Eat Right for Beautiful Skin

By Evelyn Gilbert Manziello
November 6, 2011
Poughkeepsie Journal

November is National Healthy Skin Month. While slathering on sunscreen and diligently exfoliating and moisturizing are important parts of a skin care regimen, so is your diet.

Since your skin is the largest organ of your body, it’s important to take care of it. If you have skin problems, it may indicate poor internal health. While it may sound like a cliché, you really are what you eat, inside and out.

Many experts say enjoying a “colorful diet” can help you look your best.

“They say your plate should look like a rainbow,” said Roufia Payman, the director of nutrition at Northern Dutchess Hospital. “Stay away from refined sugar and focus on eating clean every day - no fried food, no fast food or processed food.”

Dr. Hendrik Uyttendaele, a dermatologist and owner of Hudson Dermatology in Poughkeepsie and Fishkill, agrees.

“Lots of fats and lots of sugar are not good for your body and your skin,” he said, noting that too much sugar causes too much glucose and higher oxidative stress, which leads to premature aging.

However, eating a healthy “colorful diet” may actually slow down the aging process. “One of the key events that happens with time and age, is the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS),” he said. “Antioxidants such as those found in berries may reduce ROS in our skin and may reduce collagen breakdown in aging skin.”

Collagen is what keeps skin looking plump and youthful.

“It supports the structure and thickness of the skin. With age, collagen breaks down and skin starts to sag and wrinkle. Preventing the breakdown of collagen in the skin is a major goal of all anti-aging treatments,” Uyttendaele said.

Vitamin C aids also collagen production and helps fight free radicals that can destroy your healthy glow.

“It helps reverse oxidation,” Payman said. Green broccoli and spinach, orange mangos and oranges, yellow pineapple and red strawberries are all tasty C-packed choices, she said.

Orange sweet potatoes are full of vitamin C and beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A, which nourishes the fat beneath your outer layer. Add some cinnamon to this dish, and you’ll boost your circulation and help promote a radiant complexion.

Red, orange and yellow vegetables and fruits also contain carotenoids. Uyttendaele recommends eating tomatoes, watermelon, guava, papaya and carrots, which are a great source of lycopene, a carotenoid that may prevent sunburn damage and sun-induced aging.

“Foods that are rich in antioxidants can be beneficial to your skin as well as your general health,” he said. “Red and purple fruits as well as orange and yellow fruits contain lots of antioxidants. So keep it colorful and tasty as well.”

Some seafood also has antioxidants, which are superstar skin-savers.

“A carotenoid antioxidant, astaxanthin, is found in pink seafood such as shrimp, lobster and salmon,” Uyttendaele said. “Patients who supplemented their diet with astaxanthin found significant reduction in fine lines and wrinkles of the face.”

Pink salmon and gray sardines are high in omega-3 fatty acids, as are brown walnuts, green avocados, and olive and grapeseed oils.

“Foods with omega-3 fatty acids are good for regeneration of skin cells. They reduce inflammation, allow water and nutrients into the body keeping it moist, and keep toxins out,” Payman said, noting a recent study suggests omega-3s may also provide some skin cancer protection.

Other oils are a healthy option for vegetarians who want to reap the benefits of fatty acids.

“Flaxseed and borage are wonderful oils to add to your diet. They contain high amounts of omega-3s and omega-6s and help reduce redness in the skin and keep it smooth and supple,” said Sandy Tonyes, lead aesthetician at The Spa at Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz. “Walnuts contain essential fatty acids that help the skin’s natural oil barrier, which is important in keeping skin hydrated, plumped and younger looking.”

Vitamin D3 is an important hormone for skin health. If you don’t have enough in your system, the outer layer of your epidermis may become thinner and begin to sag. Dryness and wrinkles can also result from a lack of moisture. Salmon and other fatty fish including mackerel, tuna and sardines are great sources of vitamin D, Uyttendaele said.

