Leathery, wrinkled skin may be a hallmark of a long-time sun worshipper, just as an abundance of “pucker lines” around the mouth may indicate a smoking habit. But in addition to using sunscreen and ditching the nicotine sticks, perhaps one of the best ways to keep skin looking healthy is to feed it well. From the helpful to the harmful, here is the lowdown on how a few common ingredients found in your everyday diet can impact the skin.
Well-fed nails and hair
If nails are brittle and fragile, Salem, OR-based Elizabeth Somer, RD, author of Age-Proof Your Body, recommends consuming iron-rich foods such as black bean soup or the occasional cut of steak. "Iron is essential for the growth and maintenance of the nails and nail bed," says Somer. "If nails are deprived of iron for too long, they can flatten out or curve abnormally." Somer adds that cooking foods in a cast-iron pan can also help increase your iron intake. The iron from the pan infuses into whatever dish you're preparing.
Just add water
This crucial component of a healthy body not only keeps us alive, but also keeps skin looking good. “Skin needs water,” says Skinguru.com’s Leslie Baumann, MD, chief of cosmetic dermatology at the University of Miami School of Medicine. “However, it is not how much water you drink that is important but how well your skin holds onto water.” Skin has a protective coating that’s constructed of lipids (fats) and helps prevent water evaporation. If that precious water gets away, it can leave the skin dehydrated, rough and dull looking. A lack of water can also make skin appear older, as fine lines are more pronounced on a dehydrated surface. To help keep all of that moisture where it belongs, Baumann points out that taking flax seed supplements may help. “They are a source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help the skin barrier,” says Baumann.
Vitamin C is a key component of a skin-friendly diet. "Vitamin C helps make collagen, which is the protein fiber that's responsible for giving skin its strength and vitality," says Los Angeles-based Dori Zerlin, MS, RD. Fruits such as papaya, oranges and grapefruit are great sources of this mighty vitamin.
When it comes to vegetables, remember these two words: lycopene and lutein. Or, you can just remember one word: antioxidants. Lycopene and lutein are both part of the antioxidant family, which is credited with preventing the formation of new wrinkles. Lycopene can be found in tomatoes, while leafy green vegetables are packed not only with lutein, but vitamin A, which, according to Baumann, can help clear up acne.
The sweet stuff may taste great, but it's not so great for the skin. High blood-sugar levels negatively impact collagen and elastin, two building blocks that give your skin a supple, youthful look.
This news is particularly bad for diabetics who are the main sufferers of this phenomenon. “Studies in long-time diabetics show that high blood-sugar levels make collagen and elastin stiffer, therefore the skin’s youthful appearance is compromised,” says Dan Yarosh, MD, author of The New Science of Perfect Skin. “The blood-sugar level of non-diabetics, however, usually doesn’t get high enough to do that much damage.”
Angela Robles, an Encino, CA-based paramedical aesthetician, who performs skincare services from microdermabrasion to facials, also notes that there is a possible link between sugar consumption and eczema (itchy inflammation of the skin) in children.
It can do wonders for the skin, but only in the form of an exfoliating scrub. Salt's internal effects aren't nearly as attractive. "Too much salt in the diet can cause bloating, which stretches the skin and leads to wrinkles and dryness," says Zerlin. "Drinking enough water may help to avoid the problem."
Is caffeine-free the way to be?
Caffeine is an antioxidant, so it can actually be good for the skin. However, Zerlin points out that "caffeine…[has] a diuretic effect that can drain the body of its water supply." This leads to, you guessed it, more wrinkles and dryness.
When it comes to the relationship between the food you eat and the look of your skin, Robles sums it up perfectly: "When the body is functioning on a healthy level the skin looks great: Lots of water, low sugar, tons of veggies and some fruit make you look and feel your best."
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