Everyone knows (or should know) by now that a healthy and nutritious diet will keep your physique slim and sexy. But what doesn’t get talked about nearly enough is how the food you eat impacts the way you look beyond the number you see on the scale.
Is it possible to eat your way to better skin?
Yes it definitely is.
So does that mean it’s also possible to eat your way to worse skin?
You better believe it.
What we’re concerned with here is how your body uses the nutrients found within foods to build, repair, and maintain your skin — the largest organ of your body and one of the most important factors in physical attractiveness. Knowledge is power and knowing what to eat and how it’ll affect your skin is power you can control to your benefit.
As we like to remind people — proper nutrition is the foundation of every great skincare regiment! Whether you’re dealing with dull, inflamed, aging, or acne-ridden skin — we’re going to tell you exactly what to eat (and what you shouldn’t) to help you get the clear, radiant complexion you’ve always wanted.
Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids & Fish
The benefits Omega 3s will have for not only your skin quality but overall health cannot be overstated. They’re called “essential” fatty acids for a reason — your body cannot produce these fats by itself and the only way to get them is through diet or supplementation.
Its worth noting that there are actually two types of these Omega fatty acids — Omega 3s and Omega 6s.
The proper ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3s for optimal health is believed to be around 1:1 or 3:1. Meanwhile, the average Americanized diet provides a ratio of a little over 15:1, more than five times the optimal amount. Eating too many Omega 6 fats or not enough Omega 3s to balance out the ratio is associated with inflammation, cancer and autoimmune disease among a host of other bad things you don’t want to be dealing with.
The majority of the western world is deficient in these healthy fats simply because most people don’t eat enough seafood which is the best source of Omega 3s. But not only should the average person eat more seafood, they also need to eat more QUALITY seafood. This means wild-caught fish which are healthier for you than those raised in farms and have a better nutritional profile.
So how exactly does eating more fish improve your skin?
- Increases IGF-1 Levels
The fatty acids found within fish raise the concentration of IGF-1 in the blood. Why is this a good thing? IGF-1 is an anabolic hormone that also triggers the production of collagen. If you’ve already read our guide on collagen you’ll instantly understand why this is a good thing. Collagen is the support structure of not only your skin but also your ligaments, bones, and really your entire body. By increasing the concentration of collagen in your skin, you fight off wrinkles, improve its elasticity (the amount of “bounce” it has), and help diminish any fine lines formed by aging.
- Sun Protection
If increasing the concentration of collagen wasn’t enough, the fatty acids found within fish also reduce the amount of damage caused by UV rays on skin cells. In this study, the subjects took 4g of EPA (one kind of fatty acid, another being DHA) daily for three months. When their skin was exposed to sunlight, it took a longer time for it to burn than the control group which took oleic acid (found in olive oil).
What does this tell us? Well we’ve already talked about suntanning and the negative impact of too much UV exposure on your skin. This could be useful for those Types 1 and 2 on the Fitzpatrick scale (click the link above for more info) who are more likely to burn and experience sun damage. We’re not recommending replacing sunscreen with fish, but increasing your consumption will have a positive impact on protecting your skin.
- Helps Treat Acne
Tying back to what we said earlier about there being too many Omega 6 fats and not enough Omega 3s in the average person’s diet, there is speculation that an imbalanced ratio is the cause of inflammation which leads to acne. Therefore by either supplementing or increasing your intake of Omega 3s, you can potentially decrease the severity of your acne assuming the theory holds true.
Well one study that was done suggests that fish oil can improve the conditions of those suffering from severe forms of acne but confusingly, not those with milder forms. Of the eight individuals who improved, 7 of them had acne classified as “moderate to severe” while 3 of the 4 who got worse had acne classified as “mild”. The sample size was small, but based off this study, anecdotal evidence and success stories we’ve heard, those struggling with severe acne may want to try fish oil as a potential treatment.
- Delays Molecular Aging
The benefits keep coming in! The more fish you eat, and thus the higher amount of Omega 3 fatty acids in your blood, the slower your telomeres age. What are telomeres? They’re located at the end of your chromosomes and each time a cell divides itself, the telomeres becomes shorter.
