Choosing the right foods for healthy skin isn’t all that different from eating well for the rest of your body. Colorful produce high in antioxidants and skin-boosting vitamin A and vitamin C gives skin a radiant glow.
To clear up acne-prone skin, drinking lots of water and avoiding inflammatory ingredients (like sugar) helps prevent issues from the inside out. If you have any food sensitivities, your skin may be one of the first places you see an adverse reaction. Here are some dietary changes to ensure you’re always putting your best face forward.
Vitamins and Nutrients
Skin issues can arise from a combination of internal and external factors. Smoking and sun damage produce free radicals that lead to lines and wrinkles. Elevated stress levels, a lack of sleep, or poor nutrition may manifest as acne, rosacea, or a lackluster complexion.
Nutritious food provides the building blocks for skin repair and protection. Although nutrition can’t undo severe damage from a bad sunburn, it can help your skin weather everyday environmental stressors and alleviate inflammatory flare-ups.
Research shows promising skin benefits for the following substances:
- Astaxanthin: A carotenoid and antioxidant found in various kinds of seafood
- Beta-carotene: A form of pro-vitamin A that gives fruits and vegetables their orange pigment
- Curcumin: An antioxidant compound found in the spice turmeric
- Lycopene: A bright red carotene and phytochemical (beneficial plant compound)
- Omega-3 fatty acids: An essential anti-inflammatory nutrient
- Polyphenols: Antioxidant plant compounds
- Prebiotics and probiotics: Beneficial bacteria in the gut and the nutrients that feed these bacteria
- Vitamin C: An essential water-soluble vitamin that supports collagen production and works as an antioxidant
- Vitamin D: A fat-soluble vitamin that acts as a hormone in the body and enhances our cells’ natural defenses against UV damage
- Vitamin E: A fat-soluble antioxidant vitamin
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that these compounds are concentrated in some of the most nutritious foods on the planet. You can boost your intake by making health-focused decisions about what to eat.
Once you learn where to get these advantageous nutrients, experimenting with different recipes can make it fun to eat well for your skin and body as a whole.
Types of Foods
Lots of delicious foods are also good for the skin. Here are some examples.
Salmon is high in omega-3 fatty acids and protein, two important nutrients for strong and healthy skin. If you don’t eat fish, you can get a healthy dose of omega-3s from chia seeds, flaxseeds, or walnuts.
Like many other seafood items (including shrimp, krill, crayfish, and trout), salmon also contains astaxanthin. Astaxanthin’s skin benefits include its ability to lower oxidative stress and reduce inflammation.
Pumpkin owes its signature orange pigment to beta carotene. Beta carotene is a potent antioxidant that concentrates in the skin. In fact, too much beta carotene can actually turn your skin yellow-orange, but this condition is harmless.
Getting enough beta carotene through orange foods like pumpkin, carrots, papayas, cantaloupe, and sweet potatoes will give you a natural glow that’s also protective.
The lycopene in tomatoes makes them an easy choice for radiant skin. Lycopene is an antioxidant that protects your skin from the sun and keeps your complexion looking young and vibrant.
Get your lycopene from food rather than supplements to gain additional health benefits and nutrients. Concentrated food sources of lycopene include ketchup and tomato sauce.
Avocadoes are rich in monounsaturated fats and vitamin E. Not only is eating avocado beneficial for your skin, but topical application of avocado oils has been shown to protect against UV damage due to avocados’ concentration of bioavailable lutein.
Green tea is naturally rich in polyphenols, the most abundant of which is a catechin called EGCG. Studies show that green tea blocks the growth and reduces inflammation of acne-causing bacteria.
The anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory effects occur both systemically and topically, meaning that drinking green tea or applying it in a 2% lotion can have a positive impact.
Green tea can also help protect your skin from the effects of photo-aging by inducing a process called autophagy. This encourages the body to clear away damaged cells. By boosting collagen and elastin in the skin, green tea helps promote an anti-wrinkle effect.
Oranges are a classic way to get your vitamin C. Vitamin C is an essential vitamin paramount to several skin functions, including wound healing. It is required for collagen production and acts as an antioxidant to protect against the signs of aging. To maintain your skin’s elasticity, vitamin C is essential.
If you don’t like citrus fruits, kiwis and strawberries are other excellent sources of vitamin C.
Eggs are one of the few natural sources of vitamin D. Egg yolks are also rich in the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are good for both the skin and eyes.
Kefir and Kimchi
The connection between gut health and skin health has been evidenced with several dermatological conditions, including acne, psoriasis, rosacea, and atopic dermatitis. While understanding of human microbiology is still progressing, fostering “healthy bacteria” in the gut is known to benefit immunity and inflammation.
Beyond yogurt, functional foods like kefir (a fermented milk drink made from kefir grains) and kimchi (fermented Korean vegetables) offer a substantial concentration of prebiotics and probiotics.
Although several nutrients are proven to help protect the skin from sun damage, they cannot replace the importance of using sunscreen and avoiding sunburns.
What to Avoid
There are foods that you may want to enjoy less often in order to benefit your skin.
There are multiple reasons why heavily-processed foods can be tough on the complexion. Food manufacturers often add sodium and sugar to prolong the shelf-life of food products.
While these add-ins keep food from going bad, they also promote dehydration and inflammation. Furthermore, processed foods tend to lack vital micronutrients for skin health, like vitamin C, which degrades rapidly when exposed to oxygen.
Avoiding high-glycemic foods may be beneficial for acne. The American Academy of Dermatology cites evidence from several studies showing that a low-glycemic meal plan can significantly reduce acne in a matter of weeks.
Low glycemic foods are high in fiber and low in simple carbohydrates. Foods to avoid or limit include white bread, potato chips, doughnuts, white rice, and sugary drinks. Instead, opt for higher-fiber carbohydrates like vegetables, whole fruits, oatmeal, and beans.
Many people suspect that dairy contributes to acne. Studies show that some populations are sensitive to dairy and experience higher acne rates when consuming more milk. However, yogurt and cheese have not been linked to acne breakouts.
Food Allergy Triggers
If your skin is dry, itchy, red, or breaks out in a rash, you may be experiencing the signs of a food allergy or intolerance. You may also notice wheezing, digestive issues, or a stuffy nose.
Talk to your doctor or a dermatologist if you suspect that food might be causing your skin concerns. Your provider can order skin and blood tests or refer you to an allergist for diagnosis and treatment.
A Word From Verywell
Almost everyone experiences skin issues from time to time. Whether it’s acne, signs of aging, dryness, oily skin, or discoloration, nutrition cannot address every possible concern.
However, the food choices we make often reflect how we care for and feel about our bodies. What we eat or avoid for skin health should overlap with benefitting other body systems as well.