Our skin (along with our hair and nails) requires an abundant supply of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients in order to perform its many functions. It protects us from infections, mechanical and chemical trauma, and ultraviolet rays. It also helps with vitamin D synthesis, maintains hydration, and regulates our body temperature. Genetics, sun damage, toxins in the environment, chronic disease, medications, hormone fluctuations, and diet all contribute to the skin’s vital functions and maintain its structural integrity. The skin contains thousands of microorganisms that ideally live in delicate harmony in and on the skin, which we call a microbiome. Research has shown that a Western lifestyle, such as a diet rich in refined carbohydrates, is associated with changes in the skin microbiome.
There is an abundance of scientific evidence to support the notion that what we consume through our diet can play a role in preventing and even reversing skin disease.[4-6] Many foods we eat provide vitamins and minerals that act as enzymes and co-factors for the inner-workings of our skin cells. Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help provide the optimal nutrients to help keep our skin healthy. Below are just a few examples of scientific evidence supporting the importance of diet in relation to skin health. It is important to note that no research has proven that dietary changes alone can replace good medical care by a healthcare professional.
- There is scientific evidence that adopting a low glycemic load diet and avoiding dairy significantly prevents and improves acne vulgaris.
- One literary article attributed a significant increase of acne in people who eat the “Western diet” to high glycemic foods and cow’s milk.
- The common notion that chocolate contributes to acne still remains unclear.
Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema)
- Mothers who take probiotic supplements during and after pregnancy lower the risk of atopic dermatitis in their babies. Probiotics can be found in fermented dairy products, such as yogurt.
- Vitamin A and vitamin D deficiencies may contribute to atopic dermatitis.[11,12]
- Weight loss can significantly improve psoriasis symptoms.
- There is evidence that alcohol consumption is highly associated with psoriasis.
- To learn about the naturopathic view on how diet influences psoriasis, read this article on nutritional support.
- Some studies suggest that polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish, walnuts, and flaxseed) can protect the skin against ultraviolet sun damage.
- There is a significant association between alcohol consumption and risk for melanoma skin cancer.
- People with a history of non-melanoma skin cancer may benefit from a vitamin D supplement.
- Resveratrol is a natural phytonutrient found in red wine, grapes, and berries. It possesses antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer potential. It can prevent sun damage, which might decrease the risk of skin cancer.
- For more information about how diet can help give your skin a “healthy glow,” read this article on clear skin.
- Zinc is a trace element that is needed by several important enzymes throughout the body and is ingested through many food sources including meats, legumes, fish, and leafy green vegetables. Zinc deficiency is associated with poor wound healing and increased risk for skin infections. In cases of severe zinc deficiency, people can develop red scaling cracks and ulcers around the mouth and genitals. Other dermatologic conditions associated with zinc deficiency are hair loss, nail disorders, and inflammation around the eyes (blepharitis).
- Protein deficiency, also called protein-energy malnutrition, can also affect skin health. Dietary protein deficiency can increase the risk for skin infections due to a weakened immune response. A serious, acute form of protein-energy malnutrition called Kwashiorkor can lead to edema and flaky peeling of the skin that looks like “peeling paint.”
Although nutritional deficiencies are thought to be rare in Western society, they are still prevalent in specific at-risk populations, such as the elderly. Fortunately, as with most nutritional deficiencies, replenishing the missing nutrient will eventually lead to a reversal of the skin manifestations.