Eating for clear skin: Understanding the role of nutrition

Dryness, itchiness, breakouts, rashes and painful sores are common in skin conditions. Whether you are living with acne, psoriasis, eczema or hives, skin conditions can make your life hard and affect your self-confidence. 

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When I suffered from various skin conditions, I knew I could never depend on my skin. Whether it be an important meeting with a client, doing a presentation at work or even my wedding day, I couldn't be sure that a flare wouldn't occur, leaving me with a sense of unease all the time. 

Nutrient deficiencies are at the heart of many inflammatory skin conditions, as the skin relies on several essential nutrients to function and regenerate. 

In this article, I will share with you five essential nutrients for skin conditions, why they are vital for skin health, signs of these nutrient deficiencies, and foods rich in these nutrients so you can ensure that you get sufficient amounts from your diet.


Retinol (vitamin A)

One of the most important vitamins for skin health is vitamin A. Vitamin A helps to speed up healing, prevent breakouts and support the skin's immune system. Vitamin A benefits the skin by promoting healthy cell turnover, resulting in a smoother complexion and reducing signs of ageing. It supports collagen production, improving skin elasticity and minimising wrinkles. 

Additionally, its antioxidant properties protect against damage caused by free radicals, reducing inflammation and supporting skin repair processes. 

However, vitamin A is not one thing. You can consume vitamin A in two forms: preformed vitamin A, called retinol and found in animal products, and provitamin A carotenoids, such as beta carotene, from plant foods. Both forms benefit your skin, but your body has to convert provitamin to its active form. Hence, the preformed vitamin is more effective and bioavailable for your body.

Vitamin A not only supports the barrier function of the skin, but due to its ability to help stimulate the growth and maturation of cells in the body, it can also support the barrier functions of the lungs, digestive system, and reproductive organs. 

In psoriasis, vitamin A has been shown to improve symptoms by reducing the overproduction of skin cells, which is the main cause, which is why retinoids applied topically can reduce inflammation in plaque psoriasis. 

A deficiency in vitamin A can manifest through various signs and symptoms. Here are a few common ones:

Night blindness

Vitamin A is essential for maintaining good vision, particularly in low-light conditions. A deficiency can lead to night blindness, making it difficult to see in dim light or darkness.

Dry or rough skin

Vitamin A supports skin health and is involved in the production of skin cells. Inadequate levels can result in dry, rough, or flaky skin.

Dry eyes

Vitamin A is important for maintaining the moisture balance in the eyes. A deficiency may cause dryness, itchiness, or higher susceptibility to eye infections.

Increased susceptibility to infections

Vitamin A is crucial in supporting the immune system. Insufficient levels can weaken immune function, increasing the risk of infections, particularly respiratory and gastrointestinal infections.

Impaired reproductive health

Inadequate vitamin A levels can affect reproductive health and fertility in both males and females.

Foods rich in retinol include calf's liver, cod liver oil, salmon, mackerel, eggs, poultry and prawns. 


Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats with numerous health benefits, including promoting clear skin. 

Omega-3 EFAs stimulate the production of eicosanoids which play an integral role in forming the epidermis barrier of the skin. They also mediate inflammatory events developed in response to environmental factors, such as exposure to ultraviolet radiation, and inflammatory and allergic disorders, including psoriasis and atopic dermatitis.

An omega-3 deficiency may exhibit several signs and symptoms. Here are a few common ones:

Dry skin

Omega-3 fatty acids help maintain healthy skin and prevent dryness. A deficiency might result in rough, flaky, or irritated skin.

Poor eye health

Omega-3s are crucial in eye health and visual development. Insufficient intake may contribute to dry eyes, vision problems, or an increased risk of age-related macular degeneration.

Joint pain

Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce joint pain and stiffness. Inadequate levels may contribute to increased inflammation and discomfort in the joints.

Mood swings

Omega-3s affect brain function and can impact neurotransmitter activity. A deficiency may be associated with mood disorders like depression, anxiety, or irritability.

Cognitive issues

Omega-3 fatty acids are important for brain health and cognitive function. Insufficient intake may lead to memory problems, difficulty concentrating, or reduced cognitive performance.

Incorporating omega-3-rich foods like fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts into your diet may help reduce inflammation, redness, and itchiness.


Vitamin D

Vitamin D plays a crucial role in immune system regulation and may contribute to the management of autoimmune skin conditions. Adequate vitamin D levels can help reduce inflammation and promote overall skin health. 

A vitamin D deficiency can present with various signs and symptoms. Here are a few common ones:

Fatigue and weakness

Vitamin D plays a role in energy production, and low levels can contribute to feelings of fatigue and general weakness.

Bone and muscle pain

Vitamin D helps maintain proper bone health by aiding calcium absorption. Insufficient levels can result in bone pain, muscle aches, or weakness.

Impaired immune function

Vitamin D is involved in supporting immune function. A deficiency may increase susceptibility to infections or a compromised immune response.

Mood changes

Low vitamin D levels have been associated with mood disorders, such as depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Some individuals may experience symptoms of anxiety or irritability.

Impaired wound healing

Vitamin D plays a role in the healing process. Inadequate levels can slow down wound healing and increase the risk of complications.

Hair loss

While not a definitive symptom, some studies suggest a possible link between vitamin D deficiency and hair loss. However, further research is needed to establish a direct correlation.

