The food we put in our bodies affects our overall health in many ways – so it goes without saying that healthful eating can promote healthy, clear, glowing skin.
This article takes a comprehensive look at the best diet for healthy skin, which includes foods rich in anti-oxidants, which are nutrients that fight aging and help renew cells; as well as foods that contain retinol, which is essential for growth of the top layer of skin.
We have obtained input from four top experts on this subject, who also explore sub-topics including how diet affects the skin, the worst foods for your skin, the best diet for acne-prone skin and best foods for skin repair.
Some foods, nutrients and dietary choices can either trigger or worsen a disease, and others may be beneficial in treating it, said Dr. Lawrence Osman, a board-certified dermatologist at the Calabasas Med Spa in Southern California.
Food intake affects every organ, “so why wouldn’t your skin, the largest organ, be affected by what we eat and drink?” noted Dr. Lauren L. Levy, a board-certified dermatologist and clinical instructor in the department of dermatology at Yale University.
The ingredients in food are necessary to maintain healthy skin that functions properly, Dr. Levy emphasized.
“Proteins, vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids are important building blocks for the skin, hair, and nails and are needed to maintain healthy and functioning skin,” Dr. Levy noted. “For example, if a diet is missing some of these key ingredients, the skin/hair and nails may lose texture and become dry, wrinkled and brittle.”
Diet affects our skin in many ways, said Shellee Dyne, a certified nutritionist at Dyneamic Nutrition in Southern California, who treats individuals with acne and other skin related issues.
“Inflammatory-foods, sugar, and trans fats can affect our skin dramatically,” Dyne warned. “You have to work from the inside out.”
Ruth Pupo Garcia, a registered dietician and nutritionist at Adventist Health White Memorial in Los Angeles, California, provided her input for this topic based on the research study, “Discovering the link between nutrition and skin aging,” published by the US National Library of Medicine.
There are two main types of skin aging: “intrinsic skin aging” is aging caused by chronological aging or the aging of our body on the inside which is the same aging that causes our internal organs to age.
The other is “extrinsic skin aging” which is aging caused by external factors, such as sun exposure, pollution, poor sleep and poor nutrition.
» For Further Reading: Top 5 Causes of Premature Aging, What to Avoid & Treatments That Work
“Since prevention is the best way to prevent extrinsic aging, a balanced nutritional diet that includes anti-oxidative rich food is vital,” Garcia said. “In other words, studies suggest that a healthy diet plays a big role in the anti-aging process.”
Foods that contain antioxidants can lead to glowing and flawless looking skin, Dr. Levy said.
“Just think you buy antioxidant creams/lotions in the store to apply topically so consumption of these foods can have a similar effect when ingested,” she noted.
The following seven recommendations were made by Dr. Levy as the best foods to eat for beautiful skin.
1. Tomatoes, Blueberries
Tomatoes have lycopene and blueberries have vitamin A and antioxidants which can help increase collagen in the skin and protect from UV damage.
Carrots have vitamin A which can help reduce blemishes and act as an anti-oxidant.
3. Salmon, Tuna, Whole Eggs, Spinach
Salmon, tuna, and whole eggs including the yolk, as well as spinach and liver, all contain biotin which is a vitamin that can help promote healthy hair and nails.
Avocados have antioxidants like alpha-carotene and beta-carotene, which can increase skin thickness and tone and lead to all around healthy glowing skin.
Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties which can control blemishes and acne and can also be used as adjunctive measures to treat some skin conditions and rashes.
Drinking plenty of water can also result in a healthy-looking, glowing skin because when the skin is dehydrated, it can appear more aged.
Walnuts, as well as fish, have Omega-3 fatty acids which can promote smoother skin and smoother hair.
In other advice, Garcia said that fruits and vegetables are by far the best foods for healthy skin.
“They contain vitamin A and C, which are antioxidants that fight against aging,” Garcia explained. “Other foods, such as salmon, carrots, mangoes and papaya and sweet potatoes, contain B-carotene, which is a powerful anti-oxidant.”
Garcia further noted that recently, there are more studies on a specific antioxidant called Resveratrol for its anti-aging properties.
