By Olivia Tarantino & The Editors of Eat This, Not That!
Why shell out your hard-earned cash on serums and fancy lotions when you can keep your skin looking healthy, resilient, and radiant by just eating these foods?
Sure, lifestyle habits (like smoking and tanning), and genetics can certainly influence and predispose your skin to pesky conditions, but that doesn’t mean the quest for a glowing complexion is a lost cause. And while there are plenty of cosmetics that dub themselves as “skin food,” the truth is that the key to maintaining a healthy complexion doesn’t come from a bottle. While it’s true these cleansers and lotions offer a topical fix—a beauty band-aid, if you will—gorgeous, hydrated skin starts from within. And that all depends on what’s on your plate (or bowl).
So whether you need to treat acne, ward off premature aging, reduce the appearance wrinkles or fight back against another pesky skin condition, the right diet can be a valuable aid. That’s because researchers have found that fitting certain foods into your daily routine can help fight back against your complexion woes by turning off inflammatory genes and providing your body with the proper tools to strengthen and build healthy tissues. Eat these foods to nourish your skin and get that healthy glow!
1 COOKED TOMATOES
Lycopene, the phytochemical that makes tomatoes red, helps boosts collagen strength—a protein that gives skin its taut, youthful structure—and fights off the oxidizing effect of UV rays by eliminating skin-aging free radicals. A study in the British Journal of Dermatology found participants who ate five tablespoons of tomato paste daily showed 33 percent more protection against sunburn than a control group. Why tomato paste? It’s because cooking tomatoes ups their lycopene levels, so tomato sauce, gazpacho, and even ketchup pack on the protection.
Think of carrots as your very own wonder wands—good for the eyes and good for clearing up breakouts. No magic here, though, just plenty of beta-carotene and vitamin A, an antioxidant which prevents overproduction of cells in the skin’s outer layer. That means fewer flaky dead cells that otherwise could combine with sebum to clog your pores. Plus, vitamin A plays an essential role in reducing the development of skin-cancer cells. It’s a win-win.
3 SWEET POTATOES
A study in the Journal Evolution and Human Behaviour showed eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables gives a healthier, more attractive, and more radiant glow than you would get from sun exposure. But it was those who consumed more portions of red and orange vegetables per day who had the greatest sun-kissed complexion—the result of disease-fighting compounds called carotenoids that give those plants their colors. Few foods are as rich in the beauty stuff than a baked sweet potato. In fact, just half a medium potato provides 200 percent of your daily recommended intake. You’ll get more carotenoids by cooking!
Natto is a Japanese dish made by boiling and fermenting soybeans with bacteria that increases the beans’ nutritional value. Natto is unique in that it’s the highest dietary source of vitamin K2—a vitamin which is important for cardiovascular and bone health as well as promoting skin elasticity to help prevent wrinkles. On top of that, natto is a potent source of gut-healing probiotics. A healthy gut can keep inflammation at bay, which researchers say may affect the health of our skin since many troubles like acne, eczema, and psoriasis stem from inflammation. Worried about eating soy? We did the research, and we’re giving fermented soy the A-OK! But if you’re not a fan, you can also get vitamin K2 from grass-fed butter, meat, and egg yolks.
Turmeric isn’t just a game-changer when it comes to protecting against cancer or reducing pain. This Indian spice can also protect your skin. That’s because turmeric’s active antioxidant, curcumin, has shown to be one of the most effective anti-inflammatory and free-radical fighting options out there, according to a study in Oncogene. Plus, research shows this spice can also be used to lighten dark pigmentation blotches or scars caused by aging, hormone imbalance, or sun exposure by inhibiting an enzyme in the skin that produces pigment—just combine with coconut oil or milk to create a healing facial mask!
Besides being one of the most potent sources of anti-inflammatory omega-3s, salmon also contains dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE). DMAE promotes healthy skin because it protects the integrity of cell membranes. Strengthening cell membranes guards against their deterioration that causes premature aging. This nutrient also helps to prevent the production of arachidonic acid (AA), an inflammation precursor that leads to wrinkle formation. And that’s not all. DMAE works in conjunction with B vitamins to increases levels of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter essential for proper muscle functioning that can keep your face looking toned and firm.7PAPAYA
This tropical fruit contains a plethora of active enzymes which pass on their healthy benefits. One enzyme, chymopapain, has been used to relieve inflammation—a common source of skin conditions. And another enzyme, papain, can help remove blemishes and even treat acne when applied topically as the enzyme dissolves pore-clogging fats and cleanses the skin. Not to mention, just a single cup of fresh, ripe papaya packs a whopping 144 percent of your DV of collagen-strengthening vitamin C.
