By: Camille Marie Nutrition
Nutrition is extremely important for skin health. Your skin is your largest organ, and just like your other organs, it requires specific nutrients to function optimally and look its best.
The major (obvious) difference between your skin and your other organs, is that your skin is visible on the outside of your body. So if it’s not functioning properly or something is off internally, it can show up externally on your skin.
Where people often get it wrong is when they experience acne, rosacea, eczema, or other skin problems, they assume it’s a surface-level issue & seek topical treatment.
While there is a chance that skin issues can be caused by something surface-level, it’s much more likely an internal issue or imbalance that’s getting expressed through the skin.
There is certainly a genetic component to your skin as well, however, your genetics alone is not enough to cause acne or other skin issues. In functional medicine, they like to say: your genetics load the gun, but your diet, lifestyle, and environment pull the trigger.
You cannot choose your genetics, but you CAN choose the nutrients you put in your body! With that said, let’s talk about nutrition for healthy skin.
The Basics of Skin Nutrition
Eating for optimal skin health, and optimal health, in general, requires the proper balance of macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates & fats) and micronutrients (vitamins & minerals).
Every meal you eat should contain a balance of all these elements. This will give your body, mind, and cells exactly what they need to thrive. While specific nutritional requirements differ depending upon the individual, macro and micronutrients are universal and necessary for everybody.
When choosing protein sources you have two options: animal-based or plant-based (vegan). If you opt for animal-based protein, quality is extremely important!
With poultry, always choose organic, pasture-raised options. For red meat, choose grass-fed, grass-finished. And for seafood, look for wild-caught. If you don’t have access to these high-quality options, it’s best to just stick with the plant-based protein options listed below.
Great plant-based protein options include all types of beans, lentils, sprouts, nuts, seeds, quinoa, pea/rice protein, and non-GMO tofu (in moderation). Always opt for organic when possible!
Yes, your body needs carbs. Especially if you live an active lifestyle, carbs are an essential nutrient! But, as I’m sure you’ve heard before, not all carbs are created equal.
Some examples of healthy carb sources include root vegetables like potatoes, squash, yucca, carrots, and beets, gluten-free grains like quinoa, oats, rice, buckwheat, and fruit!
When it comes to carbs, what you want to avoid for optimal skin health is anything “processed.” Think white bread, cookies, crackers, boxed cereal, and baked goods.
Processed carbs tend to contain other ingredients like added sugar and unhealthy oils that are difficult for the body to break down. Over-consumption of these foods can lead to skin issues as well as a slew of other health complications.
Just like protein and carbs - quality matters! A diet with a balanced amount of high-quality fats is key for skin hydration and that plump, youthful glow.
Great sources of quality fat are avocados, olives, nuts, seeds, avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil, fatty wild-caught fish, and nut butter (although it’s recommended to avoid peanut butter or just have it in moderation, as it’s high in inflammatory fats).
The types of fats you’ll want to avoid are inflammatory oils such as canola, rapeseed, soybean, safflower, and vegetable oil. You’ll also want to steer clear of fried foods, hydrogenated oils, margarine, and dairy.
Micronutrients are often overlooked, but they are the cornerstone of a healthy diet and a key component of optimal skin nutrition. Micronutrients refer to all vitamins and minerals, which are responsible for nutrient absorption, energy production, healthy sleep, hormone balance, mood regulation, and so much more!
Different types of micronutrients are found in all foods, but the best source is vegetables and fruits. For adults, it’s recommended to consume 7-9 servings (cups) of produce every day, and to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables since different types of products have different health benefits.
I know what you’re thinking… How could I possibly eat 9 cups of vegetables a day?!
One of the easiest ways to do so is by incorporating smoothies and green juices into your diet. Soups are another great way - especially during the colder months. I promise it’s not as hard as it sounds!
It’s also great to supplement with a multivitamin to ensure you’re getting everything you need if your diet isn’t always on point.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s dive a little deeper into specific nutrients that help support and promote healthy skin.
7 Key Nutrients for Optimal Skin Health
Vitamin A is essential for supporting skin health, immune function, and other vital processes in the body. There are two types of vitamin A: retinoids (preformed vitamin A) and carotenoids (proformed vitamin A). (2)
Vitamin A deficiency is uncommon, however, it’s more common among acne sufferers. (3) This is part of the reason why Accutane is so commonly prescribed for acne - it is a highly potent, synthetic form of vitamin A.
Food sources of retinoids include:
Cod liver oil
Food sources of carotenoids include:
Green leafy vegetables
Vitamin C has strong antioxidant properties and is an essential nutrient for collagen synthesis. Collagen is a type of protein that keeps the skin looking plump and keeps wrinkles at bay. It naturally decreases as we age, but making sure you have plenty of vitamin C in your diet can help! (4)
Food sources of vitamin C include (5):
Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage)
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant, which makes it effective at combating the effects of free radicals from the metabolism of food & environmental toxins. This is key for skin health. It’s also effective at combating the effects of UV damage. (6)
Foods that are high in vitamin E include:
Vitamin D deficiency is rampant among Americans and has been linked to skin conditions like premature aging and acne. By the same token, having an excess of vitamin D in the body can also lead to acne.
Most people do need to supplement with vitamin D in order to get the proper amount. If taking a supplement, be sure to check the dosage to ensure it’s not exorbitantly high. The daily recommended dose for adults is around 4,000-5,000 IUs.
This is one of the most important nutrients for skin health. Getting adequate amounts of omega-3 is crucial for keeping your omega fatty acids in balance, which is key for healthy oil production of the skin.
The single best source of omega-3 is wild salmon. It’s recommended to eat salmon at least 3 times per week to get enough omega-3s in your diet, however, if you prefer to eat a plant-based diet, other sources of omega-3 include (7):
Zinc is a powerful anti-inflammatory nutrient & is known for its immune-supporting benefits. Zinc deficiency is common among those who struggle with acne and supplementing with it has been shown to help improve acne. (8)
Food sources of zinc include:
Sulforaphane is a sulfur-rich compound and key nutrient in supporting proper detoxification in the body. It has also been shown to support the body on a cellular level and protect the skin from UV damage. (9)
Sulforaphane comes primarily from cruciferous vegetables such as (10):
Glutathione is a compound known for its remarkable antioxidant and detoxification properties. It has been widely studied and proven to be a powerful skin-lightening agent, making it a popular ingredient in skincare.
It can also be taken in supplement form and has been linked to a reduction in scarring from acne and other skin damage. (11)
Food sources of glutathione include (12):
Foods to Avoid for Optimal Skin Health
Caffeine (in excess)
These foods/food products are best to avoid entirely for healthy skin. It’s totally fine to enjoy them once in a while or in moderation, but if you’re in the habit of consuming them frequently, then you and your skin will not be as healthy as you could be!
Generally speaking, these foods lead to massive amounts of inflammation in the body, cause blood sugar dysregulation, block the absorption of nutrients, and get in the way of proper detoxification.
In conclusion, make sure you’re getting the proper macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals with every meal, using natural supplements when necessary. Stay away from processed food/food items that will send you on a blood sugar roller coaster, and your skin will thank you