BLOG: Skin Health

How to Improve Your Skin by What You Eat. Yes, Really

28 Sep, 2017
By Daniela Massenz
The saying ‘you are what you eat' is just as relevant when it comes to your skin, whether it's normal, oily, acne-prone, dry, ageing or sensitive.
The link between what we eat and our health (including that of our skin) keeps gaining credibility. It's something we've known instinctively for centuries, but scientists and dermatologists are backing it up because of proven research.
Ideally, we should get all our nutrients from the food we eat, but sometimes we need supplementation to get the right dose. And when it comes to skin, supplementing what we need through skin care gets straight to the point. Let's talk about the good, the bad and the ugh!ly.

Good to Know

When it comes to eating your way to a good skin, don’t expect overnight miracles. You will start seeing results in about two months as the nutrients have an effect in your cells, and remember that the skin you see has gone through a 28-day cycle from birth to death, so watch out for the ‘new and improved’ skin in about eight weeks.

It’s also important to be consistent about the food and supplements you’re eating for best results. Try not to undo the good work with a junk food binge fest.

As with all nutrition advice, especially when supplementing your diet, do your research to find out the right dose to take for optimal results. Some nutrients, like vitamin A and certain minerals, can do harm if taken in excessive amounts, and are contraindicated for certain health conditions. Speak to your pharmacy advisor about your best options.

Good for All Skins

This is the standard formula, which you adapt for your particular skin condition below by adding or subtracting certain nutrients from your diet. The best way to get your nutrients is to get it from our food, eating a healthy, balanced diet that's rich in:
  • Good-quality protein (unprocessed, preferably organic chicken, fish, lentils, etc.,) which provide the skin with its amino-acid building blocks.

  • Good fats like omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish (salmon, tuna and sardines) and avocados, soya beans, walnuts, linseed, keep skin nourished and moisturised, as well as providing the building blocks of healthy skin cells and collagen production.

  • Richly coloured vegetables and fruit for their antioxidants, vitamins and minerals (dark leafy greens, tomatoes, broccoli, berries) which boost its metabolism and protect it from environmental stressors (free radicals) which damage skin cells and can cause inflammation, which in turn causes premature ageing.

  • Drinking enough water (there's those eight glasses) to keep our cells hydrated so they can do their work properly.
The 'superfood' staples you should keep in your kitchen:
  • Ginger: what's not to love about its fragrance and zing that peps up everything from our hot-water drink to sushi and curries? It's not only brimming with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, it's a skin soother too.

  • Raw, unsalted almonds give you calcium, vitamin E and good fats in a portable snack. Eat a handful a day.

  • Chia seeds: These Chinese pudding staples are rich in protein, fibre, calcium, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids. Best eaten after soaking overnight so they become gelatinous (which helps your digestion), some nutritionists say they are also best ground up so you get the most out of their nutrients (add them to our green juice below).

  • Tomatoes: here, quality is everything. Go for ripe red tomatoes so that you get the maximum dose of anti-ageing antioxidant lycopene. Unlike most other fruit and veggies, cooking actually enhances lycopene absorption by your body, so get stuck in making those pasta sauces, tomato soup and spicy Mexican salsa.

  • Turmeric: this delicious ancient Indian spice has flavoured our curries forever. More recently, it's been lauded for its powerful curcumin antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, boosting collagen synthesis and fighting wrinkles and fine lines. It's also known to have digestion-aiding benefits. Find all the delicious ways to eat it you could want here.

  • Cinnamon: anti-inflammatory, rich in antioxidants, lowers blood sugar and helps to stabilise insulin release... need we say more to convince you to sprinkle a teaspoon on your breakfast oats or smoothie?

  • Yoghurt and/or kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut and miso: these fermented foods are full of probiotics, which help your digestive system, control bloat and, of course, are good for your skin. It's well accepted that poor gut health aggravates skin allergies (like eczema) and leads to skin inflammation which causes both acne and ageing.
Delicious tip: Make yourself green juice in a Nutribullet Hi-speed Blender so you preserve all the nutrients. Use spinach, kale, cucumber, avocado and sweeten with stevia or sucralose (solal) and a tablespoon of soaked chia seeds and a nugget of ginger for some extra zing.
Sipping nutrient-rich drinks helps kickstart your day (and your skin). Here are 7 drinks for your specific skin type from the Zoe Report.
Related: Why a Healthy Gut Is the Key to a Happy Skin, Body - and Life
We Should All Be Skipping...
You know what's coming... processed and junk foods that are full of unhealthy fats, sugar, preservatives and low in fibre.
Sugar promotes inflammation in the body and causes collagen fibres to become hard and brittle, ageing your skin well before its time. It's also been shown to be linked with acne breakouts.
Besides being serious unhealthy for you, the effects of these baddies can show up on your skin as oiliness, acne, dryness and dullness. If you must, make them a truly occasional treat, but make a promise to yourself that you'll skip them for at least eight weeks if you're going to do this skin nutrition plan seriously, so that you can really see the results of all your hard work.
To Supplement or Not?
Sometimes it's impossible to get the nutrients you need from your diet, especially if you're vegan or vegetarian.
  • The essential skin vitamins include vitamins A, C, D, E, K and B-complex.

