Did you know that certain nutrients can delay the effects of aging and protect your skin from sun damage, acne and dryness? There are many other components in the protection of your skin—hydration, an adequate cleansing and conditioning regimen, and UV protection—but good nutrition is also required for maintaining overall skin health.
A poor diet can actually dampen the structural integrity and biological function of your skin, so consuming foods known to benefit the skin is an important factor to consider. Here are some specific nutrients that are beneficial for your skin.
1. Omega-3 fats
Omega-3 fats have numerous health benefits. One of those benefits is helping the skin look supple and moisturized. Too little fat in your diet can actually make your skin wrinkled and dry, so make sure you get plenty of healthy fats in your diet.
Omega-3 fats may also help reduce skin inflammation and protect against damaging UV rays. Omega-3 fatty acids are a kind of polyunsaturated fat, something the human body cannot make on its own, so it must come from your diet.
Ready to add some omega-3 fats to your plate? Pick up a few of these items next time you hit the grocery store:
- Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel and herring
- Flax seeds
- Chia seeds
Selenium is an important mineral that can protect against skin cancer and even help treat psoriasis. This nutrient is a potent antioxidant, able to fight free radicals produced by the sun. This helps to prevent premature aging.
Selenium deficiency has been linked to a greater chance of skin cancer, so it is important to consume an adequate amount. The recommended daily value (DV) for selenium is 55 micrograms per day. Good sources of selenium include:
- Canned tuna and shellfish
- Brazil nuts
- Fortified cereals
- Whole-wheat bread
Carotenoids like beta carotene (aka Vitamin A) help keep your skin healthy because of their work as a natural sunblock. Consuming foods high in carotenoids allows the nutrient to be incorporated into your skin, thus protecting it from sun exposure. This can prevent sunburn, cell death and dry, wrinkled skin.
Consuming high amounts of beta carotene can also create a warm, orange color to your skin, contributing to a healthier appearance. Sweet potatoes are one of the most potent sources of beta carotene, providing more than six times the DV of Vitamin A in just ½ cup serving.
Other great choices for carotenoids inclue:
- Dark leafy greens
- Butternut squash
- Red bell peppers
A mineral that is well known for its ability to heal the skin from injury is zinc. The outer layer of your skin has five times more zinc than the layer underneath—isn’t that interesting? Zinc helps keep the cell walls resilient and allows cells to divide and specialize as they grow.
Zinc can also protect your skin from UV damage. When you are deficient in zinc, your skin can develop cracks or a rash that is similar to eczema. The rash will not improve with moisturizers or steroid creams. To acquire the recommended DV of zinc (11 milligrams per day), try incorporating foods high in zinc into your diet.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Whole grains
- Milk products
- Ready-to-eat breakfast cereals
- Red meat
- Baked beans
- Nuts (such as cashews and almonds)
Flavonoids are also beneficial for your skin. They are a type of plant pigments responsible for giving fruits and vegetables their colors. They are also potent antioxidants that protect skin from environmental stress.
Besides fruits and vegetables, another delicious source of flavonoids are:
- Dark chocolate (great news if you’re a chocolate lover like me). Cocoa can increase blood flow to your skin and improve wrinkles and skin texture. Be sure to choose dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa to maximize the benefits.
- Green tea is another excellent source of flavonoids. In addition to its antioxidant properties, green tea has also been shown to improve acne and oily skin.
6. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is another important nutrient for healthy skin. It is required to create collagen, the main structural protein that maintains skin strength. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant that will protect your skin from damage caused by the sun and the environment.
Vitamin C deficiency is rare, but common symptoms include dry, rough and scaly skin that tends to bruise easily. The recommended daily amount of Vitamin C is 75mg for females and 90mg for males (19 years or older). Fruits and vegetables are your best sources, especially these:
- Citrus fruits
- Tomatoes and tomato juice
- Brussels sprouts
- Bell pepper (a single cup provides an impressive 211% of the DV for vitamin C)
Is collagen protein worth the hype?
Collagen is a group of 16 proteins and accounts for one-third of the natural total-body protein in humans. Claims that collagen has the ability to improve skin elasticity and reduce wrinkles have increased its popularity. But is there any truth to these claims? Is collagen a high-quality protein? And does consuming it increase the body’s production of it, thereby improving skin health?
Most of the research that promotes collagen protein supplementation has focused on its ability to increase skin firmness and slow down aging. The idea that eating collagen protein increases the body’s production of collagen has been heavily criticized. The digestive process breaks down proteins and absorbs them as individual amino acids, so eating collagen protein does not directly increase collagen production by the body.
When collagen protein is metabolized, one of the proteins is absorbed before it is completely broken down. This protein, prolyl-hydroxyproline, has been shown to benefit skin elasticity. However, these studies have only included elderly subjects who already have a compromised ability to produce collagen due to the natural aging process. There is not sufficient data to assume this can be applied to younger age groups.
The bottom line
Good nutrition is a key factor in maintaining healthy skin. With careful attention to diet, your skin can be protected from disease and environmental damage, and can better preserve its natural appearance and beauty.
About the author
Lisa Marsh, MS, RD, LD, CNSC, is a clinical dietitian with the Baylor Scott & White HealthTexas Provider Network. She provides nutrition assessment and dietary counseling for the Personal Edge Executive Wellness Program and Signature Medicine. Lisa's professional interests include nutrition counseling and consultation for the treatment of diseases and conditions related to an individual's diet and eating behaviors. Lisa's methods are geared toward lifestyle and behavioral changes unique to each individual.