Lifestyle habits (like smoking and tanning), and genetics can certainly influence and predispose your skin to pesky conditions, but that doesn't mean the quest for a glowing complexion and better skin is a lost cause. And while there are plenty of cosmetics that dub themselves "skin food," the truth is that the key to maintaining a healthy complexion doesn't come from a bottle. While it's true these cleansers and lotions offer a topical fix—a beauty band-aid, if you will—gorgeous, hydrated skin starts from within. And that all depends on whether the best foods for glowing skin are on your plate.
"There's a growing body of research showing that the food you eat can affect your complexion," says Dr. Jessica Wu, M.D., Los Angeles dermatologist and author of Feed Your Face. "Food gets digested and enters your bloodstream, which then circulates to your skin."
Whether you need to treat acne, ward off premature aging, reduce the appearance of wrinkles, or fight back against another pesky skin condition, the right diet can be a valuable aid. Researchers have found that fitting certain healthy foods into your daily routine can help fight back against your complexion woes by turning off inflammatory genes and providing your body with the proper tools to strengthen and build healthy tissues. "Our skin reflects our health, and nourishing skin from the inside as well as the outside is a recipe for optimal results," says Dr. Fred Pescatore, MD, physician advocate for Pycnogenol, author, and natural health expert.
So, what should you eat to get that glowing skin you want? Look for vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables, and don't forget protein and healthy fats. "In general, I would recommend a diet with sufficient protein and healthy fats and a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other nutrients," says Dr. Hadley King, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. "Vitamin C, for example, is important in the synthesis of collagen, while vitamin D has been shown to decrease the harmful effects of sunburn. Antioxidants may be able to decrease the effects of pollution and other environmental dangers that create free radicals. And lycopene has been shown to provide protection from the damaging effects of UV radiation. Proteins are broken down into amino acids, which are the building blocks for all of the proteins found in the skin, hair, and nails, as well as in the rest of the body. And sufficient healthy fats are necessary for the barrier function of our skin."
And if you're a vegetarian, make sure you're seeking out sources of complete protein as part of your diet, for your skin health and beyond. "Animal products like fish, red and white meat, and dairy are complete sources of protein," says Noreen Galaria MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Chantilly, Virginia. "Most plant protein sources are incomplete. So it's important for vegetarians to eat a wide variety of plant protein sources to ensure they are getting all the amino acids they need."
How much does diet affect your skin?
"You are what you eat, and what you don't eat can affect your skin," says Dr. Joan Salge Blake, EdD, RDN, LDN, FAND, a nutrition professor at Boston University and host of the nutrition and health podcast Spot On!. "Acne is considered an inflammatory disorder of the skin. Mother Nature's produce has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects on the skin."
When eating for skin health, there are a few vitamins, nutrients, and ingredients to keep in mind. You can't go wrong with any fruits and vegetables, but for glowing skin, look for foods that contain these:
- vitamin C
- vitamin A
- vitamin E
- vitamin D
- omega-3 fatty acids
"Nutrition is one of the many factors important for the maintenance of healthy skin," says Brenda Braslow, MS, RDN, LDN, CDCES, registered dietitian for MyNetDiary. "Nutrients are used orally and topically to aid healthy skin. Eating more fruits and vegetables will provide key nutrients important for healthy skin, such as vitamins A, C, and E. A healthy diet that includes adequate amounts of vitamins A, C, and E, along with vitamin D, zinc, copper, and selenium, is important for healthy skin."
As for collagen supplements, "the jury is still out on whether collagen will preferentially concentrate in the skin when we consume it," Dr. King says. Still, she cites a study in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, noting that "preliminary findings are promising."
Does dairy really cause acne and other skin issues?
We can't talk about eating for skin health without mentioning that controversial food group: dairy. There are differing opinions within the health sphere, but if you don't have overly sensitive skin, there's no need to avoid milk and yogurt entirely.
"A diet high in dairy foods may be problematic for some folks. However, milk is an excellent source of vitamin D, calcium, and potassium, three fall-short nutrients in the diets of most Americans," says Dr. Salge Blake. "Keeping to the recommended three servings daily of dairy may not be a problem for many folks. A person should check with their dermatologist before removing dairy from their diet."
