The Inside-Out Skin Diet: Top 12 Foods To Feed Your Skin


skin diet

We’ve heard about the mind-body connection and it moves in both directions. We can influence our physical self by paying attention to our mental health through activities like meditation, tai chi, relaxation exercises, laughter and breathing. And we can simultaneously influence our mental health by paying attention to our physical self through exercise, eating well, maintaining a healthy weight and getting restful sleep. So let’s talk skin diet shall we?

The interconnectedness of the body and mind is clear but we tend to stop there.

When it comes to our largest organ – our skin – and keeping it vibrant and healthy, why do many of us still fall victim to thinking that the best way to treat the skin is unidirectional? We often stop at applying moisturizing, anti-aging, exfoliating products on the surface and call it a day, instead of considering a powerful multi-directional approach to skin health and beauty.

What I’m referring to is the ‘inside-out’ connection to beauty and radiant, healthy skin. It is true that what you eat affects not only how you feel but how you look, as well. Now, we’ve all heard about chocolate increasing the likelihood of acne, right? Well, surprisingly, that’s one connection that actually has not been proven in the scientific literature. But researchers do know and continue to discover that the cleaner, less processed and more nutrient-rich the skin diet is, the better the resilience, elasticity, and health of the skin. That means more youthful, well-nourished skin and fewer wrinkles over time.

The Big Picture For Skin

38982656 - young asian lady wearing swimsuit while sitting at beach and using suntan lotion with the background of the beach cottage

When it comes to the skin, which is responsible for some heavy-lifting when it comes to protecting us, we need to focus overall on an anti-inflammatory skin diet. The skin faces a barrage of attacks from the outside world everyday and provides the first defense a physical barrier to environmental offenders like smog and smoke, harsh chemicals from insect repellant, sun block and skincare, UV rays, and a host of other ‘attackers’ aka free radicals. A strong and healthy skin barrier is very effective at defending and protecting from these, but overtime, if not nourished properly, the defenses can break down. From the inside, carrying excess weight and eating poorly can make it difficult to replenish, repair and regenerate the skin. The result can be a poor defense, less healthy skin, and a state of inflammation in the body.

The goal in an anti-inflammatory dietary approach then is to eat in moderation for a healthy weight, decrease foods that increase inflammation in the body, and focus on adding foods that ‘cool’ and decrease inflammation in the body to make you healthier on the inside and outside, too.

In general, pro-inflammatory foods are those that are high in sugar, saturated fats, are highly processed, or excessive in portions or calories. Adding plenty of anti-inflammatory foods into the diet on a regular basis can help cool inflammation and also help improve healing and the overall health of the skin and body, too. Conveniently, many of our most nutritious foods particularly foods from the plant kingdom like fruits and vegetables among other special items including certain herbs and spices are the best anti-inflammatory foods for your skin.

The diet that is anti-inflammatory and promotes vibrant skin does not exclude any food category. Rather it features the ‘best of the best’ in terms of foods in the major categories including wholesome carbohydrates and fiber, lean proteins, moderate healthy fats, and low-sugar, high-nutrient and water-filled beverages.

12 Top-Tier Foods That Feed Your Skin

foods for skin

When it comes to the diet, there are certain foods that appear to be top-tier when it comes to feeding your skin. These are twelve foods that researchers have shown provide critical nutrients to the overall diet and particularly help promote optimal skin health.

Almonds are a friend to the skin on many levels. They are an excellent source of vitamin E, an important antioxidant, that not unlike vitamin C, can help protect the skin from photo-damage and also contribute to healthy cell structure and cell tissues. And almonds also provide healthy unsaturated fats good for protecting the heart and cholesterol regulation, but also providing an essential part of the cellular membrane on every one of the body’s cells including every skin cell. They are also an excellent source of the skin-healthy B-vitamin biotin.

Avocados contain biotin, which forms the basis of healthy skin, as well as heart- and skin-healthy MUFAs (monounsaturated fats) that help provide the fats and ceramides that are important in creating healthy skin cells. MUFAs also help provide the skin with a natural oil barrier and may help reduce itchy, dry skin keeping it healthy and glowing. And while you’re eating it, you just might want to moisturize with it too! Increasingly there are a number of recipes that incorporate avocado into ‘tasty’ homemade skin care treatments. Ava Shamban, MD, a board certified dermatologist with practices in Santa Monica and Beverly Hills says that some “foods for your face” like avocados can be as important in your diet as they are when applied in a cream or a mask.

Beans contain biotin, the most important B-vitamin when it comes to your skin. Biotin plays a role in forming healthy skin, hair and nails, all important components of healthy appearance and defenses to the external environment, as well. Examples include lentils, kidney beans and soybeans, too. Peanuts are an excellent source of biotin! Why are they included here? Well because a peanut isn’t really a nut, but a legume in the same family as the other beans. A top-notch source of biotin is in our friend the peanut, along with other heart-healthy and diet-friendly properties, too.

Blueberries are an excellent source of vitamin C, a nutrient that helps in the production of collagen. Vitamin C and other potent antioxidants in blueberries help fight free radicals that are produced by sun-exposure, pollution and the effects of daily living, too, thereby protecting our skin the first line of defense to the outside world. And blueberries have strong anti-inflammatory compounds essential to keeping skin healthy and vibrant.

