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March 29, 2010

The Best Foods for Better Skin

New research indicates that the health of our skin is in our hands, or more specifically, what our hands put into our mouths.

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Photo Credit: Famke Backx/iStockphoto

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“Our skin is fed from the inside,” says Dr. James Ntambi, a professor of biochemistry and nutritional science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. According to research done by both Ntambi and his team, and other institutions, the commonly held and largely dermatologist-promoted belief that what we eat does not affect our skin is not entirely true.

Along with Dr. Ntambi, top dermatologists like Dr. Nicholas Perricone, author of The Clear Skin Prescription, and Dr. Alan Logan, who wrote The Clear Skin Diet, believe that eating antioxidant-rich, healthy foods will lead to improved, smooth skin. Like other body parts, our skin, which happens to be our largest organ, is at its best when we feed it well.

Below, we break down the most beneficial and harmful foods for the skin, and put to rest some untrue beliefs about the linkage between what we eat and the state of our faces.

The Myth
Eating fatty foods is bad for your skin

The Truth
This is true of saturated fats, but not all fats. Too much saturated fat, commonly found in many processed foods and junk food, can lead to an increase in sebum production, and therefore acne. Unsaturated fats, like those in olive oil and the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, walnuts, and avocados, are good for the skin and help it to absorb vital nutrients like vitamins A, D, E, and K.

The Myth
Milk causes pimples.

The Truth
It depends. Many naturopaths are quick to call milk out as a “chemical stew” that contributes to unhealthy skin. While the hormones found in much of the milk we drink are unappealing, people who notice milk makes their skin break out may be lactose intolerant. If drinking cow’s milk gives you pimples, there are always alternatives, such as goat, almond, rice, or soy milk.

The Myth
A low glycemic index diet will improve acne.

The Truth
A study by the American Journal of Nutrition found that a diet that has a low glycemic index, which means more whole grains, beans, and vegetables, and less white pasta, rice, bread, and sugar, significantly reduced acne lesions in participants. If you eat a diet with a high glycemic index, your body will create more sebum, which can block pores and cause acne, so a diet with a low glycemic index does the opposite by maintaining an healthy overall complexion.

The Myth
Chocolate causes pimples.

The Truth
This is half true, unfortunately. It’s not necessarily the chocolate, which in its darkest, purest form has antioxidant properties that are actually quite good for our bodies, it’s the sugar and fat in most chocolate bars that contribute to a spotted, wrinkled complexion. Not only do high levels of sugar and saturated fats found in chocolate bars and other candy contribute to excess lipid production in our sebaceous glands (a.k.a. pimples), but they can also decrease collagen and elastin in our skin, robbing it of vitality and youth, and causing wrinkles.

The Myth
Drinking 8 glasses of water is good for your skin.

The Truth
Some docs, such as celebrity derm Dr. Perricone, suggest drinking as many as 10 pure glasses of water each day to keep skin fully hydrated. When skin gets too dry, it not only loses important vitamins and becomes more vulnerable to the elements, but it also starts producing more oil to make up for the dehydration, which can lead to clogged pores and pimples. If you find it hard to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water throughout the day, try starting in the morning before breakfast and carrying a water bottle with you throughout the day.

The Myth
Vitamin A prevents acne.

The Truth
Vitamin A is an important part of skin health. Basically, if you don’t have enough Vitamin A in your system, your sebaceous glands produce excess lipids, causing pimples, but if you have too much vitamin A, while your pimples might not be the issue, other parts of your body, like your liver, may be negatively affected. The optimal daily intake with food and supplementation is about 15,000 IU.

The Myth
Tomatoes are nature’s sunscreen.

The Truth
Although tomatoes contain high levels of vitamins A, C, and lycopene, a carotene antioxidant that can help protect the skin against the sun, even eating an abundance of tomatoes will only give you an SPF of about 3, which is not nearly enough. You still need to wear sunscreen. Tomatoes will help protect, nourish, and make the skin more resilient, but because lycopene isn’t dietary soluble unless it is cooked, try to eat foods that contain cooked tomato pastes and sauces to get the maximum benefits.

The Myth
Vitamin supplements are OK for skin health in lieu of a nutritious diet.

The Truth
While supplements certainly help, there’s nothing like the real thing. Dr. Ntambi was recently involved in one of the National Institutes of Health panels and says they “came up with the conclusion that vitamin supplements don’t hurt us or do any harm, but you cannot rely on them entirely for full beneficial effects.” Eating a nutritious diet combined with the supplements you need is your safest bet for optimal skin health.

The Myth
Omega-3 fatty acids are good for skin.

The Truth
Omega-3 fatty acids inhibit the production of leukotreine B4, which causes inflammatory acne. Because many people don’t enjoy the taste of fish, and a diet high in fish is required to get the optimal levels of omega-3 in our systems, Dr. Ntambi suggests taking a daily omega-3 supplement. However, he also urges us to try to acquire a taste for fish because it has so many other nutrients in it. You can also get your omega-3 fatty acids from walnuts, avocados, flaxseed oil, and some leafy green vegetables.

Read more from Carla Ciccone on her blog, plus follow her on Twitter!


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