Many of us still feel like that kid in the high school bathroom piling on concealer and foundation to hide a volcanic pimple before class. Except now, we’re at the office and have a presentation in front of 50 colleagues in about three minutes. Anyone who has struggled with skin issues knows that they can be stressful, frustrating and not-so-good for your confidence. We want long-term solutions, and we want them now!
If you’ve used topical remedies and prescriptions with the guidance of a reputable dermatologist and seen results—great! But, there are also some simple and natural solutions at your fingertips that may work in place of, or in combination with, topical solutions. And, these don’t have the side effects that can come with over-the-counter and prescription drugs.
Today, we’re going to explore some skin health practices that go beyond traditional approaches. We’ll tackle a few of the most common challenges: acne, sun damage and premature wrinkles. If something resonates with you, take it for a spin. You might be surprised at the improvements you see in the mirror and how great you feel on the inside. Win-win!
Best and Worst Foods and Habits for Acne
We often associate acne with puberty and our adolescent years but for some people, it continues to be an issue into adulthood. Let’s face it, pimples can be painful and frustrating. It’s no wonder that individuals with long-term acne tend to have higher rates of depression, anxiety and anger (study). If you’re one of these folks, food can be your ally.
For starters, the omega-3s in flax seeds, chia seeds and walnuts help decrease inflammation all over the body, including in the skin. Research has shown that eating omega-3s not only reduces the number, size and redness of pimples after 2 months but also eases symptoms of anxiety and depression (study). To get 1,000 milligrams of acne-easing omega-3s, have 2 teaspoons of ground flax seeds or chia seeds, or 7 walnut halves each day.
In addition, try adding Brazil nuts, sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds to your diet. Deficiencies of selenium and zinc have been linked to an increase in the severity of acne (study and study). One Brazil nut a day gives you over 100% of your daily recommended dose of selenium (wowza!). Get 25% of your recommended zinc per day with a quarter cup of sesame seeds or pumpkin seeds, or 2 tablespoons of tahini. Pro tip: Raw seeds have the highest concentration of zinc, so opt for raw if you can.
On the other hand, dairy products can be your skin’s enemy. Since dairy products are meant to stimulate growth, they have natural hormone-like compounds, which increase oil secretion in the skin. This clogs pores and results in more pimples. All types of dairy foods—full-fat and nonfat—can contribute to an increase in acne (study and study). Thanks, but no thanks. Opt for nondairy milks, yogurts and cheeses, and use raw cashews and pumpkin seeds to make creamy sauces without the pimply side-effects. Even frozen banana chunks can make a delicious nondairy ice cream.
Best and Worst Foods and Habits for Sun Damage
Even if you live in a sunny climate where it’s impossible to avoid sun damage, or grew up without using sunscreen, there are still measures you can take to help protect your skin.
Give your skin rejuvenation efforts a boost by eating more carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, watermelon and pink grapefruit. They’re rich in beta-carotene, lycopene, phytoene and phytofluene, which provide photoprotective effects. And, photoprotection improves your skin’s natural SPF. Eating these specific foods on a daily basis helps your skin block the sun’s harmful UV irradiation and provides longer-term skin health (study).
Green tea can also be beneficial for folks who worship the sun. Catechins found in green tea not only help to protect against the inflammation of sunburn but can also reduce damage from the sun by 25% (study). Studies that included 540mg of green tea catechins daily (the amount in about 2 cups of green tea) showed sun-protecting benefits. Regular green tea consumption can also help skin become more elastic and smooth since the antioxidants increase circulation (study).
This may seem like a no-brainer, but one of the worst habits you can adopt when trying to avoid or repair sun damage is skipping sunscreen completely. The recent emphasis on vitamin D’s health benefits may have you confused, though, since the best source is good ole sun exposure. Still, skipping sunscreen is your skin’s worst enemy when it comes to accelerated aging, sun damage and skin cancer. Luckily, there’s a happy medium. Try using a broad spectrum sunscreen on highly exposed and vulnerable spots, like your face, hands and neck all year long, and expose less vulnerable spots, like your arms and legs, to the sun for 20 minutes three times a week during peak hours (11 a.m. – 3 p.m.). Keep in mind, too, that certain latitudes have very weak sun during winter months and supplementation is often necessary to keep vitamin D levels up.
Best and Worst Foods and Habits for Wrinkles
Wrinkles are natural and gorgeous. They can even be a sign that you’ve laughed and enjoyed life to the fullest! But if you feel like you’re looking beyond your years or experiencing premature wrinkling, here are a few things you can do to keep your skin smoother and more youthful.
First, say hiya to papaya, bell peppers and broccoli. Studies have shown that the more vitamin C you eat from foods, the lower your likelihood of having a wrinkled appearance (study). It’s likely due to vitamin C’s ability to stop free radical damage in the skin. Papaya, bell peppers and broccoli are the best plant sources of C, with strawberries, citrus fruits and pineapple coming in close behind. One serving of any of these foods will provide you with over 100% of your daily recommended intake of vitamin C.
Also, start adding more sesame seeds, pine nuts, walnuts and hemp seeds to your meals. Their omega-6 fats will help prevent skin dryness, which can contribute to wrinkles. In addition, research has shown that people who regularly consume omega 6-rich foods have less wrinkled appearances (study). The nuts and seeds I just mentioned aren’t the only superstars on the block. Most nuts and seeds contain a high concentration of omega-6 fats, so including a variety throughout the day and week will guarantee you’re getting the right balance for your skin.
Last but not least, one more thing to avoid for healthier skin. Although it may be tempting to fall for the promises of rough exfoliators and coarse peels, you’re better off without them. Many beauty products claim to help you look younger, but these quick fixes can cause inflammation and decrease your skin’s natural oils, which increases dryness and wrinkles. If you still want to use scrubs, cleansers or other products, look for natural facial cleansers and peels for sensitive skin. And, know that if it’s a painful operation, it’s probably not the best thing for your skin.