The mantra ‘you are what you eat’ isn’t going anywhere fast and naturally, we’d like to know if this concept can be applied the health of our skin. Joining a long list of buzz words like ‘superfood’, we’re constantly bombarded by ‘skin friendly’ or ‘anti-ageing’ skin food claims that are even more confusing than the range of products we’re expected to navigate. But, like the way we take care of our skin topically, there’s a skin food simplicity we can all embrace.
“Your body needs nutrients to make healthy skin cells,” explains Dr Emma Beckett. “But that then often gets extended to suggest that more nutrients will mean even more healthy or glowing skin. More isn’t necessarily any better than simply enough”.
So while we all agree that states of malnourishment and dehydration can show in the skin, the question of whether there is such a thing as ‘skin food’ is a little more complicated. We have to remember the skin doesn’t exist in isolation, rather any foods we eat go to fuel the entire body and this includes the skin. It also helps to work out which side of the balanced diet equation you’re sitting on to determine the potential effects of food on the skin.
Comparing a healthy balanced diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and good oils to a diet high in very processed foods, salt, saturated fat and sugar, then yes. Emma says switching to a healthy balanced diet might help, “however that’s not to say that sugar, fat or anything else in isolation will cause problems for your skin, but they will likely displace the nutritious elements from your diet”.
“Foods that people list as ‘skin friendly’ or feeding the skin, are just good healthy nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables, nuts and oily fish, and choosing water instead of other drinks. That’s good solid advice for anyone, regardless of how they feel about their skin”.
Simple yes but still trends abound the beauty and wellness market with two currently holding court: gut bacteria and collagen. While there is an established link (backed by evidence) between gut health, inflammation and hormone levels, direct effects of on our skin – the gut-skin-axis – are still unclear and under investigation experimentally so keep eating lots of fruit, veg, and wholegrains. Collagen as a supplement suffers from few independent studies but, as Emma explains, you can make it yourself (clever you!)
“Collagen is a protein our body can make from the amino acids we get from eating normal foods with protein in them. If you take a collagen supplement, it isn’t absorbed as whole collagen, it is broken down into it’s basic amino acids and they just go into the amino acid pool that the body uses to make things, including collagen”.
“So unless you are deficient in the specific amino acids needed to make collagen, its unlikely that an amino acid supplement will help, and if you are deficient in amino acids, that will have more consequences for your body than just collagen synthesis. Despite what people think, most Australian’s do eat enough protein, which means most of use probably aren’t deficient in those amino acids,” says Emma.
Boring advice perhaps, admits Emma, but when it comes to healthy skin, there are no silver bullets.
“The real problem is that most of us aren’t following the advice of a balanced diet and most of us eat too much salt and sugar”, Emma explains. But the good news is that skin food is just food, so feed your skin (and body) to a balanced diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and good oils.
Dr Emma Beckett is Lecturer in Food Science and Human Nutrition at the The University of Newcastle and The Hunter Medical Research Institute.