The skin relies on a variety of nutrients to stay healthy, such as vitamin A, C, E, selenium, zinc, essential fats, and plant phytochemicals from colourful fruits and vegetables. Skin health is linked to the health of the digestive tract. Probiotics keep the digestion working well and aid in skin health. Potent substances that benefit skin can be found in onions, garlic, turmeric, chocolate, cinnamon and green tea. Minimising toxins aids the skin, as it is an organ of detoxification.
If your eyes are the windows to your soul, your skin is a window to your inner health. Skin conditions may be a sign that something else in your body needs support. Eczema may be an indication that the body needs essential fats, and spots around the chin may be a sign of a hormonal imbalance. Your skin relies on a variety of nutrients to keep it healthy. A diet abundant in fresh, natural foods will nourish your skin from the inside out.
The skin is an organ of detoxification
Being the largest organ in the body, the skin works alongside other organ systems to aid in toxin excretion. Ensuring your liver and digestion are in good working order is crucial to healthy skin. If the liver and bowels are over-burdened, toxins will be shunted to the skin for excretion, leading to “break-outs” and skin issues.
The surface of the skin you can see is made up of dead epidermal cells that flake off and are constantly being replaced. These cells have moved up through the skin layers losing moisture as they go, becoming harder, flatter and more concentrated with a protein called keratin.
Healthy skin relies on a variety of nutrients
Your skin relies on nutrients carried to it via the blood vessels. What you eat will be reflected in the condition of your skin. The natural, fresh radiance of healthy skin comes from the integrity of the skin structure itself, and that in turn is created by what you feed it.
Eat vitamin A foods for smooth skin
Vitamin A is a key nutrient for skin health. It prevents dry, rough skin by controlling keratin levels. All epithelial tissues, including the skin, require vitamin A for healthy function and renewal.1
Beta-carotene is the precursor to vitamin A and is found in carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, squashes, bananas, mangoes and all yellow vegetables.
Vitamin C is crucial for healthy skin
Vitamin C is very important for skin health. It’s the most commonly taken supplement and is involved in a wide variety of metabolic functions throughout the body. It is essential for the synthesis of collagen and connective tissue and must be available in adequate amounts for normal skin healing to occur.2 It’s water-soluble and the body doesn’t store it, so you need to top up levels daily.
Vitamin C is found in most fruits and vegetables, especially strawberries, peppers, kiwis, broccoli, papaya and citrus fruits, so get as many fruits and vegetables into your diet as you can, to keep levels topped up for radiant skin health.
The link between stress, vitamin C, and skin health
Vitamin C is very important for cardiovascular, immune and adrenal health.3 4 and is needed to make the stress hormone, cortisol. Stress or infection in the body will deplete stores of vitamin C, so it’s no wonder that when you’re under stress, your skin loses its healthy glow and is more prone to breakouts and irritations. Also during stress, when cortisol is circulating in excess, it has an inflammatory action throughout the body causing skin reactions.
It’s not just stress that can negatively affect skin health. Smoking, the use of aspirin, oral contraceptives pills, alcohol and numerous other drugs also increase the requirement for vitamin C.5
A colourful diet is good for your skin
Bioflavonoids are responsible for the majority of the yellow, red and blue pigmentation in plants. They are produced in the photosynthesising cells of plants. They are potent free radical scavengers and may reduce the production of free radicals by binding certain heavy metals that are involved in free radical formation.6 This inhibition of free radicals may be a mechanism for reducing inflammation in the skin and elsewhere in the body.
Purple and blue berries, such as blueberries, blackberries, and cherries are potent sources of these beneficial bioflavonoids.
A colourful diet provides a good selection of antioxidants, as different pigments in nature are made up of different antioxidant plant chemicals. Make your plate a rainbow for a potent antioxidant effect.
Antioxidants work as a team to protect your skin
Vitamins A, C, E, selenium, and bioflavonoids all have antioxidant properties and because antioxidants are team players, the more you mix them up, the more powerful they are.
For example, vitamins A, C, and E are intimately linked to their activity. Vitamin E protects vitamin A and increases its storage, whilst vitamin C regenerates vitamin E back into its antioxidant state. This interdependence amongst antioxidant nutrients reflects the importance of eating a variety of these nutrients together. 7
Brazil nuts are a rich source of selenium and avocados are rich in vitamin E.
