Not to be a Debbie Downer or anything, but the holidays (and winter, in general) are pretty much the worst time of year—at least when it comes to our skin. Not only are we eating all sorts of crap, which, in turn, wreaks havoc on our bodies, but the frigid outdoor conditions also aren’t exactly breeding grounds for a flawless, glowing complexion.
But what if there was a way to fix this, keeping our skin hydrated and healthy all winter long? Better yet, what if there was a way to fix this with food, rather than depending solely on heavy creams and moisturizers? Well, the good news is, it’s possible.
We talked to expert nutritionists, dietitians, and dermatologists to get the lowdown on what we should be stocking our fridges and pantries with for an immaculate complexion. And while all those potions and magic supplements and powders may not do the trick, according to most experts anyway, the power of whole foods is undeniable.
“I always say ‘clear skin is an inside job’ because it’s a direct reflection of the health of your internal organs,” says Anna Avaliani, MD, a cosmetic and laser skin-care specialist. “When you don’t eat healthy foods, it’ll show on your skin—you may find you look older or more tired. Diets lacking in nutrients essential to healthy skin can cause your skin to become dry with a sallow complexion. A consistently unhealthy diet can lead to more serious skin conditions, including acne, eczema, and psoriasis.”
Okay, so if it's all about what we put into our bodies—what exactly should that be? Keri Gans, RD, nutritionist and certified yoga instructor, breaks down the basics for us, explaining which vitamins (and what foods they're in) can help:
Vitamin A maintains and repairs skin cells while fighting free radical damage that may prematurely age the skin. Try sweet potato, spinach, carrots, and eggs to up your intake.
Vitamin C is essential to collagen production—and the more collagen you have, the less wrinkled your skin may look. It may also help repair and maintain DNA, which will bolster the cells’ ability to renew. Look for C in dark leafy greens, citrus, peppers, and broccoli.
Vitamin E-rich foods, such as almonds, olive oil, 100 percent whole wheat, and kale, may help protect against skin damage and premature aging.
Omega 3 fatty acids are believed to stifle your body’s response to irritation and attract water to skin cells, which plumps it up and reduces wrinkles. You can find omega 3s in foods such as salmon, walnuts, tofu, shrimp, and halibut.
Zinc contains anti-inflammatory properties and may also affect sebum production, which helps prevent acne. Eating foods such as oysters, walnuts, chickpeas, and cashews is a great way to up your zinc intake.
Selenium may help preserve elastic, the protein that keeps skin smooth and tight. You can find it in foods like brazil nuts, oysters, turkey, and tuna.
Riboflavin aka vitamin B2 assists with tissue maintenance and repair, which may improve blemishes caused by rosacea. You can find it in foods such as almonds, trout, sesame seeds, and roasted edamame.
Flavonol, an antioxidant compound found in foods like dark chocolate, blueberries, black beans, and tomatoes, may reduce roughness in the skin.
Amanda Frick, ND, Lac, lead naturopathic doctor for Harvey Health, suggests looking out for foods with the following antioxidants, as well: resveratrol (peanuts, pistachios, grapes), lycopene (watermelon, grapefruit, tomato), polyphenols (black tea, green tea), astaxanthin (lobster, shrimp, sockeye salmon), genistein (chickpeas), and zeaxanthin (leafy greens like kale and spinach).
Remember, it’s about nourishing what’s on the inside, which will directly be reflected on the outside, so we must take care of our organs and their functions. We already know how important the health of our gut is, but it really does plays a crucial role in the health of our skin. “A healthy gut is imperative to skin health, and when it’s functioning less than optimally, it often shows up on the skin in the form of inflammation or acne,” says Amanda Koch, a nutritional therapy consultant at My Well Balanced Life. “This is because when we don’t eat a diet full of high-quality, nutrient-dense foods, our bodies begin to prioritize which organs will get the limited amounts of nutrients available—and unfortunately, the skin is one of the last things on the list.”
So what can we do to fix this? Koch suggests whole foods for proper nutrients and enzymes, fiber-rich foods to help flush excess toxins and hormones from the body, and fermented foods. Anthony Youn, dermatologist and contributor at RealSelf, mentions kimchee, sauerkraut, and kombucha as a few fermented foods to add to your grocery list.
Frick points out the importance of also nourishing the lungs. “In general, white foods nourish the lungs, and the lungs connect with the skin, so choose Asian pear, radish, mushrooms, or white-colored fish.” Noted!
While winter is a rough season for our skin weather-wise, it’s also (luckily) a season that reaps tons of skin-nourishing foods. Koch gives us the rundown of the ones we should be taking advantage of, below:
Pick out all the root vegetables that are common in soups, stews, and roasted dishes, such as sweet potatoes, carrots, butternut squash, parsnips, brussels sprouts, and beets. These veggies tend to be chock-full of nutrients, vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals integral to skin health and an overall healthy body. Not to mention, they contain fiber to get rid of any excess waste and toxins in the body that can be contributing to skin issues. Add in some healthy fats, protein, and bone broth for added amino acids, lipids, minerals, and hydration. Maybe throw in a side salad of leafy greens topped with avocado and seasonal fruits to get an extra boost of enzymes and nutrients. It’s a winter recipe for healthy skin to stay moisturized, balanced, and healthy.
It's not just limited to food, either. In fact, the most important thing to ingest for healthy skin is water. “Drinking pure water is the best thing to do for more hydrated skin,” says Youn. “Our body is 65 percent water, and therefore drinking six to eight eight-ounce glasses of water per day is super-important to keeping your skin hydrated and smooth.”
If you’re looking to spice up your water, try green tea, which has anti-inflammatory properties that are beneficial to the health of your skin. “Whether you drink it or apply it to the skin, a 2000 study in the Archives of Dermatology showed green tea might help reduce the risk of damage from UV rays from the sun, which may reduce the risk for skin cancer. It’s also full of those antioxidants and polyphenols that we know are good for the skin,” says Avaliani.
Of course, there are certain foods and drinks to avoid that can potentially be damaging to skin. Avaliani broke down the main skin-offending things we eat. Unfortunately, they just happen to be some of the tastiest:
Sugar is the most aging food that we consume, and it can make your skin lackluster and speed up your body’s production of wrinkles by damaging your collagen and elastin, the proteins that keep skin soft, plump, and supple. Salt is another one to avoid, as it causes you to retain water and can make your face swell and look puffy, which eventually causes a loss in elasticity.
She also broke down more specific foods that aren’t always so nice to our skin:
Another common skin trigger and a pro-inflammatory food is dairy, which can cause inflammatory skin conditions such as acne, rashes, and eczema. Chips are packed with refined carbs that increase inflammation and trigger DNA- and collagen-damaging oxidative stress, causing more fine liners and wrinkles over time. Also, according to a 2014 study in The Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, refined carbs are the main culprit in the rise of adult acne cases.”
She goes on to explain that bread and cake are both high on the glycemic index, contributing to acne, while processed foods, like white bread and pasta, are linked to increased oil production, which can lead to clogged pores and blemishes. Because life is sometimes very unfair, we also need to be wary of some of our favorite drinks. Youn explains that we need to avoid an excess of caffeine and alcohol, which are dehydrating.
Simply put: Don’t eat and drink like crap if you don't want to wreck your skin this winter. But that’s common sense, right?
Look, we know the holidays are coming, and you certainly shouldn’t deprive yourself of all the delicious foods you’ll be eating at parties and family gatherings. But, maybe consider keeping this in the back of your mind: Opt for more of the healthy stuff and fewer cookies and flutes of Champagne if you want a glowy, dewy start to 2018.