A common thread amongst those with good skin is a good diet. And a bad diet will beget bad skin. The problem most people have is that they are not aware that their diet is bad because a lot of foods that are unhealthy are not obvious.
When studying the biology of cancer while earning my degree, we learned quite a bit about how diet contributes to cancer more so than genetics. In fact, genetics as the sole perpetrator for cancer is rare (usually just seen in juvenile cancers) and most cancers are actually triggered by lifestyle choices and environment. We don't like to admit such things, because it is easier to believe something isn't our fault, but the more you dig into the cause of various diseases the more it becomes clear that almost all diseases are the result of our choices and not our genetics.
Environment, or epigenetics plays a larger role in the progression of disease than genes alone. How I view it is: your genetics is the gun, and your lifestyle is the bullet. A gun isn't very harmful without bullets and a mutated gene may be harmless unless poor lifestyle and diet trigger the mutation to become deadly.
And therefore a healthy lifestyle and diet is a greater protector against cancer than not having a mutation in your genome. Which I believe is a good thing, you cannot control your genetics, but you can control your diet and lifestyle.
Diet is something that we can control every day and its long-term effects can be good or bad depending on our choices. If we choose to eat poorly, then our body will reflect that on the outside with bad skin. If you want to have better skin, this means more than just a good skin care routine, this means eating well too.
10 foods I eat for healthy skin
1. Citrus fruits- For their high vitamin and water content. I prefer citrus fruits like oranges and pineapples
2. Fish- For their omega fatty acids and protein content. I usually choose salmon or tuna and prefer raw fish opposed to cooked. Heating animal proteins releases Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs) and Polycylic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) which are cancer-causing compounds.
3. Avocadoes- For their fat and vitamin content. I believe in eating a diet containing healthy fats, because our body needs fats to function. Fat is needed for our brain and our skin requires a good amount of fat to have a young appearance. Fat is also regulated by our body and when we eat enough healthy fat, our body feels full quickly and this prevents overeating and obesity.
4. Olive oil- The healthy fat content in olive oil contributes to healthy skin. I put olive oil on bread and in recipes that call for oil.
5. Bread - I eat a diet with carbohydrates and I believe we need them for their calories and satiety. I put olive oil on bread and that is enough for me. I think carbohydrates have been vilified because few people just eat bread, they eat bread with cheese, mayonnaise and butter, which makes it unhealthy. However, whole grain bread with olive oil is a healthy source of calories and will keep you full to prevent overeating. Keeping a stable weight is important for healthy skin. Being overweight or underweight will contribute to an aged appearance. And constant weight fluctuations will cause sagging wrinkled skin because your skin is constantly being inflated then deflated. So choosing foods that will keep you full and satisfied will help maintain a healthy weight and in the long term this will protect your skin from aging.
6. Eggplant - This is just one of my favorite foods, so just a bit of anecdotal evidence: When I have included eggplant in my diet at least weekly, I have noticed that my skin just looks better. Although I am not sure exactly why, because eggplant has a lower vitamin content than other fruits or vegetables, it could be that eggplant's high manganese content helps improve skin's appearance. Manganese is an efficient antioxidant, and may also play a role in anti-inflammation. So perhaps this overall contributes to acne reduction and hydrated skin.
7. Tofu- The Asian diet is heavily based on soy and I believe this contributes to a healthier condition compared to other populations. Asian populations, in addition to having healthier skin compared to Western populations, have historically lower rates of cardiovascular disease, menopausal symptoms, breast cancer (and other hormone dependent cancers), diabetes and obesity than their western counterparts. Regulation of hormones may also assist with hormonal-caused acne.
8. Mulberries- I buy dried mulberries and have them as a snack most days. Research has found that resveratrol is a powerful anti-ager and mulberries contain a high content of resveratrol, even higher than grapes.
9. Brazil nuts- For their high selenium content. Selenium is a vital part of skin cells as a component of various selenoproteins. These proteins protect against skin degrading peroxides and UV damage.
10. Mushrooms- For their high vitamin D content, which protects skin against acne and UV damage.
And these are the 10 foods I avoid
1. Meat- Chicken, cows, pigs, etc. I do not believe there is any amount you can eat and be healthy. The animals farmed for food are loaded with antibiotics, hormones and medication which gets absorbed by your body and contributes to poor health. Furthermore, heating animal proteins releases cancer-causing compounds which in the long term will cause cancer. I believe eating meat, especially chicken, is a primary contributor to breast cancer in women in addition to bad skin health. I believe meat contributes to skin diseases such as eczema and acne.
