Feed Your Face: 10 Nutrients for Beautiful Skin
Updated: Jun 16, 2018
Beauty may be skin deep, but a radiant, glowing complexion tells a thousand truths about the state of your inner health. Though ageing is a complex mosaic of factors spanning genetics, diet and other elements, skin is a mirror of cellular wellbeing, and is often the first reflection of the body’s internal processes.
As the body’s largest organ, skin tends to suffer if primary detoxification agents such as the liver and kidneys are unable to effectively eliminate food and environment-borne toxins. Acne, eczema, and a dull, blotchy complexion are common indicators of toxin overload, and when compounded with nutrient deficiencies, may lead to hair loss, brittle nails, and poor physical and mental vitality as well. Eating right goes hand-in-hand with looking great, and these 10 nutrients are my top curated picks for beautiful benefits guaranteed to make you go, go, glow!
1. Vitamin A
If skin is akin to a canvas, then vitamin A is a painter whose cell-deep brush strokes bring that canvas to life. Vitamin A confers an exfoliation-like effect: it encourages cell regeneration by stimulating fibroblast growth from deep within skin’s dermal layer. Poor vitamin A intake is associated with hyperkeratinisation of skin which causes sweat-gland blockage, leading to skin conditions such as acne due to heightened bacterial activity within these obstructed glands (Basavaraj et. al, 2010). Vitamin A deficiency is also associated with keratosis pilaris, a skin condition characterised by hardened hair follicles manifesting as tiny raised bumps on the back of the arms and which is colloquially referred to as ‘chicken skin’.
Top Vitamin A picks: Organic chicken or beef liver, cod liver oil, eggs, carrots, pumpkin, spinach, sweet potato and bellpeppers.
2. Vitamin C
Oxidative stress is the foremost cause of cellular ageing and stems from a diet high in simple sugars and trans-saturated fat, environmental pollutants, low physical activity, alcohol, and smoking. These and other factors have been shown to cause cellular degeneration, which leads to collagen breakdown and loss of skin suppleness. As skin’s main structural protein, collagen keeps skin smooth, plump and elastic, with vitamin C serving as co-factor for enzymes such as prolysyl and lysyl hydroxylase, both of which stimulate collagen synthesis (Telang, 2013).
Top Vitamin C picks: Citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, strawberries, guava, dragon fruit, broccoli, kale, bok choy and bellpeppers.
3. Vitamin E
Like its antioxidant sister vitamin C, vitamin E is a free radical-fighting hero whose skin-protective properties stem from its ability to inhibit lipid peroxidation, thereby preventing both cellular and intra-cellular damage. Skin cells (and all body cells!) are made up of an outer polyunsaturated fatty layer that is extremely susceptible to oxidative damage, and vitamin E comes to the rescue by safeguarding their structure and integrity by breaking the chain of oxidative damage that triggers ageing at a cellular level (Raederstorff et. al, 2015).
Top Vitamin E picks: Wheatgerm, sunflower seeds, sunflower oil, safflower oil, olive oil, almonds, and nut and seed butters.
Joining the family of antioxidant superstars is glutathione, a tripeptide comprised of three amino acids which are cysteine, glycine and glutamic acid. Because glutathione is concentrated within cells in an equal ratio to glucose and potassium, it is an important indicator of cellular metabolic function and a great predictor of overall health and longevity (Pizzorno, 2014). Glutathione works alongside vitamin C and vitamin E to safeguard cellular and DNA integrity against free radical damage (Montecinos et. al, 2007).
As a key detoxification agent, glutathione is especially important for liver health due to its role in phase 2 detoxification mechanisms, where it converts fat-soluble toxins such as hormone metabolites, heavy metals and pesticide residues into a water-soluble form to be eliminated via the kidneys (Murray et. al, 2005). Given that a happy liver equals happy skin, enhancing the liver’s ability to eliminate toxins means that skin doesn’t have to pick up the slack and purge toxins through its pores instead!
Top Glutathione picks: Broccoli, spinach, asparagus, walnuts, avocado, citrus fruits, apples and carrots.
It may come as a surprise to learn that despite their vastly different appearance, our skin, hair and nails are all made up of the same biological substance: a protein called keratin. Skin regeneration occurs over a period of 27 days, and adequate protein intake is essential to provide cells with the nutrition needed to support this renewal process. Dietary protein also functions as scaffolding for all body tissues, aids in tissue repair and maintenance, and regulates fluid balance within cells (Paxton, 2015). Without adequate protein from animal or vegetarian sources, cell physiology is disrupted, skin’s renewal cycle is compromised, hair loses its glossy sheen, and nails become thin and brittle. Eeek!
Top Protein picks: Eggs, fish, chicken, beef, tofu, quinoa, oats, chickpeas, and yoghurt.