Getting enough B vitamins in your diet is also key, Payman advises. A variety of B vitamins can be found in whole grains like oatmeal and brown rice, eggs, milk, and leafy green vegetables. Biotin, one of the most important B vitamins for skin and nail health, helps maintain collagen and protects against oxidation. Biotinis found in beef liver, egg yolk, brewer’s yeast, peanuts, cauliflower and mushrooms.

Try adding some wheat germ, fortified cereals, nuts and seeds to your diet for a good dose of vitamin E, experts suggest. It helps protect cell membranes and guard against UV radiation damage and when combined with vitamin C may offer anti-aging skin protection.

Another important factor in keeping a youthful glow is digestion. If your stomach isn’t working right, your skin won’t look good, said Tonyes, who recommends eating Greek yogurt, which contains probiotics that can aid digestion. If you sprinkle some ginger on it, you’ll get double the digestive boost, since this root is known to help with tummy troubles.

Experts warn when it comes to skin health, don’t forget about fiber. Red, green and yellow apples are packed with fiber and pectin. They also aid digestion and the peel contains quercetin, an antioxidant flavonoid that can reduce inflammation, redness and skin sensitivity.

No meal would be complete without a drink to wash it down. While water is always a great hydrator, another skin-supporting beverage is green tea, which “inhibits inflammation that promotes premature aging of the body and our skin,” Tonyes said.

Payman suggests trying white tea, which is full of polyphenols that are powerful antioxidants. It also contains resveratrol, which is said to have anti-aging properties and can also be found in peanuts, berries and grapes. The catechins in white tea may offer some protection from UV light.

Uyttendaele recommends blending up some “berry” delicious smoothies to enhance skin health. Try using blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries. “They’re a great source of antioxidants, as well as vitamin C,” he said.

Evelyn Gilbert Manziello is a writer and editor based in Kinderhook. She has written for and edited a number of health-related magazines. Contact her at

Healthy Foods

Eating enough food with minerals is mandatory for maintaining optimal skin health. Try munching on some of the following options:

Magnesium: Nuts are a convenient snack that are packed full of nutrients including magnesium, which calms the skin. Try almonds, walnuts, pistachios and Brazil nuts.

Selenium: A skin-saving antioxidant, which may help prevent sun damage, this mineral also helps maintain skin elasticity, keeping your complexion looking fresh and supple. Find it in Brazil nuts, eggs, wheat germ and quinoa.

Zinc: To ward off breakouts, or try to clear up your complexion, try foods that contain zinc, a mineral that may help control some of the hormones that create acne. It’s also involved with the production of oil in the skin. Pumpkin butter and seeds, pecans and Brazil nuts are good options.

Silica: This trace mineral, which is found in green beans, garbanzo beans, strawberries, asparagus and mangos, is important for your appearance. If you don’t have enough your skin can lose elasticity and sag.

Healthy spices

Cooking with herbs and spices can make meals a lot tastier. The following contain properties that can also help keep your skin healthy and beautiful:

Garlic: Full of antioxidants, it helps fight free radicals that can damage collagen. The sulfur compounds in it also help detoxify the liver and promote clear skin.

Turmeric: A great source of beta-carotene, the vitamin A precursor, this spice is anti-inflammatory and helps fight infection.

Ginger: This anti-inflammatory root boosts circulation and promotes a healthy glow. It aids digestion and detoxification, which supports healthy skin.

Cinnamon: A popular spice, it stimulates blood circulation and helps fight bacteria and acne breakouts.

Mustard: This condiment and the plant’s greens are anti-inflammatory and may help fight free-radical damage.

Roufia Payman’s Skin Saving Smoothie Recipe

  • 1/2 cup of frozen berries such as strawberries, blueberries and raspberries (no sugar added)
  • 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed
  • 1/2 cup of nonfat Stonyfield vanilla yogurt (which has stevia in it) or plain low-fat yogurt
  • 6 oz of skim milk or almond milk
  • 1 tablespoon of wheat germ

Mix in a blender. Makes one serving.