Ask the experts: what can I eat to improve my skin?
We are living in stressful times right now. This stress can manifest in many ways and for some of us, it shows up physically on our skin. From breakouts and acne to conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, feeling overwhelmed can take its toll.
When it comes to stress, we always recommend a holistic approach, where you look after both body and mind. As our diet plays such an integral role in skin health, we decided to speak to an expert and find out how we can adjust what we’re eating to support our skin in times of stress.
Here nutritionist Sonal Shah answers your questions.
Stress is having a real impact on my skin and I’m getting more breakouts than normal, what can I do?
Managing the stress as best as you can will help, as stress triggers a hormone cascade which can stimulate acne. Acne is not really caused by toxins trying to force their way through the skin, it’s actually caused by the immune system’s overreaction to bacteria that normally live on the skin.
Face mapping for acne can give us more of a clue as to which organs may be out of balance. For example, breakouts along the chin and jawline are hormonal and linked to gut and liver health. Breakouts on the forehead linked to kidney function and possibly inadequate hydration. Breakouts on the cheeks are usually linked to the lungs and respiratory system. Combatting acne is a multifaceted approach – taking supplements containing zinc and vitamin A, and herbal remedy Echinacea has shown improvements in clearing up acne.
My skin feels really dull and dehydrated, are there any foods that can help?
Firstly, I would question if you are getting enough water and fluids – adults need at least 1.5 litres of fluids a day. Secondly, foods with natural oils can help hydrate the skin and prevent dryness. Consuming these oils daily is a must, such as avocados, olive oil and flaxseeds. Thirdly, colourful vegetables with dark coloured pigments from yellow-orange to green-purple do contain more nutrients beneficial for the skin, including vitamin C and beta-carotene.
Chomping on carrots, peppers, sweet potato, and berries will provide these nutrients. In addition, consuming water-rich foods such as cucumber and watermelon containing minerals like silica and lycopene which will have your skin glowing and hydrated.
My eczema is aggravated by stress. I’m doing what I can to relax but are there any changes I can make to my diet to help?
Eczema is an inflammatory response and to better manage this, anti-inflammatory foods should be consumed. These include essential omega 3’s from oily fish, flaxseeds and chia seeds for example. Cutting back on coffee, sugar, refined wheat products and dairy can help symptoms.
Consuming more foods that support the gut and liver function such as cruciferous vegetables and green veggies (which contain magnesium, an anti-stress mineral) can help in addition to consuming alkalising beans and grains like adzuki beans and quinoa which are easy to digest.
Vitamin C, zinc, turmeric and ginger have all been shown to help improve eczema.
I have psoriasis and have heard changing my diet could help, is this true?
Yes psoriasis, like eczema, is linked to poor liver health and so changing the diet to include more cleansing foods that support the gut, liver and skin’s natural detoxification will help. I advise cutting back on refined sugars, coffee, alcohol and dairy as these are taxing for the liver to break down and introducing more green vegetables, blue-purple foods like berries.
Getting exposure to sunlight should also help the skin as vitamin D has been shown to improve symptoms and also acts as a natural steroid. Taking vitamin D supplements will help too, in addition to taking a probiotic to help boost beneficial bacteria (as gut health plays a role in controlling psoriasis).
I have acne and know sugar triggers breakouts, do you have any tips for this chocoholic to help reduce sugar intake?
Cutting back on refined sugars is recommended as these spike blood levels of glucose which then spikes the hormone insulin, causing various other hormone reactions which stimulate skin cells to produce more sebum.
Darker chocolate contains less sugar and more cocoa solids therefore this could be consumed in moderation in addition to incorporating more fruits in the diet to curb the sugar cravings. A good quality honey in small amounts is fine as is consuming dried figs, dates, apricots and goji berries.
Sugar cravings may be because you’re not eating complex carbs, protein and fats at mealtimes. Or it could be an emotional trigger, which should be explored with a therapist to get more tailored support.
Three tips for better skin health:
- Drink more fluids and cut back on coffee, fizzy drinks and squash. Replace these with healthy vegetable juices and plain water. Also, consider using superfood powders which are alkalising greens such as Klamath powder and mooring powder to provide nutrients for the skin.
- Soak the body in Epsom salts which naturally contain minerals like magnesium. This has a detoxifying action on the body as the skin’s pores open in the bathwater. Magnesium also is an anti-stress mineral, which relaxes the muscles and eases tension.
- Cut back on processed sugars. Start looking at labels of packaged foods and snacks you are consuming, opting for a wholesome diet. Look at how many portions of vegetables and fruit you are consuming now – add three more to this and you should see a positive improvement to your skin.
Sonal is a nutritional therapist and director of Synergy Nutrition®.