Nutrition is important for health. An unhealthy diet can damage your metabolism, cause weight gain, and even damage organs, such as your heart and liver.
But what you eat also affects another organ — your skin.
As scientists learn more about diet and the body, it’s increasingly clear that what you eat can significantly affect the health and aging of your skin.
This article takes a look at 12 of the best foods for keeping your skin healthy.
1. Fatty fish
Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and herring, are excellent foods for healthy skin. They’re rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for maintaining skin health.
Omega-3 fatty acids are necessary to help keep skin thick, supple, and moisturized. An omega-3 fatty acid deficiency can cause dry skin.
The omega-3 fats in fish reduce inflammation, which can cause redness and acne. They can even make your skin less sensitive to the sun’s harmful UV rays.
Some studies show that fish oil supplements may help fight inflammatory and autoimmune conditions affecting your skin, such as psoriasis and lupus.
Fatty fish is also a source of vitamin E, one of the most important antioxidants for your skin.
Getting enough vitamin E is essential for helping protect your skin against damage from free radicals and inflammation.
This type of seafood is also a source of high-quality protein, which is needed for maintaining the strength and integrity of your skin.
Lastly, fish provides zinc — a mineral vital for regulating the following:
- overall skin health
- the production of new skin cells
Zinc deficiency can lead to skin inflammation, lesions, and delayed wound healing.
Summary: Fatty types of fish like salmon contain omega-3 fatty acids that can reduce inflammation and keep your skin moisturized. They’re also a good source of high-quality protein, vitamin E, and zinc.
Avocados are high in healthy fats. These fats benefit many functions in your body, including the health of your skin.
Getting enough of these fats is essential to help keep skin flexible and moisturized.
One study involving over 700 women found that a high intake of total fat — specifically the types of healthy fats found in avocados — was associated with more supple, springy skin.
Preliminary evidence also shows that avocados contain compounds that may help protect your skin from sun damage. UV damage to your skin can cause wrinkles and other signs of aging.
Avocados are also a good source of vitamin E, which is an important antioxidant that helps protect your skin from oxidative damage. Most Americans don’t get enough vitamin E through their diet.
Interestingly, vitamin E seems to be more effective when combined with vitamin C.
Vitamin C is also essential for healthy skin. Your skin needs it to create collagen, which is the main structural protein that keeps your skin strong and healthy.
Vitamin C deficiency is rare these days, but common symptoms include dry, rough, and scaly skin that tends to bruise easily.
Vitamin C is also an antioxidant that helps protect your skin from oxidative damage caused by the sun and the environment, which can lead to signs of aging.
A 100-gram serving, or about 1/2 an avocado, provides 14% of the recommended daily intake for vitamin E and 11% of the recommended daily intake for vitamin C.
Summary: Avocados are high in beneficial fats and contain vitamins E and C, which are important for healthy skin. They also pack compounds that may protect your skin from sun damage.
Walnuts have many characteristics that make them excellent food for healthy skin.
They’re a good source of essential fatty acids, which are fats that your body cannot make itself.
They’re richer than most other nuts in both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
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A diet too high in omega-6 fats may promote inflammation, including inflammatory conditions of your skin like psoriasis.
On the other hand, omega-3 fats reduce inflammation in your body — including in your skin.
While omega-6 fatty acids are plentiful in the Western diet, sources of omega-3 fatty acids are rare.
Because walnuts contain a good ratio of these fatty acids, they may help fight the potential inflammatory response to excessive omega-6.
What’s more, walnuts contain other nutrients that your skin needs to function properly and stay healthy.
One ounce (28 grams) of walnuts contains 8% of the recommended daily intake for zinc.
Zinc is essential for your skin to function properly as a barrier. It’s also necessary for wound healing and combating both bacteria and inflammation.
Walnuts also provide small amounts of the antioxidants vitamin E and selenium, in addition to 4–5 grams of protein per ounce (28 grams).
Summary: Walnuts are a good source of essential fats, zinc, vitamin E, selenium, and protein — all of which are nutrients your skin needs to stay healthy.
4. Sunflower seeds
In general, nuts and seeds are good sources of skin-boosting nutrients.
Sunflower seeds are an excellent example.
One ounce (28 grams) of sunflower seeds packs 49% of the recommended daily intake for vitamin E, 41% of the recommended daily intake for selenium, 14% of the recommended daily intake for zinc, and 5.5 grams of protein.
Summary: Sunflower seeds are an excellent source of nutrients, including vitamin E, which is an important antioxidant for the skin.
5. Sweet potatoes
Beta carotene is a nutrient found in plants.
It functions as provitamin A, which means it can be converted into vitamin A in your body.
Beta carotene is found in oranges and vegetables such as carrots, spinach, and sweet potatoes.
Sweet potatoes are an excellent source — one 1/2-cup (100-gram) serving of baked sweet potato contains enough beta carotene to provide more than six times the recommended daily intake of vitamin A.
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Carotenoids like beta carotene help keep your skin healthy by acting as a natural sunblock.
When consumed, this antioxidant is incorporated into your skin and helps protect your skin cells from sun exposure. This may help prevent sunburn, cell death, and dry, wrinkled skin.
Interestingly, high amounts of beta carotene may also add a warm, orange color to your skin, contributing to an overall healthier appearance.
Summary: Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of beta carotene, which acts as a natural sunblock and may protect your skin from sun damage.
6. Red or yellow bell peppers
Like sweet potatoes, bell peppers are an excellent source of beta carotene, which your body converts into vitamin A.
