by Lauren M. Koch, RDN
Ladies. I’m writing this for you.
For you, who has spent too much time, and too much money on only partially effective skin care products.
For you, who has hidden her face from a camera all-too-often, missing out on precious memories later on.
For you, who lives in fear of bad news at her next skin check with the derm.
Your skin is HUNGRY. All those lotions & potions piling up in your vanity can help. But they are only a piece of the puzzle.
True beauty comes from within.
Yeah, I know. Basic. We ladies have a tough time embracing this sentiment though, so I felt the need to remind you. Now, I’ve heard that it’s true in every sense, that beauty comes from within. But that’s a topic for another day (and, frankly, a different blog. I’m definitely no expert on that!)
But nutrition I know. And guess what? Your skin needs you to hear this stuff. Because if you don’t take care of it, it shows. The skin has a pesky way of revealing to the world how things are going inside. And what you eat plays a HUGE role in that.
There are several key nutrients that impact the health of our largest organ. Vitamins C, E, A, and D, Polyphenols like flavonoids and resveratrol, CoQ10, Pre- and probiotics, and essential fatty acids are all involved. Let’s look a little closer at each of these, and where to find them.
Take a peek those anti-aging skin treatments and sunscreens sitting around your home. You may see some of the following vitamins are included. But guess what, they work just as well (and sometimes BETTER) when taken orally.
Also known as L-ascorbic acid, Vitamin C is essential for collagen production. You know, that stuff that keeps our skin tight and wrinkle-free. It’s also been found to be pretty effective when used alongside Vitamin E to fend off damage from UV radiation. Good food sources include citrus fruits, strawberries, and dark green veggies like kale, spinach, and broccoli.
Also known as tocopherols, these compounds are fat-soluble free radical scavengers. They protect the delicate cell membranes in our skin from UV damage. As I mentioned above, Vitamins C and E seem to work together to get the most benefit. You can find Vitamin E in most vegetables, and vegetable oil, nuts, and seeds.
Also known as carotenoids, this group of compounds is a familiar anti-aging ingredient. It includes β-carotene, astaxanthin, lycopene, and retinol. We already have a lot of β-carotene and lycopene that resides in our skin, but studies show that improved oral intake boosts their levels substantially. Why is this important? They are known as “photoprotectors” in the skin, shielding it from the damaging rays of the sun. In addition to helping prevent sunburn, it also has been shown to help prevent mitochondrial mutation if you find yourself rocking lobster-red after a day outside (use that sunscreen people!). Retinol is responsible for helping to maintain the integrity of our epithelial (skin) cells, and encourage reproduction (i.e. plump, healthy-looking skin!). Good dietary sources of β-carotene include sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, and mangos. Our best source of lycopene comes from tomatoes and tomato products. Dietary sources of retinol include liver, egg yolks, cheese, and fatty fish.
Also known as the “sunshine vitamin”, we get the majority of our Vitamin D from sun exposure (Just a bit of irony for your day). Its primary role in the human body is bone integrity, however, it is also involved in a few aspects of skin health. The presence of adequate levels of Vitamin D in the skin has shown good protection against skin cancer, as well as skin infections. It is important to note that as we age, the concentration of Vitamin D in our skin declines. So special attention should be taken as we get older to improve our intake of the sunshine vitamin. Good sources include fatty fish, egg yolk, and enriched foods like cereals and milk.
Polyphenols are plant-derived compounds with significant antioxidant properties, drawing the attention of the anti-aging community. Over 4000 individual polyphenols have been identified thus far, but there are likely many more. Research has shown that polyphenol compounds have been shown to reduce the risk of UV-damage and skin cancer, when used in combination with sun protection. It is important to note that polyphenols have not shown to be terribly effective when isolated, and used supplementally. They work best when obtained from whole food sources, which seems to keep them most stable and bioavailable. Polyphenols are found in all plants: fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, and even beverages derived from plants like coffee, tea, and wines.
Also known as Ubiquinol, CoQ10 is a powerful antioxidant. While it is found in some foods, we can also synthesize it in the body. In the skin, CoQ10 prevents oxidative damage at the cellular level. It can be found in foods including fatty fish (salmon & tuna), organ meats (liver), and whole grains.
Pre- and probiotics
We know all about the benefits of pre- and probiotics in the gut. But what about the bacteria that live on our skin? UV exposure can result in damage to the immune properties of the dermal tissues. Probiotics that reside on the skin (such as Lactobacillus) appear to help balance the immune system on the skin, as it does in the gut. So, it’s believed that probiotics play a protective role in skin damage and infection. In fact, scientists are even investigating the use of beneficial microbiota in place of antibiotic skin treatments. Just another reason to treat your bacteria nicely.
Essential Fatty Acids
Thank goodness we’ve put the 80’s & 90’s behind us, and not only because of the questionable fashion. As a culture, we were also afraid of eating fats. We now know that wasn’t exactly the healthiest diet trend. Some of the most necessary dietary fats are the essential fatty acids (EFA’s), including linolenic, linoleic, and oleic acids. Our bodies use them for so many purposes, and they are one of the few potent fat-soluble antioxidants. In regards to our skin, research indicates that EFA’s may slow the appearance of aging by helping to maintain hydration & reducing thinning. Food sources include fish & shellfish, hemp, seeds (including chia, sesame, sunflower, flax, and pumpkin), canola oil, walnuts, and avocado.
In addition to these powerful skin nutrients, there are a few other diet-related points I want to leave you with. The importance of drinking enough water every day should never be underestimated, including in skin health. You can use all the moisturizer you want, but if your body is dehydrated, your skin will be dry too. And lastly, eating fewer calories overall is generally accepted to slow aging, and extend lifespan. Very interesting right? Our bodies actually run best when we eat less…as long as what we DO eat is nutritious.
Until next time,