Most skin anti-ageing strategies focus on what to put ON your skin. Anti-ageing creams and lotions certainly have their place, but what about what you put INTO your body? Many dermatologists now acknowledge that diet impacts the health of your skin and may even impact how quickly your skin ages.
The Power of Antioxidants
One factor that contributes to ageing is the effects of free radicals. Your skin is exposed to environmental factors like cigarette smoke, pollution, and ultraviolet light from the sun on a daily basis. One of the ways these factors age your skin is by forming free radicals that damage collagen and elastin, two proteins that keep your skin looking youthful. Many anti-ageing skin products contain topical antioxidants but you also get antioxidants through diet.
Plant-based foods are a rich source of natural antioxidants that help to inactivate free radicals so they can't inflict damage to your skin. They're also a good source of antioxidant vitamins like vitamin C and vitamin A. The form of vitamin A in plants is called carotenoids, a portion of which can be converted to vitamin A by your body. One type of carotenoid called beta-carotene is abundant in orange fruits and vegetables, including carrots, cantaloupe, apricots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin. The carotenoids you get through diet that aren't converted to vitamin A still have antioxidant properties, so make sure you're filling your plate with orange fruits and veggies.
You may have noticed that anti-ageing skin care products often contain vitamin C. That's because vitamin C is an antioxidant vitamin that's important for production of new collagen, your skin's main source of support and protection against ageing. Vitamin C works even better in conjunction with another antioxidant vitamin - vitamin E. The best sources of vitamin E is wheat germ, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils.
Red fruits and vegetables are skin-friendly too. Tomatoes and watermelon contain an abundance of lycopene, a chemical that helps protect your skin against the sun's damaging rays. Researchers now know that lycopene has the sun-blocking capabilities of a weak sunscreen. Along with plant-based foods, tea, coffee, red wine, green tea, and dark chocolate contain chemicals called polyphenols that, in combination with a sunscreen, help protect against skin damage due to sun exposure. It makes sense since these chemicals also protect plants against ultraviolet light.
Did you know some spices have as much antioxidant power as fruits and vegetables? Some of the most powerful antioxidant spices include turmeric, ginger, rosemary, cloves, cinnamon, and oregano. To keep your skin looking youthful, add a little spice to your life!
Dermatologists and researchers now believe that low-grade inflammation also plays a role in skin ageing. The good news? Many plant-based foods that contain antioxidants help suppress inflammation too. Vitamin D is a hormone-like vitamin that helps dial back inflammation. Some research links low vitamin D with more rapid skin ageing and, to make matters worse, most people don't get enough vitamin D.
Unfortunately, the best source of vitamin D is sun exposure and the sun is a direct contributor to skin ageing. Fatty fish, like wild-caught salmon, is a decent food source of vitamin D, but it's a good idea to get your vitamin D level checked and take a supplement, if necessary, to keep your level within a healthy range. Many people are low or marginally low in vitamin D.
Wild-caught salmon and other fatty fish contain another component that helps keep inflammation in check - omega-3s, a healthy form of fat. So effective are omega-3s for reducing inflammation that some doctors recommend that people with inflammatory conditions, like arthritis, take it as a supplement.
Although you can get omega-3s from plant-based foods like flaxseed, walnuts, and sesame seeds, your body has to convert it to a form that reduces inflammation and it's not very efficient at doing that, so fatty fish is your best bet. Eating two servings of wild-caught salmon may offer some protection against skin ageing although more research is needed.
Also, cut back on processed foods. Some experts believe the types of fat and sugar in these foods contributes to inflammation.
The Bottom Line
Eating a healthy diet isn't a replacement for wearing a sunscreen - it's still the best protection against skin ageing. Still, there's growing evidence that diet influences how quickly your body ages - but your skin too. Eat lots of plant-based foods, spices, and cut back on processed foods to give your skin a little extra protection against ageing.
Dermatoendocrinol. 2012 Jul 1; 4(3): 298-307.doi: 10.4161/derm.22876.
The Ohio State University. "Omega-3 Supplements May Slow a Biological Effect of Ageing"
Nutraingredients.com. "Study Supports Lycopene Protecting Skin from Within"Can Eating a Healthy Diet Slow Skin Ageing?