Turmeric, chocolate and cinnamon boost skin health
Foods with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties are associated with improving skin health and promoting healthy ageing. Curcumin is a powerful phytochemical that is found in turmeric and has very potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.8
Other herbs, spices and plant extracts with these properties are green tea, cocoa flavonoids from quality dark chocolate, cinnamon, resveratrol in grapes and medicinal mushrooms.
Zinc makes your skin healthy
If you want healthy, clear skin you could benefit by checking your zinc status. Conditions of the skin and scalp may be the result of zinc deficiency, including scaling or flaking, alopecia (hair loss), acne and various other rashes or discoloration.
Zinc is needed for new skin cell production and plays a role in a number of areas in treating and preventing skin conditions. It is present in the epidermis in several forms, each playing a critical role to cellular functioning including inflammation, growth and repair, gene expression and antioxidant defence.9
Zinc is linked to hormonal skin conditions
Zinc can be effective in treating acne due to its ability of effectively reducing a number of androgens circulating in the bloodstream in both men and women. Excess circulating androgens can lead to troublesome outbreaks of acne.
The most potent androgen is dihydrotestosterone, a derivative of testosterone catalysed by the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase. In trials, zinc sulphate was shown to be a potent inhibitor of this enzyme, indicating that it could be an effective agent in the treatment of hormone-related skin conditions.10
In women, imbalances in insulin and cortisol are a major factor in disruption of the female hormonal system. Excess androgens are present in conditions such as PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) and the accompanying hormonal skin outbreaks. Avoiding sugar and stress are crucial for healthy hormone balance.
Foods that are rich in zinc include raw nuts and seeds, seafood and fish, especially oysters.
Eat healthy fats for beautiful skin
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are crucial in keeping all cell membranes functioning and preventing the skin from drying out. Omega-3 fats have been hailed for their ability to keep the skin beautiful and supple. Oily fish, such as wild salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines, raw nuts and seeds, avocados and cold-pressed seed oils are great sources.
It’s important to note that due to over-polluted oceans, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to guarantee the purity of fish stocks. Toxins from the environment build up in the bodies of oily fish, especially larger fish, such as tuna, that have eaten smaller fish. This bioaccumulation of toxins leads many people to believe that supplementing with high-quality pure fish oil is safer than eating oily fish. Generally speaking the smaller the fish, the less toxic they are, so sardines and small mackerel caught in fresh, cold waters are a good choice.
There is lots of evidence to link fish oils with healthy skin function. EPA and DHA are components of fish oil that have been shown to inhibit damage caused by ultraviolet (UV) light and inflammation in skin cells.11 12
Of particular interest, one report found that fish oil providing a daily dose of 2.8 g EPA and 1.2 g DHA improved protection against sun damage in a relatively short period of time (4 weeks).13
Another study looked at the effect of fish oil on ageing skin. A supplement containing stable fish oil was shown to improve age-induced decreases in skin elasticity in women. Twenty-four healthy women aged 40-60 years old experienced a statistically significant increase in skin elasticity of 10% after 3 months of treatment, suggesting that fish oil may reverse skin ageing.14
Chronic inflammation underlies the skin conditions of psoriasis and eczema, which have both been beneficially influenced by omega-3 supplementation.15 There is also clinical evidence to suggest omega-3 oils may benefit acne.16
Eating healthy omega-3 fats is not enough unless you also avoid the bad fats from processed foods, margarines and hydrogenated vegetable oils, which hinder the activity of the beneficial fats in the body. Cutting out the bad fats increases the action of the good fats.
NEVER cook with anything other than extra virgin olive oil or virgin coconut oil, as all other oils quickly become rancid upon heating, especially refined sunflower and vegetable oils. All vegetable and seeds oils should be eaten in their raw, cold-pressed form only.
Probiotics, gut function, and healthy skin
What happens in your gut is reflected in your skin. A toxic, unhealthy digestive tract will create unhealthy skin, as the body tries to rid itself of toxic metabolites from, not only the body’s own metabolic processes but those of pathogenic bacteria which can proliferate in the intestines when things get out of balance.
Probiotics help create the ideal environment for healthy digestion and absorption of nutrients, as well as protecting the integrity of the gut lining. The term “probiotic” is derived from Latin and Greek and means “for life.” It was first used in 1965 to describe growth-promoting factors produced by microorganisms. A recent definition of a probiotic is “live microorganisms, which when consumed in adequate amounts, confer a health effect on the host.”17
The intestinal barrier, if disrupted, can become impaired in protecting the body from exaggerated immune responses to common antigens. The complicated interrelationship between the friendly bacteria and the immune system is only just being fully discovered.
