The skin is a complex organ, with many essential functions that affect our overall well-being. Sometimes the skin can struggle with certain conditions that irritate the body, leaving us sore and uncomfortable.
A common misunderstanding is that the problem can be treated from the outside only. But you can also soothe irritating symptoms of such conditions internally, by paying attention to your diet.
Common skin conditions
The following skin conditions can be tackled both internally and externally. So, as well as making changes to your diet and lifestyle with support from a nutrition professional, you could also benefit from consulting a dermatologist.
Acne is an extremely common skin condition, characterised by blackheads, whiteheads and sore, red spots that appear on the skin. Acne occurs when the oil-producing glands in the skin become particularly sensitive to testosterone, and this sensitivity overworks the glands, producing excess oil which can become trapped, like bacteria, in pores.
Most often occurring during puberty, acne can also develop when a person reaches early adulthood and can leave the sufferer struggling with mental health concerns such as low self-esteem or depression.
While there isn’t a cure for acne, there are a number of treatments available, including:
- ointments or creams
- oral antibiotics
- contraceptive pills
There is little evidence that our diet can play a part in the original cause of acne, however, there is a common trend between harsh break-outs and poor diet. An excess of sugar triggers inflammation in the body, which creates breakouts as inflammation is an active component in the development of acne. Following a varied, balanced diet that maintains a balanced blood sugar level, will help to manage acne and the health of your skin in general.
An inflammatory skin condition, eczema is used to describe the way the upper layer of skin changes; redness, blisters, crusting and pigmentation are some of the symptoms. The condition can affect both sexes, usually developing in the early stages of life, and while most common in children and often clearing up before puberty, it can continue into adult life.
Eczema can be hereditary and the most common symptom is itchy skin. This itchiness can disrupt sleep and result in irritability and poor self-esteem. It's often worse when in contact with dust or hot temperatures when suffering from an infection, dry skin and sometimes stress.
The current treatments available include:
- steroid creams
- antibiotics and antiseptics
Food allergies and intolerances have been found to aggravate eczema, particularly in children - if the allergy symptom includes itchiness or irritation, it can result in an eczema flare-up. If this is the case, your GP can arrange adequate testing to determine the trigger food.
Mainstream medicine can control eczema by suppressing the symptoms. But nutritional therapy addresses the underlying causes.
- Health nutritionist Dora Walsh
Atopic eczema, the most common form of the condition (red, itchy skin) has been shown to react positively to nutritional therapy. Foods that soothe atopic eczema include fish, potatoes, berries and apples, according to Dora.
She says, “The anti-eczema diet focuses on pure natural foods to repair skin, total rehydration and eliminating allergens which are thought to trigger the condition.
“Milk, wheat, eggs, peanuts, shellfish, soy, chocolate, nuts, strawberries and citrus fruits are the major allergens believed to trigger eczema. The vast majority of people see a marked improvement by removing them from their diet.”
If you are interested in making changes to your diet to help manage certain skin conditions, it’s always best to consult your GP or nutrition professional before doing so.
A common skin condition affecting about 2% of the population, psoriasis causes red, crusty patches of skin - commonly on elbows, knees, scalp and lower back - that are covered in silvery scales.
Psoriasis occurs when skin cells are replaced at a faster rate than average: while the usual rate at which the skin develops and sheds is three to four weeks, in psoriasis, this is dramatically increased to a rate as little as three to four days. Sufferers of psoriasis often find the main problem to be its red, scaly appearance. The skin can harden, itch and split, becoming very painful.
Treatments available include:
- vitamin A or D gels
Whilst studies are still ongoing to provide a definite answer, there is yet to be any scientific evidence to support the notion that diet significantly affects psoriasis. Psoriasis, however, can be classed as an anti-inflammatory condition, and some sufferers find relief from following an anti-inflammatory diet.
If you eat a nutrient-enriched diet and are still experiencing symptoms, it might be due to a problem in your gut.
In her article, 'Western diet can be linked to skin inflammation', nutritionist and autoimmune disease expert Victoria Hamilton suggests introducing foods that contain anti-inflammatory properties to your diet, to help manage psoriasis flare-ups. These include colourful fruits and vegetables, healthy fats found in oily fish, flaxseed, avocado and extra virgin olive oil.
Rosacea is believed to be linked to the tendency of ‘flushing’. The blood vessels in the skin dilate too easily, resulting in persistent redness on the face, followed by small red sores and spots. Symptoms of rosacea include skin sensitivity, a stinging or burning sensation and flushing. The often permanent change in complexion can result in anxiety, embarrassment or depression.
Certain lifestyles can aggravate symptoms of rosacea, most commonly from excessive exercise, change of temperature, spicy foods, stress and too much alcohol. Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure for the skin condition, but lifestyle management could be the key to calming symptoms. Many GPs suggest protecting the skin daily with sunscreen and using non-soap cleansers or suggest treatments including:
- oral antibiotics
- metronidazole or azelaic acid gels
Though not a proven cause of rosacea, poor diet and certain lifestyle choices are factors that tend to worsen the condition. Dietary changes can be recommended to help prevent flare-ups, including consuming foods rich in omega-3 and zinc, and those that contain anti-inflammatory properties.
One study in 2017 discovered that those with rosacea were more likely to suffer gastrointestinal disease, and a diet that supports a healthy gut microbiome including prebiotic food (fibres and natural sugars) was recommended. Studies in this field, however, are still in their infancy.
It's helpful to consider what may be making your rosacea worse by keeping a mood, food, and drink diary to identify any triggering food or situations. You can then work with your GP, dermatologist, or nutrition professional to manage a change in diet if required.
How can a nutritionist help?
If you’re struggling with a skin complaint, your GP or dermatologist will often be your first port of call. However, as studies have shown that what you put into your body may have an impact on your skin health, a nutrition professional can also help by looking at overcoming the problem from the inside and recommending the right foods for healthy skin.
A nutrition professional can assess your diet, nutritional requirements, any deficiencies, and also your lifestyle. They can work with you to create a suitable meal plan to improve symptoms and rebalance the skin. Use Nutritionist Resource's search tool to find a qualified professional best suited to you.