There are many nutrients necessary for beautiful skin. Vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and flavonoids, to name a few, help to repair and maintain the structure and functioning of your skin, and they can only be supplied from a nutritious diet based on whole, unrefined foods.
According to research published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition (Purba), certain diets can decrease the number of wrinkles produced by intermittent sun exposure. This study revealed that, after taking into consideration age and smoking, better skin quality, which appeared to be more resilient to regular sun exposure, was associated with higher intakes of antioxidant-rich vegetables, olive oil, fish and legumes such as beans and lentils. Extensive skin wrinkling was more prominent in people who regularly consumed refined foods and sugar products such as soft drink, icecream and cordial, as well as cow’s milk and butter, processed red meats and margarine.
Long-term dietary changes can give your skin a healthy glow and assist with many skin conditions including eczema, psoriasis, acne and premature ageing. The following are the top skin saviours and skin saboteurs.
1. Feast on the right fats
Dietary fats, including those found in linseeds and fish, influence skin hydration and smoothness because they are converted by the body into powerful hormone-like chemicals called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins influence your hormones, blood vessels, blood clotting, cells and skin hydration and smoothness. The human body has more than 30 different types of prostaglandins and they’re grouped into three families called series 1, 2 and 3 prostaglandins. Which series a prostaglandin falls into depends on what type of fat it’s originally made from — omega-3, omega-6 or saturated.
The good: Omega-6 essential fatty acids, from vegetable oils and seeds, should convert to series 1 prostaglandins. Series 1 have been found to improve circulation, lower blood pressure and decrease inflammatory responses such as eczema, PMS and arthritis-like pain — but only if specific enzyme reactions occur.
If you lead a stressful lifestyle, have a poor diet or a genetic tendency to suffer from inflammation, an enzyme reaction known as delta-6-desaturase may not be functioning optimally. Without this reaction, the omega-6 you consume from your diet converts into arachidonic acid, the main building material for pro-inflammatory series 2 prostaglandins. Over the long term, this can sabotage not only your skin but also your cardiovascular health.
Evening primrose oil and borage oil contain gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which your body can more easily convert to series 1 prostaglandins. Evening primrose oil supplementation, especially when used in conjunction with omega-3, can be beneficial for people with severely dry skin.
The beautiful: Omega-3 essential fatty acids, found in fish, flaxseed oil, walnuts and linseed-containing breads, form series 3 prostaglandins — the beauty prostaglandins. A study, recently published in the British Journal of Nutrition (De Spirtal et al) showed that 12 weeks of consuming flaxseed oil can significantly improve skin hydration and decrease roughness and scaling.
The bad: Saturated fats from meats, butter and other dairy products can be used to manufacture the inflammation-inducing series 2 prostaglandins, which is why they should not be consumed to excess. Due to the increased consumption of red meat and omega-6-rich vegetable oils and margarine, Western diets contain excessive amounts of saturated fats and omega-6 essential fatty acids.
On the other hand, our modern diets are generally too low in omega-3 fatty acids and this imbalance of fat ratios can lead to health problems including irregular blood clotting and inflammatory conditions such as eczema, acne, asthma and arthritis. To prevent this imbalance and bump up your skin’s ability to hold moisture, add omega-3-rich foods such as fish, walnuts, dark leafy green vegetables, linseeds and flaxseed oil to your diet.
The helpers: Certain foods can help protect your health from the damaging effects of bad fats or series 2 prostaglandins. These include onion, garlic, ginger, turmeric and flavonoids from brightly coloured fruits and vegetables. Salmon, trout, sardines, herring, mackerel and fish oil supplements contain a substance called EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), which can decrease inflammation and improve skin moisture. Drinking green water (such as liquid chlorophyll or barley grass) can also help lower acidity in the body caused by consuming saturated fats and other acid-promoting foods.
2. Eat quality protein
The resilience and elasticity of your skin is largely determined by your collagen and elastin, found within the dermis layer of your skin. As you age, elastin can thicken and lose elasticity, like an old swimsuit that no longer fits snugly. Collagen fibres can stiffen, reduce in numbers and become disorganised and tangled (Rocquet).
With more than one-third of collagen made up of the amino acid glycine, with lesser amounts of proline, lysine and other amino acids from protein, it’s essential to eat quality protein foods each day. Superior protein foods include salmon, rainbow trout, sardines and other low-mercury fish, free-range eggs, skinless chicken, legumes/beans, nuts and seeds.
Vitamin C, iron, manganese and zinc are also necessary for collagen formation, so add to your diet fresh, colourful fruits, zinc-rich oysters and sweet potato. For firm, healthy skin, team them with copper-rich foods including crab, legumes, wholegrain breads and cereals, vegetables and Brazil nuts.
3. Up your antioxidant intake
Studies show that as you mature, less antioxidants are present in your blood and increased oxidation damage occurs, which is thought to contribute to the ageing process (Murad). Oxidation damage from free radicals can be likened to human rust, as when a car corrodes after regular exposure to salty air. An important anti-ageing antioxidant produced by the body is glutathione, which works like internal anti-rust, protecting the body from the free radicals produced when we breathe oxygen.
Glutathione is made up of the amino acids cysteine, glycine and glutamate. During liver detoxification, glutathione also binds to and allows the safe removal of toxic metals, so it’s essential that our bodies produce this antioxidant. While there is no scientific evidence that taking a glutathione supplement can improve your glutathione levels, according to research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Moskaug 2005), dietary flavonoids (antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables) can increase your tissue levels of glutathione. Boost your glutathione levels naturally by feasting on flavonoid-rich fruits and pile your plate with at least five serves of vegetables each day.
Anti-ageing antioxidants such as selenium, vitamin E, lycopene and beta-carotene can also minimise sun-induced DNA damage — the kind that contributes to skin ageing (Cesarini, 2003). You’ll get a decent dose of selenium from a few Brazil nuts and a serving of fish. Lycopene can be found in red-pigmented foods, particularly tomato and watermelon. Team these with vitamin E-rich foods including wheatgerm, almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds and extra virgin olive oil.
Studies show that lycopene becomes more available for the body to use when eaten with foods rich in good oils. Beta-carotene, as the name suggests, can be found in carrots and other orange foods such as sweet potato, mango, pumpkin and rockmelon. Other antioxidant-rich foods include berries, prunes, beans (black, red and pinto), buckwheat, artichokes, Brussels sprouts, spinach, broccoli, beetroot and avocado.
For maximum skin protection, eat a diet rich in colourful fruits and vegetables and fresh nuts, and remember to adorn yourself with the best anti-ageing products available: sunscreen and a hat.