When we talk about long-term skin health, 99% of the time, our focus is on skin protection. In today's LifeJournal, we wanted to take a break from that and explore another factor that contributes to skin health and that's diet.
Like most things these days, there's a fair amount of misinformation in the big, wide world. People on blogs or social media often attribute certain foods to anecdotal changes that they personally experienced with their skin - both good and bad - when, actually, identifying the true cause is really difficult.
According to the British Dietetic Association, the most important thing you can do is eat a wide range of foods. No single food or food group can give your skin all it needs. So, without wanting to shortcut straight to the answer, the evidence from lots of studies shows that sticking to healthy eating guidelines will give you all the vital nutrients your skin and body needs. Specifically, vitamin A, B2, B3, B6, C, D, E, zinc and selenium are important for optimal skin health and function. So, a healthy and balanced diet covering fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, pulses, fish and lean meats is the goal.
The surface of the skin is made of of cells that were made deeper in the dermis. These skin cells are pushed up, layer by layer, until they reach the surface. The process takes about four weeks and so changes in the diet that affect skin quality might take a while to be noticeable.
Here are a few individual things worth calling out. Include them in your diet and wait four weeks to see if they make a difference.
The best-known good-boosting nutrient is fat. The essential fats in food are processed internally and provide oils that regulate sebum production, and also seal in water. A diet rich in good fats will lead to plump, moisturised skin.
There's been a lot of interest in omega-3 fats (mostly found in fish), but our skin also requires omega-6 and 9, which are found in nuts, seeds and their oils. Because our diet is generally rich in omega 6 and 9, try to find ways to wedge in omega 3.
We spoke to Pauline Cox BSc MSc, a nutritionist and author of Primal Living in a Modern World. She explains how omega-3 can help.
“For years the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids have been cited in research, written about in scientific journals, relayed to the public via newspaper articles and media outlets. However, omega-3 fatty acids are less commonly spoken about in beauty and grooming features and yet the aesthetic benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are no less impressive than their immune-boosting, cardiovascular-supporting, brain-health benefits.
“Omega-3 fatty acids play vitally important roles in skin health. Our skin is made up of layers, the deeper dermis, which is important for the structural integrity of the skin. In this layer we find the structural proteins collagen and elastin which give skin its firmness and elasticity and the cells responsible for making these proteins, fibroblasts. In this layer omega-3 fatty acids directly communicate with the immune system, conveying their anti-inflammatory effects on the skin. This is why an omega-3 fatty acid can help reduce inflammatory skin conditions such as acne and psoriasis.
“The outer layer of the skin, the epidermis, forms a protective barrier. Here is where you’ll find the protective protein keratin. In this outer layer, omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in hydration and protection of the skin from the damaging effects of sunlight. The membrane that surrounds each of our skin cells is made up of fatty layers. Omega-3 fatty acids sit within these layers, helping to safeguard the cells against damage from UV light whilst also helping to retain moisture within the skin, enhancing plumpness and reducing dry skin.
“We can increase our omega-3 fatty acids through increasing our consumption of oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, nuts and seeds such as walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds.
“A high-quality, wild, Alaskan fish oil supplement such as Pauline’s personal favourite Wiley’s Finest Peak EPA is also an ideal way of boosting omega-3 fatty acid levels. Adding a high fish oil supplement to your daily routine helps to feed the skin with the nourishing fats needed to protect from damage and reduce inflammation.
Biotin helps regulate fatty acid metabolism to maintain fat levels in skin cells. This means biotin can help reduce dry skin.
Where to find it?
Romaine lettuce, peanuts, hazelnuts, almonds, tomato, avocado, soy beans and sweet potato.
The formation of collagen, the flexible structure that helps skin elasticity, relies on vitamin C. Because it's water soluble and can be flushed away, make sure to eat vitamin C rich foods daily.
Where to find it?
Sweet potato, berries, peppers, kiwi, citrus, kale and papaya,
Zinc has antioxidant properties and can also help reduce inflammation. It can also help healing, and like omega-3, can help reduce inflammation in the skin.
Where to find it?
Meat, shellfish, sesame and pumpkin seeds, lentils, tofu, chickpeas, cashew nuts and quinoa.
Vitamin A can help control sebum production, which in excess can encourage blemishes and break-outs.
Where to find it?
Sweet potato, spinach, carrots, kale, greens and squash.
An extension of diet is water. It's hard to ignore water in a journal talking about skin even though you drink rather than eat it.
We lose about half a litre of water a day through our skin. There's a decreasing gradient of water as you move from the outer to inner skin layers i.e. higher water content in the deeper skin, lower water content on the surface.
Having a 10% water level in the top layer of skin (the stratum corneum) is critical because water is required for healthy skin-shedding to occur. Without it, skin cells build up causing the flaky appearance associated with dry skin.
Skin hydration is key to the body being able to shed skin in a healthy way. Research shows moisturisers can increase hydration so if you're feeling dry, slap it on. Consuming enough water daily and avoiding dehydrating substances, e.g. alcohol, is also going to help.