Foods for great skin!


Do you struggle with skin conditions such as acne, dry skin, wrinkles, and sun damage, among others? Is it upsetting you? Not knowing the solution to your problematic skin. If that’s you, it would be worth a while to look into your diet and nutrition to improve your skin health. Skincare products do have a role to play in your skin health, but a whole-food nutrient-dense diet has a bigger role to play with most skin conditions! Let’s understand why.

Skin is the largest organ and has a huge physiological need for nutrition and nourishment. It exists in a state of constant renewal and repair turning over every four to six weeks. It is important that we start to take the role of nutrition and skin health seriously. The fact of the matter is that if you want healthy skin you need to feed it well and protect it from the inside out.

The consumption of a nutrient-dense whole-food diet with certain vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial compounds in the diet is one of the most effective ways to treat skin conditions and improve the look and feel of one’s skin. There are several nutrients that are known to play a role in the proper growth and immunity of the skin, and many people have found that their skin health has dramatically improved after making purposeful changes to their daily diet.

Nutrients for great skin health:

Vitamin A – Vitamin A or retinol plays an essential role when it comes to the health of your skin. It is needed in the production of cell growth, turnover and regeneration. Pharmaceutical grade retinoids have been used widely for various purposes of improving skin health, demonstrating how helpful Vitamin A can be in skin health. It promotes cell turnover in the skin and is effective at preventing the formation of comedones (clogged pores), which is the cause of most acne. It  also helps in minimising fine lines and wrinkles by stimulating collagen production. Reduces hyperpigmentation and sun damage, that helps prevent skin ageing and skin diseases. It also promotes wound healing and improving skin tone by stimulating the production of new skin cells.

Consuming an appropriate amount of vitamin A is shown to be beneficial for your skin. Vitamin A is found in many foods like cheese, egg yolks from grass-fed chicken, liver, oily fish, cream and butter from pastured cows. Cod liver oil is a particularly rich source of Vitamin A. You can also get vitamin A by including good sources of  beta-carotene in your diet, as the body can convert this into retinol. Beta-carotene is found in yellow, orange and green leafy fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, spinach, peppers, mango, lettuce, tomato, sweet potatoes, broccoli, pumpkin and cantaloupe.

Zinc – Zinc plays an important role in skin health. Zinc is one of the many essential nutrients that your body needs. It primarily protects your immune system by fighting off harmful cells and in boosting immunity. It is  “Essential” because our body cannot make zinc and it needs to be consumed in our diet for the many functions to be in place. In skin health, zinc is needed for protein synthesis and wound healing and it is a vital antioxidant. It helps fight  against inflammation of the skin, and relieves some of the redness and irritation associated with skin conditions like acne. It may also help reduce the appearance of acne scars.

Dietary sources of zinc are best absorbed from animal sources, where it is not bound to phytates as in plant sources. Organs such as kidney and liver, red meat, seafood such as oysters, scallops, and other shellfish are the highest animal sources of zinc. Plant foods such as pumpkin seeds and other nuts & seeds, legumes can also be high in zinc as well, but are less bioavailable, as the zinc is bound to phytates if not properly prepared by soaking. Hummus prepared from chickpeas and sesame seeds is one of the zinc backed foods.

Vitamin C – Vitamin C has been known to play a crucial role in the regulation of  protein synthesis of collagen, therefore decreasing wrinkles and signs of ageing. Along with minimising the appearance of fine lines, vitamin C also helps to smooth and firm the surface of the skin by activating cells, called fibroblasts, which stimulate new collagen.

Apart from this, it is a potent antioxidant and can fight off free radicals, which are highly responsible for cell and tissue damage. Because of its antioxidant properties, vitamin C aids in your skin’s natural regeneration process, which helps your body repair damaged skin cells.

Increasing the amount of vitamin C in your diet can contribute to improved skin health and faster healing. The highest sources of vitamin C include bell peppers, guava, cherry,dark leafy greens, broccoli, gooseberry, brussels sprouts, kiwi, citrus fruits, and strawberries. Certain fresh herbs such as cilantro, chives, thyme, basil and parsley are also high in vitamin C. Consuming a wide variety of colorful plant foods on a regular basis is the best way to get adequate vitamin C in your diet. It’s important to remember that vitamin C is sensitive to heat, so lightly cooking these plant foods or eating them raw (if possible) is ideal to maximize your intake of this vitamin.

Omega-3 Fatty acids – Omega 3 fatty acids are essential nutrients found in certain foods. Omega-3 fats are a vital component of the cell membranes that covers every one of 100 trillion cells in the body.  In the last 150 years we have seen unprecedented changes in our fat intake. They are also anti-inflammatory. Refined and, inflammatory oils, including corn, soy, safflower oils, have replaced omega-3 fats from fish and wild plants. This has made the modern diet very unbalanced,  the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in modern diets is commonly at least 10 to 1, while the ideal is 2:1. That is the main  reason why the prevalence of inflammatory skin conditions such as acne, psoriasis and rosacea is much more than in olden times.

