examples of high glycemic index foods to avoid for acne treatment: processed foods, white rice, sugary drinks, and donuts. Low glycemic index foods include whole wheat bread, steel-cut oats, non-starchy vegetables, and most fruits.
Diet & Aging
Research has found links between diet and aging. In reference to our skin, wrinkles are the number one sign of aging. In a large Dutch study, it was found that a healthy diet prevented wrinkles and an unhealthy diet aggravated wrinkles in women, as well as high intakes of animal products, fats, and carbohydrates increased skin aging (Mekić et al., 2019). Additionally, individuals with higher levels of blood sugar also have a higher perceived age, as well as a diet high in potassium and vitamins A and C were correlated with fewer wrinkles (Katta & Kramer, 2018).
Foods you can eat for healthier skin:
Salmon, Mackerel, and Herring are some examples of fatty, oily fish that are sought to improve skin health.
What it contains: omega-3 fatty acids
Why it’s good for you: This essential nutrient is important in keeping our skin thick, moisturized, and it may reduce inflammation (Jones, 2018) . Additionally, there is evidence that omega-3 fatty acids may be beneficial in inflammatory conditions of the skin, such as psoriasis, and could have preventative properties for skin cancer (Krutmann & Humbert, 2011).
This nutrient-dense berry (yes, a berry!) is a loved ingredient that goes into our guacamole, wraps, salads, sandwiches, toasts, and even in our smoothies. As avocados are considered a super food, it is not surprising that avocados have skin healing and protective properties.
What it contains: monounsaturated fat, vitamin E, and vitamin C
Why it’s good for you: Monounsaturated fat is a healthy fat that keeps our skin flexible and moisturized (Jones, 2018). Both Vitamin E and C are antioxidants that keep our skin strong and healthy, specifically they protect and reduce the damage induced by UV light exposure by combatting free radicals (Krutmann & Humbert, 2011; Michels, 2011). Additionally, vitamin E may have anti-inflammatory roles in the skin (Michels, 2012), and vitamin C plays an important role in synthesizing the structural protein collagen in our bodies in which keeps our skin strong and healthy, as well as a decreased risk of dry skin has been correlated to higher intakes of vitamin C (Michels, 2011).
Walnuts are members of the tree nut family and are commonly consumed as a snack or in salads, and as for me an oatmeal topping favorite! This nutrient-dense tree nut has a magnitude of health benefits, which is why there is no surprise that walnuts promote skin health.
What it contains: source of essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6), zinc, and vitamins E and C
Why it’s good for you: Walnuts have a good ratio of the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and are much richer in these nutrients than other nuts (Jones, 2018). As stated prior, these essential fatty acids help keep our skin thick and moisturized. Zinc is essential for our skin to function properly as a barrier, as well as necessary for wound healing and combatting bacteria and inflammation (Jones, 2018). Additionally, walnuts give the same health benefits from vitamins E and C as stated previously: are protective and reduce damage from UV light exposure.
Overall, seeds, specifically sunflower seeds, have similar skin-boosting nutrients as nuts. Sunflower seeds are popular for snacks, in trail mixes, in multi-grain bread, and in nutrition bars.
What it contains: vitamin E, zinc, and selenium
Why it’s good for you: One ounce of sunflower seeds contain 37% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin E, 32% of the recommended daily intake of selenium, and 10% of the recommended daily intake of zinc. We have established the skin health benefits of vitamin E and zinc. As for selenium, it is an important mineral that fights free radicals, minimizes skin damage and inflammation, and may even prevent skin cancer (Jones, 2018).
This green vegetable is part of the cabbage family and is a popular vegetable in multiple cultural cuisines. From salads to stir-fry, broccoli is a nutrient-dense food that has been researched to have a magnitude of health benefits for our bodies.
What it contains: vitamin A, vitamin C, zinc, and sulforaphane
Why it’s good for you: Broccoli is full of vitamins and minerals that are important for skin health. On top of the benefits of vitamin C and zinc discussed previously, vitamin A found in broccoli can prevent cell damage, premature aging, and other skin diseases (Jones, 2018). Sulforaphane is a sulfur-rich compound found in cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli and cabbage, that may have anti skin cancer effects and is a powerful agent against sun damage to the skin (Jones, 2018).
