Most of us would love clear, healthy skin and may have a beauty regime to help with our complexion. However, it’s not just what we put onto our skin, but also what we eat that can have an impact.
Our skin is the largest organ in our body and helps to act as a barrier between the external and the internal environments. Like all organs we need to provide our skin with the energy and nutrients to keep it functioning. Our skin and how it looks is partly due to genetics, and as we age our skin is less able to manage day to day life and wear and tear. There are some things that we can do to help make our skin look as best as possible, from nutrition to lifestyle which I’ll talk about in this blog.
Before I start, it’s important to note, that no foods should really be avoided, and a single food alone will not give you a healthy glow. There are certain vitamins and minerals which play a role with skin health which I’ll talk about.
Protein and Energy Intake
Did you know that protein isn’t just for building muscle? Our skin is made up of proteins, including elastin and collagen, which are synthesised by cells called fibroblasts. Elastin and collagen are the main structural proteins which are found in the skin.
Elastin allows the skin to be elastic, keeping the skin supple, and is more flexible than collagen.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, and is found in:
Collagen helps to provide strength and structural support. We naturally synthesise collagen, however, as we age collagen production decreases, and other factors like smoking and UV light can also decrease collagen production, leading to the formation of wrinkles.
Keratin is another of the skin’s proteins, and makes up hair, nail, and the surface layer of the skin. This is what holds the skin cells together to form a barrier, and to help form the outer layer of the skin, protecting us from the environment.
Inadequate energy intake can lead to poor wound healing, an increased risk of not getting enough nutrients, and can in turn impact your skin health and how it looks. A lack of protein can mean that you may not get enough of the amino acids which make collagen and elastin, and in turn impacting the way your skin looks.
We can get vitamin A in two forms:
- Retinol which is preformed and is found in animal derived products - think liver, cheese, oily fish and eggs
- You can also get it from plant sources known as pro-vitamin A, which includes carotenoids, that can get converted into vitamin A. Sources include yellow and red fruits and vegetables, and dark green leafy vegetables - think carrots, spinach, red peppers, apricots and mangos. Beta carotene is also an antioxidant, which prevents free radicals and damage to your cells.
Vitamin A helps to keep our skin, nails and hair healthy. It plays a role in the texture, moisture and also elasticity of the skin. It also helps to keep our immune system functioning (helping us fight any bugs and illnesses).
If you are pregnant it is important to note that topical retinol is not suitable due to the vitamin A content, as well as ensuring that you do not consume too much vitamin A (including liver and cod liver oil), as excess retinol vitamin A can be harmful.
If we don’t get enough vitamin A it can cause dry flaky skin.
One of vitamin C’s main roles is that it is needed for the synthesis of collagen (mentioned above). Collagen production is needed for the structure of our skin, but as we age production does decrease.
Vitamin C is also an antioxidant, helping to protect and maintain healthy cells. It is also used to repair and maintain cartilage, bones and teeth, as well as helping wounds to heal. There is also some evidence which suggests that vitamin C may be able to help regenerate other antioxidants like vitamin E.
You can find vitamin C in citrus fruits, berries, mangos, pineapples, watermelon, tomatoes, red and green peppers, green vegetables, broccoli and even Brussel sprouts!
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that prevents oxidation and damage to our cells from free radicals caused by sun damage and pollutants. It also helps to maintain healthy hair, nails, and hydrated skin. Sources of it include olive oil, nuts, seeds, green vegetables, and salmon. If we don’t get enough Vitamin E it can cause the skin to look dry, rough and tired.
With B vitamins, if we become deficient it can lead to itchy, dry, sore skin, especially on the corners of the mouth. They play a role in keeping our skin, hair, eyes, and nervous system healthy, so it’s important to make sure we get enough of them. Think wholegrains, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid which is known to play a role in being anti-inflammatory. It may play a role in helping to protect against aging caused by sun UV damage.
When we think about sources of omega 3, usually oily fish comes to mind. However, you can get it from plant-based sources including sacha inchi oil, chia seeds, flax seeds (linseeds), walnuts, avocado, and almonds. Omega 3 is thought to help relieve symptoms of dry itchy skin and help to prevent inflammation. Fats are involved in maintaining healthy cell membrane structure, and therefore our skin.
Zinc is a mineral, which plays a role in the structure and function of our skin, including helping to connect collagen fibres; our immune system; protects against free radicals and inflammation; cell division; wound healing; growth and tissue repair; reproductive development; as well as a cofactor for a number of enzymes.
Zinc can be found in a number of plant-based sources including wholegrain cereals, nuts, seeds, miso, tofu, and pulses. However, absorption can be impacted by phytates found in pulses and cereals, and one way to increase absorption is to eat fermented soy, or soak and rinse dried beans.
Deficiency has been linked to: alopecia; an increase in wrinkles and sagging on the skin; delayed wound healing; lesions; rough itchy skin; fatigue; and low immune functioning.
Although not a food, water is vital to help maintain our skin health. We should aim to try and drink 1-2 litres of water a day, however, the amount can change due to weather conditions, or if you are taking part in physical activity.
It is best to stay hydrated by drinking water. Although coffee contains water, it is also a diuretic.
There is an increase in evidence that’s sugar may contribute to premature skin ageing and inflammation due to glycation. Advanced glycation end molecules (AGEs) are formed when dietary sources of sugars bind to proteins. These AGEs are harmful, and when they build up over time cause damage to collagen and elastin. It causes the skin to lose elasticity, change in skin textures, wrinkles and sagging. AGEs result in free radical production, and we can mediate this by reducing stress, and consuming antioxidant rich foods.
What About Supplementation?
Consuming whole foods and drinks is the best way to ensure we give our body all the nutrients it needs. Whilst we can see above certain nutrients are important for skin health, it doesn’t mean you need to go and buy supplements of these. A varied diet is a better option, as whole foods have a whole host of benefits not just the nutrients mentioned. For example, tomatoes are a source of vitamin C, but also contain lycopene which is a carotenoid, however, it is not converted into vitamin A, and instead acts as an antioxidant.
A healthy balanced diet will provide you with all the nutrients that we require for healthy skin, along with consuming antioxidant-rich foods to help protect our skin from damage. No one food group alone will impact skin health and provide you with all the nutrients. It has also been indicated that a healthy gut microbiome plays a role in skin health. We can feed our gut bacteria through consuming fibre, or through probiotics, including fermented foods.
Our skin in predominantly influenced by genetics and hormones. However, managing stress levels, getting enough sleep, and reducing alcohol intake can also help in preventing the development of wrinkles and dehydrated skin.
If you are concerned about your skin, it is always best to go speak to a healthcare professional who can help guide you, along with a personalised recommend treatment.
Daisy, MSc PGDip ANutr, is a Registered Associate Nutritionist with a Master's Degree in Public Health Nutrition, and a Post Graduate Diploma in Eating Disorders and Clinical Nutrition, both of which are Association for Nutrition (AFN) accredited. She, also, has a BSc degree in Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience; and has completed an AFN accredited Diet Specialist Nutrition course.
Daisy has worked for an NHS funded project, the Diabetes Prevention Programme; and shadowed a nutritionist in Harley Street.
About Lucy Bee Limited
Any information provided by us is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease. We always recommend referring your health queries to a qualified medical practitioner.
Lucy Bee is a lifestyle brand selling food, skincare and soap products all completely free from palm oil and with minimal use of plastic. Lucy Bee is concerned with Fair Trade, organic, ethical and sustainable living, recycling and empowering people to make informed choices and select quality, natural products for their food and their skin.