SKIN specialists are convinced of the link between diet and the look and feel of our skin, from acne to wrinkles to sagging.
Scientific studies are showing which foods do what to the skin. So genes are just one factor, and there is much you can do via diet to protect your skin.
“Only 20% of the way you age is down to genetic factors,” says celebrity dermatologist, Dr Geeta Nirdosh, whose client list includes Kelly Brook and Frieda Pinto. ‘The other 80% is governed by lifestyle factors, such as smoking and sun damage. A large part of that is diet, which can affect not only wrinkles and fine lines, but also hyper-pigmentation and acne”.
What not to eat
It’s never too early to adopt a healthy, anti-ageing diet, says Dr Stefanie Williams, dermatologist and founder of eudelo.com. A recent study shows that ageing in the skin — collagen breakdown and skin thinning — begins around 35. “A diet high in sugar and high-glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates, such as white rice, pasta and bread and sweets, has now been shown to cause inflammation in the body that can make the skin age much quicker,” says Dr Stefanie Williams, a dermatologist and founder of eudelo.com.
In May this year, a study from the Leiden University Medical Centre, in the Netherlands, made the first direct link between the amount of sugar in the blood and how old a person looks. The higher the amount of sugar and high GI carbs a person ate, the older they looked.
When blood sugar levels are on the high-low cycle caused by a high sugar and high-carb diet (eating too often between meals has the same effect) sugar molecules permanently bond to proteins, including collagen. This is glycation and produces aptly named compounds, called AGES, or advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which cross-link with proteins. Says Dr Williams: “consequently, tissues become stiff and inflexible, skin becomes tougher, saggier and wrinkles form, often prematurely.”
A diet high in dairy may elevate hormone levels and contribute to acne, says dermatologist, Dr Nicholas Lowe. “Where, once, we, as dermatologists, dismissed the idea of diet and pimples, there is now good evidence of a link between unrefined sugars, sweets, milk chocolate and unrefined carbohydrates with increased incidence of acne breakout,” he says. When he puts patients with inflammatory skin conditions, such as acne, psoriasis and eczema, on diets, reducing their intake of refined sugars and dairy products, their conditions often get better. “Changing their diets can reduce the severity of their conditions,” he says.
Feed your face
Sticking to low-GI diet (check glyacemicindex.com and stick to foods with a GI of 50 or under) and avoiding sugary foods will help your skin. But if you want to keep blood-sugar levels stable and reduce breakouts and/or help early ageing in the skin, Dr Williams suggests — perhaps controversially — avoiding all starchy, grain-based foods, even the brown versions, in favour of lean proteins such as beef, lamb, chicken, fish, tofu, pulses and plenty of vegetables. “Avoid sweet, tropical fruits and have fresh fruit in moderation,” she says. “Except all types of berries. They’re high in antioxidants that bring great anti-ageing benefits to the skin.” Your low-fat diet could be sabotaging your face, says Dr Nirdosh. “You might get someone that is really thin and is eating a lean, low-fat diet and drinking plenty of water, but their skin may look dry, dehydrated and with a certain grey colour”, she says. “That’s dehydration, because they don’t have enough good fat content in their diets, which means the skin is unable to retain its water and more moisture is evaporating from its surface, especially in airconditioned or heated environments.” She suggests good fats, such as coconut oil for cooking, nuts, such as almonds, Brazils and walnuts, avocados and oily fish. “These contain essential lipids that create a protective surface around the skin cells and prevent essential water within them from escaping,” says Dr Nirdosh.
Likewise, Dr Howard Murad, founder of Murad skincare and associate professor of medicine at UCLA, says damaged skin cells have a weakened ability to retain water, so skin loses elasticity, tone and surface moisture. “Puffy eyes, swollen ankles and even a bloated stomach are also signs the body isn’t handling water efficiently,” he says. “It also explains some of the early signs of ageing that might occur in your early 30s, particularly skin becoming drier and feathery lines emerging.” But, he says, guzzling water won’t solve the problem. “Consuming fruits and vegetables that are high in water more efficiently rebalances the water in your system, because these foods are surrounded by molecules that help deliver the water they contain into cells more easily,” says Dr Murad. “For this reason, I encourage patients to eat — not drink — their water.” Foods highest in water content include watermelon and cucumbers, which are 97% water, broccoli and spinach (92%), apricots (86%), pomegranates (82%) and avocados (82%).
Scientists at Manchester University have found that certain foods increase the natural sun protection in your skin. “When tomatoes, and the foods made from them, such as salsa and ketchup, are consumed regularly, patients’ skin can, over time, become less susceptible to sun burn,” says dermatologist, Dr Tamara Griffiths. “This is thanks to the lycopene content in tomatoes, which appears to have the skin-protective benefits.” Some also believe that compounds, called flavonoids, in citrus foods, green tea and pomegranate, and another called resveratrol, found in red grapes (and happily, red wine), could have the same effect. “Of course, this isn’t in place of a sunscreen, but it may help the skin’s own protection in areas sunscreens don’t reach,” says Dr Griffiths. So, is there a diet that’s skin-friendly and doable? “Probably the Mediterranean diet,” she says. “Overall, it’s high proportion of omega-3 rich fish and it’s naturally occurring antioxidants in all the different coloured vegetables it emphasises, is probably the best, and most realistic, healthy diet for skin.”
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