With people all over the globe spending billions of dollars on skin-care products every year, you'd think cosmetics companies had replicated the fountain of youth in the laboratory. In fact, skin creams have gotten more and more expensive and less and less based on real science. According to most experts who aren't hawking half-ounce jars of $200 youth serum, the science behind skin care is simpler than most of us think.
As with most health benefits, it comes down to lifestyle, rather than how much you can afford to spend on products. The things you can do to beautify your skin are remarkably similar to what you can do to strengthen your heart, control your weight, lift your mood and live longer and better: Get regular exercise, sleep enough and eat well. Of course, what you can eat to improve your skin tone, texture, evenness and clarity might be different from what you eat to avoid, say, heart disease.
So what are we looking at when it comes to a beautiful-skin diet? In this article, we'll find out what you want to throw in your shopping cart to improve your skin, why those foods work on traits like smoothness and tone, and whether skin-healthy foods are, in fact, different from the foods you'd eat to promote overall health.
First up: You may not like the smell, but you'll love the smoothness…
Active components: Omega-3 fatty acids, zinc
Benefits: Smooth, clear and glowing skin
Most of us have heard that fish can be really good for your overall health -- it's a primary component in what's known as the "Mediterranean diet." Many types of fish and shellfish can also work wonders for the skin, especially oysters and fatty fish like salmon.
The primary nutrients that make fish so good for your complexion are zinc and, especially, omega-3 fatty acids. Increasing omega-3 intake can reduce dryness and inflammation. Inflammation can cause skin to age faster, and research shows that getting too little omega-3 may contribute to inflammatory disorders like eczema and psoriasis [source: UMMC]. Omega-3 fatty acids can also help keep the heart's arteries clear and so improve circulation. Good circulation is crucial to skin health.
Zinc can help fight acne because it's involved in metabolizing testosterone, which affects the production of an oily substance caused sebum, a primary cause of acne. Zinc also assists in new-cell production and the sloughing off of dead skin, which gives the skin a nice glow [source: Self].
You'll also find these benefits in flaxseed oil and walnuts.
Next up: Peel some of these for tighter skin.
4. Citrus Fruits
Active component: Vitamin C
Benefits: Smooth and taut skin
Vitamin C is a prime skin-care ingredient in tons of beauty creams. This vitamin aids in the body's production of collagen, a protein that forms the basic structure of your skin [source: Discovery Health]. Collagen breakdown, which starts speeding up significantly around the age of 35, can leave your skin saggy [source: RealAge]. Consuming extra vitamin C in foods like oranges, grapefruits, Acerola cherries (a single Acerola has 100 percent of your vitamin C for the day) and tomatoes can help tighten the skin and prevent wrinkles.
Vitamin C also may fight inflammation, and its antioxidant properties can neutralize the free radicals (highly reactive oxygen molecules) that damage cells and can prematurely age your face.
In case you get tired of eating all that fruit, hot peppers, bell peppers and sprouts also have good amounts of vitamin C.
Next up: Veggies are good for way more than weight control.
3. Red and Green Vegetables
Active components: Vitamin A, beta-carotene
Benefits: Bright and smooth skin
Skin is the body's largest organ. It makes sense, then, that what's good for your whole body is also good for your skin -- and as far as food goes, it doesn't get much better than vegetables. You'll especially want to look for red-orange and green vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes and spinach.
Orange-red vegetables are full of beta-carotene. Our bodies convert beta-carotene into vitamin A, which acts as an antioxidant, preventing cell damage and premature aging. In the case of vitamin A, you also get anti-acne benefits -- vitamin A has been used in acne medications (think Retin-A) for many years.
Spinach and other green, leafy foods provide tons of vitamin A, too, which helps your skin produce more fresh new cells and get rid of the old ones, reducing dryness and keeping your face looking bright and young.
Next: You'll probably be happy to find out that what's good for your skin can also be really good for your taste buds…
Active component: Vitamin E
Benefits: Young and soft skin
As with many of the skin-healthy foods on our list, the good stuff in nuts -- especially almonds -- has to do with antioxidant activity. Vitamin E combats skin-aging free radicals, especially protecting skin from sun damage due to UV-sunlight-generated free radicals [source: Self]. Vitamin E also tends to help skin hold in moisture, relieving dryness and making skin look younger.
Pairing vitamin E with selenium can enhance its antioxidant abilities, so go ahead and throw some almonds into your cottage cheese (great source of selenium) for a skin-revitalizing snack [source: LifeScript].
Our last beauty food: Keep it whole to get fantastic overall results…
1. Whole Grains
Active components: Rutin and B-vitamins
Benefits: Clear and moisturized skin
The "whole food" movement has whole-body advantages, not the least of which is great-looking skin.
Whole foods are basically unprocessed -- whole wheat bread instead of white bread, for instance. The whole grain buckwheat is a good source for the antioxidant rutin, which helps combat inflammation-related skin damage. Wheat germ provides the B-vitamin biotin, which assists cells in processing fats. If you don't have enough biotin in your body, your skin can become dry and scaly.
In general, whole grains instead of processed carbohydrates can improve your complexion. Processed (or refined) flours can cause an insulin spike, which in turn can encourage acne. Replacing your refined-flour pancakes with buckwheat pancakes is a good acne-reducing move. Incidentally, this would also help reduce your risk of developing diabetes [source: MedicineNet].
Now, while oranges, buckwheat, oysters, spinach and almonds are great foods for your skin, achieving great-looking skin through dietary changes doesn't have to be so specific. A healthy body means healthy skin. Just feed your body good, healthy foods, get some exercise and keep your stress low, and your skin will reap the benefits.
For more information on skin health and related topics, including home recipes for facials, look over the links on the next page.
Lots More Information
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Top 5 Things Your Nails Say About Your Health
- Top 10 Items You Should Have in Your Medicine Chest
- Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Memory
- Top 10 Myths About the Brain
- Top 5 Alternative Therapies for Heart Health
- Top 10 Ways to Avoid a Heart Attack
- Top 5 Complementary Medicines Used in Hospitals
More Great Links
- 18 Foods That Make Your Skin Glow. Beauty Eats. RealAge. March 19, 2008. http://food.yahoo.com/blog/beautyeats/29703/18-foods-that-make-your-skin-glow
- Feed Your Face: 10 Foods for Better Skin. LifeScript. September 26, 2008. http://www.lifescript.com/channels/beauty/science_of_beauty/radiant_skin_from_the_inside_out.asp
- The great-skin diet. Self.com. October 2008. http://www.self.com/beauty/2008/10/clear-skin-diet
- Healthy Skin with Vitamin A. iVillage. http://yourtotalhealth.ivillage.com/healthy-skin-with-vitamin-a.html
- The Secret to Beautiful Skin. LifeScript. Dec. 25, 2007. http://www.lifescript.com/channels/beauty/science_of_beauty/the_secret_to_beautiful_skin.asp
- Nutrients for Healthy Skin: Inside and Out. MedicineNet. http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=50505
- Supplements for Healthy Skin. Discovery Health. http://health.discovery.com/centers/skin-health/skin-care/supplements.html
- Ten Superfoods for Age Defying Beauty. Oprah.com. http://www.oprah.com/article/style/makeovers/health_beauty_superfood/1