As we get older, many of the concerns we have for our skin are aesthetic ones: wrinkles, spots, and loss of elasticity. These signs can also be highly indicative of our overall internal health, beyond what meets the eye. Our skin is not a simple outer layer which covers and contains our anatomy, but is actually the largest vital organ we possess. It is composed of many complex nerve, gland, and tissue systems that work synergistically to defend the body against disease. Practicing excellent skin health is imperative, not only to retain its radiant and youthful appearance throughout our later years, but also to support its important role as a barrier between ourselves and the environment. The best and easiest way to do this is from the inside out. Thus, an ideal skin care regimen begins with a highly nourishing diet.
Nutrients found to be beneficial for good skin health include:
Animal-based omega-3 fats, found in salmon, cod liver, and krill oils, are key to preventing dehydration of the skin. When skin cells are well hydrated, the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles is minimized. Keep in mind that the amount of omega-3s may vary according to the oil sources.
Vitamin A protects cells from environmental damage and premature aging and is found primarily in animal fats. Excellent sources of vitamin A include liver from grass-fed beef and pastured chicken, and full-fat, raw dairy products.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps the body produce collagen, which forms the basic structure of skin and keeps it from sagging. Bell peppers, broccoli, and kale are excellent sources.
Antioxidants such as beta carotene, lycopene, and selenium can protect skin cells from damaging oxidative stress as they stave off free radicals. Oxidation can destroy skin cells, collagen, and elastin, the protein that allows skin to return to its normal shape. Colorful vegetables are a good source of these and many other antioxidants. Brazil nuts are one of the best dietary sources of selenium. Of these nutrients, only selenium can be harmful if too much is ingested. Most adults should not exceed 600 micrograms of selenium a day, through food and supplements combined. Brazil nuts are one of the best dietary sources of this nutrient and should be consumed with this limit in mind.
Probiotic foods promote the growth of friendly intestinal bacteria which support a healthy immune system by fighting off harmful bacteria that can cause skin blemishes. These blemishes can be indicative of poor intestinal health.
Equally, or even more important are the foods to be avoided. Limiting sugar intake is one of the most constructive ways to prevent premature aging. Fructose, in particular, contributes to inflammation in the body by interacting with amino acids to create a set of compounds called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These substances contribute to the overall aging of the body, including the skin. Sugar, along with chemically processed foods, antibiotics, stress, destroy the microflora found in a healthy digestive tract, weakening the immune system. When this system becomes overloaded, it is unable to cope with a heavy burden of environmental toxins, many of which accelerate skin aging. This means that it is even more important to incorporate lacto-fermented foods into your diet, or supplement with a high-quality probiotic.
Moderate exercise also keeps skin looking younger for longer. After age 40, the underlying layer of skin, called the dermis, begins to thin, causing skin to sag as the outer layer becomes thicker. However, exercising at least three hours a week has been shown to preserve the elasticity of the dermis, thereby preserving the youthful look of skin. For those who are currently sedentary, exercise can reverse the signs of skin aging.
Skin is an incredibly absorbent membrane; much of what is applied to it enters the bloodstream. The products we put on our skin should be as highly considered as the foods we choose to eat, as substances absorbed through the skin cannot be filtered in the same way as the digestive system filters. For example, many commercial sunless spray tanners include dihydroxyacetone as a coloring ingredient. However, government regulations in the U.S. allow for contaminants such as arsenic in its production, exposing the body to unknown levels of this toxin. Due to lax labeling laws, many harmful substances are not required to be listed in product ingredient labels. Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database is a good resource to use when shopping for toxin-free skin care products.
Sunscreen is certainly a product to select with scrutiny. “If some is good, more is better” is not the case when it comes to sunblocks. Most sunscreens block beneficial UVB rays which prompt the body to manufacture its own vitamin D. However, UVA radiation, which the sun protection factor (SPF) does not account for, is associated with skin damage and cancer. Therefore, many sunscreens allow harmful radiation in, while preventing the natural production of vitamin D, which has been shown to protect against aging.
The safest way to enjoy the sun is to limit exposure in order to avoid burning. Preventing sun damage will help preserve the youthfulness of one’s skin, as will a nutritionally-sound diet and the avoidance of toxins.
Author: SHAYNE GIPE of Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation
Baulkman, Jaleesa. “Exercise May Reverse Signs of Skin Aging.” University Herald, April 19, 2014.
Claudia Luevano-Contreras and Karen Chapman-Novakofski, “Dietary Advanced Glycation End Products and Aging,” Nutrients 2010 Dec;2(12): 1247–1265, accessed May 8, 2014, doi: 10.3390/nu2121247
Purba, Kouris-Blazos, Wattanapenpaiboon, Lukito, Rothenburg, Steen and Wahlqvist. “Skin wrinkling: can food make a difference.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2001. 20:71-80.