6. Complex Carbohydrates
Beat the sugar rush (and nip skin sins in the bud) with a diet rich in low-glycaemic complex carbohydrates, which support skin health vis-a-vis a more stable insulinogenic response. Conversely, a diet high in simple sugars such as those found in cakes, confectionaries and processed food stimulates the pancreas to release large amounts of insulin, which in turn prompts the adrenal glands to release androgenic insulin-like growth factors (IGFs) (Kumari & Thappa, 2013). High circulating levels of IGFs are detrimental to skin health, as research reports an association between IGFs’ pro-inflammatory properties and skin conditions such as acne (Pappas, 2009).
Though all carbohydrates are broken down into sugar in the bloodstream, complex carbohydrates have a higher starch and fibre content which supports more gradual catabolism in the digestive tract, thereby preventing acne-provoking spikes in blood glucose levels. Additionally and because complex carbohydrates are abundant in dietary fibre, the body is able to eliminate toxins in stool more effectively and reduce the liver’s detoxification burden. So while a candy binge might make you feel good in the short-term, think about the price your waist (and face!) will be paying in the long-term!
Top Complex Carbohydrate picks: Sweet potatoes, pumpkin, yam, brown rice, oats, quinoa, chickpeas, and most wholegrains, beans and lentils.
7. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that possess anti-inflammatory properties and are able to safeguard skin at a cellular level via eicosanoid signalling and transcriptional activation (Gropper & Smith, 2013). While trans-saturated fat found in deep-fried foods and processed foods are generally associated with poor skin health, healthy fat such as omega-3 have been shown to improve skin conditions such as acne, eczema and psoriasis (Divya et. al, 2015).
One of the most common signs of a fatty acid deficiency is dull, dry skin prone to itching and flaking. Because the outer layer of human cells comprises fat and is determined by the type of fat consumed, a diet high in hydrogenated vegetable oils and trans-saturated fat is associated with less fluid cell membranes compared to those of an individual consuming high quality polyunsaturated fat (Murray et. al, 2005). Changes in cell membrane fluidity is a common trigger for disease (and ageing), as cells lose their capacity to retain water, electrolytes and nutrients needed to sustain healthy metabolic function (Murray, Pizzorno & Pizzorno, 2005).
Top Omega-3 picks: Deep water oily fish (salmon, sardine, mackerel and tuna), cod liver oil, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, soybeans, spinach, and free-range eggs.
Youthful skin has an inimitable bounce that only the most adept air-brushing can replicate. Like vitamin C and its role in collagen synthesis, selenium is an essential trace mineral that supports tissue elasticity while preventing free radical damage alongside glutathione (Basavaraj et. al, 2010). Research suggests that increasing dietary selenium intake may therefore not only proffer cell membrane protection via enhanced glutathione action, but may also stave off the effects of photo-ageing due to sun exposure and melanoma (Amaro-Ortiz et. al, 2014). While slapping on sunscreen is all well and good, a little internal protection courtesy of selenium can’t hurt none either!
Top Selenium picks: Brazil nuts, wheatgerm, sunflower seeds, tuna, oats, brown rice, lean pork loin and eggs.
If you suffer from frequent breakouts and pimples that take forever to heal, chances are good that you are zinc deficient. Like selenium, zinc is an essential trace mineral, and a component of many metalloenzymes in the body that support cell regeneration and wound healing via roles in protein synthesis and DNA replication (Kumar et. al, 2012). Zinc’s role in stabilising cell membranes and regulating keratogenesis is important not only for skin physiology but hair and nail health as well (Kaymak et. al, 2007). Common symptoms of zinc deficiency include skin conditions such as eczema and acne, skin hyperpigmentation, scars and keloids as well as thinning hair, altered hair colour, and brittle nails.
Top Zinc picks: Oysters, grass-fed lamb and beef, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, cashews, almonds and oats.
Perhaps the most underrated nutrient of all, water is essential for maintaining healthy skin physiology by supporting cellular shape and giving skin a plump, supple quality. Dehydration has serious consequences for both skin and overall health as the human body is made up of approximately 60 percent water, with muscle, brain tissue and skin constituting roughly 70 percent of this amount (Paxton, 2015). Our bodies lose water daily through perspiration, respiration and urination, making it imperative to manage these output losses with at least 2.5 litres of water every day.
Remember that coffee and tea are not substitutes for water as both beverages have a diuretic effect and increase water-loss via urination. Excessive coffee and tea consumption is one of the most common causes of dehydration after low water intake, and should be substituted for non-diuretic options such as herbal or fruit teas instead if you find drinking plain water unappealing. Infused waters are all the rage on the hydration front these days, so consider adding a few sprigs of mint or slices of orange, lemon or cucumber to water to help meet your daily fluid intake.
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Divya, S. A., Sriharsha, M., Narotham, R. K., Krupa, S. N. & Siva, T. R. K. (2015). Role of diet in dermatological conditions. Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences, 5(5), 1-7. doi:10.4172/2155-9600.1000400
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