How does the food I eat affect my skin?

Women have been using foods as skin and facial treatments for centuries -- for example, making masks of egg whites and olive oil, or putting cucumbers over their eyes to reduce swelling. But did you know that the food you put in your mouth can affect the health of your skin more than anything you could put on your face?

Although studies find certain individual foods can help you maintain healthy skin, your overall diet -- as well as your weight -- matters most. For instance, if you're overweight and/or you eat a diet high in processed foods (including white bread, cookies, ice cream and packaged dinners) and low in fiber and fresh fruits and vegetables, you have a higher risk of developing a condition called insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes.

In this condition, insulin, a hormone that "unlocks" your cells so glucose, or fuel, can get in, doesn't work very well. All this glucose builds up in your bloodstream instead of disappearing into cells where it's supposed to go. This, in turn, damages skin. How? By reacting with the protein fiber network (the skin's collagen and other proteins) that make skin resilient. This reaction creates harmful waste products called advanced glycosylation end-products, or AGEs. Fibers stiffen, skin loses it elasticity and you become more vulnerable to wrinkling, sagging and damage from ultraviolet (UV) light.

But eat a varied and nutritious diet, and it's amazing what can happen to your skin. In one study, researchers found people who ate the most fruits, vegetables and fish had the least amount of wrinkles. However, the researchers found diets high in saturated fat, including meat, butter and full-fat dairy, as well as soft drinks, cakes, pastries and potatoes (called "high-glycemic" foods), increased the likelihood of skin wrinkling. Coincidentally, these high-glycemic foods are also implicated in insulin resistance.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
What you eat can affect the health of your skin as well as the rest of your body. To keep your skin in good condition, fill your plate with fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and other nutrient-rich foods. And make sure to include lean protein in your diet -- your skin, which is made of protein, needs protein to stay healthy.

If you have rosacea, certain foods and drinks may cause flare-ups. Talk to a dermatologist, who can help you identify your rosacea triggers.

You might think that eating certain foods increases your risk for acne, but so far, scientists have found no evidence to support this belief.
Dr. Andrea Pennington, MD
Integrative Medicine
Would you be surprised to learn that the telltale signs of what you have been eating -- or avoiding -- are equally noticeable just by looking at your face? It's true. Dermatologists explain that our skin is a window into our overall health and can show clues of what's going on under the surface.

New research reported in the British Medical Journal states that enjoying a Mediterranean-style diet including a combination of olive oil, seeds, nuts, fresh fruits, vegetables -- and only moderate alcohol intake -- can improve overall health and longevity. And when we look at the faces of men and women from Mediterranean countries, who consume large amounts of olive oil, we see fewer wrinkles and firmer skin (despite avid sun worshipping). And they not only have beautiful skin, but cleaner arteries (on average) to boot!

Examining the faces and diets of many Asians shows that a diet rich in green tea can help the skin remain clear and blemish-free for decades longer than people who sunbathe, smoke or otherwise rob their skin of "free radical-fighting power." Green tea is rich in polyphenols, which have antioxidant properties to neutralize the toxic effects of what we call reactive oxygen species.
Dr. Ellen Marmur, MD
The food you put into your mouth has an effect once it's been metabolized and delivered to the skin. The way it is metabolized is also why eating certain foods, though beneficial to both the skin and body, may not affect the complexion directly. The body breaks down what we eat into tiny particles of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Food is circulated in its smallest form, so that nutrients can be reconstructed and repackaged, and then transported to the organs that need them. Eventually nutrients get to the skin too.(Remember that the skin doesn't take precedence in the body.) It's like a factory conveyor belt with lots of things happening at once, so it's not realistic to imagine that eating an avocado or a piece of salmon will deliver healthy fatty acids straight to your skin. That being said, it's a good idea to incorporate skin-healthy foods into your diet, especially olive oil, avocados, salmon, sunflower seeds, Brazil nuts, wheat germ, broccoli, and leafy greens. 
Simple Skin Beauty: Every Woman's Guide to a Lifetime of Healthy, Gorgeous Skin

More About this Book

Simple Skin Beauty: Every Woman's Guide to a Lifetime of Healthy, Gorgeous Skin

What if a leading dermatologist just happened to be your best friend and you could ask her anything? DR. ELLEN MARMUR, a world-renowned New York City dermatologist, answers all your questions with...

Continue Learning about Healthy Skin

Eat These Foods for a Healthy Winter "Tan"
Eat These Foods for a Healthy Winter "Tan"
No need to feel pasty faced in February. You can get your summer blush back -- even midwinter -- just by making a few special picks in the produce ais...
Read More
What can I teach my daughter so that she will have healthy skin for life?
Dr. Michael Roizen, MDDr. Michael Roizen, MD
The recipe for keeping skin healthy for life is just keeping her insides healthy. So choose healthy ...
More Answers
6 Foods Your Skin Will Love
6 Foods Your Skin Will Love6 Foods Your Skin Will Love6 Foods Your Skin Will Love6 Foods Your Skin Will Love
Fill your plate with nutrient-rich foods for younger-looking, glowing skin.
Start Slideshow
Eat Papayas for Younger-Looking Skin
Eat Papayas for Younger-Looking Skin

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.