Skin is the body’s largest—and most visible—organ, so it’s important to keep it as healthy as possible. Beautiful skin starts with nourishment from within. Older cells are constantly shed and replaced by younger ones and a steady supply of micronutrients is essential to support this rapid growth. Eat the correct balance of foods and you’ll feed your skin the vital nutrients it needs to help it stay soft, supple and blemish-free.
“Everything you eat becomes a part of not only your inner being, but the outer fabric of your body as well. The healthier the foods are that you consume, the better your skin will look,” says Samantha Heller, MS, RD, a clinical nutritionist at NYU Medical Center in New York City.
Here are some foods that do a superior job of protecting skin from the damaging and aging effects of the sun, while promoting a healthy skin.
1. Green Tea
Unique polyphenol antioxidant loaded green tea provides protection from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays. Whether you apply it directly to the skin or enjoy it as a beverage, green tea’s antioxidants work to prevent DNA damage and help repair existing damage. Drinking tea also ensures adequate hydration, another key to youthful skin.
Low-fat yogurt is one of the great foods for healthy skin, and a good source for vitamin A, a vital nutrient for maintaining vibrant skin. Vitamin A helps the body produce collagen, an important protein that’s partly responsible for skin’s youthful elasticity. It also helps protect against collagen deterioration.
Cold water fish species like tuna, swordfish, or salmon are superb sources of natural omega-3 fatty acids. These essential nutrients work to quell inflammation and promote a healthy immune system. New research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows omega-3 fatty acids in a diet can help fight the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation on sun-exposed skin. As a bonus, wild salmon contains a potent antioxidant pigment called astaxanthin, which may fight wrinkles and sagging.
4. Brazil Nuts
Nuts may be high in fats, but they’re the good fats: polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat, which promote a healthy circulatory system. Brazil nuts are a rich source of selenium, an essential mineral that’s crucial for proper immune system function. These rainforest nuts are also rich in skin-friendly antioxidants like vitamin E, and have been shown to improve skin’s circulation, yielding a healthier glow.
5. Dark Chocolate
Once upon a time, people believed that chocolate caused adolescent acne. This myth has since been expelled, and high-quality dark chocolate, brimming with potent flavonoid antioxidants, is now hailed as a superfood superstar.
Research cited in the European Journal of Nutrition and the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology suggests that dark chocolate not only protects the heart and blood vessels, but also protects the skin from sun damage. When applied directly to the skin, natural cocoa butter is an excellent emollient that preserves skin’s elasticity and moisture.
6. Whole Grains
Unlike refined flour or polished white rice, whole grains offer far more than simple carbohydrates. The fiber in whole grains is great for the digestive tract, but whole grains are also an excellent source of skin-friendly B vitamins like folate, niacin, and micronutrients like zinc and magnesium. Zinc is especially important for skin’s immune defenses.
When it comes to fruits and vegetables, color usually signals the presence of highly beneficial natural pigments with potent antioxidant properties. Berries are a prime example.
Bursting with flavor and color, black raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, cranberries, and blackberries are packed with cancer-fighting, disease-preventing antioxidants in high concentrations. These super foods help replenish the skin’s natural antioxidant defenses, while mopping up dangerous free radicals produced by ultraviolet radiation’s assault on skin.
Turmeric is the spice that lends canary yellow color to commercially prepared mustards and puts the earthy zing in curry dishes. Turmeric is also the source of some surprisingly potent chemicals collectively known as curcumin. Exciting ongoing research published in Clinical Cancer Research shows that curcumin might work to thwart the progression of an increasingly common skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma. Curcumin also reduces inflammation and works as an antioxidant to reduce skin damage.
Most people associate vitamin C with citrus fruits like lemons and oranges. But ounce for ounce, kiwi is an even more potent source of this crucial antioxidant. Vitamin C is essential for maintaining connective tissue—a diet that lacks vitamin C can cause scurvy. Although no longer common, this dreaded disease was once the bane of sailors who suffered the disfiguring effects of vitamin C deprivation. Kiwi, papaya, and guava are all excellent sources of collagen-sparing vitamin C.
10. Olives and Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil is a nutritional superstar. Praised for its heart-healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats, it also contains unique antioxidant phytochemicals, or chemicals found naturally in plants that may improve your health.
While scientists are still investigating the numerous benefits of olives and extra virgin olive oil, residents of the Mediterranean region have been enjoying the benefits of this skin-friendly oil for centuries. Enjoy it in food or apply directly to the skin for the treatment of atopic dermatitis.
11. Dark leafy greens
Spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, and Swiss chard are all great examples of dark leafy greens that are fantastic for maintaining healthy skin. It’s all to do with their super levels of antioxidant, vitamins A, C, E and the mineral iron – which is essential for keeping your blood healthy and your skin bright. If you are not a great lover of greens you can always add them to a smoothie or sneak watercress, rocket or baby spinach into salads and sarnies to ensure you get your fill.
Packed with polyphenols – antioxidants that fight free radical damage -pomegranates are believed to help regulate blood flow. Either one piece of fruit a day or a couple of glasses of juice should help do the trick. Another plus? A study in the journal Experimental Dermatology found that pomegranate juice may protect against UVB damage too.
A prime source of beta carotene (the vegan source of vitamin A that is converted by the body into retinol), these salad staples can help keep skin clear and smooth. Vitamin A is the prime source of retinol—the wonder skin-product ingredient that has been extensively tested for its ability to help reduce wrinkles, fade brown spots, and improve skin texture. Vitamin A is also believed to reduce the development of skin-cancer cells. Nibble on a half a cup a day.
