While we all feel the same dread of looking in the mirror on an important day to see a red pimple glaring at you, there is a difference between the people who know how to fix this problem and those who just let it slide. The secret fix? Adjusting your diet.
When you see a blemish pop up or a rash-like patch of pimples, it’s usually a sign that you’ve indulged in too much coffee, alcohol, or aging foods. So you may be asking yourself a logical, but overlooked, question: If what we eat shows up on our face, then which best foods for skin will help us look 10 years younger or solve pimple problems faster than some Clearasil?
That’s why we asked the skin pros—dermatologists—to share their go-to foods for better skin, whether that be bites that boost collagen, fight wrinkles, or generally give you a healthier glow. Incorporating these foods into your diet can help you skip the photo filter and bring out your natural beauty. Add these foods to your grocery list to immediately improve your complexion while also learning about the 24 Things You Should Never Do to Your Skin.
Salmon is rich in antioxidants that calm inflammation, says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “The free fatty acids serve as building blocks for healthy skin cells.” How, exactly? “Since our bodies don’t have the ability to produce the fatty acids, [eating them] helps reinforce your skin’s barrier, and keeps moisture in and irritants out,” adds Leslie Baumann, MD, certified board dermatologist and Founder of Baumann Cosmetic & Research Institute. She recommends eating wild salmon over farm-raised for an optimal dose of omega-3s.
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“Though it may sound counterintuitive, the high concentration of water in watermelon can actually reduce the water retention that leads to puffiness around the eyes,” says Baumann. “And because watermelon is low in sugar—well, compared to many other fruits—you don’t have to worry about glycation, the chemical reaction that compromises collagen and leads to lines and wrinkles.”
“Since green tea contains polyphenols, making it an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory, it can be used as a great toner to treat acne,” says Kaleroy Papantoniou, MD, a cosmetic dermatologist. “It’s great for healing blemishes and scars, flushes out toxins, and also keeps skin supple. The vitamin K in green tea helps lighten dark circles under the eyes, too. So, put used green tea bags in the fridge for a great 15-minute under eye treatment.”
Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, a potent antioxidant to protect skin from UV damage, says Zeichner. In fact, a study in the British Journal of Dermatology found participants who ate five tablespoons of tomato paste daily showed 33 percent more protection against sunburn than a control group.
“This vegetable is orange thanks to high levels of beta-carotene, which is a precursor to vitamin A … which also happens to be a form of the main active ingredient in Retin-A,” says Baumann. “This vitamin has been found to decrease the skin’s oil production, and there’s also some evidence that it can improve psoriasis.”
There’s a reason why avocados are a popular ingredient for face masks. “Avocados penetrate cells at the deepest level, which is virtually a tasty way to get a basal layer skin dose of vitamins A, D, and E, good fats, and phytonutrients,” says Papantoniou. Seriously, is there anything this fruit can’t do?
“About 75 percent of the fat in olive oil is monounsaturated fatty acids, which may play a role in the youth boost,” says Marie Jhin, MD, certified board dermatologist and author of Asian Beauty Secrets. “The antioxidant polyphenols in olive oil could also quench damaging free radicals.”
Walnuts amp up collagen production because they are also high in omega-3 fatty acids, says Papantoniou. If you’re wondering what the heck is collagen, it’s a protein that helps improve the skin’s elasticity, preventing sagging and ultimately leaving your skin plump and youthful. Walnut’s rich omega-3 content also helps reduce stress and diminish the risk of heart disease.
Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that people who eat foods rich in vitamin C have fewer wrinkles and less age-related dry skin than those who don’t. Strawberries, red peppers, and grapefruit are all other great vitamin C sources, just to name a few!
This leafy green is rich in vitamin A, which is an antioxidant and promotes healthy skin cell turnover, says Zeichner. As mentioned earlier, vitamin A is also a big ingredient found in Retin-A, a medication used to treat acne. Legend has it that applying kale topically helps diminish the visibility of bruises, scars, stretch marks, and spider veins.
