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Growing up, you may have heard that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. And it’s true — who you are is more important than how you look.
But that doesn’t mean self-care, including skin care, is selfish. And the old cliché might also apply when you’re working on your outward appearance.
“When it comes to skin and the surface of skin, people may think they need to treat it with topical ointments,” says Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CDN, the CEO of New York Nutrition Group and partner with Seeds of Change. “A lot of what we see on the outside is a product of what’s going on inside. Food is a part of that.”
Michele Green, MD, a New York-based cosmetic dermatologist, agrees.
“Diet primarily impacts the levels of varying hormones in the body, and hormones regulate many of the natural processes that occur within the body,” Green says. “This means the overall health and appearance of the skin are, inevitably, closely related to hormone fluctuations that are influenced by diet.”
Green says loading up on certain foods and eliminating others can help improve your skin.
That said, the best foods for you will depend on your skin type. This strategy is similar to how you might choose a different moisturizer than your friend with another skin type.
Here’s what three experts dish on what to eat based on your skin’s needs.
Before you start filling your grocery cart, you’ll need to figure out what skin type you have.
Green suggests starting by not using any products after cleaning your skin and taking note of how it looks after several hours. There are a few clues that can help you determine what type you have.
In general, the main skin types are:
Within these skin types, there can be other issues, like acne, flaking, or dullness.
According to Green, if your skin looks:
- shiny, you have oily skin
- flaky, red, or irritated, you have dry skin
- oily in some areas and dry in others, you have combination skin
If your skin is dry, it may be thirsty.
“We want to think about hydration,” Moskovitz says. Drinking 2 liters of water each day can help, but Moskovitz says you can also get water through fruits, like watermelon.
Green says you can also hydrate your skin through fatty acids, like those found in:
And you’ll want to keep your intake of dehydrating foods and beverages to a minimum.
“Excess caffeine and alcohol can be drying,” Moskovitz says.
Everyone’s tolerance levels are different, but she suggests limiting yourself to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day (about two to three 8-ounce cups of coffee) and following guidance from the
But dry skin isn’t simply a product of dehydration.
“Deficiencies in [vitamins A and C] can contribute to dry skin,” Green says. She suggests increasing your intake of:
- sweet potato
Moskovitz says it’s tempting to nix oil from your diet if you have oily skin. But that’s not necessarily the best route.
“People automatically assume oil creates more oil,” she says. “Anti-inflammatory oils… can actually reduce it.”
Some foods with anti-inflammatory oils include:
But Moskovitz advises her clients to limit oily, ultra-processed foods, like fries, and keep added sugar intake to a minimum (or below 10 percent per day).
Green agrees and says a few simple swaps can go a long way in controlling oily skin.
“Preventing overproduction of sebum and combatting clogged pores can be as easy as substituting whole wheat grains for refined carbs and opting for poultry or fish instead of… red meats,” Green says, adding that substituting sugary foods for those with naturally-occurring sugars, like fruit, can also help.
Since combination skin is a mix of dry and oily, Moskovitz says integrating the meal plans for both types is a good place to start.
People with combination skin don’t need to ditch carbs entirely. But Green says it’s important to pay attention to which types of grains and wheat you’re eating.
“Carbs can cause inflammation and can throw off the delicate balance of someone with combination skin,” she says. “When choosing carbs, opt for [those that are] high in protein and low-glycemic, such as brown rice or quinoa.”
Though acne is often thought of as a teenage issue, it’s not.
The American Academy of Dermatology Association defines “adult-onset acne” as acne that appears for the first time in individuals when they’re adults. Menopause is a common culprit.
“It’s a combination of oiliness, inflammation, and bacteria,” Moskovitz says.
Moskovitz advises people with acne to zero in on micronutrients rather than simply follow a diet plan for oily skin.
“Get plenty of vitamin C through a variety of berries and fruits,” she says. “Zinc can be really helpful for acne, and you can find it in shellfish and lean animal protein like chicken.”
You can also find plant-based sources of zinc in foods, such as fortified cereals and pumpkin seeds.
Green says some clients have luck minimizing or cutting dairy, as well as sugary or fatty foods.
“These foods have been [found] to cause inflammation in the skin and cause spikes in the hormones that regulate sebum produc
tion,” Green says. “An increase in the amount of sebum produced can correlate to blockage of sebaceous glands and the development of acne.”
But Moskovitz says probiotics, like those found in Greek yogurt, may help acne. She suggests speaking with your doctor or dietician before eliminating foods that also have nutritional benefits, like dairy, as everyone’s body is different.
Dermatologists stress that tanning isn’t a safe way to get naturally glowing skin, as it’s a form of sun damage. But adding certain foods to your diet may help you achieve a sun-kissed look any time of year.
Moskovitz says that dull skin is often caused by oxidative stress from our environments, such as through exposure to pollutants and pesticides.
“We want to do what we can to protect our bodies from oxidative stress, and one way we can do that is through antioxidants,” she says. “This is when you hear, ‘Eat the rainbow.’”
And, when it comes to antioxidants, Paul Jarrod Frank, MD, a cosmetic dermatologist and the author of “The Pro-Aging Playbook,” suggests honing in on the micro-nutrient lycopene.
Foods with lycopene include many red or pink fruits and vegetables, like:
- red pepper
Some guilty pleasures are also on the table, Moskovitz says, including red wine (in moderation) and chocolate.
“Cocoa is a natural source of antioxidants,” Moskovitz says. “Eat extra dark chocolate (or over 75 percent). Otherwise, you’re getting more sugar than cocoa.”
First things first: It’s essential to keep in mind that, no matter what you eat, everyone’s skin is going to age eventually.
Wrinkles happen, and that’s OK.
But Moskovitz says that reaching for collagen-rich food may help slow the process a bit.
“Collagen is a protein naturally found in our body,” she says. “It’s the glue that holds our body together. But we start losing that collagen as early as our 20s.“
You can replenish collagen with protein-rich foods, like:
She also says vitamin C found in blueberries and citrus fruits can help the body absorb collagen.
Green says you’ll want to limit salty foods, like fries and chips, as they can be dehydrating.
“When mature skin becomes dehydrated, fine lines and wrinkles may appear more pronounced,” she says. “Some foods can draw moisture out of the skin, causing it to become dry and exacerbating the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.”
But one of the worst things you can do is not eat enough.
“The skin needs protein and fat to stay plump as well as support muscle,” Frank says.
Though your diet isn’t a cure-all for skin issues, experts say it’s an integral part of a holistic approach to skin care.
The best foods for your skin depend on your skin type. Once you’ve figured out your skin type, you can choose foods that bring out your best features and mitigate any issues you have.
Speak with your doctor before limiting or removing anything from your diet. Generally, for optimal skin health, it’s best to eat fried and sugary foods in moderation and limit alcohol intake.
Beth Ann Mayer is a New York-based writer. In her spare time, you can find her training for marathons and wrangling her son, Peter, and three furbabies.