If you experience skin irritations like breakouts, redness and sensitivity you may need to think beyond the skin itself. The digestive system isn't always the first thing that comes to mind when we think about great skin, but in many ways, it should be. Many skin problems emanate from the gut and so, if you have ongoing issues, it makes sense to start here.


Discover what foods are good for your skin, how to eat for a healthy gut and whether collagen supplements really work. Check our review of the best collagen supplements before you buy.

How does my gut impact my skin?

As we learn more about our intimate relationship with the microbes that live inside us, it’s becoming clear these microbes play an important role in maintaining our health, including that of our skin. Just like the gut, the skin has a microbiome and together they both play an important role in regulating our immune system.

When either of these microbiomes are out of balance, our immune system may release inflammatory triggers that lead our skin, the largest organ of the body, to react. This may manifest as skin conditions such as psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, acne, eczema or rosacea as well as dry skin and lack of elasticity.

How can I improve my gut health?

Beneficial bacteria, often referred to as ‘probiotics’, are important for digestive health. How well balanced your gut microbiome is may be affected by illness, such as diarrhoea, an infection or other factors that are yet to be fully understood.

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Microbes have many roles, including helping to synthesise nutrients like vitamin K and some B vitamins, as well as combatting unwanted bacteria and yeasts. Skin problems linked to low levels of beneficial bacteria include rosacea, easy burning when exposed to the sun, inflammation and slow wound healing. Probiotics are thought to be useful tools for improving skin conditions through their ability to suppress inflammation and balance immune effects.

Including fermented foods in your diet is one of the best ways to maintain balance and diversity amongst gut bacteria – examples of fermented foods include yogurt, miso soup, kefir, kombucha and sauerkraut. I find that many of my clients notice an improvement in their skin after they start regularly including these foods in their diet, although the effects are usually noticed more quickly if you take a probiotic twice a day for a couple of weeks.

If you choose to supplement, you should look for brands that contain strains of lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. Some may also contain fructo-oligosaccharides, listed as ‘FOS’, which may cause bloating and flatulence in some people. FOS is a prebiotic and naturally found in Jerusalem artichokes, onion, garlic and wheat.

Learn more about fermented foods

A woman lying down with fruit surrounding her to denote skin health

How else does gut health influence my skin?

Dry, rough skin is often associated with a low-fat diet but what if you are eating good fats in the form of omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish, nuts, seeds and their oils, yet still have dry skin? Another possible cause may be low levels of the enzyme lipase – this is released by the pancreas and is involved in absorbing and breaking down the fats in your diet. Some people find a supplement providing this enzyme helps to improve fat digestion and absorption but refer to your GP for guidance.

Poor fat digestion may also manifest in the skin as a result of low levels of fat-soluble nutrients – vitamins D, A, K and E, and carotenoids. Vitamin A deficiency is a contributing factor to acne and vitamin E helps to give skin a dewy look, most probably as it is always found with fats.

Make sure you're getting enough of these vital vitamins with the right foods. Vitamin A is found in liver, eggs, sweet potato, avocado and squash while vitamin K can be found in yogurt, egg yolks, fish oils, dairy produce and green leafy vegetables. Vitamin E is most prevalent in wheat germ, sunflower seeds, spinach and Swiss chard but is also found in almonds, avocado and sun-dried tomatoes.

Carotenoids are the colour pigments that give both fruit and vegetables their yellow, red and orange colours. There are more than 600 in total, although the most familiar is beta-carotene, found in carrots and peppers. Linked with providing the skin with an element of sun protection, carotenoids also support moisture retention and skin elasticity.

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Have you overcome a skin problem or found that certain foods give your skin a glowing boost? We'd love to hear your thoughts below...

This article was updated on 16 April 2024 by Kerry Torrens.

A registered Nutritional Therapist, Kerry Torrens is a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including Good Food magazine. Kerry is a member of the The Royal Society of Medicine, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).


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