As for acne, a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found a link between sugar and acne and found that dairy is "weakly associated with acne." So if your skin is super sensitive, you might want to avoid it—but if you're not prone to breakouts, you don't have to skip milk entirely. You might also want to try different milkfat levels, too—Dr. Galaria says skim milk is worse for acne than 1% milk or higher.
Not sure if milk is leading to breakouts? Talk to your doctor about trying an elimination diet with dairy to see if it affects your skin's appearance. "Those with sensitive skin should work with their doctor to see if they are allergic to dairy (i.e. immune response to the whey and/or casein proteins in dairy milk). Allergies may result in skin symptoms such as hives or eczema," says Dr. Sanusi Umar, MD, board-certified dermatologist of the Dr. U Hair & Skin Clinic in Manhattan Beach, California. "Keeping a food diary can help both you and your doctor better understand how you react to specific foods."
To build a diet for glowing skin, start by adding the following foods to your grocery list. These healthy foods will nourish your skin and get that healthy glow you're after. And while you're making healthier changes, be sure to try out these 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time.
"Eating any tomato-based foods, such as sauce and tomato juice, may help clear up acne," says Dr. Marie Jhin, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with Premier Dermatology in San Carlos, California. That's all thanks to an ingredient called lycopene, the phytochemical that makes tomatoes red. It helps boosts collagen strength and fights off the oxidizing effect of UV rays by eliminating skin-aging free radicals.
"Increasing dietary levels of lycopene helps to ensure the presence of this potent antioxidant in the skin, where it can protect from sun damage and make the skin smoother," says Dr. King.
To increase tomatoes' lycopene benefits, try cooking them into tomato paste or tomato sauce—cooking tomatoes ups their lycopene levels. A study in the British Journal of Dermatology found that participants who ate five tablespoons of tomato paste daily showed 33% more protection against sunburn than a control group.
"Carrots and sweet potatoes have beta carotene, a natural sun protectant, and are rich in vitamin A, which restores damaged collagen," says Dr. Purvisha Patel MD, a board-certified dermatologist with Visha Skincare in Germantown, Tennessee.
Think of carrots as your very own wonder wands: good for the eyes and good for clearing up breakouts. No magic here, though—just plenty of beta-carotene and vitamin A, an antioxidant that prevents the overproduction of cells in the skin's outer layer. That means fewer flaky dead cells that otherwise could combine with sebum to clog your pores. Plus, vitamin A plays an essential role in reducing the development of skin cancer cells.
"In my professional opinion, the best food for your skin is blueberries," says Dr. Rachael Burns, a dermatologist with Sönd in the U.K. "My personal favorite is a blueberry smoothie:
- 2 cups blueberries (frozen)
- 3/4 cup almond milk
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
"Blueberries are rich in antioxidants that help fight cell-damaging free radicals. Berries contain high amounts of plant compounds known as anthocyanins that have strong antioxidant properties and give the berries themselves their purple-blue appearance," Dr. Burns says. "As we age, our body's natural ability to fight off free radicals diminishes, which in turn leads to higher levels that can have a detrimental impact upon our skin cells. When there are more free radicals present than there are antioxidants, our skin cells begin to weaken and show signs of aging."
Blueberries also help boost the strength of collagen fibers, which Dr. Burns explains "give our skin structure." If you're looking for glowing skin, grab a handful of these berries ASAP!
Safflower oil is a good source of vitamin E, a major player when you're eating for glowing skin. "This antioxidant vitamin plays a role in skin health by decreasing collagen breakdown, helping prevent and repair damage from UV exposure, and decreasing skin inflammation," says Braslow. "Foods high in Vitamin E include wheat germ, sunflower seeds, almonds, sunflower oil, safflower oil, hazelnuts, peanuts, and spinach."
Plus, the omega-6s found in safflower oil can be the ultimate moisturizer for people who suffer from dry, flaky, or itchy skin. They keep cell walls supple, allowing water to better penetrate the epidermis. Scientists have found that this oil may even help people who suffer from severe conditions such as eczema. So ditch the moisturizer and lather on the safflower!