Eggs are another important source of biotin. Biotin is found in the yolk of the egg though, so eating just the whites, while a good source of protein, won’t get you the biotin for healthy skin. A lack of biotin can lead to dry or flaky skin, often on the face or scalp. Biotin deficiency, which can be caused by a poor diet or taking certain medications (e.g. too many antibiotic drugs over time) is also associated with dry and brittle nails. Egg yolks are also a rich source of lutein, a nutrient that helps boost skin hydration, elasticity, the helpful surface oils of the skin, as well as protection from the sun. A 2007 study published in the Journal of Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, showed significant skin-protective benefits in women who consumed a source of lutein compare to placebo. Most people can enjoy a whole egg on a daily basis in an overall healthy diet, even if they are managing their cholesterol.

Green tea not only provides an important source of water, which is essential to keeping your skin hydrated and moist, but it’s a rich source of polyphenols including EGCG and other antioxidants that help defend the body and the skin from the pollution and daily effects of living and turning over cells. Polyphenols help also in protecting the skin from the effects of UV damage offering some photoprotection against the sun. And green tea may help boost your metabolism, too, a nice bonus for a skin-friendly beverage.

Milk (choose organic whole milk) is a good source of biotin, protein and other skin-protective nutrients including vitamin A. Biotin plays a role in healthy skin formation, vitamin A helps maintain and repair skin tissue, and lean proteins contribute building blocks to health tissue formation throughout the body. Low vitamin A can make skin appear dry, flaky and dull. Other healthy, skin-boosting sources of vitamin A include yellow and dark leafy green veggies, cantaloupe, carrots, pumpkin, spinach, sweet potatoes and yams. In fact, Cleopatra also bathed in sour milk to enhance the luster and brightness of her skin. Sour milk contains alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) used frequently today topically to treat acne, dry skin, wrinkles and fine lines.

Salmon, sardines, and mackerel contain essential fatty acids (EFAs) those powerful omega-3s that help protect a healthy heart and brain and also play an important role in helping reduce inflammation and dry skin. EFAs are essential to the production of the skin’s natural, healthy oil barrier. Salmon also contains a carotenoid called astaxanthin that gives it its ‘salmon’ color and helps preserve good skin elasticity. As strong anti-inflammatory foods, fish like wild salmon can help reduce the symptoms and occurrence of inflammatory skin conditions that cause redness and swelling like acne, rosacea and certain rashes.

Tomatoes contain a number of nutrients like vitamin C as well as lycopene, a powerful carotenoid that can help protect the skin. The carotenoids and other compounds in tomatoes may help provide protection from the sun’s UV rays that cause sunburn. Research has shown that eating tomatoes and tomato products like tomato sauces and pastes regularly (as little as 2 1/2 tablespoons per day) helps keep the skin’s defense at its fighting best. Watermelon, pink grapefruit and strawberry guava also contain lycopene.

Vitamin-C rich foods nourish the skin. Excellent sources include kiwis, oranges, red and green peppers, grapefruit, vegetable and tomato juice, strawberries, broccoli, cantaloupe, pineapple, mangos, blueberries and more. Vitamin C deficiencies can create dry skin, poor healing of scratches and cuts, bruising and reduced elasticity of the skin. Vitamin C helps produce the collagen ‘glue’ of our skin and vitamin C-rich foods also seem to help speed wound healing. This is one of several nutrients that’s important to consume on the inside and also commonly used in skin care products for topical application, as well.

Water, arguably the most important “nutrient” for all body functions, helps with all aspects of skin health, including moisture, elasticity, flexibility, and tone. High nutrient, low sugar beverages can aid in reducing inflammation and your body in particular your healthy, thirsty skin needs plenty of water. Plain or bubbly water, low-sodium vegetable juices and broths, soups, and low-fat or fat-free milk are strong players in hydration along with quality nutrition for an anti-inflammatory, skin-boosting diet. And you can get up to 20% of your water needs met through foods, too, particularly in those fruits and vegetables, salads, and soups you should incorporate in your diet everyday.

Yellow curry is among the many herbs and spices that are potent sources of natural antioxidants and anti-inflammatory. Good for healthy skin overall, research suggests that turmeric, the golden spice that gives yellow curry it’s color and potent power, may help reduce the risk of skin cancer. In a 2005 laboratory study in the journal, Cancer, researchers reported that curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, killed and stopped the growth of melanoma skin cancer cells the most deadly of the skin cancer types. And a recent 2009 study demonstrated that curcumin and galangal (a spice in the ginger family) also offered strong protection against UV damage that causes increases in human melanoma cells.

Bottom line for your healthiest skin is a delicious diet.

Can you see the makings of some skin-healthy meals from these foods? It’s simple to include these often into your diet once you see the vibrant effect of including some of the food favorites that can protect, repair and enhance both the health and look of your skin.

To your beautiful health may you shine from the inside out. Bon appetit!

Latest posts by Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, MA, RD (see all)

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