Does your diet have any impact on your skin? Niki Bezzant explains.
Can what we eat help our skin look clear, youthful and glowing? As an acne-plagued teen, I hoped this was true; I avoided junk food and ate dusty-tasting carob instead of chocolate, just in case the latter was aggravating my skin.
Sadly nothing much made a difference that I could see. Time and age eventually took care of my acne; ironically by about the time it was replaced with wrinkles.
But things have moved on in nutrition and dermatology since the 80s, and it's acknowledged these days that diet and lifestyle factors have definite links with skin health, just as with other systems in the body.
We still may not be able to eat away acne, but we can definitely eat for a healthier appearance overall.
There's no magic here. We know instinctively I think that when we are healthy and eating well, sleeping well, not drinking too much and not under too much stress, we tend to look better. Science has some things to say about this too.
It's known that nutrition plays a key role in the normal functioning of our skin. We need to eat a balanced diet for the building and repair of skin cells. But there have also been studies looking at how nutrition impacts specifically on appearance and how well (or poorly) our skin ages.
A 2007 US study of 4000 women aged between 40 and 74 found that higher intakes of vitamin C and linoleic acid (an essential fatty acid) were associated with better skin ageing and appearance. So were lower intakes of carbohydrate and fat overall.
A review in 2012 of the literature linking nutrition and skin aging looked at many different factors, including ingredients we often see in topical skincare: Vitamins A, C, E and D; Coenzyme Q10; green tea.
It concluded that there's some value in the intake of antioxidants to support the skin and slow down the aging process.
But for those hoping to take a shortcut with one of the many beauty-oriented supplements around, the researchers sounded a note of warning: popping a pill is not the way to do it, they said.
"Fruit and vegetables consumption may represent the most healthy and safe method in order to maintain a balanced diet and youthful appearing skin", was their verdict.
So, what are the foods that will do the job? Again, there's no one magic food that will give us lovely skin.
The antioxidant polyphenols the researchers identified are found in lots of foods. Polyphenols are plant-derived chemicals that it's thought might defend us against ultraviolet radiation and attack from pathogens.
They also have tons of other benefits in the body, fighting inflammation and providing important vitamins.
To get your polyphenols, think colour: vegetables like broccoli, spinach, asparagus and tomatoes, and red, blue and black fruit like strawberries and blueberries.
There are polyphenols in tea and coffee, too, and yes, in red wine – although too much of that will have the opposite effect.
Fat is important for skin health; specifically the essential fatty acids, which may also have a protective role against sun damage. These are found in lots of foods: fish, shellfish, flaxseed, hemp oil, canola oil, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, sesame seeds, avocados, salmon and tuna, among others.
Are you sensing a theme here? A skin-friendly diet is sounding a lot like a Mediterranean pattern of eating; a diet of nutrient-dense, whole, unprocessed foods. Which as we know is anti-inflammatory, and also has lots of benefits for our health overall.
Add to that the accompanying lifestyle factors: not smoking; drinking minimal alcohol; getting enough sleep and keeping a lid on stress, and we're likely to be on our way to if not a smooth-skinned old age, certainly a healthy-looking one.
And what about acne? Evidence now suggests that there are some foods that can aggravate it. Foods that rank high on the glycaemic index – refined carbohydrates like white bread, cakes and biscuits – when eaten in large amounts, have been shown to promote acne.
A low-GI diet may help to improve it. And as it turns out, teenage me was depriving myself for no reason: chocolate is mostly low-GI, so it's unlikely to be causing spots.
Whatever we eat, we should know for anti-aging there's no substitute for sunblock 365 days a year, especially here in Aotearoa. But there's an element of beauty that does come from the inside, too.