“Studies suggest that it has shown to prevent cell death and may be heart healthy,” Garcia said.
“Resveratrol is a polyphenol that is found in vegetables, coffee, red wine, chocolate and dry legumes.”
According to Dr. Osman, foods high in antioxidants, ranging from fruits and vegetables to tea leaves to seeds, act to limit the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
“Free radicals develop as a result of UV and pollution exposure, and free radicals are neutralized by antioxidants,” Dr. Osman explained. “Also, people who eat diets high in vitamins A and C have fewer wrinkles shown by one clinical study.”
Dyne agreed that foods rich in Omega-3s, such as flax seeds, wild fresh fish, and raw walnuts, can help promote healthy beautiful skin, as well as taking a high-quality Omega-3 supplement.
It’s also important to know what foods are considered worst for your skin, so you know what to avoid, which we discuss next.
Excess sugar sticks to amino acids present in collagen and elastin, Dyne warned.
“Sugar literally ages your skin,” Dyne said. “I also would stay away from dairy with the exception of plain Greek, organic yogurt.”
Dr. Osman advises avoiding simple refined sugar and other foods with a high glycemic index.
“Spikes in blood sugar result in glycation and cross-linking of collagen fibers, which ultimately leads to loss of elasticity,” Dr. Osman explained. “Consumption of pre-formed advanced glycation end products, created during certain cooking processes such as deep-frying, can also be detrimental.”
Even after accounting for sun damage and smoking, studies have found that as one’s blood glucose level increased, their perceived age increased as well, Dr. Osman noted. Also, certain dermatologic conditions are triggered by some foods.
For instance, “in patients with eczema, individual food allergies can trigger flares,” Dr. Osman said. “The combination of prebiotics and probiotics and vitamin D may help eczema sufferers.”
According to Garcia, poor, nutritionally dense foods that are processed can inhibit and replace the intake of foods that help the body repair and produce new cells.
“For example, instant soups, noodles, chips foods with additives and sweetened beverages cause aging and replace good habits of eating fruits and vegetables and a balanced diet,” Garcia said.
Dr. Levy warned that white carbohydrates, sugars, and foods with high glycemic index can result in blemishes, acne and inflammation, which may leave your skin far from glowing.
Caffeine might also be a culprit.
“Water is one of the main components of skin, and caffeine is a diuretic which can leave the skin dehydrated and wrinkled appearing,” Dr. Levy explained.
She also recommends limiting alcohol consumption because alcohol has numerous toxins, which can create stress on the skin. Additionally, “chronic alcohol can lead to dilated blood vessels and redness of the skin and can worsen rosacea.”
Also, try to limit your intake of salt.
“Say goodbye to potatoes chips and Chinese food,” Dr. Levy said. “The higher the salt content, the more your body needs to hold onto water, which could lead to puffy-looking skin and a tired appearance.”
People with acne-prone skin can also benefit from a healthy diet. According to Garcia, this is a big topic with lots of different research results; however, most people with acne state that when their diet improved, so did their skin.
“Saturated fat and processed fats may increase acid levels in the body and compete with Omega- 3 fatty acids in the body, leading to more inflammation and breakouts,” Garcia said. “Food allergies, gluten and diet are some areas that are recent topics in the relationship to acne, and are being studied.”
Dr. Osman said that food choices that help acne are not as well known as those that worsen it.
“Multiple studies have shown that high glycemic load diets trigger acne,” Dr. Osman warned. “Some studies have also shown a weak association between acne and dairy consumption. Omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, and zinc may be of benefit but further studies are needed.”
Dr. Levy noted that several studies have shown that a low glycemic index diet can significantly reduce acne and inflammatory lesions of the skin. These low glycemic foods include natural muesli, porridge, oat bran, sourdough rye, whole wheat, dark rye, egg fettuccini, macaroni, instant noodles and wheat pasta.
“The evidence is not crystal clear when it comes to dairy and acne,” Dr. Levy added. “A study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology in 2016 showed that consumption of low-fat or skim milk, but not full fat milk, was associated with acne.”
Don’t worry if you have overindulged during the winter months – there is still hope to get your skin in tip-top shape for the summer, Dr. Levy said.
