“While what we put on our skin is important, what we put inside our bodies also plays an important role in its health and appearance,” says Trevor Cates, ND, founder of TheSpaDr.com and author of Clean Skin From Within. “Skin is our largest organ, and I often call it our ‘magic mirror’ because it gives an excellent outer reflection of what’s happening inside our bodies.”
Dr. Cates believes in building beautiful skin from the inside out. As such, in addition to that yearly trip to the derm (yes, you should go!), she recommends focusing on eating foods rich in nutrients for healthy skin, such as antioxidants, vitamins, and micro minerals, in order to give get that glow from the inside out.
“We also know that there are certain things we consume that can help support our skin microbiota, or the microorganisms that live on and help protect the skin from breakouts, blemishes and premature aging,” she says, and adds that your skin will let you know if you’re not getting enough of the nutrients in needs to stay healthy: “Dry skin can occur from a lack of essential fatty acids,” she says. Same goes for keratosis pilaris, little bumps that pop-up on the back of our arms,” says Dr. Cates. “This can be a sign of essential fatty acid or zinc deficiencies.”
Veronica Campbell, RDN, a registered dietician for The Charge Group in Philadelphia confirms that the foods we consume play a huge role in skin health, and nutrition can alter skin structure and moisture. Some key conditions to watch for are wrinkling (which is accelerated by excess sun exposure and loss of collagen), chapped skin (a symptom of dehydration), and acne.
“As they say, you are what you eat,” says Campbell. “Every food you choose includes a nutrient profile that will result in chain reactions within your body. Choosing food that align with your health will help you live a long, healthier life.”
Below, Campbell outlines 7 key nutrients for healthy skin
While protein is typically thought of as a powerhouse for building muscle, it can work wonders on skin, too. That’s because skin is largely made up of protein. “This essential macro nutrient is as important as the oil in your car,” says Campbell. “If you don’t meet your daily protein needs, your body will pull from reserves such as your muscles and limit unessential uses such as hair and nail quality.” Want to give your skin a glow-up? Try to incorporate protein in every meal. Especially if you’re plant-based or vegan, double-down on foods like crunchy nuts, hardy beans, and tasty seeds.
This fatty antioxidant is a skincare classic. Used as a topical, and vitamin E can work wonders on healing nasty cuts and scars. On the inside? It prevents the body from damage made by free radicals. “Exposure to free radical toxins such as UV light results in oxidation,” says Campbell. She explains oxidation is akin to browning in an avocado–the result in tired, aging skin. “While Vitamin E needs can typically be obtained solely through diet, 90% of Americans may not be meeting their Vitamin E needs,” says Campbell. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin E 15 mg, so eat healthy fats, like olive oil and fresh avocados.
The ‘beauty vitamin’ is a go-to for growing strong hair, skin, and nails. But do you know why? “Biotin is actually used to help your body convert food into usable energy,” Campbell explains. “So when there’s a deficiency, it may show up as brittle hair and nails.” For natural food sources, add some eggs (specifically the yolks,) sweet potatoes, and bananas to your diet. Or try a science-backed supplement, like BareOrganics Superfood Water Enhancers ($5) or Solgar’s Biotin Tablets ($16).
As as serum or a lotion, this powerful antioxidant is a skincare staple beloved by derms. Turns out, it has the same skin-loving benefits when working from the inside. Campbell says this antioxidant is fantastic for reducing that pesky free radical damage by reducing oxidative stress and aiding in the creation of collagen. That means you shouldn’t skimp on the zesty citrus fruits, crisp red peppers, and tasty tomatoes. But note: “Vitamin C is water soluble which means it is best to enjoy vitamin C-rich food raw, as boiling can lead to the vitamin leaching out of the produce.”
Speaking of collagen… this derivative of protein plays an essential role in the structure of skin, hair, bones, and connective tissues. “Through aging, collagen weakens, leading to wrinkles and cartilage problems,” says Campbell. “UV light also has the ability to decrease Collagen production in the body.”
If you are a meat-eater, you’re in luck: bone broth, fish, and chicken are all key for getting your collagen-fill. If you’re plant-based, do your homework. Until recently, collagen as a supplement or topical hasn’t been a vegan or vegetarian-friendly option because it’s usually sourced from the bones and proteins of animals. Now, vegan alternatives are cropping up, but your best bet is to look for foods that are dark and leafy, like kale and spinach, or those that have the vitamin C to aid in organic production, like fruits and legumes.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Also known as ‘unsaturated fats’, Omega-3s “not only can help lower cholesterol levels, but also help moisturize the skin reducing redness, dermatitis, and acne flare ups,” Campbell says. If you want healthy, happy skin, now might be a good time to check out the Mediterranean diet: “There is no RDA for omega oils, but opting for fish over red meat or olive oil over palm oil can make a great difference,” she says. Other food sources include avocados, nuts, and seeds.
Though not typically thought of as a nutrient, H2O may have the biggest effect on the body, and therefore, your skin. “Drinking enough water regularly helps the body flush toxins and improve efficiency,” says Campbell. “By staying hydrated, you can reduce puffiness and acne, improve skin structure, and improve laxity.” The gold standard is to drink at least 64 oz. a day. If you’re not so great at math, look at the color of your pee: If it’s clear, that can be a sign of over-hydration. If it’s dark, like the color of beer, maybe fill up that waterbottle. “Optimal hydration is to maintain the color of lemonade.”
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