Eat your way to fabulous skin
If you want glowing skin, the old adage 'you are what you eat' has never been truer. Our nutritionist's tips will help you nourish your skin from the inside out.
Interested in trying our FREE 7-day healthy diet plan? Click here and choose between our meat eaters, vegetarian or vegan meal plans.
How can I achieve fabulous skin?
Everyone has a favourite face cream or treatment, but there’s no denying that beautiful skin starts with nourishment from within. Older skin cells are constantly being shed and replaced, which means a steady supply of nutrients is essential to support this rapid turnover. Eat the correct balance of foods and you'll feed your skin and help keep it soft, supple and blemish-free.
That said, as much as we may try to resist it, our skin naturally ages. Wrinkles and age spots are inevitable, but skin ageing may be sped up by overexposure to the sun, tanning beds, harsh soaps, chemicals and poor diet. With this in mind, a holistic approach is best.
Treat your skin well and optimise your nutrition by eating a varied and balanced diet including antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables, healthy fats from oily fish and nuts, and adequate hydration.
Read on for our 10 top tips on eating your way to glowing skin...
1. Eat a minimum of five portions of fruit and vegetables every day
Fruits and vegetables contain powerful antioxidants that help to protect skin from the cellular damage caused by free radicals. These free radicals may be triggered by smoking, pollution and the action of sunlight.
Eat a rainbow of colourful fruits and vegetables, and aim for at least five portions a day. Beta-carotene, found in orange fruit and vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes and pumpkins, and lutein, found in kale, papaya and spinach are both important for normal skin cell development and healthy skin tone.
Discover what counts as one of your five-a-day.
2. Get your vitamin C
We need vitamin C to support the immune system, promote radiant skin and help blemishes heal. The best sources are blackcurrants, blueberries, broccoli, guava, kiwi fruits, oranges, papaya, strawberries and sweet potatoes.
Vitamin C is also key for producing collagen, the protein that forms the scaffolding that keeps our skin plump and supported, and strengthens the blood capillaries that supply the blood that nourishes our skin.
Read more about vital vitamins.
3. Eat enough vitamin E
Vitamin E plays a key role in protecting the skin from oxidative (cell) damage and especially photo-aging. Foods high in vitamin E include almonds, avocados, hazelnuts, pine nuts and sunflower and pumpkin seed oil.
Read more about what makes avocados so healthy.
4. Stock up on selenium
Selenium is a powerful antioxidant and works alongside vitamins C and E. Studies suggest that a selenium-rich diet may help protect against skin cancer, sun damage and age spots. One way to boost your intake is to eat Brazil nuts. Just 2-3 nuts will provide your recommended daily amount. Mix Brazil nuts with other seeds rich in vitamin E as a snack or salad sprinkle. Other good sources of this mineral include fish, shellfish, eggs, wheatgerm, tomatoes and broccoli.
Read more about the health benefits of Brazil nuts.
5. Eat plenty of zinc
The mineral zinc helps keep skin supple through supporting the normal functioning of oil-producing glands in the skin. It’s also involved in the healing process and helps repair skin damage. Zinc-rich foods include fish, lean red meat, wholegrains, poultry, nuts, seeds and shellfish.
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Read more about why we need vital minerals.
6. Include healthy fats, especially omega-3
Certain fats act as a natural moisturiser for your skin, keeping it supple from the inside and improving elasticity. These fats include the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated varieties found in avocados, oily fish, nuts and seeds. These fats come cleverly packaged with a healthy dose of valuable vitamin E.
Pay special attention to food sources of a poly-unsaturated fat called omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and may help skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. They also form the building blocks of healthy skin.
Discover the health benefits of salmon.
7. Eat more phyto-estrogens
Phyto-estrogens are natural compounds found in plants. They have a similar structure to the female sex hormone oestrogen and are thought to help keep our natural hormones in balance. This is important because oestrogen plays an important role in skin health, especially in supporting skin structure and minimising skin damage.