Almonds are rich in vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that helps prevent signs of aging caused by free radicals and may even bolster your skin’s defense against skin cancer. “Studies also suggest that vitamin E consumed orally can increase its levels on the skin’s surface, which is good news for those with dry skin,” Baumann adds.
The amino acids found in protein-rich foods like meat or eggs are the building blocks of collagen production, says Arash Akhavan, MD, FAAD, founder and owner of The Dermatology & Laser Group in NYC. Just don’t go overboard; your body can really only process 30 grams of protein in one meal.
“In addition to the calcium our bones need, milk is a great source of vitamin D,” says Baumann. “This is good for your skin because getting your daily dose of ‘D’ from milk means you don’t have to get unprotected sun exposure, which helps prevent wrinkles and discoloration.” That said, dairy can wreak havoc on some people’s skin; so if that sounds like you, score your vitamin D from a supplement or other food sources. A three-ounce serving of wild salmon or mackerel can provide nearly your entire daily recommended vitamin D intake! Meanwhile, a cup of shiitake mushrooms gets you to about 20 percent (the best you’ll find in the produce aisle) and three eggs can score you another 20 percent. You have options, dairy-free friends.
Sunflower oil is high in linoleic acid, which can help support your skin cells’ membranes. “It may also reduce cellular inflammation, which has been associated with aging,” says Baumann. We go more in-depth about this under-the-radar oil in our guide on popular cooking oils and how to use them.
Yellow and green peppers are packed with carotenoids, another antioxidant that decreases sun sensitivity, diminishing the appearance of fine lines around the eyes and crow’s feet, says Papantoniou.
“Fruits and vegetables owe their vibrant colors to antioxidants, and berries are a wonderful source,” says Baumann. “If your diet includes blueberries, raspberries, cherries, and the like, you’ll get a range of protective antioxidants that shield your skin from free radicals.”
“If you were to only eat one vegetable, make it broccoli,” says Baumann. “It contains a myriad of good-for-your-skin vitamins, including A, C, which is a fantastic antioxidant that also supports collagen production. There’s also vitamin K in broccoli, which speeds up the healing of bruises and may even help improve dark undereye circles.”
Sardines are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, making it a great fish for reducing inflammation and even acne, says Jhin. “Furthermore, omega-3 fatty acids have mood-regulating benefits, which can help with the stress component of having acne. Acne sufferers should consume four to five servings of oily fish per week in order to treat the condition.” Sardines are also a good source of calcium because the bones are so tiny and soft that they’re edible. If sardines aren’t your thing, you can also check out the 26 Best Omega-3 Foods to Fight Inflammation and Support Heart Health.
Yes, that’s right, chocolate is on the list. Dark chocolate is great for skin firming, says Papantoniou. “It also has flavonols, which is a very potent antioxidant.” But be sure to avoid any chocolate less than 70 percent cacao. “Look for high cacao concentrations because these have less sugar, which can be terrible for your skin,” suggests Baumann. In fact, sugar is one of the villains on our list of best and worst foods for cellulite.
Nicknamed “the wrinkle fighter,” Greek yogurt is great for banishing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. “It’s rich in B vitamins, which help to detox skin,” says Papantoniou. But note the emphasis on the Greek part of this yogurt; there’s a difference. Flavored yogurt is one of the health foods that aren’t really healthy for a variety of reasons—one being that it can wrinkle your skin!
“Pomegranates contain polyphenols which also fight free radicals and help to regulate skin’s blood flow, giving it a nice healthy glow,” says Papantoniou. Pomegranate seeds also have a decent amount of fiber, making them a satiating way to sprinkle some color onto your salads and side dishes. Naturally-occurring fruit sugar isn’t remotely as scary as added sugar, but if you’re concerned about it, then you won’t want to go totally nuts with the pomegranate seeds.
This fibrous, protein-rich food also does wonders for your skin. They are very rich in zinc, which has high healing properties that help fight acne, says Papantoniou. While beans are worth adding to your diet to improve your skin, it’s also worth ditching the 10 Foods Making Your Acne Even Worse.