The old adage “you are what you eat” not only applies to our overall health and nutrition, but how our skin looks and feels as well. As the largest organ in the body, our skin can benefit from the same nutrition we get from foods that have a positive effect on our heart and other major organs. In fact, new research suggests that eating foods rich in protein and certain vitamins and minerals might provide valuable anti-aging effects.
While there’s no mistaking how our diet affects our overall health, we’re just beginning to understand how certain foods – or lack thereof – can impact our skin’s health. In addition, studies show that some food and beverages can even worsen common skin conditions and cause allergic reactions that manifest on the skin.
Good Food, Good Skin
Perhaps the simplest way to maintain a healthy, balanced diet and ensure the skin is getting optimal nutrition from the foods we eat is to follow the recommendations of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Daily Food Guide. These include:
- Choosing and eating at least three ounces of whole grain breads, cereals, rice, crackers or pasta.
- Eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, including more dark green and orange vegetables.
- Consuming calcium-rich foods, such as fat-free or low-fat milk and other dairy products.
- Opting for a variety of low-fat or lean meats, poultry and fish.
Foods That Can Worsen Skin Conditions
For the millions of Americans affected by medical skin conditions such as acne, rosacea, eczema or psoriasis, eating certain foods or consuming alcohol could aggravate their symptoms or trigger an unexpected flare-up.
Contrary to popular belief, acne is not caused by the foods we eat. Although numerous studies have not found a link between diet and acne, emerging research now suggests there may be a link between a low-glycemic diet and an improvement in acne. On the other hand, some acne patients have noticed that certain foods worsen their symptoms – particularly chocolate, greasy foods, soft drinks, peanuts or foods high in fat.
Rosacea, characterized by facial redness and swelling, commonly can be triggered by spicy foods or alcohol. In fact, a survey conducted by the National Rosacea Society found that the most common rosacea triggers are alcohol (52 percent), spicy foods (45 percent) and heated beverages (36 percent).
Another chronic skin condition that can be aggravated by food is eczema, which is commonly characterized by dry, red and itchy patches on the skin. Foods that have been known to worsen eczema symptoms include eggs, milk, peanuts, soy, wheat and fish, while some patients even report that chocolate, coffee, alcohol, tomatoes and sugar can trigger a flare-up.
Research has shown that psoriasis, a serious medical condition affecting the immune system and characterized by patches of raised, reddish skin covered by silvery-white scales, can be triggered by heavy drinking and that alcohol consumption may even inhibit the effectiveness of psoriasis treatment.
Individuals who have any questions about how their diet can affect the health and appearance of their skin should discuss their concerns with a dermatologist.
American Academy of Dermatology
Susan C. Taylor, MD, FAAD