The Necessary Nutrients for Healthy Skin
Creating beautiful and healthy skin is both an inside and an outside job. You can use all of the most fabulous topical products on your skin, but if you have digestive issues or nutrient deficiencies that are not being addressed, skin will not be able to look it’s best. And the reverse is also true – terrible products can work against even the most nourishing of diets to support your skin.
The most common skin complaints I see women reaching out for help with include breakouts and oily skin, hormonal acne, dryness, rosacea, eczema, and perioral dermatitis. Specific skin conditions will all require different treatment options, however it is important to know what the skin thrives off and what may cause harm in order to provide your skin with the vitamins and nutrients it needs to flourish!
Let’s look at the different nutrients the skin requires to function optimally.
1. Essential Fatty Acids
The queen of skin nutrients – EFAs, specifically those of the omega-3 and omega-6 variety – are vital because they contribute to the structure and function of both the dermal and epidermal layers of the skin.
EFAs play a key role in the structural integrity, barrier function, inflammatory response, and overall appearance of the skin. Without the correct building blocks coming in through the diet, how can we expect our skin function to perform optimally? Research shows that both topical and oral intake of EFAs are effective means of delivering these fatty acids to the skin. Therefore, increasing your intake of these beautiful fats and supplementing if necessary, under the guidance of your health care practitioner of course, is essential to building healthy skin.
If you have an inflammatory skin condition – a well sourced and batch tested fish oil may be your best friend. Quality matters for all supplements, but especially important in fish oils as they have the ability to go rancid if not properly stored, transported and encapsulated.
Because most people already consume plenty of omega-6 fats – think nuts, seeds, and seed oils, I mostly suggest on focusing increasing your intake of the anti-inflammatory omega-3s through the diet. These include:
- Oily fish; salmon, sardines, and mackerel
- Fish roe
- Krill and cod liver oils
- Algae oil
- Flaxseed and linseed oil
- Chia seeds
Read more about omega-3 fatty acids in my previous blog.
Zinc is an essential micronutrient that is necessary for over 300 enzymatic reactions that occur in the human body, including metabolism, digestion, immunity and nerve function. For skin it is imperative for repair, wound healing, and supporting oxidative stress. Inadequate zinc levels will exacerbate acne and may lead to increased scarring on the surface of the skin.
Clients often say to me that their acne lesions are less frequent and heal exponentially faster once they have been supplementing with the correct dose and form of zinc. Safe to say I prescribe a lot of zinc for healthy skin! Zinc can also be used topically in serums to enhance the membrane repair benefits.
Zinc-rich foods include oysters, red meat, liver, nuts and seeds. To correct a zinc deficiency, as well as increasing these foods. supplementation for a period of time is likely necessary. I recommend 50mg of zinc taken daily after food. It is important to note that zinc should not be taken long term without the guidance of a practitioner, as it can disrupt your body’s levels of copper, as these two are antagonist metals.
3. Vitamin A
Vitamin A can be divided into two categories – retinoids and carotenoids – which both play an important role in regulating cell proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis (cell death) in the skin. It is important to note that retinoids are mostly found in animal sources, whereas carotenoids, including β-carotene, are found in plant products. While there are beneficial antioxidant effects of carotenoids for skin health, retinoids provide the key functionalities in skin. So eating a whole lot of sweet potato, although has plenty of health promoting benefits, is not particularly helpful for skin health. You are much better off eating seafood, liver (again!), butter, ghee, and egg yolks.
Topical retinoids have become extremely popular due to Vitamin A’s ability to encourage cell turnover and regeneration. Introduce these slowly and increase as your skin adjusts, taking care of sun exposure during this time. The strong acne medication Roaccutane is also a Vitamin A derivative, however can come with a lot of very serious and long lasting side effects.
Vitamin A, alongside Vitamins E and C are the key vitamins needed in order to promote healthy collagen production and synthesis, and alongside zinc hep to regulate and encourage wound healing.
Collagen has become rather popular in 2020, and for good reason. It is the most abundant protein in the human body, and is responsible for skin structure, stability, and strength. As we age, the deposition of collagen decreases, which can result in dermal damage and skin wrinkling. This is why collagen is known as natures botox!
There are two ways of incorporating collagen into your diet. The first is taking pure collagen in a powder form, which is similar to using a protein powder. It is a fine white powder that is tasteless and dissolves well in all liquids.
A note on protein – I see a lot of people using collagen as a protein powder replacement. Collagen contains less protein than a protein powder however, so if you are using it for this reason, you will need to increase the dose you take or include extra protein-rich foods in that meal.
The second way is to provide your body with the co-factors for collagen production, to assist your body in creating its own collagen. Focus on incorporating:
- The amino acids proline and glycine; found in bone broth, organ meats and egg yolks
- Vitamin C-rich foods; oranges, blackcurrants, kiwifruit, mangoes, broccoli, spinach, capsicum and strawberries
- Zinc; oysters, red meat, liver, nuts and seeds
- Copper; small amounts contained in seafood, cacao powder, sweet potatoes, sesame seeds, cashews and chickpeas
For collagen brands I suggest:
Our microbiome has the ability the influence the health of our skin due to the bi-directional conversation that goes on between bacteria residing in our gut and a myriad of inflammatory pathways that occur in the body. The rise of antibiotics can have also huge consequences on the long term health of the diversity of our microbiome, as antibiotics don’t selectively kill just the bad guys, they kill all of the guys - including the desirable ones that promote a healthy gut-brain-skin axis!
Skin complaints are commonly associated with dysbiosis. If you experience adverse digestive symptoms, you may have impaired gut function, which must be addressed in order to achieve your healthy skin goals.
Promote a healthy gut environment by:
- Consuming probiotic-rich fermented foods;
yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, miso paste
- Consuming prebiotic-rich foods;
Chicory root, garlic, onion, leeks, shallots, asparagus, fennel, lentils and legumes
- Taking a probiotic if indicated;
The specific strain and dose, measured in colony-forming units (CFU) matter greatly here. Depending on your skin presentation will dictate which species and dose may be necessary for you
If you suffer with acne and are interesting in learning what the key drives for acne and treatment options that actually work, please head over and read this blog.
I hope you have learnt a thing (or two!) about the necessary nutrients needed for fabulous skin, and feel like you have a place to start on the path to reaching your skin health goals!
If you are looking for individualised support for your skin, please feel free to get in touch by booking a complimentary Base Chat or Simplify Session here.
Jaclyn Cave, BHSc (Nat), BComm (Soc)
Jaclyn is a qualified naturopath with a focus on hormonal complaints, reproductive health, digestion, skin, and adrenal health.
Learn more about Jaclyn here
Book a session with Jaclyn here