“You are what you eat” is a common saying, so a lot of you have come to me with the question: What are the best foods and supplements for healthy and beautiful skin?
As always: It´s complex, but I will do my best to break it down for you.
A word of warning first: I am NOT a fan of supplements in general, way too many of them are expensive and useless, and some of them can be downright dangerous due to a lack of regulation (despite presenting themselves very “medical-ish”, they are not as tightly regulated as skincare is).
On top of that I believe that if you eat a balanced diet, you most likely don’t need most of them – that is of course different if you decide to eliminate certain food groups from your diet by eating vegetarian or vegan or if you have underlying medical conditions.
If that is the case however, or if you suspect that you are lacking certain nutrients for whatever reason, I highly recommend you see a specialist like your doctor and/ or a nutritionist – just popping a few pills without qualified guidance is most likely not going to cut it.
Now: What do I want you to eat? Which foods will help you on your journey to healthy, radiant skin? Well, it is actually pretty similar to what you will find in topical skincare, with the difference that the actual effect the food has on the skin is much better documented than it is for the same stuff in topicals.
Fruits and vegetables for antioxidants
Quick recap: Antioxidants catch free radicals that develop through different kinds of oxidative stress in the cells and that could lead to damage to the cells structure and to premature aging. Antioxidants in skincare work the same way, but as they are pretty reactive by nature – that is why they protect us so well – are also very difficult to formulate in a way that keeps them both active and lets them penetrate the skin to where they need to go.
Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables (also called „eating the rainbow“) not only provides you with different antioxidants, but also with other phytonutrients that I will talk more about in a bit.
It doesn’t have to be a fancy selection either, depending on the season apples, berries, carrots, tomatoes and watermelon are basically skin superfoods.
Fruits and vegetables for phytonutrients
The advantage of eating fruits and vegetables in their original, preferably unpeeled form rather than as multi-vitamin is that they contain hundreds of other substances that will help your body and your skin.
Carrots for example contain Carotenoids, basically a Vitamin A precursor that helps skin rejuvenation processes and that unlike Vitamin A in forms of supplements or added to multivitamin juices can not be overdosed. Yes, Hypervitaminosis is a serious condition and basically possible for all fat soluble Vitamins you take in too large doses as additives.
Tomatoes and watermelon contain Lycopene which helps the skin prevent sun damage as well as Vitamin C, known for being important for collagen production (read more about Vitamin C here).
And these are just a few, basically all of them contain something that will help you in your way to a healthy body and skin.
Leafy greens for fiber
Fiber is not only good for your digestion, but also for general gut health, which is, as we know now, linked to healthy skin (Interested in the skin and gut microbiome? Read here). But kale and spinach and all these not only provide you with fiber, no, they do contain their own set of minerals and phytonutrients like folate, potassium or lutein, all of which are essential for overall health and subsequently healthy skin.
Pre- and probiotics
I am not talking about special joghurts or drinks here, even though they may be beneficial. No, I am talking again about gut health and the things you might eat to keep the bacteria inside well-fed and happy. Whole grain products, the before mentioned fiber and fermented products like Kombucha or, very popular here in Germany, Sauerkraut will all nourish your skin from the inside out.
Nuts and fish for healthy fats
As a child of the 80s I grew up in a world where fat was basically the worst and fat-free yogurt was what you reached for. Well, that has changed as we now know the importance of fat as a building block for our skin. But again not all fats are created equal, the ones in fried foods will not be as beneficial as the ones you get from eating nuts or fatty fish.
It all comes down to the right ratio of Omega 3 to 6 and the amount of bonds or „saturation“ the fats have, but to be honest: Trying to figure that out for everything you eat will probably be much too time consuming, so I personally use a „rule of thumb“-approach: Nuts, seeds and fish are fine, fried food and ice cream need to be consumed in moderation.
Lean meat for protein
Yes, there are other sources of protein if you choose to eat vegan or vegetarian, but I don’t, so I get my protein from dairy products and lean meat. We eat game, as my husband is a hunter, which has the added benefit that it allows me to cook my own bone broth for a boost of collagen that I much prefer over collagen supplements – quick word on these: I would not spend my money on them if I didn’t eat vegan or vegetarian, and if I did – well, there are no vegan collagen supplements, so buying them kind of defeats the purpose then. I am not saying they have no effect, the jury is still out on that, but I think they are pretty expensive.
Green Tea for tannins and antioxidants
And lastly my favorite beverage. Well, tea in general is my favorite, shortly after Coke Zero (which I absolutely do NOT recommend you drink for healthy skin), but especially green tea contains several antioxidants and tannins that aid in skin and overall health.
As far as drinking your way to healthy skin in general goes – I wrote a blog post about that here.
The best supplements for healthy skin
Now if you look at everything I mentioned above, it gets obvious that if you eat a balanced diet, supplements aren’t really necessary for most of us, and some like Biotin can even cause more harm than good – I will go into that topic in a different blogpost on nutrition and acne.
The only exceptions I can see are maybe Omega-3 Fatty Acids from fish oil capsules if you suffer from inflammatory skin diseases like acne and don´t eat fish or the corresponding seeds and Vitamin D.
Vitamin D supplements will help with skin health, but, and that is far more important, wearing sunscreen might (might!, not will) lower your Vitamin D levels to a point where you get deficient if you don´t get enough Vitamin D from your diet – when it doubt, talk to your doctor about that.
A third one I will give an honorable mention here is Zinc. Zinc is anti-inflammatory, and there is data linking low levels of zinc to more severe acne. Taking 30 mg of Zinc Gluconate a day if you can tolerate it – it might lead to an upset stomach for some – is another supplement you can consider.
And because I get asked about that regularly – Vitamin D is the only supplement I take pretty consistently. Well, that and magnesium to prevent muscle cramps after working out. Everything else comes from “eating the rainbow”.