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Last updated March 19, 2020. 9 minute read

11 foods for healthy skin: at least two will surprise you

Though there are many skin concerns that deserve your attention, several of them can be addressed, at least partly, through the same solution: a healthy diet. Certain foods have nutrients that go to work, protecting and supporting our skin from the inside out. Some of these vitamins, minerals, and fats keep our skin moist, elastic, and supple, while others protect it from different sources of damage.

Linnea Zielinski Written by Linnea Zielinski
Reviewed by Dr. Mike Bohl, MD, MPH

There are a lot of ways your car can break down, so only worrying about the tires and the oil is pretty silly. But we do the same thing with our skin. Our skin is the largest organ of our bodies, and yet we really only pay attention to it when we get acne or wrinkles. Or maybe occasionally if it itches. But, like your car, there are a lot of ways the health of your skin can be compromised—so it doesn’t make much sense to only worry about one or two.

Vitals

  • Certain foods have nutrients that may benefit the health of your skin.
  • Some foods may protect your skin from damage from ultraviolet (UV) rays.
  • But this protection is not a replacement for sunscreen use.
  • Foods high in antioxidants may help combat cellular damage that leads to premature aging of the skin, including the formation of wrinkles.

But even though there are many skin concerns that deserve your attention, several of them can be addressed, at least partly, through the same solution: a healthy diet. Certain foods have nutrients that go to work, protecting and supporting our skin from the inside out. Some of these vitamins, minerals, and fats keep our skin moist, elastic, and supple, while others protect it from different sources of damage.

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Foods for healthy skin

While some nutrients found in certain foods may help protect your skin from ultraviolet (UV) light damage, the effect is far lower than that of sunscreen. So there’s never an excuse for you to skip applying sunscreen before spending time outdoors. But if you want to support the overall health of your skin from the inside, consider adding more of these foods to your weekly diet.

Please note that just because a specific nutrient is present in a food does not mean the food will necessarily have a beneficial effect on your skin (especially if you are not otherwise deficient in that nutrient). We present some of the research below that may relate some foods, but we encourage you to investigate the research on your own as well. Additionally, even if they do not have beneficial effects on the skin, many of the foods listed below can be part of a healthy overall diet.

Fatty fish

Fish haters have no excuse to scroll past, thanks to fish oil supplements. Fatty fish such as mackerel, salmon, and herring as well as fish oil supplements are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Low levels of DHA have been linked to dry skin. Fatty fish also contains vitamin E, a phytonutrient (plant chemical) that may help protect your skin from damage caused by ultraviolet (UV) light (Evans, 2010).

Orange and yellow fruits and veggies

The color of the fruit and vegetables you throw in your grocery cart affect a lot more than how Instagrammable your meals appear. Many colors of produce are a visual cue for some key nutrients. In the case of orange and yellow produce such as apricots and carrots, the color points to the beta-carotene inside. Beta-carotene is a phytonutrient that has powerful antioxidant properties. Like vitamin E, it may protect your skin from UV radiation from sunlight (Evans, 2010). Having consistently adequate levels of these compounds may also contribute to the maintenance of skin health and appearance (Stahl, 2012).

Some produce, like red and yellow peppers, are also excellent sources of vitamin A—but beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A by the body, so there’s no need to focus on one specific type of produce on this end of the color spectrum. Red and yellow peppers have an additional bonus, though: a high amount of vitamin C, which is essential for the production of collagen. An observational study that looked at over 4,000 American women found that high vitamin C intake was associated with a lower chance of wrinkled and dry skin (Cosgrove, 2007).

Tomatoes

Tomatoes boast two skin-boosting nutrients: lycopene and vitamin C. Lycopene is actually just one of several carotenoids, a class of yellow, orange, or red plant pigments that also includes beta-carotene and lutein. Tomatoes have all three, and they all help protect your skin from ultraviolet (UV) light damage (Stahl, 2006). In fact, one study found that a diet high in carotenoids and flavonoids decreased UV-induced skin reddening in participants after just ten to 12 weeks (Stahl, 2007).

Skin, in the taut, undamaged state we covet, is high in vitamin C naturally. Vitamin C plays an essential role in the production of collagen, which helps maintain the internal structure that makes our skin look tight. But, like lycopene, it may also help protect our skin from photodamage, specifically caused by UV rays (Pullar, 2017).

Berries

Berries of all types are packed with antioxidants, compounds that balance free radicals in your body. These free radicals come from natural chemical reactions in the body. High levels of free radicals can cause oxidative stress, a condition that damages cells and has been linked to several chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, and neurodegenerative diseases (like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease). Oxidative stress is also linked to aging (Liguori, 2018).

Since oxidative stress is linked to so many health conditions, we tend to associate the aging it causes with our organs—but our skin is also an organ. That means oxidative stress not only ages our internal organs, potentially causing chronic diseases, but also causes inflammation and aging of our skin, leading to wrinkles (Nguyen, 2012). As we age, we also lose some of our inherent antioxidant mechanisms, which also accelerates this imbalance. But we can replace some of them, bringing antioxidants and free radicals back into equilibrium, through dietary intake of food sources of antioxidants, such as berries (Addor, 2017; Petruk, 2018).

