Skin health in brief
In a world where we're constantly surrounded by filtered pictures, it can be hard not to have high expectations for our skin. It's important to acknowledge that each one of us is perfectly imperfect which makes us unique!
Our skin has different layers and structures which change over time. This is completely natural and can include acne, pigmentation, wrinkles, or sagging. The extent to which these structures form is influenced by both internal (endogenous) and external (exogenous) factors.
Factors that affect skin
Internal factors include genetics, hormones, and aging. Often, these factors are out of our control.
External factors include skincare, diet, and lifestyle. More often, these factors are within our control.
To some extent, we can target or slow down the formation of undesirable skin conditions by limiting exposure to the following exogenous factors that impact our skin:
- Ultraviolet (UV) rays: energy rays emitted by the sun (wear sunscreen!) and sources such as lasers or tanning beds. They can penetrate the skin which causes damage and may promote premature aging.
- Pollution: such as environmental air pollutants or smoking has been associated with signs of aging, pigmentation, and dryer skin.
- Sleep deprivation: not getting enough may promote darker undereye pigmentation and changes in complexion.
- Stress: both acute and chronic stress can aggravate the skin and worsen skin conditions such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema.
- Poor nutrition: nutrient-poor diets can lead to inflammation, breakouts, and premature aging of the skin.
The power of plants to promote skin health is promising as they may help lower inflammation, support skin structures, and defend against damage. Enjoying a variety of wholesome foods is nourishing for the body, including our skin. Let's explore this further.
Tips to nourish skin from within
No. 1 - Add in vibrant fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables provide an abundance of nutrients and antioxidants that support our skin, especially when we consume a variety of colours. Enjoying fruits and vegetables, which are rich sources of antioxidants, has been associated with positive impacts on skin elasticity, wrinkling, roughness, and colour.
Consider enjoying a colourful and vibrant array of fruits and vegetables as deliciously sweet sources of antioxidants. For example, some fruits and vegetables particularly rich in antioxidants include:
- Bell peppers.
- Citrus fruits.
- Dark leafy greens.
- Passion fruit.
No. 2 - Welcome (and hold onto) hydration
The skin's ability to avoid excess water loss is important. Some types of fats, such as omega-3 fats, appear to have the potential to improve skin barrier function which can help hold onto hydration. Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, getting enough omega-3 fats is also promising for conditions such as dermatitis, psoriasis, and acne. To learn more about getting enough omega-3 fats, see our article.
Hydration also plays an important role in the health of our skin, and getting enough water has been associated with less dry and rough skin in those not already drinking enough. It's been suggested that at least 2 litres daily has benefits on skin health, and this can include plain water on its own, or in fluids found in soups, fruits, smoothies, and teas. Some signs that we're not hydrated include feeling thirsty, having dry skin or lips, and dark yellow urine.
Some other factors that may lead to dry skin include weather, the use of certain skin products, and excessive sun exposure. Sometimes, our skin can even remain dry without environmental factors at play due to skin conditions such as eczema. In these cases, the underlying causes must be first addressed, but diet can sometimes provide additional support.
No. 3 - Embrace plant proteins from foods first
Protein makes up a large portion of our skin, and this makes it a key player in keeping our skin strong and healthy. Key proteins to support smooth and strong skin include elastin, collagen, and keratins.
When we eat protein, it's broken down into smaller building blocks called amino acids, and our body uses these smaller units to build proteins where they're needed. This means if we take a collagen protein supplement, for example, it will be broken down into smaller pieces (amino acids or peptides) to build proteins throughout the body. This may or may not include the skin. So instead of relying on supplements, we can consider embracing a foods-first approach.
Plant foods rich in protein include a wide variety of legumes, grains, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Getting enough protein overall makes sure we have the building blocks for our skin's important structures.
Interestingly, dietary patterns rich in animal products such as dairy and meat have also been linked to an increase in acne possibly due to growth and sex hormones that can promote inflammation in the body. Plant-based protein sources though, such as legumes and nuts, have been associated with lower levels of inflammation.
No. 4 - Consider slower digesting carbohydrates
Some foods break down into sugar in the body quicker than others which may promote inflammation, acne, or accelerate signs of aging with excess intake. Carbohydrates that break down into sugar quickly are called high glycemic, such as sugar-sweetened beverages, refined grains, or sweets. Since these foods break down into sugar quicker, the amount of sugar in the blood also increases quicker. This increases hormone levels, such as insulin and insulin-like growth factor, which may stimulate more sebum (oil) production and acne. Foods that turn into sugar slower, such as whole grains are called low glycemic and have displayed positive impacts on the skin.
Another consideration is that broken-down sugar, such as glucose, can combine with protein in skin, such as collagen, to form what's called advanced glycation end products or "AGEs". AGEs can promote inflammation and stress which may worsen skin health. High blood sugar levels can increase AGEs, in addition to foods rich in them such as fried foods, high fat spreads, and oils.
In short, we can consider enjoying a variety of wholesome plant foods including fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds, and limit highly processed foods with added sugars and oils where possible. To explore sugar more specifically, see our guide with tips to reduce added sugars.
