Organization: Erin Falco RDN, Inc.
Authors: Veronica Rechten MSc
Publish Date: 5/31/23
In the hot and sweaty summer-time, we can see flare-ups of many different skin conditions like, eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis and acne. These are just a few examples of skin conditions that need nutrition in order to heal (spoiler alert: all skin conditions need nutrition to heal!) We often think of skin as something that is cared for from the outside. Special cleansers, lotions, creams, and ointments are often sold as being “essential” for healthy skin. While these are an important part of skin care, they’re not the only things that are truly “essential” for healthy skin. Skin is created and nourished from the inside out. The nutrients that are being consumed on a day-to-day basis affect the way our skin feels and looks.
When it comes to skin nutrition, there are some key nutrients (macro and micronutrients) that help to keep skin healthy to flourish and heal.
Skin is the largest organ and it plays a vital role in overall health and wellness. It protects what’s inside us by keeping water and nutrients in, while keeping harmful bacteria and viruses out. Our skin helps to maintain body temperature and makes vitamin D when exposed to the sun. It’s also full of nerve endings to help us sense the outside world and avoid damage from things that are too hot, cold, or sharp.
Our skin is a complex organ and needs a variety of different nutrients every day to stay healthy. Here are some of our top recommendations. This is not an exhaustive list of nutrients the skin needs, but it’s a great place to start if suffering from skin issues or just to keep the skin in optimal shape!
Water plays so many important roles in the body. It’s the main component in your cells and fluids. It allows us to maintain body temperature and it provides shock absorption for joints. It’s no wonder that adults are 60% water.
When it comes to our skin, water is just as essential. Our skin has three layers. The outermost layer—the one you see and feel—is called the epidermis. The middle layer is the dermis and underneath that is your hypodermis. When your epidermis doesn’t have enough water, your skin feels rough and loses elasticity. The water your epidermis needs comes from the inside. One clinical study found that when participants who didn’t drink a lot of water increased their intake, their skin became more hydrated and their skin’s “extensibility” improved within 2 weeks. Drinking more water can help skin hydration and may be particularly beneficial if you have dry skin or don’t drink enough water.
Note that fluids can come from drinking water or other beverages, and can even come from water-rich foods like soups, fruits, and vegetables. Water requirements increase as sweat is lost (from physical activity or living in a hot, humid environment), if pregnant or breastfeeding, or prone to urinary or digestive tract conditions (kidney stones, vomiting, diarrhea). Electrolytes are also recommended when sweat is lost (coconut water, Pedialyte Clear or Nuun tablets are examples).
Protein is an essential macronutrient which means it is needed in a larger amount every day (more than with micronutrients like vitamins where you need smaller amounts every day). Protein makes up parts of your cells, immune system antibodies, and the enzymes needed for thousands of reactions (including digestion). Our body’s main structure is also made from proteins. This includes bones, muscles, organs…and skin! Different proteins are made by combining different building blocks called amino acids.
Our skin is made up of several different proteins. For example, collagen and elastin are plentiful and build up the structure of your skin. Over time, and with exposure to the elements, the body’s ability to produce collagen decreases. While the jury is still out on whether collagen in supplement form absorbs enough to benefit the skin, we do know that it is a safe and easily tolerated way to add amino acids to the diet.
Examples of protein sources can include: meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and eggs. Plant-based sources of protein include lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, chickpeas, legumes. Note: Vegetable Oils such as canola, corn and peanut can be an inflammatory source for skin. Peanuts and dairy foods can also contribute to skin inflammation. Every individual is different. If trialing a removal of food- consider removal for a minimum of 2 weeks to determine if it is a source of inflammation.
Essential fatty acids
There are two types of fatty acids that are essential nutrients for our health and our skin. They are linoleic acid (omega-6) and linolenic acid (omega-3). Omega-3 fatty acids in particular are anti-inflammatory and have been linked to many health benefits including improvements in mental health, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, diabetes, heart disease, and psoriasis, to name a few.
A higher intake of linoleic acid is associated with lower levels of skin dryness and thinning as skin ages. On the other hand, a lack of fatty acids is linked to increased water loss from the skin, drying it out and causing weakness in the protective outer barrier.
Essential fatty acid sources include: fish (salmon, tuna), shellfish, nuts (walnuts), seeds (flax, chia, pumpkin, sunflower, sesame), olive oil, leafy vegetables, and avocados. Essential fatty acids are also available in fish oil supplements such as: Carlson Cod Liver Oil.
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient and has several functions including making other nutrients more absorbable and available. It is a water-soluble antioxidant vitamin that plays many roles in your body, including in skin health.
A deficiency of Vitamin C (scurvy) results in skin lesions, as well as skin that is easily bruised and slow to heal. This is, in part, because of Vitamin C’s role in stabilizing the protein collagen. Another sign of Vitamin C deficiency in the skin affects hair follicles and can cause “corkscrew hairs.” These are examples of why Vitamin C is so important for skin health.
Fruits and vegetables are rich sources of vitamin C include: bell peppers, citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits), broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries, kiwis, blackcurrants, potatoes, rose hip, and parsley.
Vitamin E is a group of essential vitamins called tocopherols. They are fat-soluble antioxidants that work synergistically with Vitamin C. When given together, vitamins C and E (and zinc) can speed up wound healing. Deficiency of Vitamin E is linked to red, dry skin.
Vitamin E is often applied directly (topically) on the skin to reduce redness and some of the effects of sun damage. Ingesting Vitamin E helps the skin from the inside by protecting collagen and fats from breaking down. One clinical study successfully improved symptoms of dermatitis (skin inflammation) in participants who took Vitamin E supplements over the course of several months.
Vitamin E can be found in: oils (wheat germ oil, olive oil), nuts (almonds, hazelnuts), spinach, broccoli, and kiwis.
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin and antioxidant that is needed for proper growth and health of hair and skin. Retinoic acid is a main metabolite of vitamin A that can help to reduce the appearance of aging skin, acne, and psoriasis by stimulating collagen production, exfoliating, and promoting skin cell turnover.
Signs of vitamin A deficiency are: dry skin and eyes, night blindness, increased infections, and poor wound healing.
It is best to get most of your oral vitamin A from food. Foods containing vitamin A are: leafy greens, orange and yellow vegetables, tomatoes, bell pepper, and liver.
Talk to your Dr. or dietitian before taking vitamin A supplements as too much in the body can cause liver damage and birth defects if pregnant. Vitamin A does increase sensitivity to UV rays so it’s imperative to wear sunscreen and shield from the sun if using vitamin A topically, or as a supplement.
Skin Care Beyond Nutrition
While nutrition is essential, don’t forget other important skin care practices that help protect and nurture your skin.
Use gentle cleansers and warm (not too hot) water to keep skin clean
Moisturize after taking a shower or washing your hands
Avoid things that bother your skin such as harsh cleansers, fragrances, and irritating fabrics
Avoid known allergies or intolerances
Limit sun exposure and use sunscreen daily
Increase joyful movement: walk, dance, bike ride, swim etc.
Try to aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night
Use a humidifier and wear gloves when the weather is dry and cold
The nutrients we consume feed our whole body—including our skin. Skin is the largest organ with many critical roles and needs a variety of nutrients every single day. Water, protein and essential fatty acids are important macronutrients. Antioxidants such as vitamins A, C and E are micronutrients our skin needs to heal and stay healthy.
In addition to nutrition, caring for the outside of our skin is also important. Using gentle cleansers, warm water, and moisturizers, and avoiding irritants and allergens will help. If there are any medical concerns with your skin, please see your healthcare professional.
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