10 FOODS THAT ARE GOOD FOR YOUR SKIN (20+ STUDIES): BACKED BY SCIENCE (2021)12 minute read

Your skin is made of what you eat.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Your skin is made of what you eat!

When you understand that, eating for great skin becomes intuitive. It’s obvious that you need to eat healthy, nutritious foods so your body can make healthy, resilient skin cells.

Some foods are especially powerful. This article reveals the key foods that are good for your skin, as demonstrated by the most up-to-date scientific studies. You can use it in two ways:

a) Pick and choose from all foods listed if you’re eating for general skin health, or

b)Focus on the foods specific to your skin goal: getting that glow, supporting anti-ageing, or calming problem skin.

The good news? Foods that are good for your skin are also good for your taste buds!

Let’s dive in.

 

Contents

Foods that are good for your skin: Get that glow
How long do I need to eat these foods?
Foods that are good for your skin: Support anti-ageing
Bonus food: Dark chocolate
Foods that are good for your skin: Calm problem skin
What about beverages?
Takeaway points

 

Foods that are good for your skin: Get that glow

Eating foods rich in specific nutrients can help you to glow from the inside out. Here’s what to choose:

 

1) Sweet potato, carrot and butternut squash

What do these vegetables—plus spinach, bell peppers and cantaloupe—have in common?  They’re all rich in carotenoids!

In one of the coolest nutrition studies ever, researchers showed that people who ate more carotenoids were perceived to be more attractive than people with a suntan [1]. This is because the colourful carotenoids give the skin an appealing golden glow.

To boost the effect, eat your carotenoid-rich vegetables with a source of healthy fat, such as extra virgin olive oil. The fat helps your body to absorb the carotenoids [2].

How to eat them: As an easy veggie side dish. Chop sweet potatoes, carrots and butternut squash into bite-sized chunks. Toss with extra virgin olive oil and a little chopped rosemary, and roast at 180 degrees for 30–40 minutes.

 

2) Flaxseed

These delicious, nutty-flavoured seeds are a great plant-based source of omega-3 fats—which are critical for smooth, glowing skin.

One study found that daily ingestion of flaxseed oil can reduce skin sensitivity, boost hydration and enhance skin smoothness [3]. It’s skincare from the inside out.

You can buy flaxseed oil, but it goes rancid quickly. Another way to get your flaxseed oil is to eat ground flaxseed daily—this is not only rich in skin-supporting oil, but also provides a gut-friendly dose of fibre.

How to eat them: as a porridge or oatmeal topper. Grind 2tbsp flaxseed (a coffee grinder works well) and sprinkle on top of your breakfast bowl of porridge or oatmeal, along with a handful of blueberries and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

3) Borage oil

Borage oil is rich in anti-inflammatory fatty acids, which means it’s a secret weapon for glowing skin.

Two studies have shown that daily supplementation with borage oil helps to minimise redness and improve barrier function [4,5]. In case you didn’t know, a strong skin barrier is key to a radiant complexion.

You can supplement with borage oil, but it’s more fun to incorporate this smooth, creamy oil into your diet. Just make sure you store it in a cool, dark place so it stays fresh.

How to eat it: as a salad dressing. Grab a jam jar, shake together 1tbsp borage oil and 1tbsp lemon juice, and pour over your favourite salad.

How long do I need to eat these foods?

Eating for great skin is a marathon, not a sprint. You’ll need to eat these foods regularly and consistently for the best effect.

But don’t feel intimidated! The epidermis—the top layer of your skin—regenerates roughly every 40–56 days [6]. This means that by shifting your diet to more skin-friendly foods, you can expect to notice a difference within a month or two.

Once you get into the habit, eating for skin health feels effortless. Making these foods a mainstay of your diet is the best way to support healthy, radiant skin now and in the years to come.

Foods that are good for your skin: Support anti-ageing

No food can turn the clock back overnight—but regular consumption of certain foods can help you minimise existing signs of ageing and slow down the development of new ones (wrinkles, we’re looking at you). Here’s what to go for:

 

4) Bell peppers

Oranges get all the vitamin C credit, but bell peppers are a much richer source of this skin-supporting vitamin. Vitamin C plays a leading role in making and stabilising collagen, which helps your complexion to stay plump and smooth [7].

Ah, you’re thinking, but I take collagen supplements! Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but there’s a lack of robust data showing that the collagen you eat goes directly to your skin [8]. It’s much better to take the nutrients that help your body to synthesise collagen itself.

Vitamin C is so important for your complexion that a large study found that women who ate less vitamin C tended to have drier, more wrinkled skin [9].

So, bell pepper, anyone?

How to eat them: as crudites! Slice up a bell pepper and enjoy with hummus or your favourite dip.

 

5) Cooked tomatoes

Tomatoes contain the phytonutrients beta-carotene and lycopene. Both phytonutrients accumulate in your skin, helping to protect it from UV damage [10,11,12].

