How Does Your Diet Affect Your Skin?
Are you looking to maintain healthy skin and optimize your diet to slow down skin aging? If so, you are not alone, millions of people have the same concern. In this article, we will discuss how diet is linked to skin aging and what steps you can take to keep your skin looking young and healthy.
Why does skin age?
Let’s start by talking about our skin. It’s well-known that our skin is the largest organ in our body. It also has the most contact of any organ with our outside environment. It’s susceptible to damage from both chemicals and UV radiation.
One of the biggest factors related to skin aging is caused by sun exposure. Too much exposure to UV radiation from the sun impacts your skin cells causing aging. In excess, it can lead to DNA damage and skin cancer. To prevent this, it’s important to limit your exposure to the sun and to wear sunscreen.
Other causes of skin aging include smoking, exposure to pollutants, and other chemicals. When I was in medical school, one of the axioms taught was “Quitting smoking is the single best thing you can do for your health.” That hasn’t changed. Some of my Botox patients use tanning beds and smoke cigarettes. When they ask me what they can do to slow down their skin aging, it’s imperative to start with quitting smoking and to stop using tanning beds.
Diet also plays a role in affecting skin aging because it impacts inflammation in the body.
Photoaging vs Chronological Aging
Skin aging is broken down into two categories—photoaging and chronological aging. Chronological aging refers to simply the effects of getting older on your skin. Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do to prevent chronological aging. The adage is that getting older is better than the alternative. The alternative being, of course, dying.
Photoaging –Molecules called reactive oxygen species (ROS) are formed as products of reactions when your skin is exposed to UV radiation. If you have too much ROS present, your skin cells, specifically keratinocytes, experience damaging oxidative stress and aging.
Tissues of the skin and oxidative stress
Your skin consists of many different tissues including elastin and collagen. Elastin imparts elasticity and flexibility while collagen gives strength and flexibility to skin. ROS is detrimental because it reduces the formation of collagen and increases the production of enzymes that degrade collagen.1 A loss of collagen from your skin leads to fine lines and wrinkles.
Telomeres and aging? Our understanding of the process of human aging has evolved by leaps and bounds over the years. Our DNA is found packed inside our chromosomes with the telomeres functioning as caps on their ends. These telomere caps play a role in protecting our DNA when it gets copied as cells divide. Each time our cells divide, our DNA gets shorter with further shortening of these telomeres on the ends. Lifestyle factors play a role in increasing oxidative stress which increases the rate at which telomeres shorten.2
Toxins and sugar
What you eat is important in how quickly your skin ages. This is because food choice influences the types of chemical reactions and molecules that are formed in cells. In fact, advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are formed when reactions occur involving sugar.
The AGEs hinder your cells’ ability to form the molecules needed for the proper linking of collagen fibers. AGEs also make it difficult for damaged elastin fibers to be repaired in your skin.3 This all leads to skin with decreased strength and elasticity. Therefore, knowing what food to eat is important to reduce skin aging.
What foods help your skin?
A whole-food, plant-based (WFPB) diet is beneficial for your skin. Such a diet based on plant matter includes many of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients needed for an optimal skin condition.
The WFPB diet includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats, lentils, beans, and seeds and nuts, and avoids harmful substances such as processed sugars and saturated animal fats.2 This diet consists of food with the lowest numbers of AGEs, which means you will have reduced inflammation and decreased skin aging. Minerals such as zinc and selenium are important in the production of keratinocytes; these minerals are found in abundance in lentils and whole grains, respectively1.
Fatty acids and polyphenols
The vegetable oils and seeds contain fatty acids such as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which reduces thinning and degeneration of the skin by helping form eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), an Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid3. EPA along with docosahexaenoic acids (DHAs) decreases skin inflammation. Monounsaturated fatty acids found in nuts and seeds also decrease skin aging.
Green vegetables contain chlorophyll that helps your body form CoQ10. The CoQ10 is made internally and helps reduce wrinkles, keeping skin smooth.3 The plant-based diet consists of vegetables and fruits, which are rich sources of polyphenol compounds and antioxidant vitamins; these antioxidants help repair the damage caused by ROS.
