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Our skin’s natural state should be one of health and radiance, yet many people accept irritation, age spots, and dry, red, or dull skin as normal consequences of the aging process. While some changes are certainly to be expected as we age (yes, we will all eventually get wrinkles), many of the changes we have come to accept as normal are actually the consequence of damage that can be prevented, or at the very least, slowed down. Each day our skin faces many assaults—ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun, poor dietary choices, pollution, chemical exposure, stress, harsh weather, and cigarette smoke. Some of these are under your control (Protect your skin from UV rays! Quit smoking! Ditch the chemical-laden skin care products!), others aren’t. But what they all have in common is the tendency to produce free radicals that damage skin, cause inflammation, and otherwise alter the normal function of skin cells.
The skin has a defense system in place for dealing with all of these issues, but it can become overwhelmed. Be a friend to your skin and bolster its natural defense system with food, supplements, and topical products. Read on to get the skinny!
Healthy fats are critical for healthy skin. The omega-3 fatty acids found in cold water fatty fish help balance inflammation in the skin, while a deficiency can lead to skin that is dry and flaky. Other good fats include the medium chain triglycerides in coconut oil, which protects the skin’s natural barrier and reduces moisture loss, and olive oil, which helps fight inflammation and protects against UV damage.1 2
Include a healthy fat in every meal.
Clean, pure water is exceptionally important not only to keep the skin hydrated, but also to help move toxins out of the body, which ultimately leads to clearer skin. Herbal teas, mineral water, and homemade fruit-infused water can also help replace sugary sodas, commercially prepared teas, sweetened coffee drinks, and fruit juice, which all contribute to puffiness, blemishes, and skin aging.
Aim to drink at least eight 8-oz glasses of water a day.
Darkly colored vegetables and fruits such as red onions, berries, cherries, eggplant, and purple potatoes are all good sources of a potent family of antioxidants that fight free radicals called polyphenols, which help to protect the skin from UV damage, inflammation, and oxidative damage.3
Incorporate a variety of colorful fruits and veggies into every meal.
Green tea is rich in antioxidants, especially epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), and has been shown to prevent photoaging caused by UV exposure. It even helps skin cells heal and regenerate themselves.4 5
Try replacing your daily coffee with green tea, or drink it in between meals—it will also count toward your daily water intake.
Foods rich in carotenoids are particularly good at protecting the skin from UV damage because they accumulate in the skin where they protect cells from free radical damage.6
A variety of carotenoids appears to be the most beneficial so aim to get lutein and zeaxanthin from leafy greens and pastured eggs, beta-carotene from orange vegetables, lycopene from cooked tomatoes, and astaxanthin from wild sockeye salmon.
Gelatin is an often overlooked, but time honored skin-enhancing food. It is a dietary source of collagen, the main structural protein in the skin, as well as many amino acids that are necessary for normal skin growth. Gelatin is derived from the bone and connective tissue of animals—nutrient dense parts that are generally thrown away. Bone broth is an excellent way to increase your intake, or gelatin can also be found in powdered form.
Try adding gelatin to smoothies, soups, and stews or to make homemade “gummies” or jello treats.
Vitamin C rich foods like red peppers, parsley, broccoli, papaya, Brussels sprouts, strawberries and yes, citrus fruits, are great for the skin.
As an antioxidant vitamin C helps to limit the damage caused by UV exposure and other free radical damage, but it is also necessary for the production of collagen, aids in skin repair, and decreases dry skin.7
Vitamin E rich foods may be of particular importance since vitamin E is an integral part of the skin’s antioxidant defense system. It helps to fight free radicals, protect the skin from UV damage, and reduce inflammation in the skin.8
Good dietary sources of vitamin E are sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, leafy greens, and avocados.
Balance your blood sugar
The simple act of keeping your blood sugar balanced is a surprisingly effective way to prevent skin damage. When there is excess blood glucose (a.k.a. blood sugar) those sugars bind to bodily proteins, damaging them and altering their function. Free radicals are also created in the process, which go on to cause more damage. Collagen and elastin, proteins in the skin responsible for its structure and elasticity, are likely to be most affected, leading to saggy, wrinkled skin. Keeping blood sugar balanced means avoiding the foods that spike blood sugar, such as processed sugars and refined grains, while eating balanced meals comprised of humanely-raised and sustainable meats and fish and eggs from pastured chickens, healthy fats, brightly colored organic vegetables, raw nuts and seeds, and dairy from animals raised on pasture, as tolerated.
