Diet and Your Skin

September 25, 2014  | By Michael Rains, MD

Diet and SkinAs the old saying goes, you are what you eat. There’s an overwhelming amount of information being thrown at us these days about what we are and are not “supposed” to eat, for various dietary reasons.

But what about your skin? Does food cause acne? Can food protect you from sun damage?

I thought I’d help you start to answer these common questions about food’s impact on your skin, and provide you with some lists to help you make some healthy choices.

Does food cause acne?

First, some background

The glycemic index is a measure of carbohydrate foods in relation to its ability to increase the blood sugars (glucose). High glycemic index foods, such as sugar, white bread, white potatoes, chips, and white rice have been found to worsen acne and in contrast, a low glycemic index diet has resulted in the improvement of acne.

Also, recent evidence points to a diet with high milk consumption, particularly skim milk, worsening acne. The most important factor remains a family history of acne, with 80% chance of developing acne if a family member had previous acne. However, a well-balanced, healthy diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in high glycemic index foods can be an important tool in improving acne and reducing flares.

Foods to Eat

  • Vitamin A: Stabilizes skin turnover, which reduces oil trapping in skin pores.
    • Carrots, romaine lettuce, spinach, broccoli
  • Vitamin C and E: Antioxidants
    • Citrus, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, nuts, almonds, avocados, leafy greens
  • Omega 3 fatty acids: Anti-inflammatory and stabilizes skin turnover.
    • Salmon, flaxseed, nuts
  • Zinc: Antimicrobial.  Kills acne producing bacteria, P. acnes
    • Nuts, wheat germ, turkey

What this means to you, if you have acne

  • Watch for certain foods that trigger an acne flare
  • Write a food diary in relation to acne severity
  • Acne is slow to come and slow to go, so remember to practice patience. It can take several months after a diet change before a positive effect on acne.
  • Remember that diet alone should not be used to try and treat acne, but changes in diet can be tested along with professional acne treatments.

 

Can food protect you from sun damage?

First, some background

Ultraviolet light (UV) radiation from the sun causes damage to the skin by increasing inflammation and DNA mutations. Antioxidants can reduce inflammation and repair DNA damage. Additionally, sagging of the skin results from reduction and structural change of collagen and elastin. This process is accelerated by sugars attaching to collagen, called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). This step results in an increase of loose, stiff skin.

The best way to fight against photoaging is preventing excess sun exposure. However, we’re all busy so this isn’t always possible. The two most important and clinically proven ways to help reduce and reverse the aging of our skin are:

  • Practicing good sun protection habits, including consistent use of sunscreen
  • Applying a topical retinoid or retinol product.

Diet can also help combat photoaging, especially with foods high in antioxidants and those that fight AGEs. Just like with acne, though, it is important to remember that diet alone is not going to reduce photoaging and protect against UV damage.

In addition to regular sunscreen use, the application of a topical retinol product, and diet, there is a supplement that acts both as an antioxidant and exhibits photoprotective properties. One of the best researched supplements, Polypodium Leucotomos extract, comes from a tropical fern native to Central and South America. It has been found especially effective with those who have photosensitivity related skin conditions. The level of SPF protection is approximately 3, so be sure to still protect yourself with sunscreen, sun protective clothing and seeking shade. We like the supplement offered by Heliocare.

Foods and Vitamins that Support Healthy, Youthful Skin

  • Vitamin A, C and E: Potent antioxidants that can protect skin cells from UV induced free radicals.
  • Catechins: antioxidant
    • Green tea
  • Omega-3: reduce inflammation and increase hydration in cells, resulting in reduction of fine wrinkles.
    • Flaxseeds
  • Selenium: antioxidant
    • Tuna, shrimp, salmon, turkey
  • Lycopene: antioxidant
    • Tomatoes
  • Alpha lipoic acid: studies point to ability to reduce AGEs.
    • Broccoli, spinach, brewers yeast, tomatoes
  • More that help reduce AGEs
    • Ginger and garlic

 

Good overall health leads to healthy skin

As we’ve discussed, diet plays an important, but limited role in combatting specific skin conditions like acne and photoaging. We also know that a poor diet can lead to a host of medical conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular problems, that can result in a variety of problems with your skin. A healthy diet and lifestyle have a myriad of benefits, not the least of which is healthy, glowing skin.

Michael Rains, MD
Michael Rains, MD graduated cum laude from Baylor University with a bachelor of science in forensic science and earned his Medical Doctorate at University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), magna cum laude. Dr. Rains also received the lifelong honor of election-based membership in Alpha Omega Alpha, the honor society for top medical graduates that recognizes a physician’s dedication to the profession and art of healing. He is Board Certified by the American Board of Dermatology.