Intestinal inflammation, due to imbalanced gut flora, has been associated with certain skin conditions that are linked to food allergies, such as atopic dermatitis. 18
Fermented foods are rich in probiotics, such as kimchi, miso, sauerkraut, organic live yoghurt, kefir, and kombucha.
Support your liver support your skin
MSM. (methyl-sulfonyl-methane) is a compound found in garlic, onions, eggs, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, and leeks. It provides sulphur, the main compound needed for all of the body’s connective tissue (skin, hair, and nails). It’s also needed for healthy liver function, so eating sulphur-rich foods will help your body with its detoxification pathways, and promote healthy skin.
Other foods that support liver function are artichokes, asparagus, beetroot, broccoli, bitter foods such as endive, chicory, rocket, watercress and lemon, dark green leafy vegetables, nettle, and dandelion.
Avoiding exposure to toxins also benefits the skin. Many synthetic chemicals can be avoided if you choose natural skincare, such as griffin+row, and non-toxic household products. Choose essential oils instead of chemical air fresheners, eat organic foods where possible to minimise pesticide intake, and choose high-welfare meat and organic eggs to avoid the drugs and hormones used in intensive farming.
References and Sources:
- Bland JS et al. Clinical Nutrition: A functional approach. Washington, USA. Institute for Functional Medicine, Inc; 1999: pp 123-178
- Basu TK , Schorah CJ. Vitamin C in health and disease. AVI publishing Co, Inc Westport Conn 1982 already at endnote
- Ginter E. Marginal vitamin C deficiency, lipid metabolism and atherogenesis. Adv Lipid Res 1978;16:167-220.
- Pauling L. Vitamin C, the common cold and the ‘flu. WH Freeman & Co, San Francisco, 1976
- Itschule MD. Nutritional factors in general medicine: effects of stress and distorted diets. Charles Thomas (publisher), Springfield, IL, 1978.
- Basu TK , Schorah CJ. Vitamin C in health and disease. AVI publishing Co, Inc Westport Conn 1982 2 Ginter E. Marginal vitamin C deficiency, lipid metabolism and atherogenesis. Adv Lipid Res 1978;16:167-220.
- Bland JS et al. Clinical Nutrition: A functional approach. Washington, USA. Institute for Functional Medicine, Inc; 1999: pp 123-178
- Reddy AC, Lokesh BR. Studies on spice principles as antioxidants in the inhibition of lipid peroxidation of rat liver microsomes. Mol Cell Biochem. 1992;111(1-2):117-24.
- Lansdown AB, Mirastschijski U, Stubbs N, et al. Zinc in wound healing: theoretical, experimental, and clinical aspects. Wound Repair Regen. 2007 Jan-Feb;15(1):2-16.
- Stamatiadis D, Bulteau-Portois MC, Mowszowicz I. Inhibition of 5 alpha-reductase activity in human skin by zinc and azelaic acid. Br J Dermatol. 1988 Nov;119(5):627-32.
- Storey A, McArdle F, Friedmann PS, et al. Eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid reduce UVB- and TNF-alpha induced IL-8 secretion in keratinocytes and UVB-induced IL-8 in fibroblasts. J Invest Dermatol. 2005 Jan;124(1):248-55.
- Boelsma E, Hendriks HF, Roza L. Nutritional skin care: health effects of micronutrients and fatty acids. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001 May;73(5):853-64.
- Orengo IF, Black HS,Wolf JE. Influence of fish oil supplementation on the minimal erythema dose in humans. Arch Dermatol Res 1992;284:219–21.
- Segger D, Matthies A, Saldeen T. Supplementation with Eskimo Skin Care improves skin elasticity in women. A pilot study. J Dermatolog Treat. 2008;19(5):279-83.
- Gil A. Polyunsaturated fatty acids and inflammatory diseases. Biomed Pharmacother. 2002 Oct;56(8):388-96.
- Rubin MG, Kim K, Logan AC. Acne vulgaris, mental health and omega-3 fatty acids: a report of cases. Lipids Health Dis. 2008 Oct 13;7:36.
- Joint Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations/World Health Organization Expert Consultation on Evaluation of Health and Nutritional Properties of Probiotics in Food Including Powder Milk with Live Lactic Acid Bacteria. Report 2001 http://www.who.int/foodsafety/publications/fs_management/en/probiotics.pdf: (date accessed 15 April 2008).
- Majamaa H, Isolauri E. Probiotics: a novel approach in the management of food allergy. J Allergy Clin Immunol 1997;99(2):179-85.