OK, so it sounds cliché to say “beauty starts from within,” but that old-school aphorism is pretty accurate when it comes to skin health (also self-confidence and kindness, but that’s an article for another day). Just like processed foods might cause breakouts, and eating sugar might cause premature aging (haven’t you heard of “sugar face?“), certain foods can have a reverse effect on skin health. McKenzie Jones, RDN, CLT, explained, “Since we are what we eat, it’s no surprise that diet and beauty go hand-in-hand. Foods that promote a healthy, balanced lifestyle also promote youthful-looking skin and can help keep you looking radiant from the inside, out.”
Beauty foods may not sound revolutionary now, but I first heard about the beauty benefits of nutrition when I read Eat Pretty: Nutrition for Beauty, Inside and Out in 2014, and my mind was blown (yes, I have always been a huge nerd). After all, why shell out half your paycheck on fancy serums and treatments when you can boost glow from the produce aisle of the grocery store (OK fine, I’ll still be spending $$$ on skincare products, but at least it will double the effort, right)? Add these foods to your grocery list this week and get ready for a major glow-up.
Apparently, that viral avocado café doubles as a skincare mecca, and Instagram’s favorite toast is just as good for your complexion as it is for your feed. “Avocados contain healthy fats (like polyunsaturated and monounsaturated) that work to keep skin flexible and moisturized,” Valerie Agyeman, RDN, my personal girl crush and founder of Flourish Heights, explained. “Monounsaturated fatty acids keep the surface of your skin moist, while polyunsaturated fatty acids guard the skin from sun damage. Plus, they are packed with antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E, and carotenoids, which help protect against free radical damage.” In other words, load up on the millennial-beloved fruit (yes, it is a fruit!) for skin hydration and radiant glow.
Pasta lovers, rejoice! A study by researchers at Manchester and Newcastle Universities found that eating five tablespoons of tomato paste daily helped improve the skin’s ability to protect against harmful UV rays, thanks to the antioxidant lycopene (AKA what makes the tomato its signature red shade). You know from your mom telling you to wear SPF that UV-protection does not only help prevent more serious conditions like skin cancer, but can also protect against signs of premature aging and dark spots, making anything that might protect against UV-damage officially a beauty food. Why tomato paste, you ask? Because cooking tomatoes increases their lycopene levels, so go ahead and load up on pasta sauce (but still wear your SPF!).
3. Lemon juice
As if you needed another reason to DIY spa water, lemon juice is packed with vitamin C. Stefanie Wilkerson, RDN, explained, “Vitamin C helps produce collagen, and works as an antioxidant to neutralize free radicals that can damage our cells.” Hello supple, smooth skin! Bonus: while it is acidic, lemon has alkalizing effects in the body, meaning it might help balance pH levels. This is beneficial for your complexion, because when pH levels are out of whack, the skin can become sensitive, irritated, or acne-prone. Not to mention that adding lemon makes us want to drink more water (and that’s a huge skincare perk).
Not only is garlic super delicious on bread, but it can be good for your skin too. Jennifer Irvine, nutritional expert and founder of healthy food delivery service, The Pure Package, told Get the Gloss that garlic is “full of a naturally occurring chemical called allicin, which acts against harmful bacteria when digested. This includes bacteria that can cause acne and other skin infections.” If acne is holding you back from the flawless skin of your dreams, try adding a little more garlic into your diet for potential benefits (as long as it doesn’t bother your stomach, obvi).
5. Sweet Potatoes
Sure, you could apply endless serums and face masks, or you could just nibble on some sweet potato fries. Joking aside, the orange alternative to the classic white potato is an excellent source of beta carotene, which converts to vitamin A in the body. May Zhu RDN, the founder of Nutrition Happens, explained, “If you’re a skincare junkie, you might recognize the term ‘retinol,’ which is essentially a different form of vitamin A. Vitamin A (from foods like sweet potatoes) helps with skin turnover by promoting the maturation of skin cells.” You know what that means: fewer wrinkles, clearer skin, and a glowing complexion. Good thing sweet potatoes are one of my favorite foods (not to brag or anything).
- Creamy Spinach Sweet Potato Noodles with Cashew Sauce
- Baked Sweet Potato
- Sweet Potato Tacos with Lime Crema
You’ve probably heard about the importance of antioxidants for skin glow from skincare bottles or your dermatologist. That’s because antioxidants are one of the most important factors in protecting skin’s health, and blueberries are one of the easiest ways to get them in your diet. The sweet little berry you used to pick during childhood summers is basically the king (or queen!) of antioxidants. They’re believed to have one of the highest antioxidant levels of all common fruits and vegetables, meaning they’re not only incredibly nutritious, but pack major glow-boosting benefits as well.
7. Leafy greens
What can’t leafy greens do? “Both kale and spinach are rich in a variety of potent antioxidants that help reduce skin inflammation,” Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, told Allure. Also, greens like collard greens, spinach, and kale contain zeaxanthin, which is an antioxidant that can help even out skin tone. I know he was a cartoon, but no wonder Popeye had such good skin! (Anyone else notice his flawless complexion? Nope, just me?) Aim for adding leafy greens to at least two meals a day for optimal benefits.
Seeds that are loaded with omega-3s and fiber (like flaxseeds) are a staple in plant-based diets, but they’re also great for healthy skin. A study in the British Journal of Nutrition found that participants who ate about half a teaspoon of flaxseeds experienced significantly less skin irritation and redness in six weeks, along with better-hydrated skin. Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills, agreed, “Omega-3 fatty acids help to maintain cellular health, reduce inflammation, and maintain a healthy skin barrier.” Add about half a teaspoon to your smoothie or even your favorite pasta recipe to easily incorporate the superfood into your diet.
9. Fatty Fish
Luckily for seafood lovers, many nutritionists (and Victoria Beckham) swear by fatty fish like salmon for skin hydration and glow. Rima Kleiner, MS, RD, founder of Dish on Fish, said, “Omega-3s and collagen help retain moisture in the skin, nourishing it from the inside out. Seafood is rich in both omega-3s and collagen. Eating oily fish like salmon and tuna at least twice a week will help lower your risk of dry, cracked skin.” FYI, The American Heart Association also recommends eating 3.5 ounces of fatty fish at least two times per week, but talk to your doctor about what’s best for your diet and lifestyle. Also, opt for wild-caught fish (instead of farm-raised) whenever possible.
10. Dark Chocolate
Now for potentially the best news ever, dark chocolate isn’t just a dessert; it’s officially a beauty food (*buys all the dark chocolate bars at Whole Foods*). According to one study, cocoa’s antioxidants can protect the skin from oxidative stress that leads to premature skin aging. Let your mom know that the chocolate addiction you had as a kid was actually good for you (that is, if your chocolate of choice was at least 75 percent cacao). My personal advice is to opt for as “dark” as you can (like 80-90 percent cacao), to avoid added sugars. Otherwise, satisfy your sweet tooth and PMS cravings while boosting skin glow.