The new year often brings good intentions and resolutions. A common one we toy with after overindulging over the festive season is to clean up our diet. Dry January anyone? Or perhaps Veganuary! Have you ever considered the impact of what you eat and drink on your skin? Is there any truth in the ‘you are what you eat’ mantra? Well, when it comes to skin, your diet can significantly impact its health.
We know a healthy diet is essential to maintain and improve overall health and well-being. Makes sense, right? Having a varied diet from different food groups provides us with the nutrition we need for our entire body to function effectively, including the skin. Unfortunately, this doesn’t include over-processed junk food.
So, what are some of the effects on our skin related to what we eat, or indeed what we choose to exclude from our diet?
How What We Eat Impacts Our Skin
Eating a varied diet will deliver a broad range of vital protein and lipid building blocks, along with energy to drive tissue growth and repair. A varied diet also delivers important vitamins and minerals which are important for healthy skin function. Vitamins A, B, C and E, help regulate skin function, boost barrier function and promote healthy dermal fibre production for strength and elasticity. AKA glowing, plump looking skin! Important minerals like calcium, zinc, copper and sulphur help with critical skin functions like cell turnover, immunity and healing and the production of skin pigment melanin. So, we can see a healthy, varied diet is linked to healthier skin.
Now, we understand that for some of us, elimination of certain foods may be related to a health condition or a values choice. Being gluten intolerant or having an allergy may restrict what we can and can’t eat. Equally, following a vegetarian or vegan diet may mean we’re lacking particular food groups and nutrients, so it’s always best to seek professional advice to ensure you’re supplementing your diet where necessary.
It's also worth noting that your skin is the first area of the body to become deficient, this is due to other organs taking nutritional priority. The good news is that we can often supplement the skin with nutrients from the outside via good quality skin care formulas.
Common ‘Diets’ That Impact Our Skin
Food intolerance or allergy
Food intolerances or allergies frequently play out in a skin that’s prone to rashes, skin care product hypersensitivity and dehydration. There has also been research around the microbiome of the digestive system and the connection to skin. Illness and medications like antibiotics may disrupt the natural internal balance of the microbiome and have an influence on the skin condition too.
Gluten-free and Coeliacs
There are a variety of nutritional deficiencies associated with celiac disease, primarily caused by the inability of the damaged small intestine to properly absorb enough of the nutrients our bodies need, especially if the disease is left un-treated. Individuals with celiac disease frequently see dry skin and are easy to bruise which is thought to be associated with a lack of Zinc in their diet. People recently diagnosed with celiac disease are commonly deficient in fibre, Iron, Calcium, Magnesium, Folate, Niacin, and fat-soluble vitamins. After treatment with a strict gluten-free diet, most people’s small intestines recover and are able to properly absorb nutrients again, and therefore do not require supplementation. For some however, nutrient supplements may be beneficial. Other research suggests these individuals are more prone to inflammatory diseases such as Psoriasis and Eczema.
Whether you have allergy or intolerance, going dairy-free can mean missing out on some key vitamins and minerals, specifically Calcium and Vitamin D. Calcium is needed throughout the epidermis (your top layer of skin). Changes to calcium levels can have a significant effect on skin processes that will impact barrier function – AKA your skin’s defence barrier. Vitamin D is needed for strong UV protection, it also controls inflammation and enhances wound healing.
Vegetarians and vegans
Although this is seen to be an incredibly healthy way of eating, it comes with some down sides. Vegetarians can see deficiencies in Iron and Vitamin B12 which can influence energy levels. Iron is essential for metabolism and oxygenation of skin cells, without it there is a chance of dryer and itchy skin.
Many of us have at one time may have adopted a low-fat diet in a hope to lose a few pounds but fat is an essential part of our diet and necessary for skin health. Fats have many vital roles, including helping to absorb and transport fat-soluble vitamins like, Vitamins A, D, E and K. Fats also provide skin with essential fatty acids which are required to keep the skin nourished and healthy. By consuming a low-fat diet, we are missing that nourishment and critical vitamin absorption causing dry, rough and scaly skin, which could lead to inflammatory skin conditions.
There are many variations with a low-carb diet from no carbohydrates or minimal levels only but depending on the severity of the diet there can be many nutritional deficiencies associated, such as Magnesium, Vitamin B1 or Thiamine, and Iron. Magnesium is needed to increase circulation and improve elasticity and hydration in the skin. Vitamin B1 or Thiamine is responsible for the breakdown of carbohydrates and sugars. Without Thiamine, sugar is not processed correctly, leading to too much insulin in the bloodstream. A condition known as hyperinsulinemia -- the presence of too much insulin in the blood -- leads to the overproduction of other hormones, which in turn leads to sebum (oil) secretion and acne. This shows how much of an impact diet has over our hormones, another example of this is a High GI (glycaemic index) diet.
Studies suggest that when diets become more westernised with a higher prevalence of refined food, there are higher levels of acne among the population. The foods contributing the most to this are high glycaemic index food. Yes, that’s your cakes, sweets, fast food, and highly processed foods. Reducing high GI foods in your diet can help regulate breakout prone skin. Other types of diets which restrict calories or are high in sugar and refined foods may accelerate deficiencies and cause negative effects on skin function and health.
For help with clearing breakouts check out our Clear Start line.
This diet includes lots of nutrients, antioxidants, and fibre. A diet rich in whole grains, seafood, fruits and vegetables, legumes, and nuts can have a positive impact on overall and skin health.
Visual Signs Your Diet Is Impacting Your Skin
If you change your diet, you’ll likely see a change in your skin and this can be for the better or worse. Pay attention to the changes in relation to what you’ve changed and modify accordingly. It’s worth noting that when we ‘detox’, we can often feel worse before we start to feel better. Caffeine and sugar withdrawals anyone? You might notice your skin breakout as it purges toxins.
On your face, the typical areas that show signs of diet related change are on the chin and forehead. Signs that your digestive system is sluggish or overloaded include breakouts, congestion or ‘bumpy skin’ and dehydration/flakiness.
General overall dull, dehydrated skin may give clues to a diet that does not provide all the required nutrients.
High sugar and refined food diets can lead to breakouts and congestion by altering hormone levels.
Low fat diets may be lacking in essential fatty acids like omega 3 and omega 6, resulting in increased sensitivity and drier skin conditions. These essential fats are important in regulating hormones so this may also contribute to breakouts by affecting the hormone balance.
How To Maintain A Healthy Diet And Healthy Skin
- Eat regular meals to maintain blood sugar levels
- Eat nutritional meals at regular times rather than eating on the go
- Supplement if necessary. If you exclude certain food groups, seek advice on supplements to ensure you aren’t lacking critical nutrients
- Keep a skin tracker journal to try and isolate foods that don’t agree with your body and skin
- Be consistent with your daily skin care regimen. Double cleanse daily, include exfoliation regularly and maintain hydration levels with a moisturiser