Oranges are one of the most well-known food sources of vitamin C, and they're one of the best fruits for glowing skin, too. Dr. Salge Blake recommends any citrus fruits to get your vitamin C on—so if you're more of a lemon, lime, or grapefruit person, that's A-OK, too.
"This powerful antioxidant has been shown to protect the skin from oxidative stress including UV damage to the skin, stimulates the formation of the skin barrier, improves skin hydration, and improves wound healing," Braslow says of vitamin C. "Studies show that a diet deficient in vitamin C can have a negative impact on skin."
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"To support the skin barrier, you need to be consuming sufficient amounts of healthy fats," says Dr. King. If you can't get a sufficient amount of healthy fats from foods like salmon, avocado, and nuts, Dr. King recommends an omega-3-rich supplement such as krill oil. "Fish and fish oil is very beneficial for healthy glowing skin while reducing inflammation," says Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank, MD, a New York City-based celebrity cosmetic dermatologist in NYC, author of The Pro-Aging Playbook, and creator of The Pro-Aging Podcast.
Besides being one of the most potent sources of anti-inflammatory omega-3s, salmon also contains dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE). DMAE promotes healthy skin because it protects the integrity of cell membranes. Strengthening the cell membranes guards against their deterioration that causes premature aging. This nutrient also helps to prevent the production of arachidonic acid (AA), an inflammation precursor that leads to wrinkle formation. And that's not all. DMAE works in conjunction with B vitamins to increases levels of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter essential for proper muscle functioning that can keep your face looking toned and firm.
"Wild Alaskan salmon contains Astaxanthin and omega-3 fatty acids that impart a beautiful glow to the skin," says Dr. Jennifer Haley, MD FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist and host of the Radiance Revealed podcast. "Avoid farm-raised salmon, which is an entirely different food and is given dye pellets and has no astaxanthin."
"Vitamin C is important for collagen production and, along with vitamin E, is an important antioxidant that can protect against free radical damage," says Dr. Peterson Pierre, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with the Pierre Skin Care Institute in West Lake, California. "It is also great for discoloration and can help reduce the appearance of wrinkles."
Instead of grabbing an orange to get your dose, much on some vitamin C-rich yellow bell peppers. In a British Journal of Nutrition study of more than 700 Japanese women, researchers found that the more yellow and green vegetables the subjects ate, the less apt they were to have wrinkles and crows feet—even once they controlled for smoking and sun exposure. And a study out of the U.K. concurs. The British study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that volunteers who consumed four milligrams of C (what you'd get in a single bite of yellow pepper) daily for three years decreased the appearance of wrinkles by 11%.
Broccoli is another vitamin C-rich food that's great for achieving glowing skin. "[For] those with combination skin, I'd recommend cruciferous vegetables and antioxidant fruits," says Dr. Harold Lancer, MD, a California-based dermatologist who's worked with celebrities like Margot Robbie and Kim Kardashian. In addition to broccoli, other great cruciferous veggies include cauliflower, kale, and bok choy.
Add this melon to your fruit salad recipes for glowing skin. "Vitamin A is also important for the health of your skin, so reach for dark green and orange fruits and veggies, such as cantaloupe, mango, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, kale, carrots, and spinach," says Dr. Salge Blake.
"Kale is a top choice as it reduces oxidative stress," says Dr. Lancer. This cruciferous veggie is loaded with the skin's favorite anti-aging vitamins A, C, E, and K. Leafy greens are one of the most potent sources of vitamin K, a vitamin that helps with blood clotting and faster healing when ingested.
"Avocados are wonderful for adding hydration to skin and reducing inflammation," says Dr. Haley. Instead of investing in a slew of questionable anti-aging products, head to the store and grab an avocado. The fruit is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, which have been proven to hydrate and shield the skin by lowering the risk of premature aging caused by ultraviolet radiation.
"I pay particular attention to making sure that I am getting enough protein, primarily in the form of beans and nuts, because proteins are the building blocks for all of the structures in the body, including the skin, nails, and hair; and enough healthy fats from sources such as avocados and nuts to provide for a healthy lipid barrier for my skin," says Dr. King.
