With summer only a few days away, many of us are thinking of how we can make our bodies beach-ready. It's not just getting our abs and butts in shape, it's also our skin. How can you avoid summer breakouts? Can you really detox your skin for a radiant summer glow — without tanning?
The secret might be in what we eat.
Over the past decade, doctors have learned more about the connection between what we eat and our skin and found that food does influence how our skin looks.
For 20 of her 30 years in practice, dermatologist Dr. Patricia Farris never considered diet as important.
“I [used to] say foods don’t make any difference, but I never tell people that any more,” says Farris of Old Metairie Dermatology in New Orleans.
Researchers still are trying to fully understand the relationship between what we eat and how it impacts our skin, but they do know some foods make skin look radiant and other foods age us and cause breakouts.
“If we look at healthy beautiful skin, one [way to have it] is to limit your sugar intake and increase your fruits and vegetables and antioxidants,” Farris says.
Foods to eat, or avoid, to have great skin:
Pizza and French fries might cause breakouts, but it’s not because of the grease.
“One of the biggest myths is that greasy or fried food or chocolate is bad for the skin,” Dr. Whitney Bowe, a dermatologist at Advanced Dermatology in New York City.
Rather, it’s the carbs. They quickly break down to sugar, which causes a cascade of events, including a spike in insulin. While too much sugar can lead to pre-diabetes and diabetes, it also causes acne and makes skin look old.
“Eating a diet with carbs and refined sugar causes acne,” says Farris, co-author of the “The Sugar Detox.”
Too much sugar in the blood stream needs to attach to something and it bonds with proteins in a process called glycation. One of the proteins that sugar joins to is collagen, which helps the skin remain elastic and firm.
“The collagen becomes stiff and dysfunctional,” Farris says.
This causes the skin to breakdown, causing acne and making skin look old.
Less is known about dairy’s role in breakouts, but experts are slowly gaining a better understanding.
“Dairy is something that we are learning more and more about but it seems as though skim milk in particular seems to flair acne,” says Bowe.
Originally doctors speculated that the hormones in milk might contribute to increased breakouts, but that would mean all milks would cause pimples not just skim. It could be the proteins in skin milk cause acne. Or that it spikes blood sugar levels.
“[Dairy] increases the glycemic index,” says Dr. Wilma Bergfeld, a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Glycemic index measures the amount of glucose in the blood.
There is one dairy product that doesn’t increase zits — yogurt.
“There may be something about the fermentation process that helps with acne,” Bowe says.
The probiotics in the yogurt might decrease chance of pimples, but less is understood about them. Still, she encourages her patients to eat foods with probiotics, such as kiefer, sauerkraut, and kombucha.
Healthy fats, such as those found in salmon, mackerel, avocado, olive oil, and nuts, seem to reduce breakouts.
“Healthy fats are useful to calm inflammation in the skin,” says Bowe.
Less inflammation leads to fewer skin irritations. Farris says that healthy fats protect the skin, leading to younger looking skin with fewer blemishes.
“Fats do help retard the absorption of some of the sugars,” she says. “Fats are good.”
Fruits and vegetables
While Bowe cautions that diet alone won’t stop all breakouts, eating lots of fruits and vegetables with antioxidants will contribute to healthy skin.
“Antioxidants, which are in all the fruits and vegetables, and they are anti-inflammatory and somewhat protective,” adds Bergfeld.
Antioxidants trap the free radicals, agents that tend to damage and age cells. Take advantage of the season for fresh dark, leafy greens and fruits and vegetables. Vegetables with deep, rich colors, such as broccoli or carrots, are packed with antioxidants. Cucumbers are loaded with antioxidant power, so they're good not just for cooling irritated or sunburnt skin, eating them is even better for your skin.
“If you eat foods with antioxidants … some of them are going to other organs, but we can get meaningful levels [in the skin],” says Farris.
Even dark chocolate and red wine possess antioxidants and enjoying them in moderation can contribute to healthy skin. Drinking too much alcohol can cause flushing and spark roscea in some. And, too much alcohol can dry out skin.
The body works better when it’s well hydrated. Guzzling gallons of water won’t stop the zits. But, drinking enough water will make people look better.
“Fine lines, wrinkles look worse when the skin is dehydrated,” Bowe says.
The experts advocate drinking six to eight glass of water a day to be properly hydrated. Drinking enough water can make the skin radiate.
“Hydration makes everyone look better,” Farris says.