Did you know that certain foods can work wonders on your skin?
“There’s a growing body of research showing that diet really does affect your complexion,” says Jessica Wu, MD, a dermatologist in Los Angeles and author of Feed Your Face. “What you eat can affect your hormone balance, cause acne, and create or lessen inflammation, which is associated with skin aging.”
In fact, what you eat can be as important as the serums and creams you apply on your skin, says Dr. Wu. That’s why we rounded up 16 foods that are good for you—and fantastic for your skin. Here’s to you, gorgeous!
People who ate 5 tablespoons of tomato paste daily, along with almost a tablespoon of olive oil for 12 weeks, had 33% more protection from sunburn compared to a control group that ate just olive oil, according to a 2008 UK study. The antioxidant lycopene (levels of which are higher in cooked, processed tomatoes) improves skin’s natural SPF. (Though Dr. Wu warns that it’s not a replacement for sunscreen! Here’s how to find the best sunscreen for you.)
Yes, water keeps your skin hydrated—and staying hydrated makes it appear more plump and less wrinkled. But there’s another reason to fill up on water over other drinks: You’ll save on sugar. Sugars found in juices, sodas, and sports drinks cause your skin major woes, says Drayer. “When blood sugar levels are high, sugars can attach to proteins in collagen and produce compounds that cause skin to sag and wrinkle.” (Bored with plain water? These 25 sassy water recipes will totally fix that.)
Eggs offer up a hefty dose of protein without tons of fat, and less fat is a good thing for your skin: Higher fat diets are associated with aging skin. According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a 17-gram increase in fat intake increased your odds of developing wrinkles by 28%.
Who needs blush? Filling up on carrots can give you a natural glow. A 2011 UK study found that people who eat a higher amount of carotenoid-containing fruits and vegetables, like carrots, have more yellow tones in their skin, giving them a complexion that others rated as looking healthier.
The sweet treat is rich in cocoa flavanols, plant compounds with antioxidant properties, which help hydrate skin and improve circulation. Women who consumed a high flavanol cocoa powder drink daily for 12 weeks experienced less skin roughness and scaliness compared to a control group. They consumed the equivalent of 3.5 ounces of dark chocolate, but that’s far too many calories for most women, says Lisa Drayer, MA, RD, author of The Beauty Diet. She suggests sticking to a 1-ounce portion, or 150 calories, to reap the good skin benefits without the weight gain.
A whole grain oatmeal is a better pick for breakfast over a bagel and jelly. That’s because the latter offers a double whammy for skin: refined, sugary carbs that prompt your body to make insulin and increase the production of hormones known as androgens. “Elevated androgens cause sebaceous glands in the skin to secrete more oil that gets trapped inside pores, causing pimples,” says Drayer. Instead of brown sugar, add natural sweetness to your oatmeal with chopped fruit. (Give this blueberry-almond oatmeal recipe a try.)
One serving (3.5 ounces) of these little swimmers contains 1.5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids, making it one of the best sources of the fat. Fatty fish is particularly rich in the type of omega-3 called DHA, an anti-inflammatory. “Inflammation is now known as the root cause of acne,” says Dr. Wu. Packing your diet with these omega-3s (also found in salmon) can help keep your skin clear.
Mackerel is one of the best sources of vitamin B12, containing 16 mcg, or 270% of what your body needs in a day. That’s significant because many people miss out on B12 when they’re trying to eat less meat (or vegetarians who don’t eat any at all). One of the symptoms of B12 deficiency? Hyperpgimentation (dark spots) and vitiligo (white spots). Making sure you get enough of this vitamin every day (vegan sources include nutritional yeast) can help keep your skin even-toned.
Women who drank coffee every day had an 11% lower prevalence of non-melanoma skin cancer (the most common form of skin cancer) compared to people who don’t drink coffee, according to a study published in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention in 2007. Downing six cups a day of caffeinated coffee slashed the risk by 30%, however, experts say to keep your habit under 28 cups a week, as higher consumption may lead to other health concerns. As with anything, moderation is key.
In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2011, people who drank a beverage containing green tea polyphenols daily for 12 weeks had skin that was more elastic and smooth, and had one-quarter less sun damage when exposed to UV light compared to a control group. The brew’s catechins like EGCG (antioxidants) boost blood flow and oxygen to the skin, which delivers key nutrients to keep your complexion healthy, say researchers. Brew the perfect cup every time with these simple steps.
Researchers from the University of Arizona looked at people who reported that they ate citrus fruits, juices, and peels weekly. People who ate peels (orange peel or lemon zest, for example) had a 33% decreased risk for squamous cell carcinoma. Juice and fruit didn’t have any effect. The researchers credit limonene, a compound found in the oil in the peels that offers the UV-protective benefits. (Check out these tasty ways to eat fruit and veggie peels.)
Consuming four or more herbs regularly—rosemary or thyme, for example—was associated with up to a 60% reduced risk of melanoma, finds a study in the International Journal of Epidemiology. Herbs pack a ton of antioxidants into a tiny skin-protecting package, squelching free radicals from the sun before they can damage skin.
A small study of middle-aged Japanese women found that those who daily consumed 40 mg of aglycone (an isoflavone found in soy), had fewer fine lines and improved skin elasticity within 12 weeks compared to a placebo. The isoflavone can help stop collagen from breaking down, which is what leads to sagging and lines. You’ll find about 40 mg of isoflavones in 3 ounces of tempeh, 1 ounce of dry roasted soybeans, or 6 ounces of tofu.
You’re looking at the best source of dietary zinc. Six of these bivalves provide over 500% of your daily need in a scant 57 calories. The mineral plays an important role in the growth and function of skin cells and, though more research is needed, some studies suggest that acne sufferers have lower than normal levels of zinc.
Yellow bell peppers
One study in the British Journal of Nutrition found that people who ate the most green and yellow vegetables (up to 250 grams; one large pepper is about 190 grams) had fewer wrinkles, especially in the crow’s feet area, compared to those who at the least amount (69 grams a day). This may be because of antioxidants that fight aging free radicals, says Dr. Wu.
When Australian researchers analyzed the diets of more than 1,000 adults, they discovered that the rate of actinic keratoses (skin lesions caused by long-term sun damage) was reduced by 28% in those that sipped a half glass of red wine a day. Red wine is a top source of resveratrol, an antioxidant compound with anti-tumor properties.