Tomatoes are a fruit (yes, a fruit), but are commonly prepared like a vegetable. They contain a variety of nutrients and are linked to significant health benefits, such as reducing one’s risk of heart disease and cancer, in addition to keeping our skin healthy. What can’t a tomato do?
What it contains: vitamin C and carotenoids
Why it’s good for you: Tomatoes are a good source of vitamin C, which has known skin benefits, but they are also a good source of all the major carotenoids, especial lycopene. It has been suggested, by mouse-model research, that lycopene in tomatoes have a photoprotective effect against UV-dependent skin damage (Mintie et al., 2019). Additionally, carotenoids protect your skin from sun damage and may help in preventing wrinkles, thus important for maintaining healthy skin (Jones, 2018).
Soy comes from soybeans and can be processed into soy protein. Soy beans have a variety of healthy nutrients, such as calcium and protein, but evidence of negative health effects have also been shown. As such, soy has seen to have health benefits that promote skin health.
What it contains: isoflavones
Why it’s good for you: There is evidence that Isoflavones in soy have been shown to improve wrinkles, collagen, skin elasticity and dryness, as well as protecting your skin from UV damage (Jones, 2018). Additionally, topical applications of soy-based ingredients may protect from photoaging, premature aging from repeated exposure to UV light, and support skin health through anti-inflammatory processes and reduce DNA damage (Krutmann & Humbert, 2011).
Green tea can be considered one of the healthiest beverages for our body. Not only has green tea been related to improving brain function, increasing weight loss, and lowering risk of cancer, it has skin health properties as well.
What it contains: catechins
Why it’s good for you: Catechins in green tea are powerful botanical antioxidants. These antioxidants are found to protect your skin from sun damage, reduce redness, and improve hydration, thickness, and elasticity (Jones, 2018). These botanical antioxidants have the ability to reduce and inhibit the adverse biological effects of UV radiation, such as reducing sunburns (Krutmann & Humbert, 2011). Additionally, polyphenols are antioxidant molecules found in tea and have been found to help treat and reduce acne (Saric et al., 2017).
As there is evidence that red wine may reduce the effects of aging, these same properties carry over into skin health as well.
What it contains: resveratrol
Why it’s good for you: Red wine is known for containing resveratrol, which is a compound that comes from the skin of red grapes. Studies have shown that resveratrol contains potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antiproliferative properties (Krutmann & Humbert, 2011). Additionally, there is evidence that antioxidants in red wine may slow aging of the skin by impairing harmful free radicals that damage our skin (Jones, 2018).
Burris, Jennifer, William Rietkerk, and Kathleen Woolf. “Acne: the role of medical nutrition therapy.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 113.3 (2013): 416-430.
Jones, Taylor. “12 Foods For Healthy Skin.” Healthline, 13 Sep. 2018, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/12-foods-for-healthy-skin
Katta, Rajani, and Mary Jo Kramer. “Skin and Diet: An Update on the Role of Dietary Change as a Treatment Strategy for Skin Disease.” Skin Therapy Lett 23.1 (2018): 1-5.
Krutmann, Jean, and Philippe Humbert. Nutrition for healthy skin. Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg, 2011.
Mekić, Selma, et al. “A healthy diet in women is associated with less facial wrinkles in a large Dutch population-based cohort.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology80.5 (2019): 1358-1363.
Michels , Alexander J. “Vitamin C and Skin Health.” Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University , Sept. 2011, lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/health-disease/skin-health/vitamin-C#functions.
Michels, Alexander J. “Vitamin E and Skin Health.” Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University , Feb. 2012, lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/health-disease/skin-health/vitamin-E.
Mintie, Charlotte A et al. “Whole Fruit Phytochemicals Combating Skin Damage and Carcinogenesis.” Translational oncology vol. 13,2 (2020): 146-156. doi:10.1016/j.tranon.2019.10.014
Saric, Suzana et al. “Green Tea and Other Tea Polyphenols: Effects on Sebum Production and Acne Vulgaris.” Antioxidants (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 6,1 2. 29 Dec. 2016, doi:10.3390/antiox6010002
Passionate about nutritional health, Aspen Avery is a master’s student in the MPH Epidemiology program at the University of Washington and nutrition intern for The Whole U. In her spare time she likes to go swimming and try new restaurants with friends.