In an age where everything can be filtered, we’re surrounded by visions of perfect skin. But the reality is different, with more than half of us suffering with a skin condition of some form. So, could an improved diet be the answer?
From acne to flaky skin. From chronic issues like psoriasis, to those blemishes that always arrive at that time of the month. Chances are you’ve experienced problem skin in the past, or may be living with several of these conditions.
Skin issues can understandably knock our confidence, but it’s important to know they’re common and nothing to be embarrassed about. The truth is, there’s no such thing as ‘perfect skin’, and none of us should be striving for it.
With much of what we see online being edited and unrealistic, we applaud Instagrammers, like Em Ford (@mypaleskinblog), who peel off the makeup and show what living with skin problems really looks like.
While you shouldn’t have to hide your skin condition, some people do find that nutritional changes make a difference to their skin health – whether it’s simply making them feel confident without makeup, or easing the discomfort of conditions like psoriasis. We chat to the experts to get their top tips on the simple nutritional changes that might give your skin a boost…
Can changing your diet solve your skin issues?
While eating healthily will always be beneficial for your overall wellbeing, there’s no guarantee it can necessarily cure or change your skin issues. “What we eat can certainly influence our skin health, but many people might struggle with skin problems regardless of what they eat,” explains dietitian Sophie Medlin, who urges you not to blame yourself, your lifestyle, or your diet if you’re suffering with skin problems.
Eat a rainbow
When it comes to our general health, the more varied our diet the better. A simple way to remember this is by making sure your fruit and veg bowl is as ‘rainbow-like’ as possible. “My top nutritional tips for healthy glowing skin would be to eat a diet full of bright colours like greens, salad, peppers, berries, nuts, and seeds, which all have fabulous antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits,” explains Louise Walsh, a dermatology and cosmetic nurse. Antioxidants can help protect our skin against free radicals (that can be found from things like pollution and smoke), while anti-inflammatories can help with things such as skin redness.
Fat is good for you!
The best thing you can do for your skin is to tuck into foods with plenty of healthy fats, rich in omega-3, like avocado and wild salmon. “Fat is essential for good health because it creates the barrier to protect our skin and stops it drying out,” explains Sophie. In fact, embarking on a diet could make your skin worse rather than better. “People who have a very low-fat diet, or try a crash diet like juicing, can often suffer with dry, irritated skin,” adds Sophie. If you don’t eat fish, consider things like flaxseeds and olive oil, or invest in a good quality omega-3 supplement.
Be careful of starting a new diet regime
With many of us switching to plant-based eating, or going gluten-free, it’s important to make sure you’re not at risk of nutritional deficiencies, which can not only make you feel unwell but can also be the reason behind poor skin health.
“Many nutritional deficiencies show themselves in our skin quality,” says Sophie. “A varied diet that includes all food groups will provide all the nutrients we need, but with the popularity of diets that eliminate food groups, we are seeing more nutritional deficiencies cropping up. If you notice a change in your skin within a few months of making a significant dietary change, it’s worth looking at your diet.”
Studies have suggested probiotics might help with things like our skin hydration, elasticity, and even potentially reverse skin ageing
There’s nothing essentially wrong with making diet changes, but working with a dietitian can ensure you’re not missing out. For example, if you’re thinking of going vegan, a dietitian can ensure you get enough protein, B vitamins, and healthy fats – all of which might impact your skin and overall wellbeing.
It’s all in the gut
The power of the gut microbiome is far reaching, and there’s some research to suggest our gut health and skin health are more closely linked than we realise.
“Any dysfunction in the gut will be reflected in the skin,” explains Dr Johanna Ward, a GP and author of new book Superfoods to Superhealth. “Inflammatory skin disorders, like acne, eczema, rosacea, and psoriasis, are so common nowadays, and it’s thought to be due in part to the collective decline in our gut health.”
Studies suggest that probiotics – or good gut bacteria – might work as both an anti-inflammatory and an anti-bacterial, with a study finding that 80% of acne patients showed an improvement when taking the strains Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus. Other studies have suggested probiotics might help with things like our skin hydration, elasticity, and even potentially reverse skin ageing.
But you don’t have to take a supplement – simply tucking into fermented foods, like sauerkraut or kefir, could make a difference.
“For good skin health we know that the protective bacteria in our gut need to outnumber (or at least balance) the bad and harmful bacteria,” explains Johanna. “Just increasing your intake of dietary fibre (found in plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables and beans), along with eating more probiotic-rich fermented foods, can drastically improve your gut health and skin health.”
Tackling psoriasis and eczema
More serious conditions, like psoriasis and eczema, should always be treated under the guidance of your GP, who may offer suggestions or refer you to a dietitian. But is there any evidence that changing your diet could help here, too?
Some have suggested the Mediterranean diet – which is rich in healthy fats – could potentially help with psoriasis. “Both psoriasis and eczema are very drying, so we need to increase the oils we eat,” says Louise Walsh.
When it comes to eczema and psoriasis, Dr Johanna Ward again believes the gut is key. “I tell all my patients to eat and live a gut-healthy life and to follow an anti-inflammatory diet. That means eating lots of fibre and fermented foods, ensuring a good intake of essential fatty acids like omega-3. I also recommend reducing sugar and dairy, as some eczema sufferers are cow’s milk intolerant.”
When it comes to our health, there’s no one-size-fits-all, and that includes our approach to skin health, too. Good nutrition is just one of the many things that can influence your skin so, as always, it’s important to listen to your body and consult your GP before making any big changes to your diet.
For more information and nutritional support, visit nutritionist-resource.org.uk