Broccoli

Broccoli is a nutritional powerhouse, and its benefits extend to almost every system of your body—your skin is no exception. This cruciferous vegetable packs three noteworthy nutrients that benefit the largest organ of your body: zinc, vitamin A, and vitamin C. If you’ve read any article online about how to improve your skin, you’ve seen the word “retinol” a lot. Retinol is another word for vitamin A. We can get this important nutrient through our diets thanks to food sources such as broccoli and produce with beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A by the body, or through topical applications. Retinol has been shown to successfully reduce the appearance of wrinkles by supporting the compounds that make up the underlying structure of your skin and boosting collagen production, just like vitamin C (Kafi, 2007).

Zinc isn’t to be underappreciated when it comes to your skin, either. In fact, zinc has been shown to help with a wide variety of dermatological issues. It helps with infections, including warts, pigment issues such as melasma, inflammatory issues such as acne and rosacea, and acrodermatitis enteropathica, a condition characterized by skin inflammation, baldness, and diarrhea due to a genetic disorder that causes zinc deficiency (Gupta, 2014).

Nuts and seeds

Many nuts and seeds boast high quantities of skin-enhancing nutrients already discussed, making them good foods to add to your diet for better skin.

Sunflower seeds also pack large amounts of skin-friendly nutrients into each serving. One serving provides roughly half of your daily vitamin E needs, which can help protect your skin from sun damage (FoodData Central, n.d.; Evans, 2010). They also provide selenium, which may have anti-inflammatory properties. This trace mineral is also an antioxidant and, as such, can help fight oxidative stress (McKenzie, 2000).

Avocados

You hardly need another excuse from us to indulge in avocado, but these fatty fruits may also benefit your skin. They’re rich in vitamins A and E, two vitamins with antioxidant properties that may help protect your skin from free radical damage (FoodData Central, n.d.). This damage may speed the creation of fine lines. That’s why foods and actions that fight inflammation are integral parts of anti-aging regimens (Ganceviciene, 2012). Additionally, a study that looked at dietary fat in women’s diets found that higher levels of this nutrient were associated with increased skin elasticity (Nagata, 2010). For glowing skin, try to work avocado into more meals. Don’t forget that this versatile berry works just as easily in sweet recipes like smoothies as it does in savory ones like avocado toast.

Soy

Soy gets a bad rap for increasing estrogen in the body, but it actually contains a category of compounds called isoflavones that can either mimic or block the hormone in your body—and the research is strong that they may greatly benefit your skin. In fact, one study that looked at the effects of isoflavones on skin quality found that supplementing with these compounds resulted in improved skin elasticity after just eight weeks and a reduction in the appearance of fine lines after 12 (Izumi, 2007). Another small study found similar improvements in skin appearance in its participants after using isoflavones. Participants taking the compounds had not only a reduction in fine lines and wrinkles but also an increase in collagen and elastic fibers in their skin, which translates to firmer, more supple skin (Accorsi-Neto, 2009).

Dark chocolate

Enjoying dark chocolate may just create a feedback loop of skin improvements. Cocoa is high in antioxidants, compounds you have to thank for many of this beloved treat’s benefits. One study found that daily cocoa improved skin density and hydration but also reduced skin sensitivity to UV damage. But it also promoted increased blood flow, which delivers nutrients to the skin (Heinrich, 2006). So regularly indulging in cocoa not only provides key nourishing nutrients for your skin but also helps them get there more effectively to keep your skin looking healthy. When it comes to chocolate, quality does matter, though. Choose dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa solids and try to find a bar that keeps added sugar as low as possible. Sugar may contribute to inflammation, which, as we’ve discussed, may counter cocoa’s skin-friendly effects by causing premature lines and wrinkles.

Green tea

There’s a wide range of reasons even people who don’t necessarily love this tea’s grassy flavor are drinking it on the regular, and many of them come down to catechins. Catechins are chemicals made by plants that are a type of antioxidant, and they’re the source of many of green tea’s health benefits. Like other antioxidants, catechins can help protect your skin from sun damage and also prevent the inflammation and wrinkles that may develop due to oxidative stress. (Nguyen, 2012; Liguori, 2018).

Studies that have looked specifically at how green tea affects skin have found plenty of extra motivation to make the drink a daily ritual. One study found that consumption of green tea helped numerous skin qualities such as roughness, scaling, density, and elasticity, all of which influence skin structure. Participants who drank the tea also had increased oxygen delivery to the area and boosted blood flow, which can contribute to a healthy-looking flush, compared to those who didn’t sip the antioxidant-rich drink (Heinrich, 2011).

Red wine

Alcohol, even red wine, needs to be consumed in moderation. While red wine is well-known for resveratrol, a compound with possible anti-aging benefits that comes from the skin of red grapes, excess alcohol can cause wrinkle-promoting inflammation. Resveratrol has antioxidant properties that can help your body balance free radicals, but one glass of red wine isn’t going to provide enough. The healthiest way to increase your intake of dietary resveratrol is going to be upping the amount of red grapes and berries in your diet while allowing the occasional glass of red wine if it’s already a drink you enjoy.