2. Milk - For the same reason above. Milk is growth juice meant to grow a cow from 65lbs at birth to 2000 lbs in adulthood. The amount of hormones, both natural and artificial will be stored in your tissue and be added to the hormones already within you, contributing to uncontrolled cellular growth, weight gain and acne
3. Deli foods- Anything stored in a deli has been treated with nitrates, which get converted to nitrosamines in your liver, which are carcinogenic. In addition, the high salt content and other preservatives contribute to the growth of stomach cancers.
4. Processed snacks- potato chips, crackers, etc. These items are devoid of any nutritional content and their high amount of chemical preservatives will cause ill health when eaten regularly.
5. Artificially "Low-fat" foods. I rarely eat dairy, but if I do, I always opt for the full fat option. Low fat options whether it is from dairy, salad dressing, etc. are highly processed to artificially remove the fat content from the food. Without fat there is no flavor, so food companies substitute the fat for sugar. Sugar is not something your body can properly regulate, so you can eat it all day and not feel full or satisfied. This is unlike fat where your body regulates it with efficiency and will tell you to stop eating when you have had enough. Sugar in your diet will contribute to obesity because it gets converted into fat once digested. High sugar consumption causes acne, diabetes and obesity among other health problems. The problem is that sugar-laden foods often do not taste sweet, so it is important to check your food labels.
6. Spicy foods- Spicy foods tend to give me temporary facial redness so I avoid them. They may be healthy for most people, but they cause a reaction in my skin so I stay away from hot/spicy foods.
7. Artificial sweeteners/ "diet foods"- Artificial sweeteners such as Splenda and aspartame may disrupt the natural bacterial biome in the gut which is needed for healthy functioning, including skin health. This one is difficult for me because I love Diet Coke and Diet Sunkist. However, over the years I have been able to go from 3 sodas a day to 1 soda per week. It took a long time to gradually reduce my intake but with healthier eating, I naturally (and subconsciously) lost my desire for soda. Also, artificial sweeteners over the years have become less appealing. I believe this is due to healthier eating causing your taste buds to become more active, or perhaps unhealthy eating causes them to dull. Regardless, with healthy eating you naturally choose healthier options and start to dislike the unhealthy ones.
8. Artificial proteins- When I started a new exercise regimen 10 years ago I was advised to drink shakes with protein powders to help with increasing muscle mass. I noticed that within about 1 month of drinking these protein shakes I started to break out. I believe the cause for this is from the Whey protein, which can interfere with normal hormone functioning, such as insulin, and cause acne. Once I stopped my skin looked better
9. Bananas- I don't know why, but bananas give me a stomach ache and when I was having smoothies every day containing bananas I noticed I had developed pimples around my chin and jawline. They may be healthy for most people, but for myself they are something I avoid.
10. Apples- Most apples at the store are not fresh, they were farmed a year ago, put in cold storage and then sprayed with chemicals to induce ripening before being sent to the store. By the time it gets to you, it is just a ball of sugar with no nutritional content remaining. And eating a lot of sugar can cause hormonal disruptions that lead to acne.
Eating healthy is a piece in the overall good health picture. In addition to good skin care, regular exercise, avoiding unnecessary medications and lowering stress, keeping your body healthy through diet is how you have good skin.
Wendy Ouriel is the author of this article and the CEO of OUMERE Skin Care. Wendy Ouriel currently holds a Master’s of science in the biological sciences and is a published scientific author of peer-reviewed literature.
Giana Angelo, Ph.D.Linus (2013). Minerals and Skin Health. Pauling Institute Oregon State University.
Gibis, M. (2016). Heterocyclic aromatic amines in cooked meat products: causes, formation, occurrence, and risk assessment. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 15(2), 269-302.
Patisaul, H. B., & Jefferson, W. (2010). The pros and cons of phytoestrogens. Frontiers in neuroendocrinology, 31(4), 400-419.
One in five healthy adults may carry disease-related genetic mutations. From Science.org: https://www.science.org/content/article/one-five-healthy-adults-may-carry-disease-related-genetic-mutations