One cup (149 grams) of chopped red bell pepper contains the equivalent of 156% of the recommended daily intake for vitamin A.
They’re also one of the best sources of vitamin C. This vitamin is necessary for creating the protein collagen, which keeps skin firm and strong.
A single cup (149 grams) of bell pepper provides an impressive 211% of the recommended daily intake for vitamin C.
A large observational study involving women linked eating plenty of vitamin C to a reduced risk of wrinkled and dry skin with age.
Summary: Bell peppers contain plenty of beta carotene and vitamin C — both of which are important antioxidants for your skin. Vitamin C is also necessary to create collagen, the structural protein that keeps your skin strong.
Broccoli is full of many vitamins and minerals important for skin health, including zinc, vitamin A, and vitamin C.
It also contains lutein, a carotenoid that works like beta carotene. Lutein helps protect your skin from oxidative damage, which can cause your skin to become dry and wrinkled.
But broccoli florets also pack a special compound called sulforaphane, which boasts some impressive potential benefits. It may even have anti-cancer effects, including on some types of skin cancer.
Sulforaphane is likewise a powerful protective agent against sun damage. It works in two ways: neutralizing harmful free radicals and switching on other protective systems in your body.
In laboratory tests, sulforaphane reduced the number of skin cells UV light killed by as much as 29%, with protection lasting up to 48 hours.
Evidence suggests sulforaphane may also help maintain collagen levels in your skin.
Summary: Broccoli is a good source of vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids that are important for skin health. It also contains sulforaphane, which may help prevent skin cancer and protect your skin from sunburn.
Tomatoes are a great source of vitamin C and contain all of the major carotenoids, including lycopene.
Beta carotene, lutein, and lycopene have been shown to protect your skin against damage from the sun. They may also help prevent wrinkling.
Because tomatoes are rich in carotenoids, they’re an excellent food for maintaining healthy skin.
Consider pairing carotenoid-rich foods like tomatoes with a source of fat, such as cheese or olive oil. Fat increases your absorption of carotenoids.
Summary: Tomatoes are a good source of vitamin C and all of the major carotenoids, especially lycopene. These carotenoids protect your skin from sun damage and may help prevent wrinkling.
Soy contains isoflavones, a category of plant compounds that can either mimic or block estrogen in your body.
Isoflavones may benefit several parts of your body, including your skin.
One small study involving middle-aged women found that eating soy isoflavones every day for 8–12 weeks reduced fine wrinkles and improved skin elasticity.
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In postmenopausal women, soy may also improve skin dryness and increase collagen, which helps keep your skin smooth and strong.
These isoflavones not only help to protect the cells inside your body from damage but also your skin from UV radiation — which may reduce the risk of some skin cancers.
Summary: Soy contains isoflavones, which have been shown to improve wrinkles, collagen, skin elasticity, and skin dryness, as well as protect your skin from UV damage.
10. Dark chocolate
If you need one more reason to eat chocolate, here it is: The effects of cocoa on your skin are pretty phenomenal.
After 6–12 weeks of consuming a cocoa powder high in antioxidants each day, participants in one study experienced thicker, more hydrated skin.
Their skin was also less rough and scaly, less sensitive to sunburn, and had better blood flow — which brings more nutrients to your skin.
Another study found that eating 20 grams of high-antioxidant dark chocolate per day could allow your skin to withstand over twice as much UV radiation before burning, compared with eating low-antioxidant chocolate.
Several other studies have observed similar results, including improvements in the appearance of wrinkles. However, keep in mind that at least one study didn’t find significant effects.
Make sure to choose dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa to maximize the benefits and keep added sugar to a minimum.
Summary: Cocoa contains antioxidants that may protect your skin against sunburn. These antioxidants may also improve wrinkles, skin thickness, hydration, blood flow, and skin texture.
11. Green tea
Green tea may help protect your skin from damage and aging.
The powerful compounds found in green tea are called catechins and work to improve the health of your skin in several ways.
Like several other antioxidant-containing foods, green tea can help protect your skin against sun damage.
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One 12-week study involving 60 women found that drinking green tea daily could reduce redness from sun exposure by up to 25%.
Green tea also improved the moisture, roughness, thickness, and elasticity of their skin.
While green tea is a great choice for healthy skin, you may want to avoid drinking your tea with milk, as there’s evidence that milk could reduce the effect of green tea’s antioxidants.
Summary: The catechins found in green tea are powerful antioxidants that can protect your skin against sun damage and reduce redness, as well as improve its hydration, thickness, and elasticity.
12. Red grapes
Red grapes are famous for containing resveratrol, a compound that comes from the skin of red grapes.
Resveratrol is credited with a wide range of health benefits, among them is reducing the effects of aging.
Test-tube studies suggest it may also help slow the production of harmful free radicals, which damage skin cells and cause signs of aging.
This beneficial compound is also found in red wine. Unfortunately, there’s not much evidence that the amount of resveratrol you get from a glass of red wine is enough to affect your skin.
And since red wine is an alcoholic beverage, there are negative effects to drinking it in excess.
It’s not recommended to start drinking red wine just because of its potential health benefits. Instead, you should increase your intake of red grapes and berries.
Summary: Resveratrol, the famous antioxidant found in red grapes, may slow your skin’s aging process by impairing harmful free radicals that damage your skin.
What you eat can significantly affect your skin health.
Make sure you’re getting enough essential nutrients to protect your skin. The foods on this list are great options to keep your skin healthy, strong, and attractive.