As the cycle of the seasons change, so does our skincare routine. Autumn’s dryer air, cooler temperatures, and whirling gusts of wind calls for seriously upping our moisturizing and exfoliation game. And just as what we put on our bodies affects skin health, what we put in our bodies can make a difference in our complexions as well.
That’s right: instead of getting a chemical peel or collagen injection, you may just need to stop by the farmer’s market. As you read on and find out the science-backed ways we can use food to transform our skin from the inside and out, you might want to grab a notebook and start making your grocery list now.
In many ways, the question of if or how diet affects skin is one that has left dermatologists a little stumped. Some studies are inconclusive, calling for more research to fully understand the surprisingly complex relationship before making conclusions. However, the good news is that we aren’t left completely empty-handed, because recent studies are finding more reason to support the link than oppose it.
You may suspect that it’s chocolate that’s the offender identified in these latest studies, but don’t fear – your daily dark indulgence (for heart health of course!) is safe. Lately, it’s dairy and carbs that are drawing the negative dermatological press. [i] More specifically, researchers suspect that the hormones in dairy, especially non-fat milk, may contribute to skincare woes. (Scientists believe the lowered fat content leads to higher relative hormonal content, which is why skim milk is especially exacerbating.)
And as for carbohydrates: the high glycemic impact of certain carbs (think: white bread, instant oatmeal, pretzels, etc.) is being increasingly associated with acne flare-ups. Glycemic impact may sound familiar because of the “low GI” diet plan that has garnered some weight-loss buzz as of late. Nutritionists are quick to point out the complexity of GI ratings and the uncertainty of their role in losing weight,[ii] but the evidence linking them to acne is much more compelling.
Healthy Skin Helpers
Okay, so we can skip the skim and eschew the oats. But using nutrition to promote healthy skin is as much about what we do eat as what we don’t. For example, vitamin A plays an essential role in skin health; particularly it’s moisture balance and integrity.[iii] Additionally, nutrients such as omega- 3 and -6 fatty acids, as well as vitamins D and E are known to be integral to the activities of skin cells, including hydration, inflammation, and metabolism.
Direct evidence linking supplements to improved skin is a bit lacking, so it’s best to get these nutrients straight from the source (i.e. via the foods you eat). To get more omega-3 and -6 you can sprinkle a handful of flax, chia, and sunflower seeds on salads or sandwiches. The sunflower seeds pack a double-skincare-punch because they’re also high in vitamin E. And if you want to eat something that is basically a skincare powerhouse, salmon provides not only omega-3 and -6, but also vitamin D.
Foods That Work Beyond the Plate
Some food is so skin-friendly that in addition to eating it, you can slather it right on your skin to reap the benefits. For example, in Ayurveda (the healthcare system often called the “sister science of yoga”) using plant oils to nourish and moisturize skin is part of a regular skincare routine.[iv] Coconut oil, with its seemingly endless list of health miracles it can perform, is a popular choice for many modern adopters of this practice. So are other natural oils like hemp seed or sunflower oil – which contain skin-loving vitamins and fatty acids to help keep skin youthful and hydrated.
Honey, too, is often touted to have topical benefits for your complexion, due to its antioxidants and natural antibacterial properties.[v] Honey is also classified as a humectant – meaning it traps and locks in moisture – making it a wonderful moisturizer. And did you know that avocado isn’t just healthy and delicious on toast, but also makes a great moisturizing mask? Because of its antioxidant and skin-penetrating oil content,[vi] it promotes smooth, soft skin that may cause you to spread it on your face as much as a slice of whole grain.
The skin is the largest organ we have, protecting the whole rest of our body and weathering the elements for us. It deserves some extra TLC, so why not thank it with a little honey mask or salmon dinner every once in a while?