She advises a diet consisting of the best foods for healthy skin which we discussed previously, including tomatoes, carrots, salmon, tuna, whole eggs, avocados, turmeric, walnuts and plenty of water.
“It never too late to start eating the above foods to help repair your skin and hair,” Dr. Levy added.
Studies have found that diets high in phytonutrients, such as those high in vegetables, legumes, and olive oil, protect against sun damage, Dr. Osman said.
“Green tea contains potent antioxidants as do colorful fruits,” he noted. “Foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, also improve skin.”
Garcia agreed the best foods for skin repair include salmon and fatty fish, eggs, and other foods that contain Retinol, which is a fat-soluble isoprenoid.
“Retinol must be derived from the diet, and it is essential for growth of epithelial tissue – top layer of skin – and reproduction of cells,” Garcia said.
For skin repair, Dyne recommends the following:
- Cut out all sugar (not from fruit) and processed foods
- Consume low glycemic foods
- Eliminate food sensitivities
- Eat an anti-inflammatory diet consisting organic berries, walnuts, seeds, wild fresh fish, dark green leafy vegetables, turmeric, green tea.
- Eat more foods that contain antioxidants which fight free radicals (fruits and vegetables)
Recap: Best Overall Diet for Healthy Skin
Now that we’ve offered detailed advice from our experts, this section briefly recaps the best overall diet for healthy, clear, glowing skin.
Garcia noted that in one study involving 4,025 women, higher linoleic acid intake – which is an essential fatty acid – was associated with reduction in dry and aging skin, and had inhibited wrinkle formation.
“Therefore fish oil, along with antioxidants like Vitamin C, Vitamin E and evening primrose oil were some of the main components,” said Garcia, adding that essential fatty acids can also be found in tuna, halibut, salmon and fish oil supplements.
There isn’t a lot of strong data in this area, Dr. Osman said, but a diet high in whole foods over highly processed foods is best.
“Diets rich in antioxidants, fiber, and other phytonutrients have shown multiple overall health benefits,” Dr. Osman recommended. “Examples of these diets are the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet.”
According to Dr. Levy, the best overall diet is a balanced one, including food rich in proteins, vitamins, minerals and fatty acids and low in processed foods, white carbohydrates, and sugars.
“Additions of certain foods with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory ingredients can be simple additions to a skincare regimen,” Dr. Levy said.
A healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables is favorable, as well as consuming other foods rich in antioxidants, Garcia advised.
“Consumption of healthy fatty fish, such as salmon and even eggs, contain healthy nutrients for skin,” Garcia said. “Supplements that contain fish oil and vitamin E can also assist in maintaining healthy levels; however, caution should be applied because fat soluble vitamins can build up and are stored by the liver and cause toxicity in the body.”
Garcia recommends checking with your doctor or dietitian for recommendations on supplements.
“Also, you can ask your doctor to test to see if you have Vitamin D deficiency (a fat-soluble vitamin we get from sunlight), which is a quite common deficiency in adults in America,” Garcia said. “Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to premature aging and diabetes.”
» For Further Reading: Do You Need to Take Dietary Supplements?
Besides adequate consumption of antioxidants and healthy diet for anti-aging, “we should also factor in lifestyle behaviors such as stress management, good sleep, and staying hydrated,” Garcia added. “Some studies report that happy people live longer and stay younger.”
A hot topic today is the connection between our gut and various aspects of our health, Dr. Osman noted.
“This may apply to our skin health, too, and there is an increasing body of research demonstrating a connection between our gut and our skin,” Dr. Osman said. “One of the core benefits of whole food diets is the increased amount of fiber intake. It turns out that some plant-derived fiber serves as a prebiotic, which may promote a healthy gut microbiome.”
Diet can certainly affect the skin, so be sure to speak to a skin expert, board-certified dermatologist to see what changes can be made for glowing healthy skin, Dr. Levy recommended.
“Did you know that certain rashes may respond to diet as well?” Dr. Levy added. “A low allergen diet can help patients with hives and for those patients with celiac disease removal of gluten leads to fewer skin rashes. See a dermatologist if you are suffering from any of these conditions to get on a good treatment plan.”