Once there’s none left, guess what happens? Yeah, that’s when you die…. The good news is that Omega 3s slow the aging process, which means you’ll stay younger for longer. Youthfulness is a key element to physical attractiveness. Youthful skin is more attractive than older skin and if you learn anything about skin nutrition in this guide, its that eating fish is one of the best ways of keeping your skin younger and healthier.
Can’t stand eating fish? We strongly discourage replacing real food with supplements but honestly, Omega 3s are so important that it’s better to supplement and get some rather than none in your diet so if you have to — do what you must.
If you’ve read some of our other guides where we’ve talked about Omega 3 supplementation you know our #1 most recommended brand is Nordic Naturals. Try their Ultimate Omega Lemon soft gels which pack over 1000 mg of the fatty acids into a single serving. We have been proudly supplementing Omega 3s with Nordic Naturals for years and it’s the only brand we can confidently recommend.
Vitamin C & Vitamin E
Vitamin C has antioxidant properties and similar to the fatty acids found within fish, they play a key role in increasing collagen production.
To put it briefly, Vitamin C helps prevent photoaging by increasing the amount of collagen which then works to repair damaged skin and increase its suppleness.
The Vitamin C concentration found within our skin decreases as we get older. This partly explains why older folks have less collagen and more saggy, wrinkly skin. UV rays from the sun and pollution also lower the amount of Vitamin C found within your skin. Increasing your intake is also useful for treating dry skin as some studies suggest it helps improve skin elasticity which in turn alleviates that feeling of “tightness” some people get after using skincare products.
While Vitamin E also offers some photoaging protection from the sun, we’re more interested in its anti-inflammatory effects especially when combined with Vitamin C. Taken together, they form a better defense against UV radiation than just taking one or the other.
Vitamin E is already commonly found in many skin care products but we believe it’s better to get your intake through your diet rather than supplementation or applying it topically. The topical application of Vitamin E has even been questioned in its effectiveness particularly for treating scars suggesting it works more effectively when taken orally (at least for treating scars).
Best Sources of Vitamin C?
Best Sources of Vitamin E?
Zinc & Vitamin A
Zinc is an essential mineral which has shown promising results in treating acne. Its interaction with Vitamin A is noteworthy enough that we placed them in the same category. Zinc is needed to transport, absorb and metabolize Vitamin A. By increasing your zinc intake you also increase the concentration of Vitamin A within your blood. Accutane, the popular drug treatment for acne is a retinoid, which is essentially a form of Vitamin A.
If you’re struggling with acne or other blemishes, we’d recommend upping both your Zinc and Vitamin A intake.
One important thing to remember is that it’s possible to take too much of both.
Dietary sources of Vitamin A for the most part, are NOT toxic, but synthetic forms ARE in high amounts. You’re unlikely to reach the upper limits of safe Vitamin A levels through diet alone so we strongly discourage supplementing Vitamin A (unless your doctor says otherwise). An added benefit of eating foods high in Vitamin A is that many of them also contain carotenoids which are responsible for the golden glow of healthy skin. You can read up on carotenoids and the foods which contain them in this guide.
Excessive zinc consumption on the other hand, can lead to a copper deficiency which isn’t good either. If you choose to supplement zinc, we recommend using one that contains both zinc and copper to offset this drawback. Zinc can also cause stomach discomfort so if you supplement, make sure you take it with some food. Between 25 and 50 mg a day will be fine for most people. We encourage you to experiment but don’t take anything over 100 mg a day for extended periods of time to avoid any potential health problems.
Looking for a Zinc supplement (with copper?) Try OptiZinc by Now Foods.
Best Food Sources of Zinc?
Best Sources of Vitamin A?
Vitamin K is a fat soluble vitamin most commonly associated with a healthy circulatory system. Vitamin K2 which is a specific sub-type has the greatest anti-inflammation benefits. Skin conditions like rosacea or spider veins, that involve abnormal blood flow can be improved by eating a diet high in Vitamin K. Increased circulation can also help deliver much needed nutrients to skin more efficiently. It has even been tested as an under eye treatment for those dark bags and it’s showed moderate results in getting rid of them.
If you’re having problems with broken capillaries or any of the problems we talked about above we highly recommend increasing your Vitamin K intake although overall, it’s not as vital to eating a skin healthy diet as say Vitamin C or Omega 3 fatty acids are.
