As we age we want to preserve our skin so that it stays plump and smooth. Our skin is an amazing and complex organ, and relies heavily on the inner functioning of the body. It is constantly regenerating itself, replacing old skin cells with younger ones, and supplying our bodies with a steady supply of vital nutrients will help support this process.
There are a number of nutrients that are particularly good for the skin, so try to incorporate these into your diet. I’ve listed my top 5 below.
Zinc is a mineral involved in the normal functioning of the sebaceous glands in the skin. These glands are responsible for secreting an oily matter called sebum which helps to moisturise the skin and protect it from drying out. When the skin is dry it is much easier to cut and expose it to infection. Zinc also helps to produce the structural component of the skin collagen and protect the skin against photo-damage by absorbing UV radiation.1
Zinc is found in lean red meat, shellfish, seeds, nuts, beans and lentils.
2. Vitamins A, C and E
In our everyday lives we are constantly exposed to free radicals from smoking, pollution and sunlight, as well as from certain foods, alcohol, medicines and as a natural by-product of metabolism. Vitamins A, C and E, among other nutritional benefits, have strong antioxidant properties. These antioxidants help protect our skin from damage caused by free radicals.
Carotenoids, found in carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and dark leafy greens, are converted by the body into vitamin A and have been shown to protect the body from sun damage. There are lots of different carotenoids but our skin is enriched in two types; lycopene and B-carotene. 2
Our skin also contains a high concentration of vitamin C which helps to stimulate collagen synthesis, the main structural protein found in the skin. 3 Foods rich in vitamin C include oranges, red peppers, berries, kiwi, broccoli, kale and sweet potatoes.
Vitamin E is one of the most powerful antioxidants and is frequently used in skin care products. Foods rich in vitamin E include sunflower seeds, almonds, avocados, spinach, peanuts and vegetable oils. 4
There are lots of different antioxidants which help protect our body’s cells in unique ways and it is therefore important to eat a variety of antioxidant rich foods, including lots of fruit and veg.
3. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is important for calcium homeostasis and bone integrity, as well as physiological functions such as immunity and reducing inflammation. Whilst our bodies use skin exposure to sunlight to make vitamin D, many of us don’t realise that vitamin D also plays an integral role in skin protection. Once formed in the skin, vitamin D will exit into the circulation and carry out its physical functions on calcium and bone metabolism. Some of the vitamin D remains in the skin and helps optimise the skins immune system, destroying free radicals that can cause premature aging and carcinogens (substances capable of causing cancer).
As we age the capacity of the skin to produce this vitamin declines and so does the protective effects of the vitamin. 2 This deficiency state is likely due to behavioural factors such as limited sun exposure or malnutrition. Due to a lack of bright sunshine and limited natural foods sources (oily fish, liver, eggs and fortified foods), many of us living in the UK are deficient in vitamin D, and I would therefore recommend taking a supplement especially during the winter months.
Omega-3's are polyunsaturated fatty acids found in oily fish, walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds. They have been shown to have a variety of health benefits related to their anti-inflammatory properties including their potential to reduce the risk of heart disease.
They also form an integral part of cell membranes such as in the epidermal layer of the skin, where they play a vital role in the permeability barrier, the aging process and inflammation. 6 As cell membranes control water retention, they will also affect how moisturised the skin is.
5. Prebiotics and probiotics
Although it may be hard to believe, our skin relies heavily on our digestion health. Our guts are home to an ecosystem of bacteria which benefit us in many ways. They control our hormones, regulate our digestion, help boost our immune system and extract key nutrients and essential vitamins from the foods we eat. However, an imbalance between our ‘good’ and ‘bad bacteria in our guts can alter these processes and negatively impact the skin. 7
Prebiotics are foods that promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut and can be found in oats, flaxseeds, apples, seaweed and inulin. Probiotics are live bacteria proven to have health benefits and can be found in yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir and in supplement form.
Sleep and exercise both increase blood flow to the skin and are therefore important for healthy looking skin. Keeping hydrated is also crucial as the skin needs moisture to stay flexible.
It can often take 4-6 weeks for new skin to appear, so don’t expect to see changes overnight.
Speak again soon,
Gemma, The Food Doctor nutritionist
- Mitchnick, M., Fairhurst, D. and Pinnell, S. (1999). Microfine zinc oxide (Z-Cote) as a photostable UVA/UVB sunblock agent. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 40(1), pp.85-90.
- Schagen, S., Zampeli, V., Makrantonaki, E. and Zouboulis, C. (2012). Discovering the link between nutrition and skin aging. Dermato-Endocrinology, 4(3), pp.298-307.
- Juliet, M. Pullar, Anitra, C, Carr . and Margreet, C M Vissers. The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health. (2017). Nutrients, 9(8), p.866.
- Nachbar, F. and Korting, H. (1995). The role of vitamin E in normal and damaged skin. Journal of Molecular Medicine, 73(1), pp.7-17.
- McCusker, M. and Grant-Kels, J. (2010). Healing fats of the skin: the structural and immunologic roles of the ω-6 and ω-3 fatty acids. Clinics in Dermatology, 28(4), pp.440-451.
- Al-Ghazzewi, F. and Tester, R. (2014). Impact of prebiotics and probiotics on skin health. Beneficial Microbes, 5(2), pp.99-107.