The guide to great skin

Dr Anjali Mahto, a consultant dermatologist, offers her essential tips for radiant, healthy skin

In the past decade, there has been a general drive to look after the skin in a more holistic manner. Focus has shifted to interest in prevention strategies. Reducing the likelihood of skin problems developing in the future has become just as important as their treatment.

There is no doubt that eating well and maintaining a good diet is essential for not only our general wellbeing, but skin health also. Glowing, lustrous, wrinkle-free skin is a common goal for many women and this is unlikely to be achieved by skincare alone. What you put inside your body needs the same care and thought as what you apply on the outside.

It has become fashionable in recent times for exclusion diets. So many patients I see are dairy-free, gluten-free or sugar-free for a variety of reasons. These can be related to gut health, skin, what their favourite celebrity or other social media influencer does, or simply the advice of a naturopathic doctor.

Don’t get me wrong; exclusion diets have a place, being key, for example, for those that have genuine intolerances or allergies. But I think there are a large number of people that simply don’t need to be cutting essential nutrients out of their diet. This is something that concerns me when I see patients who have been given poor advice and essentially been told to avoid eating nearly everything for the sake of their skin.

I firmly believe that balance is the key to a healthy diet. Personally, I am not in favour of cutting out food groups entirely and don’t do diets of any description. The key is moderation and allowing occasional treats without beating yourself up about it. Too much of anything is a bad thing and the same logic applies to food.

So what should a healthy diet that has benefits for your skin look like? Well, the ideal diet aims to reduce inflammation and free radical damage in the skin. Antioxidants, minerals and other nutrients are needed to maintain skin integrity and act as co factors to support biochemical processes in the body. Where possible, it is far better to get these from your diet in the form of whole foods than to take supplements.

Foods for healthy skin

Fatty fish
Salmon, mackerel and herring are rich sources of omega 3 fatty acids besides being naturally high in protein and zinc. Omega 3 fatty acids can be helpful in reducing inflammation in skin cells and may make your skin less sensitive to damage by UV radiation from the sun.

Fruit and vegetables
The antioxidants found in fruit and vegetables will neutralise damage by harmful free radicals in the skin. Vitamin C and E, beta-carotene, lycopene and lutein can offer some protection against damage generated by UV rays.

  • Citrus fruits are a good source of vitamin C.
  • Lycopene can be found in tomatoes.
  • Sweet potato contains beta-carotene.
  • Dark, leafy green and yellow vegetables contain lutein.
  • Spinach and avocado contain vitamin E.

Nuts and seeds
Sunflower seeds are high in vitamin E and linoleic acid, a type of fat that can help skin hydration. Walnuts contain antioxidants such as vitamin E, essential fatty acids (which the body is unable to make) and minerals such as zinc and selenium. They should be consumed in moderation due to their high calorific content.

Green tea
Green tea contains compounds known as polyphenols which, when consumed regularly, can protect your skin from free radical damage from the sun. It may reduce the number of fine wrinkles and prominent blood vessels. It should not be consumed with milk.

Dark chocolate
Cocoa is high in antioxidants such as polyphenols and flavonoids. They can potentially improve blood flow to the skin and limit damage caused by the sun. Look for chocolate that is a minimum 70 per cent cocoa solids as anything with less is high in sugar. Again, moderating consumption is key.

So, a well-balanced diet is high in fish, olive oil, antioxidants, fresh fruit and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds. Conversely, there are a number of foods that should be limited in our diet. Sugar and refined carbohydrates, in particular, have been linked to acne and premature skin ageing.

Sugar and skin ageing

There is a growing body of evidence which shows that sugar will contribute to premature skin ageing and inflammation by a process known as glycation. Sugar from dietary sources binds to proteins leading to the formation of harmful new molecules known as advanced glycation end products (AGEs). As these accumulate over time, they directly damage collagen and elastin, which give our skin its structural support. This process starts in one’s mid-thirties and has a number of detrimental effects on the skin. It results in reduced skin elasticity, textural changes, wrinkles and skin sagging. The process by which AGEs form also results in free radical production, which can lead to further cell damage and inflammation.

Whilst there is much work to be done on the evolving science of nutrition and its effects on the skin, there are clearly basic principles that can be followed to maintain skin health. Many nutrients benefit the skin or prevent accelerated ageing through their antioxidant action or by serving as co factors for key metabolic processes. It is important to develop and hone clean eating habits for overall improvement in general health and appearance.

Extracted from The Skincare Bible: Your no-nonsense guide to great skin by Dr Anjali Mahto (£14.99, Penguin Life).

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