  • Vitamin B complex supplement: B vitamins, especially B3 (niacin), B6 (pyroxidine), B9 (folate) and B12 are essential for general health, help your metabolic system, and help with PMS, cramps and stress. B3, B6 and B12 are known as the skin vitamins.

  • Adding specific nutritional supplements and nutraceuticals you won't necessarily come across every day - like chlorella, maca, etc. - can really support your skin and give it a boost.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids are vital for our general health and for healthy, good-looking skin. The oil extracted from fish has different properties from the vegetal oil (extracted from linseeds and walnuts), but this is one supplement we urge you to take. Try Solal Krill Oil Omega 3 or Solal Omega 3 Double Strength. Vegetarians - try Solal Flaxseed Oil Omega 3.

  • Silica mineral is both anti-inflammatory, helping skins struggling with eczema and psoriasis, and essential for collagen production, skin repair and cell renewal. It helps regulate other minerals like magnesium and calcium, playing an important role in balancing hormones. It's also involved in helping the skin retain water.
    Warning! Silica is not to be used by people with kidney or heart disease or fluid retention.

Eating for Acne

Yeah, we know. It's not only about what you eat, but what you should avoid...
Please DO eat
  • Oatmeal porridge: not the instant variety! The less processed the better. Go for large rolled oat flakes (like Wensleydale Organic Rolled Oats) or steel cut oats. It's low GI, so it keeps your blood sugar regular, and it contains soluble fibre and the gelatinous stuff it produces is also very soothing – taken internally and even applied to your skin.

  • Artichokes: Ever eaten one? You don't know what you're missing if you haven't. Besides being utterly delicious, they are truly a wonderfood, rich in fibre and vitamin C, niacin, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and copper, they also contain silymarin flavonoid, which helps protect the liver and clear blemish-prone skin. Read these delicious recipes for inspiration.

  • Miso: this fermented soy makes a great light soup and gives you a good dose of gut-friendly bacteria. Buy the paste at good supermarkets.
Please DON'T eat
  • Sugar: You've swapped your Coco Pops for porridge, but don't forget about the stealthy sugars in juice, not-so-smart waters, etc. Look for low GI foods, to avoid triggering a spike in blood sugar, which causes inflammation and, ultimately, acne breakouts.

  • Dairy: numerous studies have linked dairy consumption with breakouts. It's thought that cow's milk spikes blood sugar, which can increase inflammation. It also increases insulin levels, which encourage the production of skin oils (sebum).
Added bonus
Adding specific nutritional supplements and nutraceuticals you won't have in your pantry, like chlorella, maca, etc., can really support your skin and give it a boost.
  • Maca root powder: great in smoothies, this caramel-tasting plant is an adaptogen, helping to regulate hormones, so it's ideal if you suffer from hormonal breakouts. Try Health Connection Cacao Maca Boost or Nature's Choice Maca Powder 100g.

  • Chlorella: from green alae, it's bursting with nutrients, including magnesium, helps balance hormones and soothes inflammation. Solgar and The Real Thing both have Chlorella supplements, or add the Real Thing Green Powder to your morning smoothie.

  • Zinc: this mineral has multi benefits against acne and oil overproduction: besides being an immune booster and anti-inflammatory, it also helps reduce the production of testosterone, which stimulates oil production. Take chelated zinc, like Metagenics A.G.

  • Pycnogenol is one to consider if you're prone to acne scarring and hyperpigmentation. This antioxidant-rich extract of pine bark helps protect collagen from free radicals, boosting skin healing, helping to reduce scarring. Solgar and Viridian make Pycnogenol supplements.

  • Milk thistle: related to artichokes, it is also a liver detoxifier/inflammation fighter. Try Foodmatrix Milk Thistle or Biogen Milk Thistle.
Related: You Need to Know How Diet Can Actually Help Clear Your Acne

So Your Skin Is Oily?

Oily skin is the precursor to acne, so the advice is similar. Eat plenty of vegetables, drink water, nosh on omega-3 rich and low GI foods and avoid junk food and dairy.
Please DO eat
  • Sweet potatoes: this low GI tuber is rich in vitamin A, as are carrots. Best to get your vitamin A from your food and skin care. Be careful about overdosing with vitamin A supplements.  

  • Cucumbers: not only are you getting a good dose of water for skin hydration, it is rich in vitamin E, K and essential minerals, as well as soothing properties. Eat it raw and apply it to your skin as a soothing mask. 

