Plain and simple: a meal plan packed with inflammatory foods can compromise your complexion, while a nutrient-dense diet supports glowy skin.
Of course, some of us are simply predisposed to skin struggles (think: hereditary autoimmune conditions like psoriasis or chronic cystic acne), and it’s important to remember that food isn’t the only factor that affects our skin. Still, cleaning up the diet is a no-brainer for anyone dealing with skin stuff. Read on as our contributing registered dietitian, Anthea Levi, MS, RD, explains why.
It’s All About Inflammation
Some inflammation in the body is a good thing. In fact, it’s actually a necessary defense mechanism against unwanted pathogens. From a skin perspective, inflammation also helps us heal wounds. But chronic inflammation, which can contribute to skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and acne, is problematic, and the foods we eat can influence the degree of chronic inflammation in the body.
Foods to Avoid for Glowy Skin
First things first: how food affects our skin is highly individual. While some people experience bad breakouts after eating dairy, others are a-ok consuming milk-based products.
If you do have a post-ice cream pimple problem, it may be due to insulin-like growth factor 1, or IGF1, a hormone found in cow’s milk that’s thought to promote sebum production in some individuals. ICYMI: sebum is the oil that’s secreted from the glands in our skin. More sebum production can mean more clogged pores, which can mean more blemishes. Womp womp.
If you want to see how a dairy-free diet may affect your skin health, swap Greek yogurt or cow’s milk for Lavva’s plant-based pili nut yogurts or milks. It may require sticking with the switch for about three months to truly assess if it delivers skin improvements.
Another skin saboteur? Alcohol. For one, booze act as diuretics, meaning they can contribute to dehydration that may worsen tired-looking skin. Alcohol is also known to mess with women’s hormonal balance. Since skin problems like cystic acne are often hormonally-linked, reducing your rosè intake could potentially help relieve those painful pimples.
Sugary foods like desserts and packaged snacks with added sweeteners (yes, even raw cane or coconut sugar) can also mess with skin outcomes. Eating sweets triggers the release of insulin, which, like IGF-1, can bolster sebum production. Insulin can also raise testosterone levels, which increases one’s risk of acne as well.
Foods to Eat for Glowy Skin
Now that we know inflammation sits at the root of common skin problems, it makes sense that we’re always hearing about anti-inflammatory foods. These nutrient-dense ingredients can help drive down the tissue damage that follows when we’re chronically inflamed.
So, what to eat first? Fruits and veggies are non-negotiables as the plants serve up key vitamins and minerals that support skin health. For example, carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, and butternut squash are all rich in beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, AKA retinol. Yep, those pricey topicals your derm prescribed are actually synthetic retinoids that mimic high doses of vitamin A to treat conditions like acne, aging, and even psoriasis. You can also obtain high amounts of vitamin A from animal sources like beef liver and cod liver oil.
Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, trout, and sardines, all rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, can help preserve collagen, per The Cleveland Clinic. I recommend getting in at least three four-ounce servings of fish weekly.
If collagen is your main concern, be sure to also include foods rich in vitamin C, like citrus fruits, bell peppers, potatoes, strawberries, and Brussels sprouts. The water-soluble vitamin is required for collagen production in the body.
Finally, good old H2O is critical for keeping skin smooth and supple. Without adequate hydration, skin can appear (and feel) dull and dry. Aim for a minimum of 64 ounces (or 8 cups) of water per day. And in hot temps or on tough workout days, the more the better.