Dehydrated skin looks ashen and gray and hangs off the face. Water is the best dull-skin reviver. Hydrated skin looks moist and plump, which makes existing wrinkles less obvious. To see results, though, you need water every day. Make sure to down about nine 200 ml glasses daily – more if you work out.
This colurful fruit is full of carotene-like compounds such as lycopene, which reduce the deep down collagen damage that promotes wrinkles. Dermatologists often prescribe musk melon to drab-skinned patients (recommend a few slices a day to promote a healthy glow.) The orange orb is also a great source of beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A. This nutrient prevents keratonic plugs, the rough patches that are often found on the backs of the arms.
Eating any tomato-based foods such as sauce and tomato juice may help clear up acne. “Lycopene [the phytochemical that makes tomatoes red] may lower an acne-promoting hormone,” says Alan Logan, a naturopathic doctor and author of The Clear Skin Diet (Cumberland House). Though there’s no set recommendation for how much lycopene you should eat to combat stubborn spots, Logan suggests including tomato-based foods in your diet between three and five times a week.
Lycopene may also help defend your skin from UV rays, says Koo. “Lycopene and other carotenoids found in orange to reddish-coloured fruits and vegetables can help improve the skin’s antioxidant status. Antioxidants combat free radicals produced from excessive sun exposure,” he describes.
Quercetin, an antioxidant in the peel of many varieties, provides hefty protection from the “burning” UVB rays that trigger skin cancer. A few offering the biggest dose: Monroe, Cortland, and Golden Delicious. The next time you plan to spend time in the sun, pick one of them to start your day (of course, you still need to wear sunscreen).
Lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants found in eggs, more than quadrupled protection against the UV damage that leads to lines, brown spots, and cancer in one study on women. Skin was also markedly softer, firmer, and better hydrated.
“Eating a handful of almonds every day boosts levels of vitamin E, one of the most important antioxidants for skin health,” says Baumann. You’ll get a surge in moisture too–a boon for those prone to dryness.
Nettles get a bad rep for being a stingy garden nuisance, but taken in tea, capsule or soup form, you might be surprised to discover they have an anti-inflammatory effect, helping to calm the skin and improve conditions like eczema and acne.
They’re also extremely detoxifying, thanks to high levels of antioxidants which protect the body from the over-production of free radicals – chemicals which can cause damage to proteins, fats, carbohydrates and DNA in the body. Stock up on nettle tea from your local health food shop and see if it makes a difference.
Next time you make a salad, try substituting a few lettuce leaves for some peppery watercress. The leafy greens are jammed full of antioxidants as well as minerals manganese, carotene and potassium. This makes watercress a powerful cleansing agent, nourishing the skin while helping to flush out toxins and excess fluids in the process.
If you’re not familiar with this liquorice-flavoured root vegetable already – get to know it. Aside from aiding digestion, reducing swelling in the body and helping to flush out excess fluids and toxins, it also works wonders for the health of your skin and hair, so pick up a box of tea or pick up a few roots for roasting.
23. Red Grapes
It is thought that red grapes – and their seeds – contain powerful natural chemicals and antioxidants that have been shown to treat inflammatory skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema. As a natural antihistamine, grapes can also help to control the side effects of allergic reactions. Try popping a few washed grapes (with seeds) into a fresh salad, or enjoy a handful as part of a healthy snack between meals.
They might stain your fingers, but beetroots are great foods for healthy skin. The purple roots are particularly high in vitamin A, as well as potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium, and vitamin E, which is essential for epidermal health and healing. Combined, these nutrients make a powerful all-round body cleanser, helping to eliminate toxins from the body and lower cholesterol too.
Each clove of garlic is full of a naturally occurring chemical called allicin, which, when digested, reacts with the blood to create a product capable of killing off many harmful bacteria and viruses your body might be harbouring – including that which causes acne and other skin infections. Couple this with a potent cocktail of antioxidants, and it’s almost unbeatable. To get the most out of garlic, eat raw, chopped finely into a salad or stirred into a meal before serving.
26. Alfalfa Sprouts
Tiny but mighty, each stringy sprout is packed with valuable, skin-clearing nutrients such as calcium, folic acid, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, silicon, sodium and zinc among others, as well as supplying a full range of vitamins A, B complex, C, E and K. Who needs multivitamins when you can sprinkle a few of these on your salad? They’re relatively inexpensive, too, and available from most health food shops.
Regular consumption of these woody, fibrous vegetables has been linked to healthier skin, and in particular, improved skin luminosity. Artichoke is frequently used as an herbal remedy in creams and cosmetics because of their high antioxidant potency, but included as part of a healthy diet, can also benefit the body by easing digestion, lowering cholesterol and aiding the body’s natural immune system defences.
28. Sweet Potatoes
There is evidence to suggest that high cortisone levels, one of the main hormones released by the adrenal gland in response to stress, can lead to break-outs. Regulating fluctuating blood sugar levels can help us to combat stress by lifting our moods. Try eating vitamin-packed complex carbohydrates, which release sugar slowly over time, like sweet potato. The root vegetable also contains beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A when it is digested, and can help to improve the circulation of oxygen to the skin.
These tiny purple fruits are one of the most potent forms of antioxidants in the world, and as such, are fabulous for skin health, as they help to eliminate toxins and free radicals in the body. If you can’t get hold of them fresh, most health food shops tell concentrated juices and tablets – just be sure to go for natural products free from additives and artificial sugars.