No. 5 - Keep the gut happy
Our skin is a valuable glimpse into what’s going on inside the body and an emerging area of interest in the influence of gut health on skin. When we eat food, broken down pieces eventually reach the large intestine, where trillions of microorganisms live, such as bacteria. This undigested food can feed the microorganisms, supporting their growth, and in turn, create a mini ecosystem in the gut. It's thought the types and amount of microorganisms in our gut ecosystem may be connected to skin health. For example, an increase in disease-promoting bacteria in the gut has been associated with acne. Foods that feed beneficial microorganisms are called prebiotics such as fibre-rich whole grains, beans, bananas, and cruciferous vegetables. Whereas probiotics provide the live microorganisms themselves.
Probiotics are promising players in the prevention and treatment of skin conditions such as acne and eczema. They may reduce breakouts through positive impacts on inflammation and sebum production. While more research is needed for a better understanding, enjoying fermented foods such as kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, or sourdough bread can provide probiotics and are a delicious option to help support our gut-skin axis.
No. 6 - Cut back on alcohol
- Flavouring water with antioxidant-rich fruit, vegetables, or herbs.
- Blending up a smoothie.
- Refreshing with a source of delicious probiotics, kombucha.
Nutrients and skin health
Enjoying a wide variety of plant-based foods promotes overall health, and some nutrients are especially recognized for their skin health-boosting potential. We can consider the following nutrients and sources.
Vitamin A: in skincare products is well-known for improving signs of acne and aging, and food choices also show potential. The type of vitamin A found in plant foods is known as carotenoids, and these may boost skin protection. Plant-based sources rich in carotenoids include leafy green vegetables, carrots, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin. Vitamin A from plant foods is unlikely to cause toxicity. Too much vitamin A can be harmful, though, such as high-dose supplements. These aren't recommended unless otherwise advised by a healthcare professional.
Vitamin E: helps protect against inflammation and stabilize collagen production. Not getting enough may promote changes to the collagen network which can speed up signs of aging. Vitamin E deficiency has also been associated with skin ulcers. Plant sources rich in vitamin E include almonds, sunflower seeds, vegetable oils, leafy green vegetables, peanuts, and avocado.
|Vitamin C: is found in high amounts in healthy skin which may offer protection from sun damage and smooth skin due to its role in collagen formation and regeneration of vitamin E. Positive impacts on skin elasticity, wrinkling, roughness, or colour have been associated with dietary patterns rich in fruits and vegetables - and these are key sources of vitamin C!
|Omega-3 Fats: have anti-inflammatory properties that may provide skin protection and acne treatment benefits. Some sources of omega-3 fats include walnuts, hemp seeds, chia seeds, and flax seeds. To learn more about omega-3 fat, see our omega-3 article.
|Selenium: has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, but is also thought to play an important role in the development and function of skin cells. Brazil nuts, wheat germ, wheat bran, and beans are plant sources rich in selenium. Note that if Brazil nuts are consumed, it's been advised to enjoy a maximum of three daily to reduce the risk of getting too much selenium.
|Zinc: is a mineral with an important role in protecting skin from damage and is essential for proper healing. Those experiencing acne have been found to have lower zinc levels, and it's suggested that zinc may be an effective treatment for acne. Plant sources of zinc include nutritional yeast, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, beans, and bran cereal. If neglected, zinc deficiency can develop in those following a plant-based lifestyle. To learn more about zinc, see our simplified vegan guide.
Other tips to consider
No. 1 - Sweat it out
Sweating and enjoying regular exercise may help improve our overall complexion. Not to mention, it's a great way to de-stress! Getting moving increases our blood flow, which can help deliver oxygen and nutrients to our skin.
No. 2 - Prioritize skin protection
Protection from UV rays, such as from the sun, is critical for optimal skin health. Some strategies that offer skin protection include:
- Wearing and reapplying sunscreen every 2 hours after sweating.
- Using clothing to cover skin where desired.
- Styling with hats and a pair of sunglasses to protect the face.
Our bodies can use the sun's UV rays to form vitamin D in the body, but this can depend on factors such as how much bare skin is exposed to the sun, how close we are to the equator, skin colour, and age. A vitamin D supplement may be necessary. Learn more about vitamin D in our article.
No. 3 - Decrease stress
Stress can take a toll on us not only mentally, but also physically which includes our skin. When we're feeling stressed here at PUL, we like to think about what things we can control to help manage our stress levels. It could be spending time in nature, getting support from a registered counsellor, talking with family and friends, or simply enjoying a warm drink. Whatever the stressor may be, we encourage taking the time to identify what it is and figuring out how we can best support ourselves to decrease some of the stress in our lives. Our skin (and mental health) will thank us tenfold.
A note on skin conditions
Common skin conditions include acne, dermatitis, eczema, rosacea, or psoriasis. Some signs or changes in the skin to watch out for include:
- Uncomfortably dry or itchy skin.
- New lumps or bumps.
- Painful, red, or swollen patches.
Some contributors to skin-related discomforts may include allergens, nutrient deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, or triggers such as spices or alcohol.
- Accept and honour above all: an important step is embracing who we are and loving our skin so it loves us right back.
- Balance is key: enjoying a variety of wholesome plant foods including fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds is a controllable factor that supports overall health, including skin!
- Some nutrients are known for skin health potential: including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, omega-3 fats, selenium, and zinc.
- Favour fluids: staying hydrated with water is especially helpful to promote soft and supple skin.
- Give it time: skin typically doesn't change overnight, and there isn't one miracle food, drink, supplement, or product for clear and glowing skin that works for everyone. With love shared towards our skin and overall health, we may start to notice positive changes over time.