We bang on a lot about the importance of looking after your skin, and spend the majority of our time testing skincare so we can recommend which products are worth the money, and which are best left alone. Yet there is a much easier, much cheaper way to improve your complexion – knowing which foods are good for skin.
Beyond the obvious, that drinking more water is the best way to brighten your skin and help prevent wrinkles, there are some simple diet swaps you can make to improve everything from acne to dark circles, redness and dullness. Many help fight the signs of ageing, and are equally beneficial for your hair and nails.
To get the lowdown on the which foods are best for clear, healthy skin we spoke to Hamish McNair, Clinical Director at Candela Medical.
We should note that we are no angels – we love chocolate and wine and we’re most certainly not trying to preach to you about cutting out all the fun things. That would be hypocritical.
Instead, we’re listing the best food for skin concerns as an FYI. That way, you’ll be informed and when/if you can choose these foods, your skin will thank you for it.
We also discuss taking supplements and if you want to know more about how supplements work – and what you should and shouldn’t do when looking at taking them – read our guide to the truth about beauty supplements.
A balanced diet of the following foods will cover off all the most important vitamins, minerals and antioxidants your skin needs to look healthy and clear. We’ve tried to make sure we cover vegetarian and vegan options, as well.
You can then scroll down to learn more about the specifics of each and why they’re so important.
“The simplest way to maintain healthy skin is through eating a well-balanced diet and avoiding free radicals,” Hamish McNair explained. “Free radicals include smoking, pollution, and excessive UV exposure. Too much sun exposure, particularly, can speed up the skins ageing process.”
Before we list the foods that fight free radicals, we’re going to get a bit technical. If you know what free radicals are, and what damage they can do to the body and your skin, it can help you know the best ways to fight them.
When we take in oxygen, our body can split it into single atoms with unpaired electrons. Electrons prefer to be in a couple so the single, split electrons – the free radicals – are unstable and hunt around the body looking for a partner.
At a moderate, regulated level, free radicals have been found to have some benefits. These include helping to create energy and helping the immune system fight off infections. Our body maintains a balance and regulates these free radicals through antioxidants.
However, when the levels of free radicals get too high or the antioxidants are too low, through exposure to smoking, alcohol, pollution, fried foods and more, this hunting process can damage our cells, proteins and DNA. Putting the body under what’s known as oxidative stress.
This stress has been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease as well as being a cause of premature ageing.
Research into these free radicals and their impact on our skin has shown that foods which include the following ingredients are best foods for skin:
Omega 3 is a healthy unsaturated fat found in largely in oily fish, so eating more salmon, herring, and mackerel will help promote better, clear skin. This is because these fish are what’s known as “pelagic”.
In the wild, they spend all their time swimming and searching for food and this requires large amounts of energy, provided by oil in their body tissues that acts as fuel.
If you’re a vegetarian, you can also get Omega 3 from nuts, seeds and plant oils.
Omega 3 is particularly good for tackling redness and swelling in the face due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
In addition to being good food for skin concerns, the World Health Organisation recommends two portions of oily fish per week because it can lower cholesterol and recent studies have shown potential to reduce the risk of dementia in older life.
Foods high in Omega 3:
Omega 6 is also a healthy unsaturated fat and is found in eggs, nuts, whole grain bread and pumpkin seeds.
It plays an important role in boosting our immune health and blood clotting, in regulated and balanced amounts. These fats are also said to help with the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and dermatitis.
However, Omega 6 has been criticised for causing inflammation if it reaches excessive levels in the body. Inflammation is beneficial to the body in regards fighting infection, but too much inflammation can lead to wider health problems.
This is where the Omega 3-Omega 6 ratio comes in. Western diets, particularly, tend to contain more Omega 6 than Omega 3 – almost 16:1 when it should ideally be 1:1 and this can lead to an imbalance.
As a result, Omega 6 foods should be eaten as part of a balanced diet and not relied on solely for improving skin. It is also worth avoiding processed forms of Omega 6, in processed oils for example, and you should try to seek out natural sources.
Foods high in Omega 6:
We’re regularly told about the benefits of antioxidants but, before writing this, we didn’t really have any idea what they were or what they did.
Put simply, antioxidants are the molecules that fight the free radicals. Our bodies have their own source of antioxidants which they use to keep these free radicals in check but it helps to boost the levels of these molecules through our diet to make sure free radicals don’t get out of hand.
Several vitamins, including Vitamin E and C, are effective antioxidants and antioxidants generally are largely found in vegetables, and other plant-based, whole foods.
This is why vegetarian and vegan diets are said to be beneficial and part of the reason why we’re encouraged to eat at least five portions of fruit and veg a day.
Vitamin E helps to strengthen the immune system and promotes healthy skin.
Foods containing Vitamin E include:
Foods that contain Vitamin C include:
You can read more about Vitamin C for skin in our Ingredient Spotlight: Vitamin C: What does Vitamin C do and which is the best Vitamin C serum for skin?
The body and therefore the skin also needs protein for optimum health. This is because our hair and nails, in particular, are mostly made of protein and your body uses protein to build and repair tissues.
It’s also an important building block of skin, and blood.
Choosing leaner meat can provide this vital protein without adding fat to your diet. Examples of lean protein include:
There are a number of sources of protein that also provide the body with vital levels of calcium, another important mineral that is needed for healthy skin and hair.
Most of us know that calcium helps promote strong bones and teeth but it also regulates many of our skin’s functions. Most calcium in the skin is found in the outermost layer of skin (the epidermis) where it acts as a barrier and helps the skin repair and replenish.
Every two months, or so, our epidermis completely renews itself but as we get older, this turnover rate slows down dramatically. This is a major cause of ageing and the loss of elasticity, as well as what causes the barrier to become thin. You can read more about this in our guide on how to prevent wrinkles.
Calcium can help maintain a healthy level of regeneration and barrier function, which is why calcium has also been touted as an anti-ageing mineral.
Examples of calcium-rich food include:
Yes, we know we sound like a broken record but by drinking an average of two litres of water a day can help to keep the skin well hydrated. It’s not a catch-all solution – and it doesn’t mean you can chow down on fried food, wash it down with water and assume one counteracts the other, but it certainly helps.
Drinking water can also help your body absorb more of the vitamins and minerals found in the food you’re eating
This includes tea and coffee, as well as squash, but water is the best source because it doesn’t contain caffeine or sugar. A healthier alternative is Green Tea, containing much less caffeine than regular tea.
Victoria is founder and editor-in-chief of mamabella, freelance journalist and Mum. She has a passion for empowering people to feel beautiful whatever their age, size, skin type and budget