Vitamin C is essential to the formation and growth of skin and muscle tissue as well as to building collagen—the protein which provides strength and structure to your skin, bones, muscles, and tendons. But instead of grabbing an orange to get your dose, much on some vitamin C-rich yellow bell peppers instead. In a study of over 700 Japanese women, researchers found that the more yellow and green vegetables subjects ate, the less apt they were to have wrinkles and crows feet—even once they controlled for smoking and sun exposure. And a study out of the UK concurs. The British study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that volunteers who consumed 4 milligrams of C (what you’d get in a single bite of yellow pepper) daily for 3 years decreased the appearance of wrinkles by 11 percent.
9 SAFFLOWER OIL
You’ve probably heard us demonizing vegetable oils for their high levels of inflammation-inducing omega-6s. But these oils aren’t all bad news. In fact, those same omega-6s found in safflower oil can be the ultimate moisturizer for people who suffer from dry, flaky, or itchy skin. They keep cell walls supple, allowing water to better penetrate the epidermis. Scientists have found that this oil may even help people who suffer from severe conditions such as eczema. So ditch the moisturizer and lather on the safflower!
Here’s another reason you should eat the whole egg. The yolk is rich in vitamins that are essential for proper cell function, as well as contain the “beauty vitamin,” biotin. This B vitamin is more commonly known to help hair grow and strengthen fingernails, but research has shown it also helps protect skin from acne, rashes, and even dryness.
11 SPA WATER
Be honest. How many products and concealers have you purchased to cover those pesky, puffy, dark circles under your the eyes? They may be a sign of lack of sleep, but it can also indicate another more common issue: dehydration. Salty foods, alcohol, exercise, hot weather and just plain not drinking enough water can create inflammation, which results in those raccoon eyes. Start replenishing your body with these detox waters: Cut up some citrus fruits (rind included), soak in a pitcher of ice water, and drink up. The vitamin C in the citrus will help balance levels of electrolytes and expel excess water weight while the d-limonene in the rinds acts as a powerful anti-inflammatory compound which helps the liver flush toxins from the body.
With all that exercise you’ve been doing outside, your body has started to look more athletic, but your face is starting to look old before its time. Instead of investing in a slew of questionable anti-aging products, head to the store and grab an avocado. The fruit is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, which have been proven to hydrate and shield the skin by lowering the risk of premature aging caused by ultraviolet radiation. Avocadoes’ potent source of fats also helps you absorb many of the fat-soluble vitamins that also help protect your skin from sun damage. Hooray for healthy fats!
Popeye’s favorite veggie triumphs again. In a study published in the International Journal of Cancer, people who ate the most leafy greens had half as many skin tumors over the course of 11 years compared to those who ate the least. Researchers believe the high levels of folate, an essential B vitamin which helps maintain and repair DNA, in these veggies may reduce the likelihood of cancer-cell growth. Just a single cup of spinach contains 65 percent of your DV of folate.
14 GREEN TEA
Pour yourself a cup of this green elixir and watch your skin glow! Green tea contains catechins, an antioxidant with proven anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties. Research found that drinking 2 cups a day not only helps prevent skin cancer but might also reverse the effects of sun damage by neutralizing the changes that appear in sun-exposed skin. Just be careful to not overdo it. Too much caffeine can lead to dehydration, which may have the opposite effects on skin health.
You may have thought it was just a trend, but kale has proven that it earned its spot as a superfood. This cruciferous veggie is loaded with the skin’s favorite anti-aging vitamins A, C, E, and, uniquely, vitamin K. Leafy greens are one of the most potent sources of vitamin K, a vitamin which helps with blood clotting and faster healing when ingested. And when applied topically, it can minimize the visibility of bruises, scars, stretch marks, and spider veins.
Blueberries are one of nature’s finest superfoods. Brimming with antioxidants, blueberries help your body quash cell-damaging, skin-aging free radicals. These berries also help boost the strength of collagen fibers thanks to their high concentration of anthocyanins: phytonutrients that give these berries their bright blue hue. Not to mention, this fruit is also a great source of prebiotics—fiber-rich foods that your gut bugs ferment into anti-inflammatory fatty acids—which can help heal your immune system and alleviate inflammation-induced skin conditions.