A study from 2013 showed that using both oral and topical vitamin D preparations improved psoriasis symptoms.

While sunlight is a natural source of vitamin D, incorporating foods such as fatty fish (salmon, trout), egg yolks, fortified dairy products, and mushrooms into your diet can help boost your intake.


Zinc

Zinc is a mineral that supports the immune system and aids skin healing and regeneration. It also possesses anti-inflammatory properties. 

A zinc deficiency can exhibit various signs and symptoms. Here are a few common ones:

Impaired immune function

Zinc is crucial in supporting a healthy immune system. A deficiency can lead to frequent infections, longer recovery, or weakened immune response.

Delayed wound healing

Zinc is involved in wound healing and tissue repair. Insufficient levels can result in delayed wound healing and an increased risk of infections.

Skin problems

Zinc deficiency may contribute to skin issues such as dermatitis, acne, or dry and flaky skin.

Loss of appetite or taste changes

A lack of zinc can affect the sense of taste and smell, leading to a decreased appetite or altered food preferences.

Hair loss

Zinc is essential for healthy hair growth and maintenance. Inadequate levels may contribute to hair loss or thinning.

Cognitive and mood issues

Zinc plays a role in brain function and neurotransmitter regulation. A deficiency may be associated with cognitive problems, difficulty concentrating, or mood disorders like depression.

Including zinc-rich foods like oysters, beef, poultry, legumes, seeds (pumpkin, sesame), and whole grains can benefit individuals with autoimmune skin conditions.


Glutathione

Glutathione plays a significant role in promoting skin health due to its antioxidant and detoxifying properties. Here are a few ways in which glutathione impacts skin health:

Antioxidant activity

Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant that helps neutralise free radicals, unstable molecules that can damage skin cells. By reducing oxidative stress, glutathione helps protect the skin from premature ageing, wrinkles, and other signs of skin damage caused by environmental factors like UV radiation, pollution, and toxins.

Skin brightening

Glutathione has been suggested to have skin-lightening effects, primarily by inhibiting the production of melanin – the pigment responsible for skin colour. It may help reduce the appearance of dark spots, hyperpigmentation, and uneven skin tone, leading to a more even complexion.

Detoxification and cleansing

Glutathione supports the body's natural detoxification processes, helping to eliminate toxins and pollutants. Reducing the toxic burden on the skin can contribute to a clearer and healthier complexion.

Immune system support

Glutathione supports a strong immune system essential for maintaining healthy skin. A robust immune response helps prevent and combat skin infections, acne, and other inflammatory skin conditions.

Collagen synthesis

Glutathione plays a role in collagen production, which is crucial for maintaining skin elasticity, firmness, and smoothness. By supporting collagen synthesis, it can help improve skin texture and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

It's important to note that while glutathione is naturally present in the body, its availability can be influenced by various factors such as age, lifestyle, and underlying health conditions. 

Supplementing with glutathione or using products that promote its production may benefit some people. 

Glutathione deficiency is relatively rare, but it can lead to various symptoms when it occurs. Glutathione is an essential antioxidant that helps protect cells from oxidative stress and supports numerous bodily functions. Here are a few potential symptoms of glutathione deficiency:

Weakened immune function

Glutathione is crucial in supporting a healthy immune system. A deficiency may increase susceptibility to infections, allergies, or autoimmune disorders.

Fatigue and decreased energy levels

Glutathione helps combat oxidative damage and supports cellular energy production. Inadequate levels may contribute to feelings of fatigue, low energy, or general weakness.

Muscle and joint pain

Glutathione helps reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. A deficiency may increase muscle and joint pain, stiffness, or discomfort.

Increased toxin sensitivity

Glutathione is involved in detoxification processes within the body. Insufficient levels can make individuals more sensitive to environmental toxins, heavy metals, or certain medications.

It's important to note that glutathione deficiency is typically secondary to other underlying conditions or factors that affect its production or utilisation. 


​​While nutrition alone may not be a cure for autoimmune skin conditions, it can play a significant role in managing symptoms and promoting overall skin health. Incorporating various nutrient-rich foods into your diet, particularly those containing omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin A, vitamin D, zinc, and glutathione, can provide the necessary building blocks for healthy skin. 

However, if you are experiencing skin issues and would like to explore the underlying root cause of your symptoms, then it is best to work with a registered nutritionist or functional health practitioner. 

At The Autoimmunity Nutritionist clinic, I work with clients with autoimmune skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema to help reverse inflammatory skin symptoms by finding out the root of my client's symptoms, which is often in the gut, as the absorption of these essential nutrients is vital for skin health. 

If you want to learn more about my services, please get in touch for a free health consultation.

Or you can test your nutrient levels with the Metabolomix functional test. Learn more about The Cell Health Test Package.

Remember, a holistic approach to skincare involves a combination of internal and external care, and proper nutrition should be a key component of that approach.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London W1G & Harrogate HG1
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Written by V. J. Hamilton, Autoimmune Disease Expert | BSc (Immunology), DipION, mBANT
London W1G & Harrogate HG1

VJ Hamilton is a qualified Nutritional Therapist and member of BANT, focusing on autoimmunity including inflammatory skin disorders, fatigue & neurological issues as well as gut health. VJ has a BSc in Biochemistry and Immunology which she uses in her practice, using only evidence-based nutritional therapies to support chronic conditions.

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