Avocados' potent source of fats also helps you absorb many of the fat-soluble vitamins that also help protect your skin from sun damage. "Healthy fats are important as anti-inflammatories and help maintain the skin's integrity and well as keeping it soft, supple, and moisturized," says Dr. Pierre.
Strawberries are another vitamin C-rich fruit to add to your diet if you want glowing skin.
"Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins, antioxidants, and other compounds that help build strong collagen and can even help protect against harmful UV rays," says Dr. Wu. "There is some research showing that eating more fruits and vegetables can help improve skin tone and texture."
"Kiwi fruit is rich in antioxidants, including vitamin C," says Dr. King. "Vitamin C is required in the pathway the body uses for making collagen."
Oysters might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about radiant skin—but they might after this! That's because oysters contain high levels of the trace mineral zinc. Your body might need a little of it each day, but zinc has a huge impact on cell functioning, as more than 100 different enzymes require it to function. And skin cells, in particular, rely on zinc to make the proteins that repair damaged tissues and regenerate new ones. The mineral also works as an antioxidant by lessening the formation of cell-damaging free radicals and protects the cells that make collagen, your skin's support structure. Research shows it may also ward off acne flare-ups.
"This mineral helps protect the skin from oxidative damage from UV exposure and helps to clear bacteria from acne," Braslow says of zinc. "Food sources of zinc include oysters, beef, crab, lobster, pork, poultry, dried beans, and pumpkin seeds."
"Protein-rich foods, such as egg whites, have lysine and proline, amino acids that form collagen," says Dr. Patel. Don't dismiss the yolk, though! Egg yolks are rich in vitamins that are essential for proper cell function, as well as contain the "beauty vitamin," biotin. This B vitamin is more commonly known to help hair grow and strengthen fingernails, but research has shown it also helps protect skin from acne, rashes, and even dryness.
Eggs are also a good source of vitamin D, another essential nutrient for skin health. "Vitamin D helps with inflammation and irritation while vitamin K can help with stretch marks, scars, and dark spots," Dr. Pierre says.
Chia seeds are another great source of omega-3s. "Omega-3 fatty acids help contribute to the skin barrier function. Eating these healthy fats helps to support the skin barrier," Dr. King says.
A study in the journal Evolution and Human Behaviour showed eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables gives a healthier, more attractive, and more radiant glow than you would get from sun exposure. But it was those who consumed more portions of red and orange vegetables per day who had the greatest sun-kissed complexion—the result of disease-fighting compounds called carotenoids that give those plants their colors. Few foods are as rich in the beauty stuff as a baked sweet potato. In fact, just half a medium potato provides 200% of your daily recommended intake. You'll get more carotenoids by cooking—it's just one of our tips on how to extract the most nutrients from your food!
Potatoes sometimes get a bad rep, but they're full of nutrients like vitamin C. They just might be the most delicious way to get that glowing skin you're looking for!
Popeye's favorite veggie triumphs again. Dr. Umar cites spinach as a good source of both vitamin A and vitamin C. In a study published in the International Journal of Cancer, people who ate the highest amount of leafy greens prevented squamous cell carcinoma of the skin. Researcher speculates that the high levels of folate, an essential B vitamin that helps maintain and repair DNA, in these veggies may reduce the likelihood of cancer-cell growth. Just a single cup of spinach contains 65% of your DV of folate.
Pumpkin is a good source of vitamin A, and contrary to what Starbucks would have you believe, it's delicious year-round. Try one of our dozens of pumpkin recipes if you're not sure where to start.
Mango is another fruit that's great for glowing skin—it's one of Dr. Salge Blake's recommendations for adding more vitamin A to your diet.
Almonds are full of one of the most oft-associated vitamins with skincare: vitamin E. That's because this vitamin helps repair scarred cells and defends against sun damage. Volunteers who consumed 14 milligrams of the vitamin per day (about 20 almonds) and then were exposed to UV light burned less than those who took none. And because vitamin E also acts as an antioxidant, it also works to keep your body free of dangerous free radicals. Almonds are also one of the best sources of dairy-free calcium!
