Nutrition for Healthy Skin

Most people know that the skin is the largest organ of the body – it’s what ‘keeps our insides in’, in the words of an old song. Although it is on the outside of the body, it is nonetheless a vital organ that needs special care.

The skin is both an insulating and temperature-regulating layer that protects against the elements and the body’s first line of defense against germs that might cause disease. Skin is also a wonderful outer indicator of what is taking place on the inside. A good example of this would be someone with a very yellow colour who is suffering from jaundice – here the skin indicates that there are problems with an inner organ, in this case the liver.


In considering sensible nutrition for a glowing skin, it stands to reason that any good food that benefits the body is going to be beneficial for the skin as well. But ideally both fresh food and targeted nutritional supplements are necessary – there are specific nutrients that seem to have the edge when it comes to producing a really healthy, luminous skin. It goes without saying that other important ways of ensuring a good skin include:

  • stress reduction
  • a good exercise regimen
  • identifying and eliminating food intolerances
  • avoiding a polluted environment

A primary starting point in skin health is hydration of the skin in the form of an adequate intake of pure water. Where there is a water imbalance either puffiness or extreme dehydration results, both of which are undesirable. Dehydrated skin is often wrinkled, lifeless and dull – it flakes, seems to ‘hang’ badly, and has an unnatural colour. Water is an excellent way to hydrate the body, and eating fresh vegetables and fruit with a high water content (e.g. tomato, citrus fruit) helps to provide extra quality water together with added nutrients.

Exercise is an important factor in both helping the skin to function optimally and assisting the body to rid itself of waste. Fresh air, freedom from stress and a good night’s sleep all help to improve skin quality – but these things improve all the body’s systems, and are ‘givens’ in any case. Hormones also play a significant role at certain times of a person’s life (puberty, menopause) or in specific health conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), but with good diet, lifestyle and supplementation these conditions can usually be improved or overcome.

A toxic, overburdened body eventually begins to show the telltale signs of deterioration in skin quality. Think of a seasoned cigarette smoker, and how often the facial skin is dry and wrinkled – too few antioxidants and too many inhaled toxins give a sallow, old-beforeyour-time look. In the same way, the effects on the body of junk food, damaged fats and a host of other chemicals and toxins show up as a less than healthy-looking skin.

Because your skin is your barometer of inner health, if you’re overloaded with toxins (alcohol, caffeine, sweets, etc.), and have been bombarding your poor body with trans fats and high-sugar junk food, your complexion will inevitably mirror this. Add to that extreme temperature changes (cold wind, too much sun), and you have a surefire recipe for problem skin.

Cleaning your skin is not limited to the outside. It has to begin on the inside, where the real work starts at a cellular level in what you are feeding your body. The first thing to consider in your routine is drinking enough water. The human body is more than 70% water, so it makes sense to start here. Around 8 glasses a day is considered a healthy amount, and it won’t hurt to aim for a little more than that, particularly during the hot summer months.

Water boosts lymphatic circulation, which is the body’s toxin-disposal system. Puffy eyes are an indication of an accumulation of toxins in this area, and can often be rectified by drinking adequate amounts of water.

Dark shadows under the eyes can be a sign of sluggishness, too little water, or food allergies – even too little sleep and insufficient exercise may show up as dark rings. Sometimes poor heart or kidney function manifests in this way, but usually it’s something less sinister such as an unhealthy lifestyle, or even a yeast infection such as Candida albicans.


The hormones and allergenic proteins in milk definitely seem to contribute to acne – just eliminating it from the diet for a while will prove that to any sceptic – so it may well be a good thing for teenagers to cut out, at least until the problem-skin years have passed. The link between milk and adult acne may be due to problems with blood sugar metabolism and chronic inflammation. Extreme blood sugar spikes lead to hormonal reactions that increase sebum production and turnover of skin cells. Chronic inflammation taxes the immune system and opens the door for acne by causing bacteria to colonise the blocked skin pores.

Milk contains an array of powerful growth hormones. Insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) is one of the hormones found in milk and causes problems for acne sufferers for two reasons: it increases sebum production, and it stimulates the growth of skin cells. The faster the skin cells grow the faster they die, which results in more dead skin cells to block the pores. This process also leads to faster ageing of the skin.

