How does unhealthy food affect the skin?
Your skin plays an important role not only in how you look, but also in how you feel. Healthy skin maintains a proper barrier between your internal organs and your environment, keeping pathogens and other toxins out. While multiple factors, including your genetics, hygiene and other lifestyle habits, contribute to the health of your skin, poor nutrition has a detrimental effect on your skin tissue.
Ever wake up feeling a little puffy around the eyes? Too much salt can cause water retention, which can lead to swelling. The skin around the eyes is so thin, the area swells easily—and leaves you cursing last night’s popcorn when you catch your reflection the next morning. “These effects of salt are definitely age related,” he says, and become more common in middle age.
Shrimp, crab, lobster—and also certain leafy greens like seaweed and spinach—are naturally high in iodine, and a diet with too much of this element can lead to acne. However, “these breakouts are based on an accumulated amount of iodine over time, so there’s no relationship between eating high iodine foods one day and breaking out the next” Instead, people who are particularly acne-prone consume these foods a couple of times a month rather than a couple of times a week.
A 2005 study linked higher milk consumption to presence of acne. While the study had certain flaws, including the fact that participants were asked simply to recall how much milk they drank rather than record it in real time, more recent research, including a 2012 study in Italy, found a connection specifically between skim milk and acne. This is likely because of “a higher amount of bioavailable hormones in skim milk, since they cannot be absorbed in surrounding fat,” which can then overstimulate the group of glands that produce our skin’s natural oily secretions.
In some people with rosacea, dairy products can also trigger the condition’s tell-tale redness.
Starchy picks like white breads, pastas and cakes, and even corn syrup, are best avoided for dewy skin (and maybe even for maintaining weight loss). Foods that are considered high glycemic can cause rapid spikes in blood sugar. A small Australian study from 2007 found that eating a low-glycemic diet reduced acne in young men.
However, if glycemic index does prove to be related to skin problems, and you find yourself breaking out after eating something like French fries, it may be due to the starchy insides rather than that greasy, golden exterior.
If starchy foods that break down quickly into sugar are an issue, it’s no surprise that straight sugar can be problematic for the skin in much the same way. High blood sugar can weaken the skin by affecting tissues like collagen, and leave you more vulnerable to lines and wrinkles.
Which is why it’s likely not anything particular to chocolate, a rumoured breakout culprit, that’s giving you trouble, but the high sugar content of that sweet treat. If you’re worried about breakouts, but dying for a nibble, stick with the dark stuff—it packs the most health benefits.
Alcohol is a natural diuretic, which means the more you drink, the more dehydrated you become. It saps the natural moisture from your skin as well, which can make those wrinkles and fine lines seem like bigger deals. It can also trigger rosacea outbreaks.
How to maintain healthy skin with a good diet:
Fat, which is an important component of your diet, plays an essential role in your skin’s health. Your skin uses fat to form a waterproof barrier. Essential fatty acids contribute to skin health — omega-6 fatty acids promote healthy skin growth, while omega-3 fatty acids help to prevent dry skin. A poor diet puts you at risk of an omega-3 fatty acid deficiency, and, as a result, you might notice skin and hair problems.
Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, maintains your skin’s health. Together with vitamin E, it protects your skin cells from sun damage. Consuming vitamin C also helps you make collagen, a protein important for your skin’s structure. A diet poor in vitamin C puts you at risk of developing scurvy, a condition that causes skin lesions. Vitamin D also helps maintain healthy skin. It controls the growth and development of cells in the deep layers of your skin and protects your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. As a result, low vitamin D levels leave you more vulnerable to sun damage, negatively affecting the health of your skin. Men should consume 90 milligrams of vitamin C daily, and women should consume 75 milligrams. All adults need 15 micrograms of vitamin D each day.
Zinc deficiencies negatively impact your skin. Normal zinc levels help support healthy skin cell turnover, while zinc deficiency can cause abnormal skin pigmentation, lead to skin lesions and put you at risk of dermatitis. A deficiency also causes hair loss and stunts nail growth. Men need 11 milligrams of zinc daily, while women require 8 milligrams. A diet low in selenium — an essential mineral involved in protecting your skin from the sun — can also cause problematic skin conditions. Individuals suffering a selenium deficiency face a higher risk of skin cancer. Selenium deficiency can also slow hair growth, lead to hair loss and prevent normal skin cell development. Your diet should include 55 milligrams of selenium daily, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements.
Eating for Healthy Skin
Maintain a well-balanced diet to prevent nutrient deficiencies that affect your skin. Fruits and vegetables provide you with vitamin C, while fortified dairy products boost your intake of vitamin D. Add fatty fish, such as salmon or tuna, to your diet, because they provide beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, as well as vitamin D and selenium. Eat nuts for a skin-healthy snack rich in zinc, selenium and healthy unsaturated fat, including omega-3s. If you already suffer from a skin condition you think might be related to a nutrient deficiency, seek medical attention. Your doctor can determine the underlying cause and then recommend an appropriate treatment to complement a healthy diet.