17 COCONUT WATER & OIL
Nothing goes to waste when you’re using a coconut for skin care. When you first crack it open, you can drink the fruit’s natural water—it’s full of muscle-relaxing potassium and electrolytes to replenish and rehydrate your skin, making it softer and younger looking. And when you move onto the coconut meat and extract its oils, you can utilize it to heal your gut. That’s because coconut oil contains a potent antimicrobial, caprylic acid, which can help improve gut health by destroying bad bacteria and candida. Candida is a fungus that can break down your intestinal walls and decrease stomach acid, which causes inflammation, poor digestion, and breakouts.
A nutrient-dense whole foods diet won’t just help you lose weight—it’ll also brighten up your skin. That’s because introducing high fiber foods like oats will feed your inflammation-reducing gut bacteria, minimize spikes in blood sugar that can contribute to skin problems, and strengthen and firm up your body tissues. That last benefit is because of oats’ high source of silicon, a trace mineral that also helps skin retain elasticity, slowing the signs of aging.
19 BRAZIL NUTS
Prone to pesky dark circles? Experts have found that aging—not just lack of sleep—is the primary source of dark circles other than genetics. Over time, skin loses collagen and thins, which makes the veins beneath the eyes more visible. Luckily, all you have to do is grab a single brazil nut. That’s because one brazil nut has over 135 percent of your DV of selenium, a nutrient that can boost the production of collagen. This mineral helps preserve elastin, a protein that keeps your skin smooth and tight, and acts as an antioxidant, stopping free radicals created by UV exposure from damaging cells. They’re also full of vitamin E to keep your skin moisturized and copper to support the production of melanin, a compound that also protects your skin from the harmful effects of UV rays.
Almonds are full of one of the most oft-associated vitamins with skin care, vitamin E. That’s because this vitamin helps repair scarred cells and defends against sun damage. Volunteers who consumed 14 milligrams of the vitamin per day (about 20 almonds) and then were exposed to UV light burned less than those who took none. And because vitamin E also acts as an antioxidant, it also works to keep your body free of dangerous free radicals. Almonds are also one of the best sources of dairy-free calcium!
21 WHOLE WHEAT BREAD
Despite what you’ve been told, simply cutting out burgers and fries won’t cure your acne. What will? Swapping white bread for the whole-grain variety. Besides being void of any health-boosting nutrients, the white stuff has a high glycemic load, which means it impacts blood sugar and insulin levels more so than foods that rank lower on the glycemic index (GI), like whole grains. During a 10-week Korean study of subjects with mild to moderate acne, researchers found that those placed on a low-glycemic diet decreased the severity of their acne more so than subjects on a high-glycemic diet. Besides whole-grain breads, fruits, beans, vegetables, fish, and barley are all considered to be low GI foods. Want another reason to ditch the white bread? It’s one of the worst inflammatory foods that are making you fat.
Sunscreen, beach umbrellas, and big floppy hats are reliable tools in your skin cancer-fighting arsenal. Walnuts? Didn’t come to mind. But consuming just five grams of polyunsaturated fatty acids may be able to lower the risk of skin cancer or slow its development, according to an American Society for Nutrition study—and just one serving of walnuts will provide more than double that amount. Stick with the walnuts and stay out of direct sun to stay safe.
These seeds over a beauty double whammy: helping alleviate inflammatory skin issues and improving overall hydration of your skin cells. Flax seeds offer a payload of omega-3 fatty acids, which erase spots and iron out fine lines. A study in the British Journal of Nutrition found participants who downed about half a teaspoon of omega-3s in 6 weeks experienced significantly less irritation and redness (thanks to their anti-inflammatory properties), along with better-hydrated skin. Fit ground flax seeds into your diet.
24 DARK CHOCOLATE
Forget the sunscreen—pack a bar of chocolate in your beach bag. That’s because the antioxidants in dark chocolate known as flavanols reduce roughness in the skin and provide sun protection. According to a study from the Journal of Nutrition, women who drank cocoa fortified with a chocolate bar’s worth of flavanols had better skin texture and stronger resistance to UV rays than those who drank significantly fewer flavanols. Chocolate is also a great source of pre and probiotics to help heal your gut and reduce inflammation.
Oysters might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about radiant skin—but they might after this! That’s because oysters contain high levels of the trace mineral, zinc. Your body might need a little of it each day, but zinc sure plays a huge impact in cell functioning, as more than 100 different enzymes require it to function. And skin cells, in particular, rely on zinc to make the proteins that repair damaged tissues and regenerate new ones. The mineral also works like an antioxidant by lessening the formation of cell-damaging free radicals and protects the cells that make collagen, your skin’s support structure. Research shows it may also ward off acne flare-ups. Oh, and one more thing: oysters are one of the best anti-inflammatory foods for weight loss.