Insulin is suspected to be another link between milk and acne. Higher insulin levels usually mean higher rates of acne because insulin stimulates sebum production, but more significantly insulin levels correlate with levels of IGF-1 and several sex hormones that are closely linked to acne. So if you are aiming for an ageless, flawless skin, milk might be one of the things you decide to either reduce drastically or do without.

Owing to the insulin spike that occurs when eating refined carbohydrates, it would be advantageous to avoid these foods. Select low-GL, slow-release carbohydrates and eat them together with protein to prevent a sugar spike, which can contribute to compromised skin health.


In considering which foods to eat for optimal skin quality, the good news is that vitamins C and E and the mineral selenium can support the skin’s natural repair systems against free radical damage. Rich and tasty sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, red peppers, broccoli, raw nuts such as almonds and hazelnuts, spinach and avocado. People who take high doses of vitamin C often look as though they’ve had a facelift or been on holiday. Vitamin C is another of the ‘star’ vitamins and has a marked effect on skin quality in a relatively short space of time.

Vitamin E is particularly effective when taken with selenium. Selenium is found in cod, turkey and Brazil nuts. We need to keep in mind that South Africa has selenium-depleted soil, so it would be advisable to take a daily nutritional supplement of this trace element. Selenium is also a powerful cancer protective nutrient, so it makes sense to add it to your vitamin regimen anyway.

Supplemental vitamin E comes in various forms. If you wish to use a natural and effective form of vitamin E, choose d-alpha tocopherol, not dl-alpha tocopherol. The presence of the ‘I’ means that the latter is synthetic, and the body prefers the natural version.

Foods high in vitamin A are extremely important for skin protection and repair, as this vitamin is also a powerful antioxidant. Vitamin A is found in dark orange vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes and pumpkin as well as in the dark green vegetables like kale, spinach and broccoli. A fantastic source of vitamin A (together with some vitamin D and fish oils) is cod liver oil.

B vitamins are essential for the health of all body cells, including skin cells, and play a vital role in keeping skin healthy and glowing. B-vitamins repair and rebuild tissues, guarding against dryness and flakiness, so B-vitamin deficiencies often manifest with dry, itchy skin. Eating enough foods rich in B-vitamins plus a good B-complex supplement can do wonders for skin complaints of almost any kind. Fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, chicken and most whole grains are good natural sources of all the B-vitamins.

An interesting nutrient not often attributed to skin health as such is coenzyme-Q-10, an antioxidant that helps to protect cells from free radical damage as well as aid in its repair. Because levels drop with age, as you get older it’s a good idea to make sure your diet includes more dietary sources of this nutrient in the form of sardines, mackerel, liver, beef, lamb, eggs, spinach, broccoli, peanuts, wheat germ and whole grains. If you are unable to get enough of this vital nutrient through your diet (which might be the case if you are a vegan or vegetarian) it would be a very good idea to add a supplement to your skin regimen of around 60 mg of coenzyme-Q-10 a day.

Perhaps second only to water in skin health – and in fact whole-body health – would have to be omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) in the form of fish and fish oils. Because these both help to produce and to preserve the skin’s natural oil barrier – essential for maintaining hydration of the skin, giving healthy skin its plump appearance, and keeping the skin looking younger – they are paramount to this programme. Healthy fats are found in fatty fish or high-quality fish oil supplements, nuts and seeds (not their oils – only eat them fresh and raw), and omega-3-rich eggs. It’s extremely important to make sure you buy organic eggs, as ordinary eggs from battery farms will not contain anywhere near the omega-3 content you are looking for. The egg can offer you only what the chicken has been fed, and organic eggs will be free from harmful chemicals while at the same time being rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids along with a host of other beneficial nutrients. We already have an over-abundance of the other EFA (omega-6) in our Western diet, so it would be prudent to concentrate on rectifying the ratio of 3 to 6 by taking only omega-3 fish oils, not a mixture of the two. Omega-9 is not an EFA and is easily made by the body from the other EFAs.

A diet high in antioxidant-rich vegetables and fruit, nuts, seeds and whole grains will also help to give you a glowing skin. Fresh, organic produce is rich in the important nutrients for skin such as vitamins A, E and C and selenium. These antioxidants are constantly on a seek-and-destroy mission to eradicate free radicals – the body terrorists that aim to wipe out good health in any part of our bodies, including the skin.

A really good-quality probiotic supplement would be valuable in ensuring healthy, glowing skin. Probiotics are the good bacteria, essential for a strong immune system. They can be helpful if you are prone to eczema, psoriasis or acne or have taken antibiotics, which wipe out both the good and bad bacteria and sometimes affect skin tone and cause pallor.

