Friday, May 24, 2024

These Foods Affect Skin Health Most, Warn Experts

“It may sound like a simple premise, but we literally are what we eat,” says holistic nutritionist Jennifer Hanway. “The appearance of our skin is a visual barometer for how healthy we are on the inside.” When Hanway meets with a client, she’s secretly scoping out their skin for signs of inflammation, dryness, premature aging, etc, because it can provide a lot of guidance on what is happening under the surface.

We don’t want to assign food “good” and “bad” labels or tell anyone to completely cut out their favorite snack—but we asked experts for some insight on what eating habits can have positive or negative effects on our skin, including which foods we should stock up on and which we’re better off without. Remember, it’s all about balance.

  • Elaine Kung, MD is a board-certified New York dermatologist
  • Amy Shah, MD is a nutritionist and Alo Moves trainer
  • Jennifer Hanway is a holistic nutritionist
  • Samantha Susca in a celebrity aesthetician and in-house facialist at The Spa at Casa Cipriani

Foods that are good for skin

Omega-3 fatty acids

“When in doubt, limit the amount of omega-6 fatty acids and double up on omega-3 fatty acids instead,” says celebrity and in-house facialist at The Spa at Casa Cipriani Samantha Susca. “If you’ve been searching for a remedy to dry eyes, hair or skin, amping up your omega-3 levels may be the magic trick,” says Susca. Nutritionist and Alo Moves trainer Amy Shah, MD explains that omega-3 fatty acids help keep skin moist and supple. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in foods such as eggs, salmon and tuna, avocados and almonds.

Spearmint tea

Susca shared a data point about spearmint tea that stopped us in our tracks. “Antioxidants in spearmint tea have been clinically proven to reduce androgens in the bloodstream by 52 percent over three weeks—this is nearly equal to a course of prescription spironolactone.” This helps reduce androgen-causing hormonal acne, hormonal hair loss and facial hirsutism, she says.

Fruits, vegetables and chia seeds

“We always hear about eating fruits and veggies. It’s standard. Boring, even. But it sure holds true. And why is that? Besides the fiber and antioxidant content, there is something more important to talk about—the content of gel water,” says Susca. Gel water is the hydration found in food like cucumbers, melons, chia seeds and zucchini.

“When any kind of fruit, vegetable or even chia seeds are added to plain water, the molecular structure changes from H2O into H3O2. The addition of one more hydrogen atom and one more oxygen atom, charged by electrolytes, is more readily absorbed and recognizable by every cell in our body as its own hydration,” says Susca. “It is in this way, the most usable form of hydration that can be absorbed fully into the cell membrane of every cell.”


“Foods such as probiotic cottage cheese, sauerkraut and kimchi are all great examples of items to add to your diet,” says Dr. Shah. Plus, they minimize free radical damage, says Hanway. “With skin health, it’s important to remember—the gut-skin connection is real.”

Probiotics help diversify therby improving the gut microbiome. Hanway says improving gut health can also help reduce inflammation and ensure we absorb the much-needed nutrients in our diet. “If we have poor gut health or a diet that is low in nutrients, our skin will suffer, as it is last in the order of our priorities for survival,” explains Hanway. “Our body will prioritize nutrients for essential functions such as organ health and minimize uptake to our hair, skin and nails. So if we are not absorbing or consuming adequate nutrients, it will show in dull, dry skin that loses its elasticity.”

Royal jelly

“Made exclusively to feed the queen bee, worker bees produce royal jelly, which has a myriad of benefits for the human body as well,” says Susca. “This superfood supports hormonal changes in women of all ages, is a potent antioxidant and provides a complex of B vitamins, amino acids, calcium, potassium and zinc.” It can also be found in a handful of luxe skin-care products.


“Amino acids (the components parts of protein once it is digested) are the building blocks of our skin, and if we are not eating enough protein then we are not giving our skin the raw materials it needs to repair and grow,” says Hanway.


Susca loves all things Chaga, from tea to skin-care products. It “ranks the highest of all antioxidants on the oral scale.” In addition to being good for skin, chaga also lowers blood sugar and cholesterol levels.


Polyphenols provide the skin with antioxidants that help fight skin damage,” says Dr. Shah. According to UCLA Health, blueberries, plums, cherries, pecans, turmeric and ginger are high in polyphenols. Dark chocolate is also a great source of skin glow-boosting phytonutrients, notes Hanway.

Bone broth

Bone broth doesn’t just come in handy when you’re sick. It’s packed with “rich sources of gelatin collagen and protein to keep the skin supported and hydrated,” says Susca.

Healthy fats

Hanway says healthy fats like grass-fed beef, wild-caught salmon, avocado, walnuts and sesame seeds can confer specific skin benefits.

Organ meats

While organ meats aren’t as easy to mix into your routine as chia seeds, they are “an excellent source of protein and trace minerals like selenium and copper in their most bioidentical forms,” says Susca.

