There's definitely something to the notion that beauty begins on the inside. If you're not eating right, your skin will show it. If you want a clear, radiant complexion, shiny hair, and strong nails, you have to start with what you're putting into your body.
While there are many approaches to eating healthy, certain foods are guaranteed to up your beauty game. More and more people are examining the link between what we eat and how it manifests in our appearance. Consequently, attention has shifted away from superficial fixes in favor of more sustainable strategies that focus on starting within. So if you want a makeover, you first have to makeover your diet. To give you a head start on practicing the very first step of skin care, we rounded up the top things you should be eating to promote clearer skin.
Keep reading to see the 20 foods scientifically proven to clear up your skin, as well as the reasons for their beautifying effects.
Meet the Expert
- Whitney Bowe, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and author. She specializes in skin rejuvenation, laser dermatology, and the link between nutrition and skincare.
- Dr. Rachel Maiman is a board-certified cosmetic and general dermatologist at Marmur Medical.
- Lauren Minchen, MPH, RDN, CDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist and the founder of Lauren Minchen Nutrition.
- Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, is the founder and director of Real Nutrition.
"Not having enough probiotics in your diet, eating the wrong types of foods—unfortunately, that slows down digestion and creates a shift in the type of bacterial environment in your gut," says Dr. Whitney Bowe. "I always simplify it and say an inflamed gut means inflamed skin. If you heal your gut, that’s the first step in healing your skin." To incorporate more probiotics into your diet, Bowe suggests reaching for kombucha, sauerkraut, anything pickled, yogurt with live active cultures, kefir, and miso.
Another way to support a healthy gut (and as a result, clear, healthy skin) is with the inclusion of prebiotics in your regular diet: "It’s almost like fertilizer for your good bugs or your good bacteria," Bowe says. "Garlic, leeks, dandelion greens, asparagus—those are great sources of prebiotic fiber in the diet. They help to feed the healthy flora and restore your gut microbiome to a much more healthy state."
Low-Glycemic Index Foods
Bowe says high-glycemic foods (like refined carbs, white pasta, white bread, pretzels, bagels, cookies—any kind of refined, processed foods) have been linked with inflammation and acne in particular. "There are randomized controlled trials that show if you swap out some of those high glycemic index foods for low glycemic index foods, including any kinds of protein sources, chicken, pasteurized eggs, vegetables, quinoa, steel-cut oatmeal, sweet potato, brown rice—you actually can clear up acne," Bowe explains.
Non-dairy milk options might not actively work to clear up your skin, but switching from dairy milk to an alternative option could make all the difference in your acne breakouts. Although Bowe says there are studies linking skim milk and dairy milk with acne (likely due to the whey and casein found in dairy), she adds that you don't have to give up dairy completely in the name of clear skin.
"The studies show that there’s an association between milk and ice cream and acne, but there’s not an association with yogurt and cheese with acne," she explains. "We think that’s because of the prebiotic benefit that’s found in the cheese and yogurt, so that sort of negates the negative effects of the dairy." In other words, stick with the yogurt, but pass on the skim milk.
Blueberries, blackberries, and cranberries—not to mention the all-powerful goji berry—are high in antioxidants and packed with nutrients. Antioxidants are anti-inflammatories that aid the body to heal itself while also protecting against further free-radical damage—doing wonders for your skin. "Berries are rich in antioxidants, including vitamin A and vitamin C," Dr. Maiman says. "Ellagic acid, however, appears to be the antioxidant prevalent in this food group that is also responsible for some of its skin-related benefits," Dr. Maiman says.
"Leafy greens like spinach, kale, collard greens, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts pack a powerhouse of antioxidants and vitamins that provide a multitude of skin benefits," Dr. Maiman says. They provide the body with vitamin A, which works against dry, flaky skin; vitamin C, which undoes the sun's damage to collagen and elastin; and vitamin E, which helps fight against inflammation. Furthermore, leafy greens contain folate, a nutrient necessary for DNA repair.
Turmeric does wonders for soothing inflammation and has also been shown to improve your immune system and support proper brain function. Consume it with warm water to balance your skin's natural flora and protect your skin cells against free radicals.