Zinc is of course a well-known skin nutrient, as it’s crucial for the proper action of over 70 enzymes in the body and for effective wound healing. Dietary sources of zinc are abundant, and include oysters (with 59 mg per 100 g!), wheat germ, liver, pumpkin seeds, beef, lamb and sardines. Excessive intake of cereal fibre and phytates in pulses can reduce zinc absorption, as can too much phosphorus. The oral contraceptive pill can lower levels of zinc in the body, while the drug tetracycline (an antibiotic often prescribed for acne) interferes with zinc absorption. A supplement of around 20 mg daily can help to clear skin problems in a few weeks in many cases. Eczema sufferers often respond very well to zinc supplementation.


Conditions that can be visibly helped by targeted nutritional supplements include:

  • Dry skin: Vitamins A, C, D and E
  • Acne: Vitamin A
  • Sunburn/damage: Selenium (eases burning effect of sun’s radiation)
  • Eczema: Fish oil, magnesium, vitamin B6, zinc
  • Dull, grey-looking skin: Biotin (found in bananas, oatmeal, eggs, rice)
  • Oiliness: Deficiency of vitamin E (too little vitamin E causes facial oiliness)

Fairly large amounts of water-soluble vitamins can be consumed quite safely, as they won’t build up in the body. Too much of the fat-soluble ones (A, D, K) is not a good idea because they can build up and may reach toxic levels over time. However, you would need to take a considerable amount of these vitamins to reach toxic levels – be guided by a nutritionist or follow the manufacturer’s instructions if in doubt.


  • ½ cup cooked oatmeal
  • 2-egg omelet and/or piece of grilled salmon
  • Melon and fresh berries (hydration and antioxidant content)
  • No juice, coffee or toast!
  • Tall glass distilled water


  • 125 – 150 g grilled salmon, sardines in olive oil or ½ cup canned salmon
  • Green salad, extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice
  • Wedge of melon with fresh berries
  • Tall glass distilled water


  • Apple
  • Slice turkey breast
  • 3 – 4 hazelnuts or almonds
  • Tall glass distilled water


  • Fresh grilled salmon with a green salad
  • (as per lunch)
  • ½ cup steamed non-sweet vegetables (asparagus, broccoli, spinach. No potatoes, carrots,
  • beets or parsnips)
  • Melon and berries
  • Tall glass distilled water


  • ½ a pear or green apple
  • Thin slice of chicken breast
  • 3 – 5 hazelnuts or almonds


Well known for his ‘Wrinkle Cure’, Dr Perricone advocates a 3-day facelift that benefits not only the skin but the entire body. The promise of a visible difference in your looks in just three days may seem too good to be true, but if you eat the ‘wrinkle-free way’ even for a short period of time you will experience dramatic changes not only in how you look but in how you feel. This programme aids in the elimination of puffiness, defines facial contours and promotes a firmer jaw line due to its anti-inflammatory effects. Perricone advocates eating salmon twice a day in order for its DMAE and omega-3 essential fatty acids to achieve their full effects. This regimen will increase facial radiance, glow and firmness, and it certainly seems to work if the pictures in his books are anything to go by.

Love the skin you’re in by taking good care of it from the inside out!


Try this for a great skin pick-me-up!

What you need

  • 180 ml plain yoghurt
  • 1 tsp finely crushed almonds
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 2 tsp wheat germ oil

What you do

Mix all the ingredients into a smooth paste. Apply and massage into skin. Keep the mask on for 20 minutes. The crushed almonds have an exfoliating action that gets rid of dead skin. You could use fine sugar or salt here, but almonds are gentler. The honey helps the mask to ‘hug’ the skin, and the wheat germ oil contains gorgeous vitamin E to fight free radicals – one of the skin’s greatest enemies.


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Nutrition for Healthy Skin

Sally-Ann Creed
About The Author
- DIP CLIN NUTR, FUNCTIONAL MED, FUNCTIONAL NUTR, NUTR SUPPL. She is a qualified clinical nutritionist and a functional medicine practitioner. She has helped thousands of people worldwide. She has written 10 books, including South Africa's biggest bestseller in history (co-authored with Tim Noakes), The Real Meal Revolution. She won South Africa's Most Influential Women in Business & Government award in 2009 and 2010. She is married with two Dobermanns.