Increasing dietary omega-3 fats is an important step towards healing the skin. High levels of omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to decrease inflammation, and may reduce the risk of acne and other skin problems. Consuming foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids may lead to smoother, younger-looking skin with visible reduction in inflammatory skin conditions like acne and psoriasis. These fats are especially abundant in cold water fatty fish such as sardines, salmon, mackerel, tuna, anchovies, and black cod, among many others. Walnuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, seaweed & algae, flaxseeds, edamame are vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

Biotin – Biotin, also known as Vitamin B7,is a water-soluble vitamin that acts as an essential cofactor for enzymes that regulate fatty acid metabolism. Proper fat production is critical for the health of the skin, since skin cells are rapidly replaced and are constantly in contact with the external environment, and fatty acids in the skin protect the cells against damage and water loss. When biotin intake is insufficient, fat production is altered, and the skin cells are the first to develop symptoms.

A deficiency of biotin causes hair loss and a characteristic scaly, red and inflamed dermatitis around the mouth,eyes and nose,and scalp, eczema and also alopecia in some people. The best sources of biotin are egg yolks and liver, and other good sources include swiss chard, romaine lettuce, almonds, and walnuts. Including these foods in your diet will prevent biotin deficiency and may help improve the production of fatty acids in the skin, returning moisture to dry skin.

Sulphur – Sulphur is present in all living tissues. It is the third most abundant mineral in the human body. Sulphur seems to have antibacterial effects against the bacteria that cause acne. It also might help promote the loosening and shedding of skin. This is believed to help treat skin conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis or acne. Sulphur is also necessary for collagen synthesis, which gives the skin its structure and strength. The breakdown of collagen or insufficient production of collagen as we age is one of the major contributors to the development of wrinkles, and dietary sulphur significantly affects the production of collagen in our skin.

Sulphur is also required for the synthesis of glutathione, one of the most important antioxidants in the body. High levels of glutathione in the body can prevent damage caused by free radicals, which are thought to be the major cause of cellular ageing. The level of glutathione in the body is greatly impacted by having adequate sulphur, specifically sulphur-containing amino acids, in the diet.These amino acids are most abundant and bioavailable in animal foods such as egg yolks, meat, poultry, and fish. Sulphur is also found in plant foods, good sources include garlic, onions, brussels sprouts, asparagus, and kale. Fermentation may make this sulphur more bioavailable, so foods like sauerkraut and other fermented crucifers are excellent sources of sulphur and an important component of a diet for healthy, youthful skin.

Probiotics- Cumulative evidence has demonstrated a close and bidirectional connection between the gut and skin. The mechanisms by which the intestinal microbiome exerts its influence on skin health, appear to be related to the modulatory effect of gut bacteria on systemic immunity. A healthy gut microbiome with commensal bacteria helps avoid systemic inflammation. Skin conditions like rosacea, psoriasis, eczema are majorly caused by inflammation, which happens when the immune system gets activated due to a condition called leaky gut. Intestinal permeability (“leaky gut”) causes both systemic and local inflammation, which in turn contributes to skin disease.

Consuming probiotic rich food, helps in keeping the microbiome in good condition, which indeed helps in reducing inflammation. Prebiotics (fibre from plant foods)  and probiotics have been helpful in reducing systemic markers of inflammation and oxidative stress, which may help reduce inflammatory acne and other skin conditions. Probiotics can be consumed in the form of fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kanji, pickles and probiotic supplements. Not all probiotic supplements are made equal, and for best results, formulations should be checked with a healthcare practitioner before consumption.

Vitamin E – Vitamin E is the most abundant fat-soluble antioxidant found in the skin. It is secreted on the skin surface through the sebum, an oily substance that coats the outer layer of the skin. It is an important protective factor for the skin’s surface. Our bodies store vitamin E in our fat cells, and we depend on adequate dietary intake to keep these levels optimum. Vitamin E is also a potent anti-inflammatory agent, defending the skin against free radicals and reactive oxygen species that would otherwise cause damage.  Adequate levels of this vitamin in the skin may prevent inflammatory damage from sun exposure, helping to reduce the ageing and skin cancer risk from excessive UV radiation.

Whole food sources of vitamin E include spinach, turnip greens, swiss chard, sunflower seeds, almonds, bell peppers, asparagus, collards, kale, broccoli, and brussels sprouts. Olive oil contains a moderate amount of vitamin E as well. It is important to eat these foods with plenty of fat to boost the absorption of vitamin E, which is a fat-soluble vitamin.

Selenium – Selenium is an incredibly important trace mineral with numerous health benefits, yet many people are deficient in it. Poor levels of selenium in the soil, inadequate intake, and intestinal disorders that affect absorption can all lead to minor deficiencies, and this can have consequences for general health as well as the health of the skin. Selenium is one of the important antioxidants that protects against cellular damage from the free radicals that cause inflammation, ageing, and promote skin cancer.

It’s best to get your selenium from food, and the richest sources of this trace element are organ meats and seafood, followed by muscle meats. Fish such as cod, tuna, halibut, sardines, and salmon are excellent sources, along with liver and other meats. Brazil nuts are also rich in selenium, and just two brazil nuts a day will give you the 200 micrograms necessary for an adequate intake. The selenium content of food depends heavily on soil conditions, so eating a range of selenium-rich foods on a regular basis will ensure that you’re getting enough.


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Functional Nutritionist & Functional Medicine Practitioner

Smriti is a leading Health Coach and Functional Medicine Practitioner, based out of Gurgaon, India.