Scientists have found that when skin is exposed to the sun, more lycopene is destroyed than beta-carotene—suggesting it plays a greater role in protecting you from the sun’s rays [13].

Now, this doesn’t mean you should forgo sunscreen. But it does mean that tomatoes should form part of your anti-ageing arsenal. Your body finds it easier to absorb lycopene from cooked tomatoes, which means that plain old tomato paste is a great addition to your diet.

How to eat them: stir tomato paste into your soups and stews, or use chopped tomatoes in your sauces.

6) Olive oil

Scientists aren’t exactly sure why, but greater intake of olive oil is associated with fewer signs of ageing [14].

Do you need any more reason to eat it? I certainly don’t!

Choose extra virgin olive oil for the greatest health benefits. It has a smoke point of around 200 degrees Centigrade (400 degrees Fahrenheit), which means you can use it in most forms of cooking too.

How to eat it: on more or less anything! Drizzle over salads or roast vegetables, or swirl into soups. You can also use it in baking.

7) Bonus food: Dark chocolate

Yes, really!

Dark chocolate is good for anti-ageing because it’s a good source of copper. This important mineral improves skin elasticity—helping to reduce fine lines and wrinkles [15].

Choose 70% chocolate or higher and treat yourself to a square or two daily.

Foods that are good for your skin: Calm problem skin

When you have acne, it’s easy to get fixated on what you should take out of your diet. It’s just as helpful—not to mention more fun—to focus on what you can add to your diet to help clear your skin. Here’s where to start:

 

8) Oily fish

Eating oily fish promotes a clear complexion for two reasons:

a) Oily fish contain omega-3 fats, which have an anti-inflammatory effect in the body [14].

b) Oily fish are a good source of vitamin A, which helps to regulate sebum production [16].

Need more convincing? A study conducted way back in the 1960s found that teenagers who ate more fish had less acne [17].

When it comes to oily fish options, think ‘SMASH’: Salmon, Mackerel, Anchovies, Sardines and Herring. Aim to eat oily fish twice a week.

How to eat it: as a quick and easy dinner! Pair a pre-cooked salmon fillet with sweet potato and some spinach for a meal that’s bursting with skin-clearing vitamin A.

9) Pumpkin seeds

Marginal zinc deficiency is common, even in people who eat a healthy diet [7]. What’s more, people with acne have been found to have especially low levels of zinc in their blood [18].

The good news? Upping your zinc levels can help your skin cells to turn over at a healthy rate [19,20], leading to fewer pimples over time.

Enter pumpkin seeds. These are a good source of zinc, and they provide an easy way to get a regular dose of the mineral because you can sprinkle them on everything. As a bonus, they also provide skin-supporting vitamin E [21].

How to eat them: as a salad topper! Sprinkle over any combination of salad leaves for a satisfying crunch.

 

10) Kimchi

We can no longer ignore the evidence: your gut bacteria have a big impact on your skin [22]. An easy way to encourage balanced gut bacteria (and happy skin) is to eat fermented foods, which are brimming with good bacteria.

Kimchi—a Korean speciality of fermented cabbage—may be especially powerful for acne. A recent study showed that people who consumed a bacterial strain isolated from kimchi saw a dramatic improvement in their skin in just 12 weeks [23].

Thanks to the rising popularity of naturally fermented foods, kimchi is now available in most supermarkets. Think you won’t like it? Just give it a go! Its bold flavours are surprisingly moreish.

How to eat it: as a condiment! Kimchi makes a great addition to egg dishes and buddha bowls.

For further tips on eating for problem skin, head to Foods That Cause Acne: The Ultimate Guide and 7 Foods That Help Acne.

What about beverages?

Water is the best drink for your skin. Hands down.

Drinking at least 2L water daily promotes deep skin hydration [24], which helps you get a glow, support anti-ageing and calm problem skin.

But you don’t have to drink 2L of plain water if that’s not your thing. You can infuse it with fresh herbs and fruits, or use it to make soothing herbal teas. Take small sips often (rather than infrequent big gulps) for the best hydration.

Takeaway points

You’ve learnt all about foods that are good for your skin. Let’s go over the main points:

– Your body uses nutrients from your food to create and maintain skin cells. That means your skin is made of what you eat.

– Eating certain foods won’t transform your skin overnight, but eating the right foods has a big impact on your skin health over the long term.

– To help create a natural glow, eat sweet potatoes, carrots, butternut squash, flaxseed and borage oil.

– To support anti-ageing, choose bell peppers, cooked tomatoes, olive oil and dark chocolate!

– To calm problem skin, enjoy regular portions of oily fish, pumpkin seeds and kimchi.

– For general skin health, incorporate all these foods into your diet.

Nutritional Therapist Fiona Lawson

Fiona Lawson is a former national magazine editor turned registered nutritionist and skin specialist. She holds a BANT-registered qualification in Nutritional Therapy, and she is currently working towards her MSc in Nutritional Medicine.

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