We all want healthy, clear skin. Our skin is our largest organ, one of the first things people will see when we interact with them, and it’s a big indicator of other aspects of our health. So if your skin isn’t looking its best, and you haven’t drastically changed up your skin care regimen, then that might be a sign that something is up with your overall health.
Don’t worry, the occasional breakout doesn’t mean you need to run to the doctor fearing for your life, but if your skin is constantly acting up, and you are long past your hormonal teenage years, there may be some deeper issue.
The very basis of our overall health, and therefore our skin’s health, is our diet. The foods we eat everyday should provide a wide variety of essential nutrients that will benefit all of our organs, including the skin. So if your diet is full of processed and refined junk food then don’t be surprised if your skin starts to look like the pepperoni pizza that you’re eating. No pizza shaming here, we all love a good slice, and all foods are fine in moderation, but you also want to ensure you're eating lots of whole foods full of a variety of vitamins and nutrients.
Here’s a list of nutrients you should fill your plate with for healthy skin and a healthy life.
1. Healthy Fats
Fats have been feared by the diet industry for years with many food brands pushing no-fat and low-fat food alternatives, but fats are essential for your hormonal balance, skin, hair, and overall health.
Fats provide essential fatty acids that build cell membranes and help produce the skin's natural oil barrier which aids in keeping skin hydrated and plump.
Not all fats are created equal however. The fat you get from butter and deep fried foods isn’t your body’s favorite. You’ll want to mainly stick to healthy, whole food sources of fats such as:
- Fatty fish like salmon
- Extra virgin olive oil
Make sure to have adequate amounts of the essential fatty acids, Omega 3s and Omega 6s. Omega 3s can be found in:
- Flax Seeds
- Chia Seeds
Omega 6s can be found in:
- Peanut butter
- Safflower oil
It’s important to find a balance between omega 3s and 6s, because too much omega 6s can lead to inflammation (which lead to skin breakouts), but omega 3s aid in reducing inflammation.
If you’re hitting the gym regularly, you probably already know that protein is essential for building muscle. It has similar properties for your skin, and is one of the necessities for forming and maintaining healthy cells. The amino acids in proteins are responsible for producing collagen which maintains elasticity and firmness. Protein can come from two sources, animal proteins or plant proteins, which includes:
- Legumes (Chickpeas, Lentils, Beans)
- Nuts and seeds
Animal proteins are generally regarded as “whole proteins” because they contain the complete amino acid profile, whereas plant proteins may have select amino acids so you will have to combine different protein sources for all of the benefits.
3. Vitamin A
When it comes to building and repairing your skin, there are several building blocks that come into play. Vitamin A contains retinoids that are responsible for producing collagen and keratin which help build, renew, and strengthen skin cells. Retinoids can also heal wounds and help slough off dead skin cells which opens up pores and makes skin less prone to acne.
While retinol treatments and skin care products are becoming more and more popular, many foods contain vitamin A which your body will convert to retinol.
- Leafy greens
- Sweet potatoes
- Red bell pepper
- Fortified milk
- Plain yogurt
Be aware: your body can only properly absorb Vitamin A when it’s combined with a fat source, so make sure you’re eating your vitamin A source alongside one of the healthy fats mentioned earlier if it's not a substantial fat source on its own.
4. Beta Carotene
Along with retinoids, carotenoids such as beta carotene are also found in vitamin A. Like retinoids, they are converted into retinol by the body, and they are also high in antioxidants, which act as a shield against free radicals — unstable molecules that cause cell damage.
Carotenoids also have natural sun protection properties. This doesn’t mean you can stop lathering on your mineral sunscreen, but eating beta carotene provides extra base protection from UV rays, which as we all know, are the downfall of healthy skin.
Beta carotene typically gives off a red, orange, or yellow color in the foods containing it such as:
- Sweet potatoes
- Bell peppers (red and yellow)
- Butternut squash
5. Vitamin C
Vitamin C doesn’t just build up your immune system and prevent scurvy. It is also a key nutrient for glowing skin. One study found that women who consume foods rich in vitamin C are less likely to have a wrinkled appearance. Some foods rich in vitamin C include:
- Citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, limes)
- Bell peppers
6. Vitamin E
Another antioxidant that helps fight free radicals, vitamin E is found in foods like:
- Fatty fish
- Leafy greens
- Fortified cereals
If you are prone to acne or other inflammatory skin problems like rosacea and eczema, zinc can help regulate inflammation and fight bacteria, and also aids in the production of new skin cells. Studies show a deficiency in zinc can lead to increased inflammation, lesions, and slowed wound healing. Sources of zinc include:
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grains
- Dark chocolate
Selenium may not ring any bells when it comes to nutrients you’re used to seeking out, but it can help prevent heart disease, regulate metabolism and thyroid, and benefit the immune system. For our skin, it can prevent signs of aging by fighting free radicals, reduce inflammation and acne, and the immunity boost can help fight off bacterial skin infections.
Selenium is harder to find in foods, so try to incorporate:
- Brazil nuts
- Seafood (tuna, halibut, sardines)
- Organ meats like liver and kidney
- Fortified cereals
You can get all of these nutrients by supplementing with vitamins, protein powders, and other nutritional supplements, or you could buy skincare products that pack them into the formulations and apply them topically. But there is no better way to ensure optimal health than from the inside, and that starts with your diet. Oh, and never forget to hydrate with lots of water!
Don’t get it twisted, skincare products are also necessary for healthy skin. Eating citrus isn’t going to cleanse away pollution and oil the way a cleanser will. Use your diet as your building blocks for healthy skin and a healthy life and think of skincare as both a hygienic practice and an extra step for added radiance, moisture, and purity.