Written by Emma Kamara-Sesay Registered Associate Nutritionist (ANutr) and Aesthetician In Training
It’s no secret that the skin needs a balance of essential nutrients to function effectively. Our skin cells rely on carbohydrates for energy to function, protein to provide the building blocks for our skin and fats to give structural support, volume and aid moisture retention. Vitamins, minerals and fibre are also important elements in skin healing and regeneration as they support the processes that protect the skin and provide antioxidant protection.
There are specific nutrients that maximise skin health and they include:
*Zinc is responsible for wound healing in the skin.
*Copper aids elastin production which is important for maintaining flexibility within the skin.
*Selenium aids in reducing sun damage.
Omega-3 fatty acids
*EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) reduce inflammation in the skin.
*Vitamin C is essential for the production of collagen which is responsible for maintaining the integrity and structure of the skin.
*Vitamin E assists in healing the skin and protecting it from oxidative stress.
*Retinyl palmitate (animal source of vitamin A) and beta-carotene (plant source of vitamin A) helps skin cells to regenerate healthily and replenish stores of collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid.
We can achieve maximum nutritional support for our skin from having a varied and balanced diet. However, the boom of the nutraceuticals industry is causing many of us to chase products geared towards fixing our skin rather than diversifying our food choices. Most supplements geared towards skin health are unnecessary and taking supplements won’t guarantee that the skin will truly benefit from the ingredients within them. A true example of this is collagen pills, drinks and powders. The collagen in the supplement is broken down in our gut into amino acids. Whether those amino acids produce collagen in the skin or reach the skin as collagen is unknown. The same is true for hydrolysed collagen which is supposed to trick the body into making more collagen – there is a lack of robust evidence to suggest this is what happens. You’re better off eating meat (or meat alternatives), fish, dairy products, legumes, eggs and fruits and vegetables which will provide the collagen our skin needs for a fraction of the price.
There are also many multivitamins which contain a myriad of antioxidants and whilst these are beneficial for the skin, the dosages that they are found in some supplements can do more harm than good. If too many antioxidants are taken into the body, they can increase stress which defeats the purpose of taking them. It’s unlikely that an overdose of antioxidants can occur from consuming a balanced diet.
Balancing your diet can be interesting and simple – instead of plain porridge you could add yoghurt containing live bacteria cultures, some nuts, linseed and one of each of your favourite fruits and/or vegetables (yes vegetables can be added to porridge!). At lunch and dinner time you can to fill your plate with a diversity of starchy and non-starchy vegetables along with fruits to go with the rest of your meal. Not only will you boost the taste of your meals but you also boost nutrition which will support the skin. There’s no substantial evidence to support cutting out foods (e.g. dairy) from your diet will rid you of your skin woes. It’s common for people to restrict themselves and their skin remains the same. Restricting food without the supervision of a professional increases the danger of developing unhealthy eating behaviours which will further put the body under stress and negatively affect the skin.
Nutrition isn’t the only way to help the skin. Making gradual changes to other aspects of your lifestyle will help to reduce and prevent stress on the body and fend off lacklustre skin.
Lifestyle changes that will help bring you closer to healthy, glowing skin include:
*Finding effective stress management methods (e.g. journaling, meditation, etc)
*Limiting alcohol intake
*A minimum of 6-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep daily
These changes will help your body (and skin) function optimally because there’s a better environment for maximising the use of resources that support the entire body.
It’s important to adopt a diet and lifestyle that suits our individual needs as the benefits of doing this will pass on to the skin. We must approach supplements with an element of doubt as they’re poorly researched and poorly regulated, therefore you must always consult your doctor or qualified nutritionist or dietitian to help determine if there is a real need for them. There’s only one supplement mandatory for general health and this is a daily dose of 10mcg (400IU) of vitamin D. This is an international public health recommendation as we don’t obtain enough vitamin D through our diet and sun exposure.
If you find that your skin isn’t as healthy as it could be even though you have healthy lifestyle practices then it’s best to consult a skin specialist who will provide advice and treatments for long-term skin concerns.