Fruits aren't the only great sources of vitamin C. Veggies like Brussels sprouts are another great way to add the nutrient to your diet—you'll have glowing skin in no time.
Sunscreen, beach umbrellas, and big floppy hats are reliable tools in your skin cancer-fighting arsenal. Walnuts? Didn't come to mind. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, omega-3 fatty acids can help prevent skin cancer by inhibiting the formation of the chemical COX-2. Walnuts are a prime source of healthy fat.
"Omega-3 fatty acids (found in oily fish, walnuts, and almonds) have been shown to help relieve eczema rashes," Dr. Wu says.
Natto is a Japanese dish made by boiling and fermenting soybeans with bacteria that increases the beans' nutritional value. These fermented soybeans are unique in that they're the highest dietary source of vitamin K2—a vitamin that is important for cardiovascular and bone health as well as promoting skin elasticity to help prevent wrinkles. On top of that, natto is a potent source of gut-healing probiotics, deeming this unique snack one of our best foods for skin. A healthy gut can keep inflammation at bay, which researchers say may affect the health of our skin as many troubles like acne, eczema, and psoriasis stem from inflammation. Worried about eating soy? We did the research, and we're giving fermented soy the A-OK! But if you're not a fan, you can also get vitamin K2 from grass-fed butter, meat, and egg yolks.
Turmeric isn't just a game-changer when it comes to protecting against cancer or reducing pain. This Indian spice can also protect your skin. That's because turmeric's active antioxidant, curcumin, has shown to be one of the most effective anti-inflammatories, free-radical fighting options out there (even more effective than ibuprofen!), according to a study in Oncogene. Plus, research shows this spice can also be used to lighten dark pigmentation blotches or scars caused by aging, hormone imbalance, or sun exposure by inhibiting an enzyme in the skin that produces pigment—just combine with honey to create a healing facial mask!
This tropical fruit contains a plethora of active enzymes which pass on their health benefits. One enzyme, chymopapain, has been used to relieve inflammation—a common source of skin conditions. And another enzyme, papain, can help remove blemishes and even treat acne when applied topically as the enzyme dissolves pore-clogging fats and cleanses the skin. Not to mention, just a single cup of fresh, ripe papaya packs a whopping 144% of your DV of collagen-strengthening vitamin C. That's also why it's one of the best foods to eat for muscle definition!
Pour yourself a cup of this green elixir and watch your skin glow! "Green tea has a catechin called EGCG that helps the DNA repair mechanisms in our skin after sun exposure," Dr. Galaria says. "This is the main reason we believe it may be anti-carcinogenic. In addition, it is a potent antioxidant to help slow aging."
Research in the Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics found that drinking five to six cups a day could help prevent skin cancer by rapidly repairing damaged DNA. Just be careful to not overdo it. Too much caffeine can lead to dehydration, which may have the opposite effects on skin health.
Coconut Water & Oil
Nothing goes to waste when you're using coconut for skincare. When you first crack it open, you can drink the fruit's natural water—it's full of muscle-relaxing potassium and electrolytes to replenish and rehydrate your skin, making it softer and younger-looking. And when you move onto the coconut meat and extract its oils, you can utilize it to heal your gut. That's because coconut oil contains a potent antimicrobial, caprylic acid, which can help improve gut health by destroying bad bacteria and candida. Candida is a fungus that can break down your intestinal walls and decrease stomach acid, which causes inflammation, poor digestion, and breakouts.
Prone to pesky dark circles? Experts have found that aging—not just lack of sleep—is the primary source of dark circles other than genetics. Over time, skin loses collagen and thins, which makes the veins beneath the eyes more visible. Luckily, all you have to do is grab a single brazil nut. That's because one brazil nut has more than 135% of your DV of selenium, a nutrient that can boost the production of collagen. This mineral helps preserve elastin, a protein that keeps your skin smooth and tight and acts as an antioxidant, stopping free radicals created by UV exposure from damaging cells. They're also full of vitamin E to keep your skin moisturized and copper to support the production of melanin, a compound that also protects your skin from the harmful effects of UV rays.
