A simple stroll down the aisles of Sephora® makes it abundantly clear: the sheer quantity of skincare products, treatments, and regimens dedicated to fixing concerns is endless. Yet there could be a far easier — and possibly more obvious — way to reap the benefits of powerful skincare ingredients like vitamins and antioxidants: you can eat them instead.
“We are seeing more and more that [your] diet can reflect on the skin’s surface,” said Dhaval Bhanusali, MD, of Hudson Dermatology & Laser Surgery℠ in New York City. It makes sense: think back to a recent indulgent vacation you took (or your college years, perhaps) and reminisce on how your skin looked afterwards. (In our case, consistently dull and puffy.) We already know that excess sugar and alcohol consumption can wreak havoc on the complexion, so it goes without saying that when you feed your skin a balanced, nutritious diet, it’s likely to appear more radiant.
For Dr. Bhanusali, nutrition for skin means eating a plethora of vitamins. “Vitamins A, C, E, and all the B vitamins are a must,” he advises. “I’m also big on vitamin D, which helps [address] skin conditions and hair.” You’ve definitely seen all these letters on cartons of milk and bags of greens, but perhaps disregarded the vitamins’ functionalities — especially when it comes to beauty. However, you’d reap the same benefits from using vitamin-rich skincare serums (like brightening from vitamin C, and acne defense from vitamin A) by adding these vitamins to your diet.
Remember, just like it would with using topical products, it takes time to see results from eating your way to better skin, too. “Generally over three to four weeks, as new skin cells hit the surface, many patients note benefits starting to appear,” Dr. Bhanusali says. “More realistically, it takes a long-term commitment to really see the benefits that you want.” Plus, the results from eating your vitamins versus slathering them on will go much further, helping your body and mind, as well as improving your skin.
Ultimately, it can be much harder to stick to a diet than it is to adhere to a skincare regimen, especially without detailed guidance. We asked four nutrition experts to share the foods they eat on a daily and weekly basis — and the items they avoid consuming altogether — for the sake of better skin. Keep reading to discover the items you may want to add (or remove) from your cart before checkout.
[Editor’s note: Be sure to talk to your doctor before starting any new diet.]
Water: Water helps dissolve nutrients and minerals, and carry them into cells, which helps get rid of toxic waste and moistens various body tissues. Lack of water can cause collagen fiber to dry out, creating shriveled and wrinkled-looking skin, brittle hair, and more. Drinking [about] three liters of water a day helps to keep you hydrated, allowing your digestive and lymphatic systems to expel toxins.”
Berries, especially strawberries: Berries are among the highest-fiber fruits and packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and other compounds that benefit the skin. Strawberries are an amazing source of vitamin C, which plays a key role in collagen biosynthesis, a protein responsible for elasticity and strength (along with elastin) of skin. Plus, they have anti-inflammatory and wound-healing properties, which also contribute to creating healthier, firmer skin.
Leafy greens, especially spinach: Spinach contains two nutrients vital for a healthy skincare routine: vitamins A and E. Vitamin A promotes cell turnover in skin and helps treat and prevent acne and psoriasis (vitamin A kills free radicals that breakdown collagen). Vitamin E promotes elasticity, helps to rehydrate the skin, and protects against sun damage. Spinach contains a host of antioxidants, such as lutein and zeaxanthin, which fight free radicals in our bodies, thereby reducing premature aging. Spinach also contains beta carotene, which is an antioxidant carotenoid that in the body gets converted into vitamin A (retinol).
[Editor's note: Topical retinol shouldn't be used by women who are pregnant, considering getting pregnant, or nursing. Please consult with your doctor before use.]
Fatty fish, especially salmon: Salmon is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation is linked to premature aging. Omega-3s also have protective properties from chronic sun exposure and UV radiation damage.
Nuts, especially walnuts: Nuts are a source of healthy fats, which help keep skin elastic and supple. They also contain zinc and copper. [There is some evidence that] zinc [may] promote collagen synthesis. Copper helps [regulate] melanin production. Melanin gives hair, eyes, and skin its color. The copper found in walnuts is essential [for helping to] prevent hair from going grey.
Legumes, especially lentils: Lentils are a great source of protein and fiber, which help maintain blood sugar levels and [helps with] clear skin. Fluctuating blood sugar and the resultant insulin spikes are associated with pimples and acne. Lentils also contain zinc and copper.
Fried foods, such as French fries, onion rings, and snack foods: When fats reach the temperatures required for frying, they can easily oxidize, producing those free radicals that can accelerate breakdown of skin cells.
Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, white rice, candy, and fruit juice: These are pro-inflammatory foods because they cause insulin spikes, leading to an almost-immediate release of inflammatory compounds. These compounds target collagen and elastin, the proteins that give skin its elasticity and tone.
Monica Moreno, MS, RDN at Essence Nutrition℠, 30, Miami
Nut butters: The combination of phytochemicals I get in the six (yes, six) nut butters I routinely eat may fight inflammation in skin.
Chia seeds: The omega-3 fatty acids in chia seeds can contribute to fighting skin inflammation.
Berries: The fluid in berries helps hydrate skin.They are one of the more water-dense fruits, [especially] compared to, say, a banana. Water intake [via berries] can make skin appear plumper and more dewy. Berries also contain a host of antioxidants that may have beneficial skin impacts.
Wild fatty fish, such as salmon and sardines: The omega-3 fatty acids are highly absorbable and can help calm inflammation in skin.
RSP® AvoCollagenTM; Powder ($35): Collagen peptides, in combination with vitamin C in my diet, may contribute to a healthy skin matrix, which is made up of several proteins. One is collagen, which requires vitamin C for optimal production and contributes to the skin's integrity and elasticity.
RSP Matcha BombTM; ($30): The powerful antioxidants in matcha can help neutralize free radicals that can contribute to skin aging.
Deli meats: Deli meats provoke inflammatory reactions in the gut that can manifest in the skin.
Fried snacks: I have been known to eat lightly breaded proteins, but my snacks are never fried. (I really don't even like potato chips.) Frying foods causes a chemical byproduct that can contribute to skin inflammation.
Soda: The whopping amount of sugar in soda can be very inflammatory for skin.
Leah Silberman, MS, RDN, founder of Tovita Nutrition®, 30, New York City
Tomatoes: Almost every single day, I eat some form of a tomato, in a salad or cooked in a sauce. Cooked tomatoes contain a higher, more bioavailable concentration of lycopene, a potent carotenoid phytonutrient that helps give tomatoes their red pigmentation. The cocktail of carotenoids from tomatoes help to protect your skin against sun damage. Though it certainly does not replace topical sunscreen, it's nice to be protected from both the inside and outside.
Tomatoes are also good sources of vitamin C, a potent antioxidant that helps to defend against oxidative damage that we encounter on the day-to-day. Variables like sun rays, air pollution, or even toxic household cleaning products can wreak havoc on our skin, so antioxidants are important for protection.
Cocoa powder: Regular consumption appears to have benefits for your skin and so many other organs in your body. Studies have shown this stuff helps your skin withstand UV exposure. It also contains loads of antioxidants, which help to protect against oxidative damage. Rather than eating the chocolate, I go straight to the natural source (cacao powder) for the benefits sans the sugar and additives that reside in many chocolate bars. It's easy to throw a tablespoon into a smoothie, or even add to your morning coffee.
Candy: For years during college, I would eat candy as my dessert. Large amounts of refined sugar, like those in candy, soda, or other sweetened beverages, can do serious damage to your skin and other organs. Sugar can dry out your skin and make wrinkles more visible — no thanks! It can also induce breakouts for some people, and worsen previously existing skin conditions in others. So, think twice before you raid that candy closet at work!
Vanessa Rissetto MS, RD, CDN, 40, Hoboken, NJ
Water: Consuming an adequate amount of water every day gives you fresh, soft, and glowing skin. It helps maintain the optimal body temperature, keeping the skin moist. It hydrates and replenishes the skin tissues, leading to an increase in the skin's elasticity.
Raspberries: The vitamin C and antioxidants in raspberries can reduce signs of aging, such as dark spots or wrinkles. People who are active outdoors regularly should consume raspberries to help protect the skin from UV damage. The antioxidants and ellagic acid in raspberries can keep the skin healthy and rejuvenate it.
Eggs: Eggs can be used to improve skin texture, be it dry or oily. Egg yolks are rich in fatty acids, which can lend moisture to the skin, while the egg whites contain albumin, a simple form of protein that helps tighten pores and also remove excessive oil.
Turmeric: It contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory components. These characteristics may provide luster to the skin. Turmeric may also revive your skin by bringing out its natural glow. You can [also] mix small amounts of Greek yogurt, honey, and turmeric together, and apply to your face.
Soda: I never drink soda. Soda and other high-sugar beverages can damage the formation of collagen, the connective tissue that helps keep skin firm. This is another reason to stick to calorie-free beverages like water, seltzer and unsweetened tea.