Good Nutrition for Healthy Skin
Healthy skin doesn’t just look good, it works har may not have thought of it as an organ, but the skin is actually the largest organ of the human body, measuring around 2 square metres and weighing around four to five kilos!
It is the organ that is most exposed to the elements and its main function is to offer our body protection from everything in our outer environment, as well as helping to regulate temperature, offer us sensory information (think pleasure and pain), and synthesise vitamin D.
Because the skin is the most visible organ of the body, it offers us the ability to be able to detect ill health, for example through spots and acne, as well as letting us detect an individual’s changing emotions, through frowning or blushing for example.
Our skin is an incredibly important part of our bodies and because it is so prominent and visible, we care about it a lot, with self-image driving people to spend a great deal of money on skin care in the hope of keeping skin youthful, and to try to avoid or remove blemishes. However, whilst topical applications can help, our skin’s health and youthfulness are very dependent on what we put inside too, through what we eat and good nutrition. Without good nutrition, surface or topical skin care products can become a waste of money.
By providing the body with the right nutrients, we can help to ensure optimum delivery to our skin cells. This can be from good quality, whole foods, and also through high quality supplementation, where helpful.
So which nutrients are most important for healthy skin, and what are the best sources of them?
Vitamin A is fundamental for skin maintenance and repair. With levels just dropping a little below optimal, we can often see skin related issues such as dry and flaky skin. Why? Because vitamin A helps to regulate the process of cells turning into skin, and shedding of the skin cells in the epidermis, the top layer of skin. vitamin A is also important for keeping sebum, or skin oil, production in check; when levels are low, old skin cells can build up causing overproduction of sebum and creating a perfect environment for spot formation!
Vitamin A is found naturally in liver, cod liver oil, sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, broccoli, sweet red pepper, mango and dried apricots. Due to vitamin A being a fat-soluble vitamin, fat is required in the diet in order to absorb it properly. Supplementation is possible but choosing the right forms of vitamin A is important. Single vitamin A supplementation should be done under the guidance of an expert due to the potential for taking too much. It is often better and safer to take it in the form of a balanced multi-vitamin and mineral supplement.
This powerhouse vitamin has so many important functions in the body – not least its role in the production of collagen, without which your skin would sag and appear dull and lifeless. Increased production of collagen strengthens the structural support and resilience of our skin, as well as aiding wound healing. As a water-soluble vitamin, we are not able to store vitamin C, so regular and ample amounts of this vitamin are required in our daily diet.
Good sources of vitamin C include berries, citrus fruits, broccoli, papaya, guava, sweet peppers and kiwi, to name just a few. As you can see, the sources of vitamin C tend to be fruits and vegetables, meaning a variety of colours and types are most beneficial to us. Supplementing vitamin C can also be advantageous, especially during times of stress or illness.
B vitamins are essential for cell reproduction and since the skin is constantly being renewed, this group of vitamins is essential for our skin health. A lack of B vitamins in the diet can lead to dry and greying skin, wrinkles, dermatitis, acne and rashes. There are 8 different vitamins that form the B vitamin Group and each one has its own action on the body and the skin. B vitamins are mostly found together in food, though some can be missing from certain foods.
Good food sources are meats and oily fish, green leafy vegetables, dairy, seafood and legumes. At times, supplementation can be useful, but it is always advised to supplement B vitamins as a group or ‘complex,’ or as part of a multi-vitamin supplement, to ensure the right balance of each individual vitamin in the group.
Whilst vitamin D is found in some foods, the skin is actually the main site for the synthesis (production) of vitamin D, through its relationship with the sun. vitamin D plays multiple roles in the skin’s health including from a free-radical protection stand point where it protects keratinocyte cells from UVB damage, which causes premature ageing and skin cancer. vitamin D is also known to help balance the immune system, helping to prevent inappropriate immune responses seen in conditions such as eczema.
Small amounts of vitamin D can be absorbed from foods such as fatty fish (for example tuna and salmon), beef liver, cheese and egg yolks. However, the best form of vitamin D will always come from safe exposure to the sun, and where sun exposure is not possible, or not available year-round, such as in the UK, supplementation can be vital for our health.
Vitamin E is one of the most important antioxidants present in our skin and is fundamental for protecting the skin from sunlight, pollution and other toxins that produce free radicals. vitamin E helps to prevent accelerated skin ageing whilst also protecting us from harmful changes that can lead to skin cancers.
vitamin E is another fat-soluble vitamin, meaning fat is required in the diet in order for it to be properly absorbed. Nuts, seeds and green leafy vegetables are all good sources of vitamin E.
Calcium helps to regulate pretty much each and every body organ and the skin is not an exception. In terms of skin health, calcium is important for the control of the regularity of skin cell division. It is also vital in the regulation of lipids in the skin that help to maintain the integrity of the skin’s barrier. Low levels of calcium in the diet can lead to dry or itchy skin, premature ageing, and an increased tendency for the formation of skin cancers.
Whilst most people get ample calcium in their daily diets, it is often not used correctly. This can occur when levels of magnesium are low as the two work in tandem. Most people think that the best form of calcium is dairy, however, though calcium levels in dairy are high, there is little magnesium present. Green leafy vegetables actually offer much better absorbed forms of calcium due to the ample magnesium present in them. Supplementation of Calcium is always best when combined with magnesium and preferably vitamin D3 too.
The skin contains around 20 per cent of the body’s zinc stores, with most of it held in the epidermis. Zinc has potent antioxidant properties and helps protect it from UV damage, whilst also helping with wound healing and the production of collagen. Deficiency in zinc is linked to a number of skin conditions including eczema, acne and rosacea. It’s deficiency is thought to lead to a reduction in the skin’s antioxidant defences and increased levels of inflammation.
Zinc can be found in ample supply in shellfish, legumes such as chickpeas, nuts, seeds, dairy, eggs and whole grains. If supplementation is required, I always advise zinc to be taken as part of a multi-vitamin and mineral complex. Single supplementation should be done under the care of an expert.
Essential Fatty Acids
As well as a variety of vitamins and minerals, good skin health also relies on a good supply of essential fatty acids – Omega 3 and Omega 6. These nutrients provide vital building blocks for healthy cell membranes, which in turn allow nutrients to be easily transported in the body. A lack of EFA’s (essential fatty acids) will have a big impact on the whole body but will be particularly noticeable in the texture and look of your skin. Deficiency can lead to dryness and the development of small goose bumps on the upper arms and/or thighs.
Most people get ample Omega 6 fatty acids in their diet; however, Omega 3 fats tend to often be lacking. Foods rich in Omega 3 fats include oily fish including mackerel, salmon and sardines. For plant-based options, opt for chia, hemp or flax seeds, edamame and kidney beans.
As with all organs of the body, the skin requires a whole host of nutrients in order to stay healthy. It is always best to get these nutrients from a good, whole food balanced diet, where possible. However, supplementation can be helpful when digestion is compromised, or when certain nutrients are lacking.