We all want to put our best face forward, so it can be frustrating if you’re dealing with acne and inflammatory skin issues such as eczema and rosacea. Many of my clients are prescribed harsh topical treatments or longterm antibiotics that can disrupt the delicate skin and gut biome and make the problem worse longterm. These are not sustainable solutions because they don’t address the underlying causative factors. Here are the best superfoods for glowing skin + skin wrecking foods to avoid.
Beyond Skin Deep
Skin conditions most often go beyond topical care. The health of your skin closely mirrors the health of the gut. Both are permeable outside surface layers designed to protect. Both the skin and the gut are home to trillions of bacterial microorganisms known as your microbiome. There is a delicate balance between the commensal (good) and pathogenic (bad) bacteria in your gut, and acne and inflammatory skin issues can manifest due to an imbalance between these bacterial colonies. Same is true of your skin microbiome: the bacteria on your skin should be mostly beneficial, but when disrupted, skin issues can occur.
The vast majority of people with acne and inflammatory skin conditions also have digestive symptoms or too much bad bacteria in relation to good bacteria. You can influence skin health by nourishing your microbiome and eating foods that provide nutrients to strengthen the skin and gut lining. What are you feeding your microbiome?
Our traditional Standard American Diet (SAD) is based on inflammatory fats, processed grains, skeletonized foods, and tons of sugar. This affects our internal inflammatory response, and an inflamed gut = inflamed skin. Feeding your body inflammatory and nutrient void foods results in poor skin and overall health.
Your skin needs collagen, antioxidants (vitamins A, C, E, zinc, selenium), CoQ10, fatty acids, and probiotics to shine. Let’s take a look at some particular superstar foods that nourish both skin and gut health. You can get clear skin from the inside out!
Superfoods for Glowing Skin
1. Our first superstar skin superfood is fatty acids and good fats.
- Omega 3 fatty acids in particular are anti-inflammatory and excellent to nourish your skin. The richest sources for the omegas are sardines and wild salmon. I eat wild salmon at least twice a week! Chia seeds and walnuts are good sources too. You can also take an omega 3 supplement, or GLA (borage oil) is excellent for skin AND reduces PMS symptoms. Double-win.
- Saturated fats are very important because they make up the permeable layer of your cell membranes, allowing nutrients to get into your cells. Coconut oil gets top prize for the best saturated fat for skin health because it works so well both internally and applied topically to skin (hello wrinkle prevention). CAUTION that coconut oil may not work for acne-prone skin because it may be comedogenic. Ghee and grass fed butter are excellent sources of conjugated linoleic acids (CLAs) and short chain fatty acids necessary for both skin elasticity and gut health if you tolerate dairy. That’s right– saturated fat prevents wrinkles!
- Avocado deserves a shout-out for its double duty both as a skin superfood with its beneficial fats AND an excellent face mask to soften skin. I like to mash it together with egg yolk and apply.
- Olives and olive oil are full of polyunsaturated fats, vitamin E, and antioxidants called polyphenols. Polyphenols from olives and extra-virgin olive oil have potent antioxidant activities that fight aging and wrinkles.
2. Second place goes to antioxidant rich berries. Blueberries and blackberries are highest in antioxidants, but all berries are low in sugars and offer free radical fighting antioxidants that protect against aging, both inside and out. Strawberries and pomegranate seeds are high in vitamin C that is a precursor to collagen (and yes, citrus is good here too) necessary for wrinkle-free skin.
3. Speaking of antioxidants, green and white teas claim a prize too. Green tea is especially high in epigallocatechin gallate or EGCG. EGCG is known mostly for its potent anti-cancer benefits, but this antioxidant will keep skin looking young too. Read how to use tea for health.
4. Green juices & Vegetable juices made with carrots, beets, and greens (kale, spinach) can get you glowing skin because, you guessed it, they’re very high in antioxidants and vitamin A. Beets and green juice can also be detoxifying which is always helpful for skin because a congested, overworked liver can’t process toxins effectively. Too many circulating toxins can result in breakouts and dull skin.
5. Fermented foods feed your gut flora a diverse array of probiotics and prebiotics to keep your gut bacteria balanced. Best sources include coconut water kefir, raw kraut, or a probiotic. Or try my easy dairy free coconut milk yogurt. Fermented foods are an excellent source of vitamin K2, which prevents wrinkles! K2 is also produced by our gut bacteria, so that’s another reason to focus on keeping ’em healthy.
6. I’ve been raving about bone broth for ages, and it’s one of the richest sources of collagen and gelatin. Collagen production keeps skin elastic and wrinkle-free, and production declines rapidly after age 40. Drink your pastured bone broth to up collagen intake (along with those vitamin C rich superfruits), and you’ll also get a good dose of gelatin which is excellent for skin, joint health, AND hair. Don’t want to make it? You can order high quality, organic bone broth here, or try this bone broth protein powder for smoothies. It’s delicious!
7.Collagen peptides, a true skin rockstar. Of course you can get collagen in bone broth, but taking collagen peptides as a supplement really packs an extra punch. I’ve seen a huge difference in my skin from adding it to my morning smoothie. Read all about collagen and my favorite brand here.
Honorable Mention: hydration is very important for youthful skin and skin elasticity/wrinkle prevention. Remember to drink lots of filtered water daily. Minerals are very important to help regular fluid and electrolyte balance in the body, so get plenty of unrefined sea salt, sea vegetables, bone broth, and root vegetables.
Skin-Wrecking Foods to Avoid
Just as the right foods will nourish your skin and digestive system, there are a few foods to avoid if you want clear skin. If you struggle with acne, avoid dairy. It may exacerbate or even cause acne and is a source of androgenic hormones that trigger skin inflammation. Avoid the SAD foods like excess sugars and processed/refined junk foods. Also steer clear of conventionally raised CAFO meat from animals who’ve been fed antibiotics and hormones. The extra estrogen load and dose of antibiotics from the meat kills your gut flora and contributes to hormone imbalance that causes acne.
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.