What is skin?

Our skin is our first barrier to pathogens, UV light, chemicals and mechanical injury. It also regulates our temperature and the amount of perspiration we release.


The skin is the largest organ of the body and is made up of three layers – the epidermis, dermis and hypodermis. The outer epidermis provides the main barrier function while the dermal layer ensures strength and elasticity, and supplies nutritional support, whereas, the hypodermis connects the skin to muscles and bones, insulates and protects the body from harm.

The condition of our skin and how it ages are influenced by a number of factors, with diet and lifestyle playing a major part. Prolonged exposure to the sun, smoking and a diet rich in processed and sugary foods, as well as dehydrators like caffeine and alcohol will, over time, take their toll.

Which nutrients are important for glowing skin?

As we age our skin naturally becomes thinner, less elastic and more prone to fine lines and wrinkles. A healthy, balanced diet featuring skin-friendly nutrients and plenty of hydrating fluids will go some way to support how your skin ages, boosting your skin’s appearance and helping protect it from UV damage. Both macronutrients (protein, fats and carbs) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are needed for achieving heathy, radiant skin:


Fish, lean meat and eggs as well as beans, pulses, nuts and seeds provide the amino acids (building blocks) you need to make collagen – this structural protein helps keep your skin elastic, strong and well supported.

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Oily fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines and trout contain beneficial fats which promote skin hydration, potentially resulting in plumper looking skin. These healthy fats make the ultimate internal moisturiser as they help keep cell walls supple. Ideally aim for one to two portions of fish per week, with one portion being an oily variety. If your budget permits, buy wild rather than farmed fish for its superior fatty acid composition.

Nuts like walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds, as well as seeds like chia and flaxseed also provide healthy amounts of oil. They contain vitamin E, an active sun blocker, which protects skin from UV damage, while also keeping it soft and supple.


Another important contribution from nuts and seeds are minerals including copper for collagen production, selenium for UV protection and zinc which helps heal blemishes and reduces inflammation and redness, making nuts especially useful for those with conditions like rosacea or acne.

Brightly coloured fruit and veg

Vitamins and protective plant chemicals

Certain nutrients, for example carotenoids, found in brightly coloured fruit and vegetables may reduce our skin’s sensitivity to the sun. Lycopene, found in red fruit and veg, acts as our skin’s internal SPF, while orange choices, like sweet potatoes and carrots, provide beta-carotene, which we convert to skin-vital vitamin A. Vitamin C is vital for collagen production and is found in abundance in peppers, kiwis and strawberries – combine these with citrus fruits which contains bioflavonoids that help vitamin C work more effectively. By including dark green leaves you’ll be delivering antioxidants that help protect skin collagen, while other useful additions, like pomegranate seeds, provide plant chemicals that help regulate the skin’s blood flow.

When choosing fruit and veg, opt for lower-sugar varieties and minimise high-sugar fruits like bananas, grapes and mango as well as dried fruits. This is because foods with a low-GI (Glycaemic Index) help us avoid the spikes in hormones that may contribute to skin damage and wrinkles.


Choose wholegrain carbs over white versions of bread, rice and pasta, as these are rich in dietary fibre and may promote wound healing. If you opt for choices such as oats and millet you’ll also be getting the trace mineral silica, which is essential for healthy skin, hair and nails.

What to avoid...


Refined carbs (that’s white versions of cakes, biscuits, bread and pasta, as well as fizzy drinks) have an ageing effect on the skin. Too much sugar in the diet damages skin cells and affects collagen production. Instead, use natural sweeteners like whole fruits as well as flavourful spices like cinnamon or vanilla. If you regularly use high-fructose sweeteners like agave, honey and maple syrup, try to cut back – your skin will thank you for it.

Bad fats

Especially bad are the trans fats found in certain shop-bought pastries, cakes and processed ready meals. However, it’s also worth minimising saturated fat from red meat and dairy because they compete with the healthy omega-3 fats and as a result slow down your circulation, reducing blood flow to the skin.

A woman applying sunscreen

What else can I do to protect my skin?

  • Alcohol – booze as well as recreational drugs are age accelerators that cause the secretion of the stress hormone, cortisol, plus alcoholic drinks often contain a lot of sugar. If cutting out seems a step too far, then cut back. If you do take the plunge, you should notice the difference in as little as a week or two
  • Be UV aware – the effect of the sun on skin aging is well documented, with the main strategies to minimise photo-aging being sun avoidance, the daily use of sunscreens and the use (both nutritionally and topically) of protective antioxidants to reduce UV damage
  • Smoking – increases the rate of skin aging and may have a significant impact on not just the appearance but the function of your skin, too. If you smoke, it’s time to think about quitting
  • Good skin care – the outer most layers of the epidermis receive little in the way of nutrition and this is where good skin care and topical application come into their own. However, because the outer layer of the epidermis, known as the stratum corneum, acts as an aqueous barrier, how these nutrients are delivered is key to their efficacy

Recipes for healthy skin

Raspberry kefir overnight oats
Chia & almond overnight oats
Almond crêpes with avocado & nectarines
Lemon & marjoram sardines with walnut & pepper dressing
Tomato penne with avocado
Mango salad with avocado and black beans
Pomegranate salmon

Enjoyed this? Now read:

How to improve your digestion and get better skin
11 ways to get fabulous skin
Dietary fats and skin health
Liz Earle's top five secrets for radiant skin
Collagen supplements: do they work?
What to eat for healthy hair

This page was last reviewed on 14 February 2024 by Kerry Torrens.

A qualified nutritionist (MBANT), Kerry Torrens is a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC 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).


All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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