At key life stages such as midlife it may be useful to focus on phyto-estrogen-rich soya, wholegrains, fruits and vegetables as part of a balanced diet.
Find out more about the health benefits of soya.
8. Drink six to eight glasses of water a day
Skin needs moisture to stay flexible. Even mild dehydration may leave your skin looking dry, tired and slightly grey. Experts recommend that we drink six to eight glasses of water a day – all fluids count towards your daily allowance, but water is the best.
If you work in an office, keep a large bottle of water on your desk to remind you to drink. Herbal, caffeine-free teas are good, too. Don't forget that some fruit and vegetables, such as watermelon, courgette and cucumber, also contribute fluids – the added benefit is that the minerals they contain will increase the rate you hydrate your body and skin.
Discover how to stay hydrated.
9. Go for low-GI carbs
The glycaemic index (GI) is a system that ranks carbohydrate-based foods on how slowly or quickly they are broken down in the body to glucose. Try to eat plenty of beans, pulses, porridge and other low-GI, slow-releasing carbohydrates. These carbs release their energy into the blood stream gradually, providing you with a steady supply of energy and leaving you feeling satisfied and less likely to snack.
Avoid high-GI carbohydrates such as biscuits and sugary drinks, as they lead to production of insulin, which may damage collagen and accelerate wrinkles.
10. Don't crash diet
Repeatedly losing and regaining weight will take its toll on your skin, causing sagging, wrinkles and stretch marks. Crash diets are often deficient in essential vitamins and minerals too. Over long periods of time this type of dieting will reflect on your skin.
If you're considering trying a weight loss plan, make sure you have all the facts first – explore our expert guides to popular diets and read the six things you should consider before starting a diet.
Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are two other life style factors that will impact the look and appearance of your skin.
Sign up for our free Healthy Diet Plans – these are nutritionally balanced and designed to kickstart a healthier way of eating.
Eat to beat common skin problems
Does diet affect acne?
Acne is commonly linked to changes in hormone levels, at puberty and peri-menopause. Fluctuating hormones can stimulate the oil-producing glands, which can trigger an inflammatory response and lead to the signs of acne.
In order to help minimise acne, cut back on saturated and hydrogenated fats in margarines and processed foods. Eliminate junk food as well as foods high in sugar, such as cakes and biscuits, from your diet. Eat more raw vegetables, wholegrains, fresh fruit and fish. Try to include selenium-rich foods, such as Brazil nuts, cashew nuts, fresh tuna, sunflower seeds, walnuts and wholemeal bread.
Does diet affect psoriasis?
Psoriasis is characterised by red skin patches with silvery scales, most commonly on the elbows and knees. These patches are caused by rapid growth and turnover of cells in the outer layer of the skin. Patches can be itchy and sore, and, in severe cases, the skin may crack and bleed.
Sunburn, alcohol, smoking, obesity and stress are all implicated but there may also be trigger foods which you will have to identify using an exclusion diet.
Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil or cold-pressed nut and seed oils are important to include in the diet. The diet should also, ideally, be low in saturated fat and include anti-inflammatory herbs and spices such as turmeric, ginger, cumin, fennel, rosemary and garlic.
Seek professional advice from your GP or a registered dietician before making changes to your diet or commencing an exclusion diet.
Does diet affect eczema?
Eczema is a skin condition that usually begins as patchy redness, often on the hands but can appear anywhere on the skin. Although there are many triggers, one of the most common is food sensitivity. Potential offending foods may be milk, eggs, fish, cheese, nuts and food additives. Omega-3 fats, zinc and vitamin E may help reduce symptoms.
If you have any of these conditions be aware that once you make changes to your diet, you can't expect an overnight miracle. It takes six weeks for new skin to emerge, so the visible benefits from dietary changes will take just as long.
For persistent skin conditions, talk to your GP or consider seeing a dermatologist.
This article was last reviewed on 23 June 2022 by Kerry Torrens.
Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a Registered Nutritionist with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food. Find her on Instagram at @kerry_torrens_nutrition_
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