By Guest Author Julie Brennan
BHSc Naturopathy GCert HNut
You are probably familiar with the phrase, “you are what you eat.” This is particularly true for our skin. While there are many varying factors that can have a negative effect on our skin, including pathologies, medications, hormones, smoking and sun exposure, the food that we consume – or don’t consume – can also play a role in the integrity and maintenance of our skin.
Skin is the body’s largest organ and acts as the interface between our internal body and the external environment. It protects us from injury inflicted by the outside world and reduces the effects of UV radiation, as well as preventing water loss. Skin acts as a sensory organ via the sense of touch, which also helps us detect danger (think hot saucepan handle). Skin also works as a part of the immune system via its ability to identify pathogens. Finally, it plays a pivotal role in helping the body to make vitamin D.
Our skin is made up of three layers: epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous tissue. The epidermis is the outer layer that is constantly being regenerated. It is comprised of keratinocytes, corneocytes and melanocytes, which are responsible for new cell production, protection and UV protection, and skin colour, respectively. The dermis is the middle layer containing sweat glands; it is the site of hair follicles and, therefore, hair growth and manages temperature regulation. It is also the site of sebaceous glands, where facial oil is produced. As well it is the source of collagen and other substances that give skin its structure, elasticity and strength to fight pathogens. Finally, the subcutaneous layer is a combination of connective tissue and fat, the latter helping with skin repair and integrity.
The key nutrients that support healthy skin include vitamins A, C, D, E, zinc, iron, selenium, protein, fats and water, all of which have varying roles in maintaining and optimizing its health and integrity. Below is a list of food sources for each of these nutrients.
Vitamin A: oily fish (salmon, trout, sardines, barramundi), eggs, dairy foods (milk, cheese, yoghurt), liver.
Plant-based foods that contain beta-carotene, which the body needs to convert to vitamin A: sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, mango, papaya, apricots, and cantaloupe (rockmelon).
Vitamin C: Kakadu plum, rosehips, guava, red capsicum, kiwi fruit, citrus fruits, cantaloupe (rockmelon), parsley, kale, broccoli, and strawberries.
Vitamin D: cod liver oil, salmon, tuna, sardines, egg yolk, fortified foods. Note: the richest source of vitamin D is from the sun.
Vitamin E: avocado, asparagus, peanuts and peanut butter, almonds, wheat germ and wheat germ oil, sunflower seeds.
Zinc: oysters, beef, pumpkin seeds, pork, turkey, lentils, dairy foods, brown rice, eggs, kidney beans, salmon, broccoli.
Iron: liver, beef, kangaroo, chicken, lentils, green leafy vegetables, oysters, tofu, dark chocolate. Note: plant-based foods contain a different form of iron that is better absorbed when consumed in conjunction with vitamin C-rich foods.
Selenium: Brazil nuts (must be grown in Brazil due to the higher selenium content of the soil), beef, liver, chicken, turkey, pork, sardines, cottage cheese, eggs, brown rice, and oats.
Protein: beef, kangaroo, chicken, turkey, pork, eggs, tofu, lentils, adzuki beans, dairy foods, chia seeds, quinoa, edamame, chickpeas, black beans, brown rice. Note: plant-based foods must be combined to receive all essential amino acids, i.e., combine grains and legumes (think brown rice and lentils) or seeds/nuts and legumes (such as tofu with sesame).
Fats: oily fish (salmon, trout, sardines, barramundi), avocado, chia seeds, almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, Brazil nuts, olive oil, coconut oil (best for cooking), eggs.
We need approximately 30 ml of water for every kg of body weight each day, and more if we lose fluids due to heat, exercise, medications, alcohol or coffee consumption, or any other factors that have an impact.
Alcohol and coffee are beverages that encourage us to urinate more by way of blocking the production of a substance known as anti-diuretic hormone (ADH). If we aren’t drinking enough water in conjunction with these, we are going to end up dehydrated, which, amongst other things, will dry out our skin. As well, coffee depletes us of some B vitamins, calcium, iron, magnesium and vitamin C, while alcohol depletes us of B vitamins. We also tend to make less than ideal food choices with alcohol (late-night kebab, anyone?) and can use the calories in alcohol for some of our energy needs, as opposed to including nutrient-dense foods in our diet, although this tends to be the case more with regular, heavier drinkers. Both substances can wreak havoc with our sleep, which also impacts the quality of our skin.
A special mention needs to go to smoking. As previously stated, smoking is incredibly detrimental to maintaining healthy skin, not to mention other potentially life-threatening risks that come from this habit. The action of inhaling and being exposed to smoke makes us squint our eyes and pucker our mouths. Over the long term, this repetitive action will cause lines.
The chemicals contained within cigarettes are incredibly toxic. They also destroy and/or reduce the absorption of vital nutrients in the body, including calcium, vitamin C, vitamin D, selenium, B vitamins, beta-carotene and zinc. These nutrients have many roles beyond the health and maintenance of the skin, however, the loss of those mentioned above will certainly impact its integrity.
It is evident that our skin is a complex and busy organ with varying structures, substances and roles. It is also clear that nutrition plays a key role in maintaining the health and integrity of our barrier to the outside world. The external environment is both beautiful and harsh, therefore, to mitigate the potentially ravaging effects, it is vital to enjoying a varied wholefood diet to maintain the long-term health and integrity of our biggest organ, the skin.
BHSc Naturopathy GCert HNut
Julie Brennan, a qualified naturopath and nutritionist, offers transformative programs to help move your focus away from weight loss to health. She helps you to achieve your goals without going hungry, counting calories or doing extreme exercises.
Through professional and personal experience, she knows that short-term, extreme diets don’t help with long-term weight loss and health.
She is passionate about empowering women to own the beauty and perfection they already possess so that they can put their energy into their health and wellness instead of trying to attain unattainable beauty standards.
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Health and Safety Executive (n.d.), https://www.hse.gov.uk/skin/professional/causes/structure.htm
Preston AM. Cigarette smoking-nutritional implications. Prog Food Nutr Sci. 1991;15(4):183-217. PMID: 1784736.
Wolde, Tsedeke. (2014). Effects of caffeine on health and nutrition: A Review. 30.
Face Yoga has an incredible effect on the whole body and specially the organs.