There's a reason egg cream is a Korean beauty trend. Egg yolk is meant to nourish and soothe the skin while also providing vitamin A for skin repair.
Selenium, found in Brazil nuts, is another powerful antioxidant that helps protect the skin from free radicals. Not only that, but studies have shown selenium can help to clear skin, reducing the risk of breakouts and decreasing acne.
"Citrus fruits are a naturally rich source of vitamin C, a potent antioxidant that speeds cellular turnover, fights free radical damage and inflammation, and assists in the production of collagen and elastin," Dr. Maiman says. It also encourages your body to metabolize faster and can help you feel less bloated.
Consumption of green tea is part of some East Asian cultures, and Japanese women in particular have been aware of its skincare benefits for centuries. Some of its many benefits include helping to slow DNA damage, stopping inflammation, and even protecting against sun damage and burns. There's a reason the superfood makes its way into so many cosmetics; Ingesting the real deal directly delivers its immediate soothing qualities while working toward lasting results.
Fish boast a long list of benefits to your health, especially for your skin. "Fatty fish, specifically wild salmon, sardines, and mackerel provide essential protein and amino acids, which make up the building blocks of our skin and keep it strong," Minchen says.
Salmon, tuna, halibut, cod, snapper, and sardines all contain selenium. Cold-water fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel are packed with essential fatty acids like omega-3s and omega-6s, which retain your skin's natural oil barrier, combatting dryness and uneven complexions.
High-quality oils like cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil and avocado oil are brimming with nutrients that may benefit your skin—including essential fatty acids and vitamin E. "The healthy monounsaturated fat [in olive oil] is so good for skin health, moisture, and elasticity," Smith says.
Chia seeds are rich in plant-based Omega 3s, protein, and soluble fiber. "Omega 3s in chia seeds provide an anti-inflammatory effect and can protect the skin from inflammatory conditions, like eczema, hyperpigmentation, etc.," Minchen says. "Additionally, protein is at the foundation of healthy skin structure. And finally, soluble fiber can help keep the gut healthy, which may boost healthy probiotic balance in the gut and ultimately the skin. Chia seeds are also very hydrating, helping keep the skin plump."
Shapiro and Minchen both recommend consuming sweet potatoes. The vegetable is rich in beta-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin E, and antioxidants. "Beta carotene (a vitamin A precursor) and vitamin A itself fight discoloration and early signs of aging in the skin by supporting healthy skin renewal," Minchen says. "Vitamin E supports collagen in the skin, and antioxidants fight inflammation-related skin damage."
Cucumbers are rich in water, vitamin C, and folic acid. "Cucumber promotes skin health both from the inside and the outside," Shapiro says. "Eat it to keep your skin hydrated and for the antioxidants to prevent skin damage long term. Put it on your face to decrease inflammation, reduce swelling, and promote healing from sun damage. Cucumber is soothing, hydrating, and contains silica which will hydrate and strengthen your skin."
Edamame is the most wholesome form of soy. "It contains isoflavone, which has been shown to prevent wrinkles and promote skin health," Shapiro explains. "It can also promote collagen production, keeping the skin more elastic and therefore results in fewer wrinkles."
"Tomatoes contain lutein and lycopene—two powerful antioxidants and phytonutrients that may be skin protective," Smith says. "Also, tomatoes have a good amount of water volume so they are hydrating as well, which is always helpful."
Walnuts contain nutrients beneficial for our skin and bodies. "Walnuts are richer than most other nuts in both omega-3 fatty acids," Dr. Maiman says. "For example, one ounce (28 grams) of walnuts contains 8% of the daily recommended value for zinc, an essential mineral required by the skin to function properly as a protective barrier. It’s also integral in the process of wound healing and optimizing immune system function to combat both bacteria and inflammation." Although not its primary skin benefit, walnuts also provide small amounts of the antioxidants vitamin E and selenium."
Avocados contain high levels of healthy oils and vitamin E. "Both of which provide the building blocks for healthy skin cell function as well as help improve barrier function and hydration," Dr. Maiman says.
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