Your desire to have clear, healthy skin is understandable. After all, almost a third of people with acne felt it negatively affected their self-confidence in 2018. The beauty industry, however, is a hotbed of misinformation, and you must learn to separate myths from the truth to achieve your lofty, clear-skin desires.
“Eating your way to clear skin” is one of the statements you’ve probably heard, especially if you listen to beauty instructors-cum-influencers on social media. The statement loosely pushes nutrition as the ultimate “skincare hack.” But in the doctrine of skincare, is the statement the truth, a myth, or a fancy hyperbole?
To rightly divide the truth about healthy skin diet, PricePally spoke with health-related experts: Funmi Ojo, a pharmacist and the founder of TopicalsByFunmi (TBF), Sylvia Ofobe, a registered nutritionist working as a dietetic at Nottingham Community, and Uchechi Uchenyi (a pharmacist at Remedial Health).
The main takeaways are:
- Your skin reflects the food you eat.
- Sleep quality, stress, lifestyle behaviors, and skincare routines influence skin health.
- Fruits, fatty fish, and vegetables promote healthy, clear skin. Meanwhile, processed foods and highly refined carbs, alcohol, and added sugar are detrimental to the skin.
- Combining dieting and skincare products is the best skin health formula.
Does clear skin start with the gut?
“All diseases start from the gut.”
The gut (or gastrointestinal tract) houses intestines, colons, and microorganisms (or gut microbiomes). Gut health, Funmi explained, impacts nutrient absorption from food, which in turn influences skin health. “The gut has several microbes that break down food and release nutrients that act as a first line of defense against ‘bad’ bacteria, keeping them at a sub-minimal level to prevent inflammation and illnesses,” she explained in a conversation with PricePally.
Sylvia shared a similar sentiment, adding that “the balance between microorganisms and the gut improves skin health.” External factors like dieting may disrupt the balance and cause “bad” bacteria to overwhelm the “good” bacteria, causing inflammation, leaky gut syndrome, and skin conditions like acne, eczema, psoriasis, and vitiligo.
To illustrate the link between dieting and skin health, Sylvia uses the symptoms of acne and wrinkles as an example. Excess oil (sebum) is a prominent acne symptom. Moreover, foods rich in vitamin A suppress its production. “Retinoids [a form of vitamin A] are the most effective acne treatment because they suppress sebum production,” Sylvia told PricePally. In 2016, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) highlighted isotretinoin—a form of retinoid—as a severe acne treatment, buttressing Sylvia’s stance.
The UK-based registered dietician added that vitamin A improves retinoid receptors in the sebaceous glands (microscopic hair follicles that secrete sebum), making the skin receptive to retinol and possibly decreasing sebum (oil) production. Vitamin A, like vitamin D, encourages keratin production, which regulates cell growth and removes dead skin cells. In addition, vitamin A is an antioxidant that prevents skin aging.
In dietary terms, vitamin A exists as retinol, retinyl esters, or carotenoids in food. Retinols exist in animal-based products. Examples include;
In contrast, carotenoids are found in plants. Carotenoids protect the skin from environmental factors like UV radiation that may negatively affect skin appearance. Examples of carotenoid-rich foods for healthy skin are listed below.
Shopping tip: Fruits and vegetables are available on PricePally in portion and bulk quantities.
Which other food promotes clear skin?
Other foods that encourage healthy skin are listed below.
Don’t forget about water, especially if your daily intake is low. If you’re dehydrated, your skin has less water to function. In 2015, a study found that increasing water intake in dehydrated individuals “might positively impact normal skin physiology.” Typically, adults need 9–13 glasses of water daily to stay hydrated.
Which foods should you avoid to have clear skin?
- Highly refined carbs
- Processed foods rich in trans and saturated fats
- Added or artificial sugars
- Dairy products
Excess carbs and sugar produce advanced glycation end products (AGEs)—the consequence of the bonding between sugar molecules and proteins in the body. AGEs interfere with the proteins (collagen and elastin), causing skin wrinkles or “sugar sag.”
While dairy products provide skin-friendly calcium, they may trigger allergic acne reactions in some individuals.
Is dieting the holy grail for skin health?
The food you eat isn’t the only external factor affecting skin and gut health. Sleep quality and lifestyle factors (e.g., stress and smoking habits) play significant roles.
Poor sleep makes the blood vessels shrink, causing the accumulation of blood and fluid around the delicate skin of the eyes. In 2022, a survey discovered that limiting sleep to two to three hours for two nights could alter skin and facial appearance. Insufficient sleep restricts collagen production, the protein responsible for skin repair during rest. As a result, poor sleep may worsen skin conditions like acne, eczema, and psoriasis.
Additionally, poor sleep causes skin dehydration—a leading cause of dark eye circles alongside tiredness. In 2022, 32 Korean women noticed high skin dryness the less they slept. Uchechi, however, suggested that hydration is an answer to dry skin. “Drink fluids and water-rich fruits like watermelon and citrus to prevent dry skin, especially during the dry (or harmattan) season.”
Besides, smoking may constrict the blood vessels and reduce blood supply, causing the skin to receive less oxygen and essential nutrients. The result? A smoker’s face, in which your skin looks older, wrinkled, and saggier than the average non-smoker. Sylvia buttressed the sentiment, adding that “a smoker’s body has a reduced ability to heal itself because smoking reduces blood flow; therefore, smokers are at risk of infection and possible skin grafting injection.”
- Increased inflammation
- Oil and sebum production
- Impaired resistance to infection
In skin conditions like acne or eczema, stress (emotional or psychological) worsens its appearance, even if it’s not the root cause. Sylvia believes stress worsens acne because of its effect on the sebaceous gland. “The sebaceous gland produces more oil when you’re stressed, causing clogged pores that worsen acne breakouts.” Skin rashes and itchy skin are other symptoms of stress on the skin.
Should excellent dieting restrict skincare routines?
The distinctive routes impact the skin in unique ways. “The food you ingest isn’t for your skin alone. The skin receives a fraction of the nutrients from food because it’s typically low on the priority list for nutrient absorption. But skin products go directly into your skin, ensuring better and quicker skin nourishment,” Funmi told PricePally.
Funmi cements her explanation using vitamin C. While you’re likely getting the pro-aging vitamin from your diet, only a small portion reaches the outermost skin layer after transportation through the bloodstream. Moreover, vitamin C serums provide sufficient quantities for the skin to flourish. The best skincare formula, Funmi says, is to “eat your vitamin C and apply your vitamin C,” suggesting you should combine dieting and skincare routines for optimal skin health.
Funmi likened skincare routines filled with the necessary ingredients to a “balanced diet for the skin.” Sunscreen, for example, protects the skin against sun damage and premature aging. Skincare products, however, will not give the desired results if you use them loosely. That’s why Funmi, a cosmetic scientist at TopicalsByFunmi, admonished skincare enthusiasts to start their beauty routines with a visit to the dermatologist. “Consult a skin professional [e.g., TopicalsByFunmi] before using any products, not following online trends, as skin types differ.” Generally, your skin belongs to one or more categories—dry, oily, or sensitive.
You also need a toner and moisturizer. The toner balances the skin’s pH to prevent dryness, oiliness, and irritation. Similarly, moisturizers relieve dryness by increasing the water content of the outer skin.
Don’t exclude personal hygiene from your routines. Clean towels, bedding, and clothing set the tone for your skin to thrive. For example, bathing with soap removes dead skin cells, bacteria, and oils.