This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
Yes, you can pile on every product under the sun, day in and day out. Or, try to be totally Zen to zap the stress, all in an effort to make your complexion truly gorgeous. But, the truth is, when it comes to skin — along with how you feel, too — you truly are what you eat. Ahead, we chat with experts in skin-saving regimes to discover how, exactly, you can eat your way to an absolutely glowing complexion.
Calm Down Sensitive Skin
What to eat: Salmon (preferably wild instead of farmed), flax seeds, walnuts and olive oil, as well as raspberries and chia seeds.
Why: “Good fats that are found in salmon, flax seeds, walnuts, and olive oil, for example, help rebuild cell membranes and reduce dry, flaky, and irritated skin, as well as providing antioxidants and anti-inflammatories to keep skin balanced,” says Murad, who recommends eating about four ounces of salmon if it’s part of a meal, along with sprinkling flax seeds on salad or oatmeal daily. But, because heightened skin sensitivity could be a chronic and genetic complexion characteristic, you want to pack as many calm-down nutrients into your meals as possible — and snacks (like fruit or chia pudding) are an easy, grab-and-go way to do it. “Raspberries contain ellagic acid, an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties that helps prevent red inflamed skin,” says Samantha Lynch, RD, a dietitian in New York City. “Keep your skin looking vibrant and clear by generously tossing sweet and tart berries on top of your yogurt or morning cereal.” Recently, chia seeds have become a more mainstream ingredient that’s gaining traction in food stores and on restaurant menus. (The tiny-ball-infused drinks and puddings are popping up on shelves far beyond the health food store circuit.) And, they can do your skin — not just your body — good, too. One teaspoon of chia seeds provides 2.5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids (a.k.a. alpha linolenic acid), which acts as a powerful anti-inflammatory and can help keep skin irritation-free and might help breakouts heal faster.
Protect Skin From UV Damage
What to eat: Pomegranates, goji berries, tomatoes, and broccoli.
Why: “In addition to applying sunscreen, I also recommend eating your sunscreen,” says Murad. “To boost the efficacy of topical sunscreen, eat fruits that contain nutrients that can protect you from the inside out.” Pomegranates are a great source of pomphenol (as well as the aforementioned ellagic acid), a potent antioxidant that has been shown to increase the power of SPF by helping to decrease the amount of free-radical damage in the body. “Eating pomphenol is a great way to prevent damage from occurring inside the body,” says Murad. Tomatoes and their lycopene-rich skin have also garnered some buzz over the past few years for their role as a natural skin protector. “Tomatoes are rich in the antioxidant lycopene, a carotenoid pigment that gives them their rosy red color,” explains Lynch. “Some studies have shown that a diet rich in lycopene can help protect the skin by as much as 33% — I think, reason enough to plop a big juicy tomato slice or two on your next burger or sandwich.”
Even more interesting research to back up the tomato-skin protection link: A study from the University of Michigan shows that eating lycopene (about 16 milligrams) can help the skin from getting sunburned. And, another skin benefit of the tomato is natural hydration. “Tomatoes not only safeguard your skin cells, but, thanks to the pigment lutein, they also help hydrate the skin and increase its elasticity,” says Lynch, who suggests making a homemade marinara weekly (with whole wheat pasta and extra veggies) and adding slices to your salad and sandwich as often as possible. Research also suggests that broccoli has major anti-cancer potential, and, therefore, should be eaten to help protect skin cells that have incurred any UV damage. “Pomegranates, broccoli, goji berries and tomatoes all protect skin from harmful free radicals which cause pigment changes and aging skin,” says Murad.
Ward Off Fine Lines And Wrinkles
What to eat: Foods that are packed with vitamin C (like kale and berries), as well as eggs, beans, seeds, goji berries, and avocados.
Why: “Kale, as well as most berries (like blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, cranberries and strawberries), have tons of vitamin A, C, and calcium which are all good for skin. But, it’s specifically their high content of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant, that makes it an especially good food for fighting premature aging due to UV damage,” explains Lynch. “Plus, there are 45 different flavonoids in kale, all of which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.” Lynch’s go-to recipe when you just can’t eat another salad: kale chips. Bake them on a baking sheet for 10 minutes with some olive oil and freshly ground pepper. And, don’t stop there to get a natural skin smoothing effect. “Eating a mix of foods that are rich in collagen-boosting ingredients such as embryonic foods that contain amino acids (eggs, beans, and seeds), antioxidants (pomegranate and goji berries), and good fats (walnuts and avocado) inhibit damage to collagen, so skin stays smoother for longer,” says Murad, who suggests having at least a half a cup of low glycemic fruit daily, whole eggs (try two for breakfast), almonds and pecans (about a handful a day) to get the anti-aging skin benefits.
Even Out Blotchy Skin Tone
What to eat: Dark green vegetables (like kale, spinach, Swiss Chard, green beans, or broccoli) and orange produce (sweet potatoes, carrots, apricots, or cantaloupe).
Why: You know how skin experts are always raving about using a retinoid (a.k.a. retinol) to ward off fine lines as well as make for a clear, even complexion? Well, there are plenty of foods that contain the super anti-ager, too. “These foods are high in vitamin A, which can help regulate and improve how skin sheds dead cells, which leads to a more even skin tone and increased radiance,” explains Murad. “Aim for one cup of dark green vegetables a day and a half-cup of orange produce — raw is the best way to eat it, as steaming causes water and essential nutrients to escape.” Other amazing sources of A are the orange varieties such as sweet potatoes, carrots, cantaloupe, and apricots (just three apricots have 30% of the recommended dose!). (And, of course, wear your sunscreen — and eat the skin protecting the foods mentioned above — to prevent future ultraviolet light damage.)
Give Skin A Tall Drink Of Water
What to eat: Watermelon, cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, and carrots.
Why: “Not only will these water-rich foods help your body — including skin — hold on to water longer, you’ll get the added boost of important antioxidants, fiber, and other nutrients, too,” says Howard Murad, MD, celebrity dermatologist and founder of Murad skincare. “Plus, raw fruits and vegetables hydrate your skin without the trips to the bathroom that you often experience when drinking glass after glass of water, which is why I always tell patients to try and eat their water, too.” And while the water and skin connection is not totally clear (many ask if it really gets to skin), experts agree that if you are dehydrated, you most likely notice your skin is dehydrated as well. And, that all cells, including those in skin, require water. Now, that doesn’t mean drinking water isn’t still super-important — it just means it’s not the only way to get ample hydration. Murad suggests throughout the day, instead of — or in addition to — reaching for H20, filling a plate with one or more of the water-laced foods above.
Illustrated by: Emily Kowzan
Photographed by: Eugena Ossi.
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