Vitamins as antioxidants
Vitamin E is the main antioxidant of the skin providing protection from damaging reactions and products. Vitamin Chelps get rid of ROS and aids in collagen synthesis, while vitamin D helps with inflammation. Vitamin E acts with vitamin C to reduce oxidative stress in the skin and decrease aging. You can find both these vitamins in vegetables, and vitamin E is also in nuts.
Vitamin A, another antioxidant regulates enzymes that control the formation and breakdown of collagen. This vitamin is formed from carotene, which is a type of carotenoid you can get from fruits and vegetables. Vitamin A protects skin cells called fibroblasts from the damaging effects of UV radiation.4 Another carotenoid, zeaxanthin, which you can take in by eating vegetables, is also helpful in reducing wrinkle formation.3
What foods harm your skin?
The idea of the WFPB diet is to include foods that are beneficial for your skin while leaving out foods that are harmful to your skin and that accelerate aging. The diet specifically excludes foods such as animal meats and fast food that is loaded with sugar and unhealthy fats. Highly processed foods and animal fats, increase skin inflammation5.
Hydrogenated fats are artificially formed and added to many processed foods and are often listed as trans fats on food labels. Foods high in both saturated and hydrogenated fats alter the balance of ROS and antioxidants and increase oxidative stress as a result6.
High carbohydrate diets and soda
A high carbohydrate diet that consists of simple sugars promotes skin aging because of the formation of AGEs7. Rather obtain your carbohydrates from whole grains and avoid taking in simple sugars from processed foods such as donuts and candy. Such foods will also have added saturated fats and unhealthy oils. High levels of sugar and fat are associated with increased inflammation of the skin, and subsequently, will accelerate the aging of your skin.
You should also avoid soda which contains high amounts of sugar and additives that can worsen pre-existing skin conditions such as eczema.8 Hydration is also important for keeping the skin healthy and youthful. Following a WFPB diet, rather than a high carbohydrate, and fat diet and drinking lots of water will decrease skin aging.
- Your diet affects skin aging because it influences what products are formed in chemical reactions.
- Antioxidants in the WFPB diet help reduce oxidative stress that causes your skin to age.
- Food high in unhealthy and sugars increase inflammation and accelerates skin aging.
- You should choose a plant-rich diet that contains lots of antioxidants that help decrease skin aging.
- Finally, you should drink plenty of water and eliminate unhealthy sugary sodas.
- Cao, C., Xiao, Z., Wu, Y., & Ge, C. (2020). Diet and skin aging—From the perspective of food nutrition. Nutrients, 12(3), 870.
- Buckingham, E. M., & Klingelhutz, A. J. (2011). The role of telomeres in the ageing of human skin. Experimental dermatology, 20(4), 297-302.
- Solway, J., McBride, M., Haq, F., Abdul, W., & Miller, R. (2020). Diet and Dermatology: The Role of a Whole-food, Plant-based Diet in Preventing and Reversing Skin Aging—A Review. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, 13(5), 38.
- Petruk, G., Del Giudice, R., Rigano, M. M., & Monti, D. M. (2018). Antioxidants from plants protect against skin photoaging. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity, 2018.
- Herbert, D., Franz, S., Popkova, Y., Anderegg, U., Schiller, J., Schwede, K., … & Saalbach, A. (2018). High-fat diet exacerbates early psoriatic skin inflammation independent of obesity: saturated fatty acids as key players. Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 138(9), 1999-2009.
- Banerjee, A., Das, D., Paul, R., Roy, S., Bhattacharjee, A., Prasad, S. K., … & Maji, B. K. (2020). Altered composition of high-lipid diet may generate reactive oxygen species by disturbing the balance of antioxidant and free radicals. Journal of basic and clinical physiology and pharmacology, 31(3).
- Danby, F. W. (2010). Nutrition and aging skin: sugar and glycation. Clinics in dermatology, 28(4), 409-411.
- Catli, G., Bostanci, I., Ozmen, S., Dibek Misirlioglu, E., Duman, H., & Ertan, U. (2015). Is patch testing with food additives useful in children with atopic eczema? Pediatric dermatology, 32(5), 684-689.