There's definitely something to the notion that beauty begins on the inside. If you're not eating right, your skin is the first to 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 research is 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 13 foods scientifically proven to clear up your skin, as well as the reasons for their beautifying effects.
"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.
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.
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.
Leafy greens like kale and spinach are also a terrific way to get some extra antioxidants for healthy skin cells. 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 support proper brain function and improve your immune system. 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 nourishes and soothes 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 like lemons and grapefruit are packed with vitamin C, which supports collagen to improve skin's firmness. It also encourages your body to metabolize faster and can help you feel less bloated.
Japanese women believe green tea to be a source of clear, beautiful skin. 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. 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 benefit your skin—including essential fatty acids and vitamin E.