(Note: This is strictly in regards to your skin. For your health, Vitamin K2 in particular is ESSENTIAL)
Best Sources of Vitamin K?
We’re giving tomatoes their own section because we absolutely love them for great skin particularly when they come in the form of paste and when they’re cooked. Yes eating cooked tomatoes is better than eating them raw because the heat they’re exposed to will increase the bioavailability of the nutrients you need to make your skin look better. That basically means your body can use and absorb them much easier.
The key nutrient we’re looking for here is a carotenoid called lycopene. We’ve talked about lycopene and other types of carotenoids before. Carotenoids give your skin a golden hue which has been rated by people in studies as more attractive than the one you get from the sun. Lycopene — found in high concentrations within tomatoes — is actually a stronger antioxidant than Vitamin E and offers great protection from UV rays.
Ten tablespoons of tomato puree a day (about 55 g) mixed with 10 g of olive oil to allow for better absorption of the lycopene gave a 30% increase in resistance against UV rays. Eating tomato paste (puree) was also found to stimulate collagen production. Remember collagen? Tomatoes are one of our most recommended food to eat for better skin behind only salmon and kale. Seriously, eat some tomato paste daily and your skin will improve — we promise.
Or you can try some of these other foods also high in lycopene:
A study conducted in Germany found that drinking five cups of tea daily makes the skin in women over 40 softer and younger-looking. This study was done over a period of 3 months and it involved a control group of women given a placebo. The control group experienced no change in their skin while the women who drank tea had improved circulation, a better oxygen supply in skin cells, less flakes, and even became more resilient to UV ray damage.
Summarizing the results the researchers wrote “Regular consumption of a beverage rich in tea flavanols contributed photoprotection against UV radiation and helped maintain skin structure and function.” Translated to English that basically means: “Drink green tea for better skin”.
Even though this study was done in older women we suspect that younger folks and men will see similar benefits. Nonetheless, if you like drinking green tea this is great news and you should continue to do so.
Foods to Avoid
Knowing what to eat is only half the battle. Avoiding problem foods is the other half you need to do to conquer poor skin and transform your appearance.
A lot of people have problems with dairy. More than you’d expect. About 65% of the world population in fact. You could be one of them and not even know it as many people have some form of lactose-intolerance and don’t even realize it.
A quick google search will show thousands of results of people reporting that removing dairy from their diets improved their skin and either completely eliminated or reduced the occurrence of acne. There is some research which backs this up and suggests dairy could be to blame for some people’s breakouts and inflammation.
It’s worth going at least a month without consuming any dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.) to see how it affects your skin.
Of course, if you see your skin improve then you’ll probably want to make this a permanent change.
Whether that’s a sacrifice you’re willing to make is up to you. Look that pizza might look delicious but will you get more satisfaction by eating it than seeing yourself with better skin? Anything worth achieving in life requires sacrifices! If this is something that’s worth it to you then you know what to do.
Foods High In Sugar
There is also research that suggests foods high on the glycemic index aggravate acne symptoms.
The glycemic index is basically a measure of how much a food or drink affects your blood sugar levels. The higher the number, the more it raises your blood sugar. Starches and soda score higher than vegetables and whole grains. Even some sugary fruits like watermelon score high on the index.
Like dairy products, we say it’s worth trying to limit your consumption of high glycemic foods and drinks for a month just to see what happens to your skin. Try avoiding anything that scores over a 70. Like dairy, if you see a change after a month it’s probably worth making it a permanent habit.
Other Food Allergies
If you’re allergic to nuts, gluten, eggs or any other type of food that makes your skin react poorly then it goes without saying that you should probably stay away from them.
Unsure whether you’re actually allergic to something? Again, go a month without it to see if it makes any difference for you. Food allergies can worsen existing symptoms of not only acne but also rosacea, eczema, and keratosis pilaris among other conditions so do you’re best to avoid them.
That concludes our skin nutrition guide. We hope this serves as a helpful little online handbook and we plan on continually updating it as new research comes up. As always, our goal is to help you Look Your Best, and revamping your diet is the best place to start on your mission. If you’ve seen improvement making changes to your diet, tell us about it!