This week at work I was asked several times ‘what can I do for improving my skin’ or ‘any supplements that can help improve my skin’.
So here I am putting what I practice for my own skin and what I advise my patients. I am not a dermatologist, but being a GP for over 18 years, I have come across several skin concerns. Lifestyle medicine and nutrition training has added to my tool box.
It is important to know that skin is the biggest organ of our body. And apart from making us look vibrant, it has many other roles. For example, maintaining body temperature, helping us release toxins, reducing the effects of sun damage, acting as a protective barrier against mechanical, thermal and physical injuries, fighting infection and producing vitamin D. Free nerve endings throughout the skin have a major role in sensation of cold, pain, heat and touch too.
That is a lot isn’t it!
So let’s see what we can do to look after our skin.
- Diet – diet and skin health are very closely linked. A whole-food plant predominant diet is always my go to. Avoiding processed food to reduce the toxin load is important. This would specifically include refined carbohydrates like bread, pasta, packaged cakes and biscuit. These are linked with inflammation at cellular level and lead to poor skin health. Dairy has been linked with worsening acne as it has a higher amount of leucine which can activate an enzyme pathway ‘TOR’ that leads to premature puberty, acne and skin ageing. Eczema has also been linked with cow’s milk and eggs. Collagen is an important protein in our skin and hence good sources of proteins are highly recommended. Mixing different plant sources of protein can have the advantage of making sure that all the vital amino acid requirements are met. Beans, lentils, nuts, seeds as well as soya products used as part of daily meals can be healthy sources of protein. Healthy fat options become a big pillar of glowing skin. I suggest using extra virgin olive oil as the main cooking oil. Nuts, seeds and avocadoes are rich in healthy fats as well as vitamin E. When discussing fat, the Omega-3 fatty acids are extremely important as they are needed to build the outer layer of the skin (1). They also have anti-inflammatory properties which would help prevent skin conditions involving pigmentation, dryness and scarring.
The diet part of this blog would be incomplete without mentioning micronutrients. The ones the I recommend are –
Vitamin C which is required for wound healing and repair of the skin. It is also as an important agent in building collagen and most vitamin C rich food items like citrus fruits, cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes, white potatoes and bell peppers are also rich in anti-oxidants. The thing to remember is that cooking destroys vitamin C, so try and incorporate it in the diet in the form of salads or fresh fruits as well.
Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin. You can get vitamin A by including beta –carotene rich food which include yellow, red and green (leafy) vegetables, such as spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes and red peppers, yellow fruits such as mango, papaya and apricots. Beta-carotene is a chemical which changes to retinol and helps maintain the elasticity of the skin by stimulating collagen production. This reduces wrinkles, sagging and pigmentation of the skin.
Other micronutrients which are helpful include zinc and selenium. Zinc protects from sun damage and can be found easily in wholegrains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds. Selenium which is rich in brazil nuts, wholegrains and legumes acts as an anti-oxidant which helps in reducing inflammation.
Vitamin D has a major role in skin health. It supports prevention of skin infections, maintains healthy keratinocytes which are the major cell type of the outer most layer of the skin. Evidence is that it can play an important role in preventing inflammatory conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
With diet the easiest way is to make sure you are adding variety and colour to your plate and aim for well balanced meals cooked from wholesome food. You end up adding all of what we have discussed as well as lots of polyphenols which make a huge difference to improving skin health.
- Hydration – this is one of my favourite and I make sure that I am drinking at least 2 litres of water per day. Dehydration remains one of the leading causes of dryness or poor skin health. Drinking water supports the body to get rid of the toxins too, so make sure this is high on the agenda. Avoiding fizzy drinks helps to reduce sugar as well as other chemicals which have been seen to trigger acne.
- Exercise –aerobic exercise helps to remove toxins from the skin through sweat glands. By increasing blood flow, exercise also helps to nourish the skin cells and keep them functioning well.
- The three S’s – sleep, stress and sun! Lack of sleep and high stress levels can really affect the skin. Many times both factors can be the cause of flare ups in several skin conditions. Signs of ageing skin and pigmentation are mostly driven by sun damage and hence using sun protection would be important. I tend to use a sunhat when it is very sunny otherwise my SPF 50 cream is always part of my daily moisturiser.
- Dry brushing – this is becoming popular for skin health as it improves skin circulation, helps remove dry flaky dead skin and enhances detoxification through improved lymphatic drainage. I would advise investing in a long handle brush with natural stiff bristles and trying it before your shower.
The highlight of my week was when one of my patients said ‘My skin is so much better since I stopped eating processed food’!
Looking after our internal health can lead to glowing skin. No expensive creams, anti-oxidants or supplements can be an alternative to healthy lifestyle changes.
I hope you have found this information helpful.
- Kendall et al. (2017) “Lipid functions in skin: Differential effects of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on cutaneous ceramides, in a human skin organ culture model” https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0005273617300986
- Bioactive Compounds for Skin Health: A Review https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/13/1/203/htm
- Retinoids: active molecules influencing skin structure formation in cosmetic and dermatological treatments https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6791161/
- Vitamin D and the Pathophysiology of Inflammatory Skin Diseases https://www.karger.com/Article/Fulltext/485132