  • Grapefruit: vitamin-C and lycopene rich, this tangy-bitter citrus also has high fibre and water content, and help digestion.
Please DON'T eat
  • Dairy, sugary foods, baked and greasy foods like hot chips, biscuits, cakes, etc.
Added bonus
  • Chromium: one of the key things to do to prevent inflammation in the body which causes all sorts of damage is to keep your blood sugar levels even. And that's what chromium does, which is why it's also recommended for people with type 2 diabetes.

    Find it in food: Brewer's yeast, whole grains, seafood, eggs, broccoli, nuts, sweet potatoes, and apples all have a good amount.
    Or supplements: 200mg a day is what you need, and a good multivitamin should contain that. Or try Dis-Chem Gold Chromium Polynicotinate or Select Chromium.

Dry Skin and Anti-Wrinkle Diet

A dry skin is a skin lacking in oil. You may be born that way and it may be accompanied by eczema. As you age and start menopause, your skin can also become drier, because lower oestrogen means a drop in natural skin oil production. Great if you're oily, but very uncomfortable if you're not. Lack of oil causes dehydration due to water loss, premature ageing and wrinkling, and dullness.
Please DO eat
  • Avocados: Guacomole, anyone? And avo turns any smoothie into a delicious creamy drink. Oozing with healthy oils and vitamin E essential for healthy skin cell function, skin hydration and a good barrier function.

  • Quinoa: Everybody say keen-wah! You gets your protein plus your skin elasticity-boosting riboflavin. Try Health Connection Red Quinoa.

  • Sardines: Fresh if you can find them, but tinned is equally good. Besides omega-3s, vitamin D and protein, you'll find them a good source of selenium and vitamin B12, which is vital in skin cell reproduction, and a lack of B12 can cause dry, patchy skin. Selenium helps boost the skin's barrier function.

  • Salmon: renowned for its untold health benefits and skin-saving omega-3 fatty acids, which contribute to the production of skin-plumping and smoothing collagen.

  • Egg whites: whip up an egg-white omelette for its lean protein, collagen and lysine amino acid.

  • Peanuts: Vegetarian? These pack a considerable amount of lysine. 

  • Berries, berries, and did we mention berries? We're talking antioxidant powerhouses - the red and blue varieties especially - blueberries, blackberries, goji berries.

  • Raw cacao and green tea are phytochemical-rich.

  • Paprika: this spicy pepper gives you vitamin C and E, and beneficial carotenoids like zeaxanthin.

  • Extra-virgin olive oil (preferrably first pressing) – nourishing, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant rich. Delicious!
Please DON'T eat
  • The usual nasties, especially sugar.
Added bonus
  • Omega-3 supplementation is an absolute must here.
Related: The Best Serums Will Help You Reach Your Dream Skin (Yes, Really)

Sensitive Too Much?

You need to damp down the inflammatory response in your skin, prevent dehydration and soothe it.
Please DO eat
  • Dark leafy greens, cucumber, leeks, celery, green beans and asparagus are all full of the mineral silica (see above), both anti-inflammatory and essential for collagen production and skin renewal.

  • Spices like turmeric, cinnamon and curry are also anti-inflammatory and help to calm redness.

  • Aloe for its soothing benefits.
Please DON'T eat
  • Starchy, high GI foods, which cause inflammation.

  • Sugar, alcohol and caffeine should be eliminated as much as possible from your diet to help significantly reduce redness.
Added bonus
  • Silica supplement - a daily dose of between180 and 360 mg is considered good. Try Bioharmony Silica or Homeoforce Tissue Salt Silica.
    Warning! Silica is not to be used by people with kidney or heart disease or fluid retention.

  • Aloe vera or aloe ferox is well known for its skin healing properties when applied directly on your skin, and it's also extremely beneficial when ingested. Rich in antioxidants, especially vitamins A, C, and E and essential minerals for healthy skin, the goopy gel also has anti-inflammatory properties. Blend the bitter juice with filtered water or rooibos iced tea, or put two tablespoons in a smoothie. Try Nature's Choice Aloe Vera Juice or Solgar Aloe Vera capsules.

Spot Treatments

Sometimes you just need to target some individual issues…
Under-Eye Circles
  • Spinach, broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts: your source of vitamin K, which improves blood circulation and coagulation. Spinach and kale also contains zeaxanthin, which helps even out skin tone.
Hyperpigmentation aka Dark Marks
  • Leafy green veggies for their vitamin A.

  • Green tea, red grapes and red fruits for their various antioxidants which help prevent free radical damage, etc.

  • Citrus fruits, broccoli and bell peppers (green, orange and yellow peppers) for vitamin C, proven to help calm inflammation, lighten dark marks, and even out your complexion.
Related: 8 Truths (and Myths) You Need to Know About Apple Cider Vinegar

Do you have a beauty problem that’s really bugging you? Ask our experts now.


Do you have a beauty problem that’s really bugging you? Ask our experts now