A diet loaded with skin enhancing foods is a great place to start for healthy skin, but a targeted supplement routine can really take it to the next level. For radiant skin consider adding one or more of the following supplements.
We tend to think of probiotics as being good for digestion, but the truth is these friendly little bacteria influence many aspects of health, including the health of our skin. Taking probiotics internally has been found to reduce UV damage and reduce skin inflammation.9 10
If you’re not a big fan of fish, or don’t eat fish regularly, taking an omega-3 supplement is the best way to ensure that you are getting optimal amounts of this essential fat to support healthy skin.
Since free radical damage is an underlying cause of much skin damage, make sure your body has adequate stores of antioxidants to stop the damage. Some potent skin antioxidants include: zinc, selenium, vitamin E, vitamin C, Pycnogenol®, Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), milk thistle (sylimarin), curcumin, and a variety of carotenoids, such as astaxanthin, lycopene, and beta-carotene.
As the main structural protein found in the skin, collagen is responsible for keeping the skin plump and wrinkle free. Supplementing with collagen not only increases collagen but also increases the cells that produce it.11 12 When combined with vitamin C and glucosamine, collagen supplements also help the skin retain moisture and improve smoothness.13 Vegetarians and vegans can build collagen by getting adequate protein, vitamin C, manganese, zinc, and copper. They can also look for vegan collagen boosting supplements designed specifically to supply an array of vitamins, minerals, and herbs for supporting healthy collagen production. Collagen and collagen boosting supplements take time to build in the body so be sure to use it for at least three months for best results. Note: Although collagen is great for skin health, it does not contain all the essential amino acids and should not be relied on as a major protein source.
Healthy skin is greatly influenced by internal health, but a comprehensive skin care program should also include a simple topical regime. Topical products help to nourish and heal the skin from the outside. A basic skin health routine should include:
A gentle cleanser or face soap that doesn’t leave the skin feeling tight, which is a sign the skin has been stripped of its natural moisture. Cream-based cleansers are a good option for those with dry or aging skin.
A daily moisturizer that is designed for your skin type. Look for skin-friendly oils like olive, jojoba, argan, sea buckthorn, tamanu, pomegranate seed, rose hip seed, or carrot seed and essential oils like geranium, helichyrsum, neroli, sandlewood, jasmine, and rose.
A chemical-free, mineral based sunscreen to protect your skin from the oxidative damage caused by UV rays. Sun damage is a leading cause of accelerated aging in the skin—be sure to protect yours!
Antioxidants applied topically help to protect the skin cells from the free-radical damage that leads to wrinkles, age spots and sagging skin. Not only do topical antioxidants protect against daily skin stressors (like pollution exposure), but they also improve the photoprotective effects of sunscreen, further protecting the skin from UV damage.14 Look for products that contain ingredients such as vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid), green tea, vitamin E, astaxanthin, and Pycnogenol®. Some skin-friendly oils like Seabuckthorn and pomegranate seed are also high in antioxidants.15 16 17
Clean up your beauty routine
Instead of searching out the latest and greatest way to show your skin who’s boss, clean up your beauty routine and make the switch to natural body care products. Healthy skin is already well equipped with its own antibacterial protections and anti-wrinkle systems. Instead of trying to override the skin’s natural functions, body care products should work with the skin to optimize these functions. Besides leading to beautiful skin you’ll also skip out on the endocrine disrupting chemicals, neurotoxins, respiratory toxins, and skin irritants that are commonly found in conventional body care products. Since reading body care product ingredient labels can be an exercise in frustration, avoid products that contain the following red flag ingredients: synthetic fragrance, mineral oil or petrolatum, phthalates, synthetic preservatives like parabens, BHA, and BHT, and synthetic colors (denoted by FD&C).
Maintaining healthy skin is well within your reach when you take a multifaceted approach. As you minimize the skin assaulting factors and maximize your skin’s ability to defend, repair, and regenerate itself, you will see it naturally glow with radiance and health!