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Nutrition and the Skin

By: Steven H. Dayan, MD, Tracy L. Drumm and Terri A. Wojak
Posted: May 27, 2011, from the June 2011 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
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Good fats include monounsaturated fats, such as those found in olives, olive oil, peanuts and avocados, and polyunsaturated fats, such as those found in corn, soybeans and fish. Fish, in particular, contain high amounts of the polyunsaturated fat omega-3. Omega-3 fats are not made internally in the body and can only be acquired from the diet. Omega-6 fats are also found in nature, are important for healthy metabolic function and are found in soy, sunflower, cottonseed, canola, peanut, grape seed and corn oils. Foods rich in omega-3 and -6 are common to the Mediterranean diet, and may be partly responsible for the low rates of heart disease and cancer seen in people living on Greek islands, such as Crete. Diets too high in omega-6 fats can be a cause of inflammation and are not healthy. Not only do diets with good fats reduce inflammation and heart disease, but they also may improve the appearance of the skin.

The intake of sugar and simple carbohydrates may also affect the skin’s appearance. Foods such as soda, many types of bread, candy bars and beer raise blood sugar levels rapidly. This results in a quick energy boost, but soon follows with a rapid fall in blood sugar levels, resulting in fatigue and hunger. The cycle is vicious. It is not healthy and leads to long-term inflammation and cell injury. It is now known that excess sugar in the body throughout time can negatively affect many organs, including the skin. A diet rich in sugar ultimately affects the aging of skin and can actually make a person look older. Excess sugar is also speculated to affect collagen fibers and results in a process called glycation, which causes the skin to turn yellow and look older.

Esthetician’s point of view: Terri A. Wojak

Skin care professionals often know the benefits of topically adding nutrients to the skin. The detail that many forget is that the skin is an organ—actually the largest organ of the body. Skin care professionals need to learn to treat it from the inside, as well as the outside.

Many studies have shown the health-protecting benefits of antioxidants. Antioxidants are vitamins or nutrients that protect the body from oxidative stress by fighting off free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that can cause damage to the body, especially the skin. Perhaps the best known antioxidant is vitamin E, which can help the body fight against heart disease and inflammation, and is an important protector of the skin. By increasing vitamin E levels in the body, the skin may not sustain as much damage and may repair injured cells at a faster rate. Vitamin E is also thought to improve the general appearance of the skin, giving added protection against sun damage and aging skin. However, it takes two-to-three weeks for enough vitamin E to build up in the skin before this added protection actually goes into effect.

Vitamin C is also a potent antioxidant and a necessary contributor to collagen synthesis and wound-healing. A balanced diet is enough to maintain healthy collagen production in the body. Taking additional vitamin C orally does not seem to have much of a direct effect on reversing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles; however, as a topical serum, vitamin C has shown some impressive results in regard to reducing inflammation and improving the appearance of the skin. The key is that it must be delivered to the skin in exactly the right form. As a topical cream, it has its merits; however, the packaging process common to many retail cosmetic lines too frequently deactivates vitamin C. In the form of L-ascorbic acid, vitamin C is an unstable molecule; therefore, if it is not produced in the correct way or if it is exposed to air, the product oxidizes and becomes less effective. Vitamin C-based products by reputable companies will likely be packaged and formulated in a way that will keep the ingredient stabilized. Other nutritional supplements, such as lycopene, which is found in tomatoes, coenzyme Q10, minerals such as zinc, and botanicals such as green tea all may be beneficial in reducing inflammation. However, clinical trials supporting these claims are lacking. Therefore, it is in the client’s best interest to eat a diet that is rich in antioxidants.