Acai is the new pomegranate, and goji berry is the new blueberry! Who can keep track of all of the “super skin foods” touted in magazines? And honestly, who needs to? Here, Dr. Ellen Marmur reveals the top eight everyday food elements, from antioxidants to zinc, that will help optimize your skin’s health. From Simple Skin Beauty: Every Woman’s Guide to a Lifetime of Healthy, Gorgeous Skin
As popular as the “super skin foods” topic may be in magazines, there’s not much sound scientific evidence behind all of it yet. Scientists are studying the effects of many foods and vitamins on the health of the skin, but strong studies are still pretty scarce. Even so, there are things you can eat that definitely benefit the skin in particular, and deficiencies of certain nutrients is damaging. A lack of protein can lead to poor wound healing and hair loss, and a fat deficiency can bring on dry skin and brittle hair and nails. A lack of vitamin C can cause scurvy (yes, even in this day and age!), which leads to spongy gums and bleeding hair follicles, among other awful skin conditions. So don’t be caught short of the nutrients your skin needs in your diet, but don’t make yourself crazy either. It’s really not too difficult to incorporate essential food elements into your daily meals.
Top Substances in Food That Optimize Skin Health
>>> Vitamins C and E
Vitamin C is found in: Oranges, lemons, grapefruit, papaya, and tomatoes
Vitamin E is found in: Sweet potatoes, nuts, olive oil, sunflower seeds, avocados, broccoli, and leafy green vegetables
What they do for skin: These antioxidant vitamins fight oxidation damage in skin cells’ DNA. Because they are key elements in the structural proteins in the body, they are important to the integrity of the blood vessels and hair follicles. They’re required for the formation of collagen, and medical studies have found that they decrease wrinkling of the skin. Vitamin E reduces inflammation and helps wound healing. Vitamin C enhances the immune response.
>>> Vitamin A
It’s found in: Fish oil, salmon, carrots, dairy products, spinach, and broccoli
What it does for skin: Since it promotes normal keratinization (the turnover of skin cells), it helps with conditions such as acne, eczema, and psoriasis. Without it, skin becomes extremely dry and dull. It’s important to note that if you use a synthetic retinoid (a derivative of vitamin A) on your skin, you may need to stop vitamin A supplementation, since too much of this vitamin can lead to hair loss and liver dysfunction.
It’s found in: Meat, eggs, grains, sunflower seeds, dairy products, fish, legumes like beans and peas, and nuts such as walnuts and pecans
What it does for skin: Protein is a component of all the cells in the body and a building block of skin tissue. Proteins are broken down into amino acids, the building blocks of new proteins for the body’s constant reconstruction job. They are like Legos, coming in different shapes, sizes, and types that help construct collagen or create lubricating ceramide in the skin. It’s a perfect economy, with the amino acids being recycled into new proteins on a supply-and-demand basis.
It’s found in: Turkey, almonds, Brazil nuts, and wheat germ
What it does for skin: This anti-inflammatory mineral calms irritation in the epidermis and helps to heal acne and treat rosacea. It also facilitates cell regeneration.
It’s found in: Egg yolks, brewer’s yeast, bananas, lentils, cauliflower, and salmon
What it does for skin: This B vitamin strengthens skin, hair, and nails. (A deficiency is extremely rare because bacteria in your intestines make all the biotin you need.) A deficit can lead to hair loss or dermatitis (itchy, scaly skin). Some people swear by biotin supplements to strengthen brittle nails, but studies haven’t proven that it’s beneficial for anyone who’s not deficient in the vitamin.
>>> Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Omega-6 is found in: Seeds, nuts, eggs, and sunflower and soybean oil (which are in lots of snack foods, such as crackers, cookies, and cereals)
Omega-3 is found in: Cold-water fish such as salmon and sardines, flaxseed oil, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and almonds
What they do for skin: These essential fatty acids support skin health, improve nerve and vascular function, and act as antioxidants. Omega-3 has strong anti-inflammatory properties and may calm skin conditions such as rosacea or eczema and minimize redness. It also boosts immune system functioning. Some nutritional studies have shown that omega-3 may protect against squamous cell skin cancers and decrease sunburn response. Studies have shown that diets rich in the omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid are associated with less skin dryness and thinning. But it’s important to note that these fatty acids must be balanced in the body. For example, too much omega-6 and linoleic acid can cause an inflammatory response in the body, while omega-3 minimizes it. Because of the prevalence of omega-6 in processed snack foods, it’s believed that we are getting an abundance of them and not enough omega-3. And studies have shown that too much omega-6 can increase the risk of everything from high blood pressure to dementia and depression. The key is balancing your intake of the two.
>>> Monounsaturated Fats
They’re found in: Olive oil, canola oil, and avocados
What they do for skin: These healthy fats help to maintain the water level in the epidermis and supply the ceramides and fats that keep the bricks and mortar of the skin healthy and intact. This translates into less itchy, healthy-looking, glowing skin.
They’re found in: Blueberries, green tea, red kidney beans, olive oil, artichokes, pomegranates, dark chocolate, and red wine
What they do for skin: These are indeed the superheroes of the nutrient family. We’ve heard a lot about how antioxidants extinguish the dangerous free radicals (the toxic oxygen molecules that can be by-products of cell renewal and are also generated by pollution and sun damage). The polyphenol antioxidants in green tea have also been shown to help prevent certain skin cancers and protect skin against sunburns. Antioxidants found in red wine and green tea are being studied for their possible cancer-fighting potential, but so far the results aren’t conclusive. There have been studies that strongly showed that the antioxidants in green tea (among them epigallocatechin-3-gallate, or EGCG) protect the DNA in skin cells from UV-induced damage.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ellen Marmur, MD, author of Simple Skin Beauty (Copyright © 2009 by Dr. Ellen Marmur), is the Chief of Dermatologic and Cosmetic Surgery at The Mount Sinai Medical center in New York City and specializes in skin cancer surgery, cosmetic surgery, and women’s health dermatology. She lives in Manhattan with her family.
MORE ARTICLES BY THE AUTHOR
- 5 Beauty Products You Love but Don’t Need
- Antiaging Products Demystified: 4 Rules to Remember Before You Start Shopping
- Read an excerpt from Simple Skin Beauty: Every Woman’s Guide to a Lifetime of Healthy, Gorgeous Skin
- Watch the video: Simple beauty tips from Dr. Ellen Marmur