These seeds over a beauty double whammy: helping alleviate inflammatory skin issues and improving overall hydration of your skin cells. Flax seeds offer a payload of omega-3 fatty acids, which erase spots and iron out fine lines. A study in the British Journal of Nutrition found participants who downed about half a teaspoon of omega-3s in 6 weeks experienced significantly less irritation and redness (thanks to their anti-inflammatory properties), along with better-hydrated skin. Fit ground flax seeds into your diet in any of these best smoothies for weight loss.
Forget the sunscreen—pack a bar of chocolate in your beach bag. That's because the antioxidants in dark chocolate known as flavanols reduce roughness in the skin and provide sun protection. According to a study in Nutrients, cocoa's antioxidants can protect the skin from oxidative stress, which can lead to premature skin aging. Chocolate is also a great source of pre and probiotics to help heal your gut and reduce inflammation.
Don't just toss those used coffee grounds in the trash or compost bin. Leftover coffee grounds make a great body scrub, and their antioxidant powers could cause an "increase of blood flow and protection against sun damage," says Claudia Sidoti, chef and cookbook co-author of Impatient Cookies and a member of Eat This, Not That!'s Medical Review Board. "I make a scrub from coconut oil, coffee grinds, and sea salt (which restores pH and adds minerals) and slather it all over in the shower after a day at the beach—I swear by it," Sidoti says.
The foods you should avoid for glowing skin
The dermatologists we consulted agreed: Eating too much added sugar can wreak havoc on your skin. "Sugar intake has the greatest effect on skin health, especially for women," says Dr. Frank. "This includes sugar found in desserts and carbs. Reducing sugar intake is shown to drastically affect skin health and breakouts in particular. It takes discipline, but once it is cut out of one's diet, the cravings disappear, and skin is brighter and healthier."
It's not just a lackluster appearance, either—sugar can make your existing skin issues worse. "Eating a lot of sugar can increase inflammation in the body, which makes conditions like acne and eczema worse," Dr. Galaria says. "If that wasn't enough, insulin spikes can also contribute to acne and increased oil production."
In addition to avoiding added sugar, sticking with low-GI foods, such as whole-wheat bread (rather than white bread) will help your skin. The white stuff has a high glycemic load, which means it impacts blood sugar and insulin levels more so than foods that rank lower on the glycemic index (GI), like whole grains. "High-glycemic diets include foods that rapidly increase blood sugar, causing high insulin levels that are thought to lead to hormonal changes that cause acne," says Dr. Jhin.
Plus, during a 10-week Korean study of subjects with mild to moderate acne, researchers found that those placed on a low-glycemic diet decreased the severity of their acne more so than subjects on a high-glycemic diet.
Dr. Yoram Harth, MD, board-certified dermatologist and medical director of MDacne, also suggests avoiding foods high in nitrates and saturated fat, which can irritate the skin. "Processed meats contain high amounts of saturated fats and nitrates that lead to inflammation," Dr. Harth says. "Examples are hot dogs, bacon, and pepperoni."
One more thing that's not so hot for your skin? Alcohol. "It's important to limit your alcohol intake," Dr. Frank says. "Alcohol consumption affects your skin in many ways, including highlighting imperfections such as fine lines and wrinkles, and can make your face look deflated due to lack of moisture."
What else can you do to achieve that dewy look?
Eating healthy foods for glowing skin is great, but there are other factors at play, too. Start by wearing sunscreen every single day and staying hydrated at all times. Dr. Patel recommends looking for products with an SPF factor of 30 or higher for everyday use.
And if you're not regularly changing your pillowcases and towels, you could be aggravating your skin, too. "Make sure to hydrate properly and be sure to feed your skin the nutrients it needs," Dr. Pescatore says. "Wash your hands with real soap and bed sheets often, as they can spread bacteria to your face." Dr. Frank also recommends exfoliating your skin twice a week for a healthy glow.
But if things don't clear up with these dietary changes, it's not your fault! There are a ton of factors that go into skin's appearance. "Rarely will dietary adjustments alone clear up your skin completely," Dr. Pierre says. Eating plenty of fruits and veggies is always a good thing, but there's no one magic fix for glowing skin.