As someone who struggled with cystic acne for most of her teenage and young adult life I definitely don’t take it lightly when I get a compliment about my skin. I will dive into my story in more detail in an upcoming post but let’s just say it wasn’t without a lot of experimenting and hard work to figure out all the culprits.
What I want to focus on today are the foundational factors that I discovered to turn my skin around and keep it looking clear and radiant all these years later. When you’re healthy on the inside it will show on the outside. A healthy lifestyle is visible through your skin, your hair, your nails, your eyes.
When you’re nourishing your cells with the nutrients they need, when you’re supporting your detoxification channels so toxins can easily be flushed out, and when you’re nourishing your mental and emotional health all of these things can be seen through your skin.
Your skin is the largest detoxification organ in your body, so inflammation, food intolerances, stress, digestive issues, lack of sleep, dehydration, or hormonal imbalances are bound to show up in your skin. This can come up as acne, eczema, psoriasis, dry skin, pre-mature aging, or a generalized dull complexion.
The skin is such an important marker of health that I routinely ask clients about their skin when I do my initial nutritional assessment. There are lifestyle choices that speed up the aging process and cause inflammation and irritation in your body (and on your skin) and on the contrary there are lifestyle choices that slow and even reverse aging.
Which do you want to be cultivating in your life? If the answer is anti-aging, then continue reading. I’m going to lay out the exact foods and habits you want in your life right now to slow the aging process, nourish your cells from the inside out, and ultimately gain that clear, glowing skin you’ve been craving.
The skin is ~70% water, did you know that? Maintaining adequate hydration is my #1 recommendation for healthy, glowing skin. We can’t simply slather a bunch of moisturizers on the outside of our skin without also “moisturizing” our cells from the inside. Plain pure water, spa water, herbal teas, and fresh veggie juices are your best internal moisturizers.
Another important internal moisturizer are healthy fats. So often when people cut fat from their diet in an attempt to eat healthier, they start having skin issues; particularly dry and itchy skin. Your cells need fat to stay plump and hydrated. Cutting out bad fats is an important step in helping your skin but make sure this doesn’t also include your good fats. Keep lots of healthy fats in your diet; like avocados, coconut oil, chia seeds, and fatty fish. The yolk from pastured eggs is also a great healthy fat source in addition to other skin, hair, and nail boosting nutrients like biotin.
Protein is an important building block for healthy skin, hair, and nails. Choose a variety of healthy protein sources and make sure you include some type of protein (animal or plant) at every meal.
Your dark green leafy veggies are full of nutrients that directly nourish the skin (vitamin A, beta-carotene, B vitamins, chlorophyll). They are also a great source of fiber, which will work to keep your digestive tract healthy. Digestion and skin are so closely related that rarely do you find a scenario where troubled skin happens without some digestive complaints as well. Make sure you include dark leafy greens in your diet every day (spinach, kale, chard, bok choy, arugula, etc). Enjoy them on their own, in a salad, or a smoothie.
Reds & Oranges
In addition to dark leafy greens, fruits and veggies in the red and orange families are equally important for skin health. They too are high in beta-carotene and vitamin A along with other phytonutrients, which not only nourish the cells of the skin but also helps to protect your skin against the damages of the sun. These nutrients actually improve your skin’s innate SPF protection! On a daily basis include at least a serving or two of any of the following foods; carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots, pink grapefruit, watermelon, tomatoes, papaya, bell pepper, pumpkin, etc.
All antioxidants play a role in skin health but vitamin C in particular is an important player. Vitamin C’s ability to fight free radical damage plus promote collagen synthesis can lessen wrinkling of the skin and make the skin look younger! I mean who doesn’t want that, right?! Include at least one serving of the following foods on a daily basis; papaya, bell peppers, berries, broccoli, or citrus fruits.
The phytonutrients in green tea have also been shown to improve your skin’s innate SPF protection. Green tea is also important for lowering inflammation in the body, boosting detoxification, and supporting digestive health. So in addition to providing protection against the damaging effects of the sun it can also help to repair the root causes of problem skin. Try to drink at least 2 cups a day to get the most benefit.
Avoid Added Sugars
I know! I’m sure you’re getting tired of all the sugar finger pointing but unfortunately it really is that much of a menace to your health. The #1 problem food when it comes to your skin is SUGAR! Sugar can increase wrinkles, breakouts, eczema, skin tags, and more. This is because sugar deregulates your blood sugar, hormones, and immune system; all of which are important to the health of your skin.
And the biggest challenge is that sugar is added to everything!! So you really have to be on the look-out for it. Do your best to avoid added sugars and be careful to moderate your intake of foods that turn into sugar once digested (pasta, bread, crackers, cereal, etc). I would also lump alcohol into this category. Although a little can be great, too much can definitely lead to break-outs and premature aging.
In addition to a whole foods, healthy diet with a focus on the foods listed above, there are of course lifestyle factors that influence the health of your skin as well. As with everything related to health and wellness, there is a synergy of influences. Some of the more important influencers of skin health include the following:
Smoking – smoking of course is a problem for many areas of your health but it also does a number on your skin; increasing wrinkles and premature aging, along with skin discoloration and dryness. If you are a smoker, then the #1 thing you can do right now to start repairing your skin is to stop smoking.
Exercise – exercise increases the blood flow and oxygenation of your skin.
Sweating – sweating helps to clean the skin and clear out the pores; in addition to exercise you can induce sweating with a sauna or even a hot bath.
Sleep – lack of sleep is a major influencer on the glow of your skin so try to get at least 6-8 hours every night.
Stress Strategies – stress is another major factor on the health of your skin; with increased stress comes increased cortisol, increased inflammation, and as a consequence tired and lackluster skin. Add in daily stress management strategies to help modulate how your body responds to stress.
And of course what you put on your skin also matters. My mantra, as with most things, is to keep it pure and simple. Natural and organic is best.
Remember that whatever you put on your skin gets absorbed into your body; so ideally put on products that are safe to eat. I love using natural oils like coconut, cocoa butter, shea butter, and argan oil. Avoid chemicals and let your skin breathe. Even try to go make-up free (gasp!) several days a week. I will speak more on this topic along with healthy sun protection in an upcoming post.
Take Home Message
The most important message here is what you put in your body is reflected on the outside of your body. So the first step in getting clear, radiant skin is to put in the foods that will nourish your cells and give your skin a healthy glow.
The next step is to take out the foods that are working against you; most importantly added sugars. And finally to add in lifestyle factors that will support your dietary efforts.
For those of you with more challenging skin conditions, like acne, eczema, or psoriasis, these steps alone may not be enough. A deeper look at gut health, inflammation, and food intolerances will need to be explored.