Does your daily regimen include wash, toner and an $80 night cream? That doesn’t mean you’re on track for getting silky, smooth skin. Ingredients in food – including vitamins A, C and E, and less well-known chemicals such as lycopene and linoleic acid – create smooth skin and keep from sagging, fight pimples and rashes, and even offer natural sun protection.
“Our skin must contend against harsh aspects of the outside world – the sun, microorganisms, and toxins such as air pollutants,” says Wilhelm Stahl, a biochemist at Heinrich Heine University in Dusseldorf, Germany. “Nutrients from the diet travel to the skin, where they help cells fight off these assaults.”
Here’s what to eat and what to avoid for a complexion and smooth skin that radiates health.
Doctors recently learned that acne culprits are sweet or starchy foods that are quickly digested, sending a jolt of sugar to the bloodstream. The body responds to the sugar high by making more insulin, which spurs skin glands to ooze their oily stuff. In 2007, an Australian team, led by nutritional biochemist Robyn Smith, became the first to show, in a small group of young men, that eating whole grains, fresh produce and lean meat and fish instead of processed carbs may help alleviate acne and contributes to smooth skin.
Tip: Trade baguettes for multi-grain bread, and pretzels for nuts.
Sunscreen You Swallow
Why do Italians love their spaghetti marinara? It’s delicious, but it may also shield Mediterraneans from the intensity of the sun’s rays. Eating fruits and vegetables containing vitamins C and E – along with a few other less well-known natural chemicals – reduces one’s susceptibility to sunburn. One of the most effective natural sunscreens is lycopene, which is found in tomatoes, watermelon and pink grapefruit.
Chemicals in cocoa, called flavanols, as well as polyphenols in green tea also grant UV protection, which leads to smooth skin. All this may sound weird until you consider that plants can’t duck for shade at high noon, so some have developed other protective strategies. Use sunscreen, by all means, but munch on these foods to enhance its benefits.
Tip: Trade diet soda for tomato juice, gummy bears for chocolate with high cocoa content.
The key to looking younger? Skip cigarettes and the sun, and bring on fruits and veggies. Vitamin A – found in carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach and kale – is essential for normal skin-functioning. Vitamin C – found in red and green peppers, citrus fruits and strawberries – helps make collagen, an elastic substance that plumps skin.
A 2007 study of more than 4,000 women (one of the first studies to examine how nutrient intake from foods as opposed to vitamin supplements affects skin) yielded surprising results. Epidemiologist Maeve C. Cosgrove and colleagues found that women who ate foods rich in vitamin C and linoleic acid – found in soybean oil, green leafy vegetables, and nuts – had fewer wrinkles and smoother skin as well as fuller, more youthful complexions.
Tip: Trade doughnuts for walnuts, and breakfast sausage for orange and strawberry slices.
Eczema – a painful, itchy, scaly skin condition – is on the rise. No one knows why, but some doctors believe that an effective treatment includes eating foods rich in gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), a fatty acid found in some seed oils. Scientists suspect that lower levels of GLA in the blood make it harder for skin to hold on to water, so it becomes drier and eczema-prone. Some studies have shown that ingesting foods containing GLA, such as evening-primrose oil, blackcurrant-seed oil or borage oil, can help. Even consuming modest amounts of hempseed oil (1-2 tablespoons per day) can rid the irritable symptoms of eczema with smooth skin.
Tip: Supplement a diet rich in fish with evening-primrose, blackcurrant-seed, borage or hempseed oil.
Emily Laber-Warren was an executive editor at Popular Science and a special projects editor at Women’s Health before going freelance in 2007. She currently writes for Psychology Today, Scientific American Mind and Earth 3.0.