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Feed Your Skin the Nutrients It Needs

Three days until your 20th high school reunion. There's no time for a facelift, but you needn't sweat it, says dermatologist Nicholas Perricone, M.D., who promises to have your sallow, dull complexion looking lustrous in as little as 72 hours.

No surgery required — you need only eat the right foods to rejuvenate your skin and take years off your look, Perricone says, and for a more dramatic antidote to tired-looking skin, follow the diet and his recommended regimen of nutrient-rich face creams.

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Perricone, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Yale University School of Medicine and author of "The Wrinkle Cure", is not alone in focusing on nutrition as a path to healthy, radiant skin. Hope is growing in the scientific community that the aging process can be slowed, and maybe even reversed, with vitamins.

The shining stars in the scientific race against wrinkles: antioxidants such as vitamins A, C and E. Antioxidants have the potential to overwhelm destructive molecules called "free radicals," which live in every cell of the body and can destroy the skin tissue.

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Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables — and Fish

To support healthy skin (and hair and nails, as well), experts agree that certain vitamins and minerals are essential, including:

  • Vitamin C: This vitamin is critical for strong, healthy skin because of its role in the body's manufacture of collagen, a protein that keeps the skin supple and tight. Even a slight deficiency can compromise the production of collagen.
  • Vitamin E: The vitamin is thought to help in the fight against free radicals, though deficiency of vitamin E is not known to cause any disease.
  • Thiamine: This B vitamin is important in ensuring normal cellular function in the skin.
  • Zinc: Normal epidermal cell growth is reliant on this mineral.
  • Selenium: This mineral is critical in the production of glutathione, a natural enemy of free radicals.

In most cases, these vitamins and minerals are ingested into the body without any extra effort. Many fruits and vegetables, for example, are loaded with antioxidant vitamins such as A, B, C, and beta carotene.

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Says Nick Lowe, M.D., a clinical professor of Dermatology at the UCLA School of Medicine and author of "Skin Secrets: The Medical Facts Versus the Beauty Fiction,"

"If you eat a normal, balanced diet and take vitamin and mineral supplements, that should be more than adequate, and assuming you don't smoke, the skin is a remarkably resilient organ."

True, says Perricone, it's simply about "eating the way we were told." Leaving nothing to chance, however, Perricone specifies the contents of his healthful diet: high-protein foods, antioxidant-rich carbohydrates, and essential fatty acids (found in fish, olive oil and some nuts).

The diet is aimed at reducing skin inflammation, explains the dermatologist, because it's inflammation that makes skin look dull and wrinkled, makes pores appear larger, and causes discoloration of the skin.

Perricone's ideal skin-healthy meal would include a six-ounce serving of fresh grilled salmon, a romaine lettuce salad with lemon juice and olive oil for a dressing, and fresh cantaloupe.

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Even if you take in the suggested daily amounts of vitamins and minerals, your skin might not get enough nutrients to be at its fighting best when confronting ruinous free radicals. Because it is thought that only one percent or so of vitamins and trace elements ingested through food becomes available to the skin, topical face creams have been developed as a more direct route to supplying the skin with nutrients.

The face creams are often referred to as "cosmeceuticals"—they are like pharmaceuticals in that they are sold for quasi-medical benefits, beyond mere aesthetic improvements, and are like cosmetics in that they are not intended to treat or prevent disease and don't need FDA's approval before being sold. Nutrient-based skin creams that have been extensively studied include:

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  • Retinoids: Probably the best-known retinoid is Retin-A (tretinoin). These members of the vitamin A family have been shown to effectively rejuvenate sun-damaged skin. Though some versions are sold over the counter, retinoids are most effective—and quite possibly only effective—in prescription strengths.
  • Antioxidants: The antioxidant vitamins A, C and E are commonly included in skin creams to counter the damaging effects of free radicals. A recent study suggests that these types of topical vitamins can indeed protect the skin, providing a break from fighting UV rays and even allowing the skin to repair its own lines and wrinkles to some degree.

Dermatologist Perricone's skin cream recommendations for "beautiful skin for the rest of your life" include these cosmeceuticals: an alpha lipoic face cream (designed to increase circulation and achieve a healthy glow); alpha lipoic eye therapy with vitamin C ester eye therapy (to reduce eye puffiness and erase dark circles); and concentrated vitamin C ester cream containing DMAE, short for dimethylaminoethanol (to tighten and smooth the skin).

Because cosmeceutical manufacturers can sell their products without FDA approval based on a showing that the product is safe and effective and its claims truthful, it's up to consumers to decide for themselves if product claims are believable.

"The problem with cosmeceuticals and their claims," says dermatologist Lowe, "is that proof with controlled studies is largely missing in the industry." Considering using a cosmeceutical product but have some doubts? Talk to your dermatologist, Lowe recommends.

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