For years, magazines, beauty products, supplements and bloggers have been promising us the truth to flawless skin, and of course we all want to know the answer.
Our skin is important to us for a number of reasons including the fact that it is the largest organ in our body and is essential for protection against damage and infection, temperature control and of course helping us look more aesthetically pleasing!
For a long while the idea that our diets could provoke acne breakouts and bad skin has been a slightly controversial one, with many experts disagreeing. Previously it was thought that food had very little effect on the skin, but recent research suggests that the foods we eat play a key role in keeping the skin healthy, including in the role of developing acne.
It is unlikely to be just one nutrient that is responsible for causing acne and more so likely to be the diet as a whole that could make someone prone to getting bad skin. So any promises at âquick fixesâ or recommendations to cut out whole food groups should be taken with a pinch of salt (not literally though)! However, as is always the case in nutrition, individuals may react in different ways and I often come across clients or friends who have identified a specific food that seems to make their skin better or worse. It is important that we allow for common sense and sometimes trial and error is the best way to find out what affects your own body.
In general however, some research has looked into the role of dairy foods in the diet as a potential contributor to acne. This research appears to be very limited and results are currently inconclusive and therefore there is no reason to suggest that cutting out dairy WILL result in clear skin. However if under the guidance of a qualified expert (GP, dermatologist, dietitian) you may be advised to trial a dairy free diet, under supervision.
Something that seems to have more of an impact on the skin is the consumption of low and high glycemic index diets. Glycemic index is the impact that a particular load of carbohydrate has on blood sugars in the body. Carbohydrates that are absorbed more quickly into the bloodstream, and therefore have more of an impact on blood sugar levels, are âhigh glycemic index foodsâ. These include foods that are often more processed and generally higher in sugar. âLow glycemic index foodsâ tend to have less of an effect on blood sugar levels and trickle into the bloodstream more slowly. These foods mostly include foods such as wholegrains and vegetables. See more about glycemic index foods here.
Some studies have shown a link between higher Glycemic Index diets and longer acne duration whilst others have associated lower Glycemic Index diets with reduced acne risk. This seems to be to do with the effect that high blood sugars have on hormones in the body; however, more research is needed in this area.
To help keep skin healthy we need to make sure we are eating a variety of foods every day. This can help to make sure we get all the nutrients our body (and skin) needs to stay healthy.
This ultimately means trying to eat a variety of healthy foods, avoiding too much processed, fast food, ready meals and things like crisps, cakes and biscuits and focusing on eating ârealâ food such as fruits and vegetables, grains, beans, pulses, nuts and seeds (nothing new here).
âHydration is also important for helping to keep us healthy and although not a âscientific studyâ I know full well that my skin is at itâs best when Iâm drinking enough water. I can tell instantly when Iâm dehydrated as my skin gets a little oily, dry and bumpy. When this happens I remind myself about staying hydrated and try to carry a BPA free bottle around with me.
The recommendation for fluids is to drink around 6-8 glasses a day. But of course that doesnât account for individual needs and preferences. If youâre active, live in hotter climates, have the heating on, are a man etc etc you may need more fluids. The best way to tell how hydrated you are? Check out the colour of your urine, if itâs too dark, youâre simply not drinking enough. See the urine colour chart below:
Check your hydration levels to ensure youâre getting enough water
Remember that fresh, free, non-calorific, sugar-free, hydrating water is the best source of fluid you could choose (regardless of what counts towards your fluid intake).
Other foods that may affect your skin: Other more specific nutritional factors that are key to keeping our skin healthy include the ever-discussed antioxidants. Antioxidants protect our body cells and cell linings from damage by radiation and free radicals. This includes our skin cells so ensuring we get plenty of these should help keep our skin healthy too. Antioxidants are found mainly in fruits and vegetables, especially those fruit and veggies that are bright in colour such as berries, tomatoes, beans, sweet potatoes and dark green leafy vegetables.
The human body and body cells also need the right amount of fats to keep healthy as these help to make up the cell membranes of all of the cells in our body. Fats also help to provide insulation and with temperature regulation. Fat therefore plays a role in keeping the skin healthy, especially monounsaturated fatty acids (from foods such as avocados and olives) and Omega-3 fatty acids (from fish, nuts and olive oil).
These Omega-3 fatty acids are found mainly in oily fish, and are thought to have anti-inflammatory properties which, may be one of the reasons these fats are thought to be so important for our health and in ensuring we also have healthy skin. The current recommendation is that in the UK we should be eating around two portions of fish each week, one of which should be oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, salmon and fresh tuna.
On the other hand, excess intakes of another fat â Omega-6 fatty acids (found mainly in vegetable oils and processed foods) â are associated with increased inflammation and are thought to play a role in a number of inflammatory diseases. Further research into the effect of Omega-6 fatty acids is necessary to form conclusions on this topic.
Lastly, protein is essential for cell growth and repair and therefore is necessary for replenishment and growth of new, healthy skin cells. Luckily in the UK we donât see many people who are short of protein as it is found in a wide variety of foods including: eggs, beans, lentils and nuts.
So what is the answer to healthy skin?
As always, donât believe everything you hear, read or see - if something claims to tell you the âsecretâ or âtruthâ to good skin, its probably unlikely to be the case as we need to remember that we are all individuals and there are no quick fixes to good health. If your skin is suffering, talk to your GP as there may be an underlying cause. The environment, medication, hormones and genetics all play a role in our health and that of our skin, so make sure you get any ongoing problems checked out with a professional.
Being as healthy as you can possibly be is always a good idea. This way you can be sure that it is not a bad diet that is leading to poor skin. If you follow our blog youâll know that the answer to eating healthily is really simple: eat well, eat a variety (including lots of vegetables and fruit) and avoid too much processed food.
Your guide to living whole and well. Emma Olliff is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, wellness expert, food lover, and advocate for healthy living!