Foods that can be bad for skin

Ultra-processed foods and sweetened beverages

“If you are going to avoid any foods for skin health, I recommend limiting ultra-processed foods and sweetened beverages,” says Dr. Shah. Unfortunately for your snacky side, this includes “fast food, Oreos, Doritos and all the things we could never recreate in a normal kitchen. These and the sweetened beverages destroy the gut, often leading to disruption of the skin.”

Susca seconds this. “The golden rule I give my clients regarding nutrition is ‘if it comes in a wrapper, avoid it.’ Any food or ‘food-like product’ that didn’t exist 100 years ago should be avoided,” she says. However, with that being said, life is about balance. “You don’t have to never enjoy your favorite snacks or drinks ever again. Just know how to read labels, recognize sneaky fillers and potentially harmful ingredients and limit them as much as possible. Save your favorite things for a once in a while indulgence rather than daily habits.”

Non-dairy milks

Susca says swapping milk for its non-dairy counterparts is one of the most common mistakes people make. “Oat, soy and almond milk are the most popular culprits that have seemingly found their way into everyone’s coffee order. Not only are oats, almonds and soy some of the most glyphosate-sprayed crops in the country—but they’re also loaded with seed oils (high in omega 6—polyunsaturated fatty acids that are a common underlying cause of inflammation, melasma and acne) and often, more sugar than a can of soda.”

Ultimately, in many cases, these non-dairy alternatives could cause more internal inflammation than standard cow’s milk, says Susca. “If you can go back to regular dairy, I suggest it. There is no conclusive data that proves the link between acne and dairy. For some, it can be inflammatory until the body can relearn to digest it again,” says Susca. “If you have digestive trouble with cow’s milk, I recommend starting with sheep or goat’s milk first. The molecules are smaller and easier for the body to reacclimate to.”

Susca says she often refers to dairy as “the retinoid of  the refrigerator because when you remove it from your diet, your body’s ability to produce the digestive enzymes needed to break down dairy goes dormant.” She explains that “when the body comes in contact with it again, those digestive enzymes begin to produce again. This is the problem with conventional dairy. The homogenization process kills all the enzymes needed for digestion.”

Rather than opting for faux milk over dairy milk, Susca recommends focusing your energy on “doing your research and finding dairy options a caliber above the conventional” with good quality and sources.


Although the dairy alternatives aren’t great for skin neither is the real stuff. Hanway says she sees a huge difference in clients when they minimize their intake of dairy foods as they can cause issues with inflammation resulting in acne, eczema and rosacea.

Non-olive oils and soy lecithin

Susca recommends checking ingredient lists for non-olive oil oils—like grapeseed, safflower/sunflower, rapeseed/canola, cottonseed and vegetable. Hanway says inflammatory fats like canola and seed oils “ literally change the structure of the lipid bilayer (the cell wall) resulting in a more rigid structure and in regards to our skin this will show in a loss of plumpness and volume.” She also suggests staying away from another common additive culprit—soy lecithin.


You’ll find the suggestion of limiting alcohol on most lists with guidance on how to improve your health and skin health is no different. Alcohol “can increase skin aging, dehydrate the skin and slow down detoxification and cellular renewal,” explains Hanway.

Sugar and high-carbohydrate foods

Hanway explains that sugar and high carbohydrate foods can cause glycation of the skin in which “the skin cannot repair itself efficiently and will become less elastic and resilient.”

Diets to try

To build a meal in general, Hanway recommends 20 to 30 grams of protein, two to four cups of vegetables (with a focus on leafy greens and brightly colored vegetables) and one to two tablespoons of healthy fats. However, there are some more specific diets that you can try to help enhance skin.

Low-glycemic diet

New York dermatologist Elaine Kung, MD notes that low-glycemic diets have garnered interest in acne management. “These diets promote sustained blood sugar levels, potentially reducing inflammation and the production of androgens, both contributors to acne development,” she explains. “Clinical trials have demonstrated a significant reduction in acne lesions in patients following low-glycemic dietary interventions.” A low-glycemic diet “prioritizes whole grains, fruits, and vegetables over processed sugars and refined carbohydrates, says Dr. Kung, which follows the advice of many of the experts we talked to.

Ketogenic diet

“The keto diet, characterized by very low carbohydrate intake and high fat intake, is gaining traction as a potential therapeutic approach for acne and psoriasis. This diet forces the body to utilize fat for fuel instead of glucose, potentially reducing inflammation and improving skin health in some patients,” says Dr. Kung. “While early studies show promise, further research is needed to definitively establish the role of the ketogenic diet in managing these conditions.”

The inflammation and skin connection

Acne, psoriasis and eczema are some common chronic inflammatory skin conditions. “Emerging evidence suggests a link between dietary patterns and the inflammatory processes underlying these conditions,” says Dr. Kung.

Inflammation is the body’s natural defense mechanism but can become dysregulated in chronic skin diseases, says Dr. Kung. “This leads to the activation of immune cells and the release of inflammatory mediators, ultimately damaging skin tissue,” she explains. “Dietary factors, particularly refined carbohydrates and unhealthy fats may contribute to this inflammatory cascade.”

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